Both topics are again at the fore in Week 8, so let’s get to this week’s Two-Minute Drill. And for those who might be tired of the Moss stuff, we’ll keep it light here, as he only makes a brief cameo.
Here are 20 thoughts you can read in just two minutes.
1. A pair of undrafted rookies, linebacker Dane Fletcher and safety Sergio Brown, have made the final tackle of the fourth quarter in the last two Patriots victories. And in each case, it was the first time either player got any legitimate regular-season defensive reps. Fletcher stopped running back Ray Rice on second down (before a third-down incompletion) to help the Patriots get to overtime against the Ravens, and Brown hauled down tight end Antonio Gates to force the Chargers to line up for a last-minute field goal Sunday in San Diego. Those are some big moments for some hugely unproven players against two NFL offensive stars.
2. It’s a crazy thought, but the Patriots might actually be hoping to see Brett Favre gut out the ankle injury and play this week, as opposed to backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, who brings an unknown element to Minnesota’s offense. Plus, Favre has been awful this season.
3. Vikings defensive end Jared Allen was a legitimate candidate for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year honor in 2009, but one statistical analysis last week rated Allen as the worst 4-3 defensive end in football this season.
4. Patriots rookie cornerback Devin McCourty pulled down his first career interception Sunday, and it was a thing of beauty. McCourty does a lot of good things — plays with strength, sound tackler, good positional coverage skills — and has had a solid rookie year, save for just one drive against the Ravens. Among McCourty’s assets, though, one of the last things you typically notice about him is his raw speed, yet that might have been the most impressive aspect of his interception.
5. Adding to that, once McCourty is able to rely on his instincts — something that will take at least one full season, if not two or three — he’ll be able to showcase that speed even more. Rookies typically aren’t able to play as fast as they’re capable of because they get caught thinking too much. McCourty’s growth will be fun to watch.
6. The Patriots will be wearing their 1985 throwback uniforms Sunday against the Vikings (and Thanksgiving against the Lions), complete with the white helmet, red jersey and white pants. The throwbacks are slightly different from the 1963 model they wore four times last season.
7. It was interesting to hear that the Dolphins inquired about acquiring Logan Mankins from the Patriots prior to the NFL’s trading deadline. Obviously, the thoughts of setting up Miami with Jake Long and Mankins on the left side of that line for the better part of the next decade were enough to force Bill Belichick to hang up the phone.
8. Belichick was asked Monday about the 2010 rookie class, and if that group has lived up to his expectations so far. Belichick dropped a pretty eye-popping quote, saying it was very difficult to anticipate how rookies will play and then placed linebacker Jerod Mayo on the high end of that scale and — wait for it — quarterback Tom Brady on the low end of the rookie totem pole. Belichick said Brady “didn’t contribute anything” as a rookie but then conceded Brady “turned out to be a good player.”
9. Adding to that, one widespread opinion from beat writers who covered the 2001 Patriots is that Brady had a great training camp and very possibly would have replaced Drew Bledsoe in the regular season, even if Bledsoe didn’t suffer an injury against the Jets. Obviously, Mo Lewis helped accelerate that process, but that opinion has always stuck with me.
10. Funny moment in the Patriots’ locker room Friday as they were gearing up for practice on a chilly, windy day. With the session held in shorts and shells, many players were able to put on hooded sweatshirts under their jerseys, and the guys who grew up in the colder states were laughing and making fun of the guys from Florida who hadn’t yet adapted to the weather.
11. Safety Patrick Chung was advising guys to go sleeveless, saying it was a strong-minded mentality thing. Then, at practice, Belichick was unfazed by the weather and wore shorts. How about that for setting an example?
12. The wind and sun had a big role during kickoff drills in Friday’s practice. Because practice was held earlier in the morning — to accommodate that day’s unique travel plans — the sun was beating down from a different angle, and kickoff returner Brandon Tate appeared to have a tough time locating the ball as he stared toward the sun. With that and the strong winds that day, Tate completely missed one kickoff and muffed a couple of others.
13. With the league’s recent emphasis on concussion safety, Belichick was asked last week if the medical staff had to handle Julian Edelman differently than in the past, and Belichick said no.
14. In regard to the fourth-and-1, the execution seemed to be a bigger issue than the decision or the play-call. It looked like BenJarvus Green-Ellis could have stayed behind his three blockers or cut to the right hip of one of them to gain the yard, but he bounced it outside and lost ground. This is similar to last year’s fourth-and-2, when Brady could have hit Wes Welker over the middle for the first down, but he went to the right side to Kevin Faulk.
15. Obviously, everything has to go perfectly for such a bold move to work out, from the decision to go for it, to the right play call, to the perfect execution. If the percentages were in the offense’s favor, these things would happen far more often, and therein lies the major gamble. However, in both high-profile cases involving the Patriots, the opportunity to gain the first down was there, but the execution fell short.
16. This isn’t Patriots-related, but it did happen at Gillette Stadium on Saturday. Games like the Colonial Clash, in which UNH beat UMass, 39-13, make it even more incomprehensible that UMass hung with Michigan earlier this season.
17. The Patriots had a huge turnout Tuesday at the Waltham Boys and Girls Club, where 200 volunteers from UnitedHealthcare constructed a new playground. Also helping the cause were a number of Patriots, including Brady, Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Tully Banta-Cain, Brian Hoyer, Zoltan Mesko, Sammy Morris, Matt Light and Rob Gronkowski.
18. The Wilforks then spent the night going to the Garden for the Celtics opener. They’re huge Celtics fans, if you missed that memo.
19. James Sanders might have gotten his holiday shopping out of the way early. The California native got 40 tickets for friends and family for Sunday’s game in San Diego. With the brief threat of a local television blackout, Sanders’ ticket request might have deserved a small “thank you” from the citizens of San Diego.
20. It doesn’t look like Chung will be able to play Sunday against the Vikings, which will hurt the Patriots in three key areas. First, Chung is good against the run, so he’d be an asset in the attempt to keep Adrian Peterson at bay. Second, the Patriots will need good safety play to guard against the deep ball to Moss and Percy Harvin. Third, and maybe most importantly, Favre tends to get beat most by playmaking defensive backs, and Chung might have had the chance to capitalize in a big way.