FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. The Patriots have placed nine players on injured reserve since the start of training camp, which sparks a few questions: How does that compare to other teams across the NFL, and to the team’s most recent years?
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the nine players (not including those who received an injury settlement, such as receiver Jordan Matthews) ties for the NFL high this season with the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts (entering Friday). There are five teams that have placed eight players on IR.
The Patriots placed 11 players on IR all last season. The season before, when they won the Super Bowl, it was just four players on IR over the entire season.
So depth is already being tested in various areas, with the most notable players to land on IR including first-round draft pick Isaiah Wynn (Achilles), second-round pick Duke Dawson (hamstring), fifth-round pick Ja’Whaun Bentley (unknown), and running backs Rex Burkhead (neck/concussion) and Jeremy Hill (torn ACL).
The Patriots have the option to bring two players back from IR later this season, depending on the recovery for each player, and I'm told that Dawson and Burkhead are the only players who could fall into that category as of now (the timeline for recovery for Bentley and Hill, for example, puts them into the 2019 league year).
1b. With the Patriots placing Burkhead and Bentley on injured reserve, it’s obvious what the team loses on offense and defense, but not to be overlooked, there is a significant trickle-down effect on special teams. Both play on the punt protection/coverage unit, so that’s a double hit for special-teams coach Joe Judge, and here’s why that is a particularly big deal this week: Since Darren Rizzi was promoted to Dolphins special-teams coordinator in 2011, no team has blocked more punts than Miami over that span (10).
2. Saturday's Patriots Hall of Fame induction for offensive tackle Matt Light was a well-done affair, with the weather cooperating and several thousand fans in attendance. The induction also highlighted the 10-year anniversary of the team's Hall of Fame and here were a few things that stood out to me:
The team's offensive linemen have been a tight-knit group over the years, which was evidenced in those who showed up to support Light, a group that included Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal, Logan Mankins, Russ Hochstein, Joe Andruzzi, Wesley Britt, Tom Ashworth and Dan Connolly.
Light's speech was a perfect mix of humor and from the heart, as he briefly choked up while talking about his wife, Susie, and the couple's four children. The main theme from Light: Moments like these are a time to hit the pause button, thanking those closest to him.
One Patriots alum on hand who I wouldn't have expected to see: Wide receiver Doug Gabriel (2006).
3a. When Chris Gronkowski talked on sports radio WEEI about why his brother Rob stayed away from the Patriots this offseason -- in part because he wanted to be paid like a top tight end -- I felt he left out one crucial part of the equation. In 2012, with Gronkowski entering his third season in the NFL, agent Drew Rosenhaus negotiated a seven-year extension for Gronkowski with the Patriots. In doing so, Rosenhaus and Gronkowski essentially agreed to give up hitting unrestricted free agency in Gronkowski’s prime years. I never question a player for choosing immediate financial security in such a violent game, but making that decision meant Rosenhaus and Gronkowski gave up the chance to hit the financial bonanza as an unrestricted free agent. No fair discussion of Gronkowski’s contract status should overlook that point.
3b. One other point on Gronkowski and a possible offseason trade to Detroit: I thought Chris Gronkowski added context to that trade possibility in his WEEI interview, pointing out how there hadn’t been much communication between Gronkowski and the Patriots in the offseason prior to him being informed of the possibility of a trade. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is what sparked the trade discussions, and I’d be curious to know one more nugget of information: Would the Patriots have really traded Gronkowski, or were they using the possibility of a trade to re-ignite communication with him to gauge if he was truly on board?
4. Bills linebacker Matt Milano, who won the AFC Defensive Player of the Week award for playing a key role in Buffalo’s upset victory over the Vikings last Sunday, was selected with the fifth-round pick acquired when the Patriots signed restricted free-agent running back Mike Gillislee in the 2017 offseason. That’s a good example of how a team successfully replenishes a lost asset and comes out better for it in the end. The Bills haven’t had much success against the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era, but that move has the early look of a decisive victory. Gillislee, of course, lasted one year with the Patriots and never emerged as a consistent contributor.
5. Third-year Dolphins coach Adam Gase has given receiver Danny Amendola a veteran’s day off from practice each week, a decision designed to help Amendola preserve himself over the long haul of the season. When Amendola considers some of the differences between his time with the Patriots and Dolphins, that one is probably near the top of the list. As Belichick said at the Super Bowl parade in February 2017, there are no days off in New England.
6. Thoughts go out to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for a successful surgery and rehab after he tore his ACL last Sunday. No one could have predicted such an injury -- it can happen to anyone on any play -- but my first thought when watching the play was that it reminded me of how Garoppolo was injured in New England, in the sense that he seemed to be exposing himself to unnecessary risk. There is something to be said for a quarterback knowing when the journey is over and to live for the next play when the risk outweighs the potential reward. So just as I did when Garoppolo was traded, and even before that, I view that as the only real question surrounding Garoppolo's otherwise bright future: Will he be durable enough, and learn to better limit his exposure to unnecessary risk?
7. Patriots special-teams captain Matthew Slater and former Patriot and current Dolphin Brandon Bolden are best friends, so it's no surprise that they've spent the week texting back and forth with each other. When they were teammates and next-door neighbors in the locker room from 2012-17, they often talked about what it would be like to face each other, and now they'll get to find out Sunday. Bolden, for his part, used the word "surreal" to describe his feelings.
8. One could excuse Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke if he experiences déjà vu this week. Burke was Bengals linebackers coach in 2014, which meant he was on the sideline for the “On to Cincinnati” game -- in which the Patriots were being counted out by many in the media after a brutal prime-time road loss to the Chiefs before answering the critics in a decisive 43-17 home victory over the Bengals. This season, the Patriots are coming off a bad prime-time road loss to the Lions, with many questioning them again. Will history repeat itself with a decisive “On to Miami” home victory? Burke, of Hudson, Massachusetts, is naturally fighting against it.
9. Gary Myers’ new book, “How ‘Bout them Cowboys: Inside the Huddle With the Stars and Legends of America’s Team” makes an interesting connection to the Patriots, highlighting what might be one of the most overlooked parts of New England’s impressive run under Belichick: how a coach and owner coexist. Myers used a chance 1996 meeting between Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Belichick at a ski resort in Aspen, Colorado, as his jumping-off point to note how the relationship between Jones and coach Jimmy Johnson was a toxic combination that couldn’t sustain itself. Quarterback Troy Aikman wondered what the Cowboys might have accomplished had Johnson stayed longer. “We could have been Brady and Belichick,” Aikman said. Receiver Michael Irvin, who was part of that Cowboys team, credits Robert Kraft for giving Belichick freedom Jones didn’t give to Johnson.
10a. Stat of the week: The Patriots, who are coming off back-to-back losses, haven't lost three games in a row since the 2002 season.
10b. From the equipment room: The Patriots are planning to wear their “Color Rush” uniforms for two games this season -- Thursday, Oct. 4, at home against the Colts, and Sunday, Nov. 4, at home against the Green Bay Packers.