For the stories amidst those stories, here are this week's 20 thoughts.
1. The Patriots had their second Victory Monday of the season this week. They were also given the day off after traveling home from San Diego three weeks ago. Clearly, the day off isn't a rule, just a reward after a good win and a tough week. Similarly, the Patriots will have practice players of the week this week — signified by the black practice jerseys — that they only receive after wins.
2. Bill Belichick opted against sending new kicker Shayne Graham out for a 51- or 52-yard field goal prior to halftime, and some might wonder if Belichick would have employed the stronger-legged Stephen Gostkowski in that situation. Well, probably not. Gostkowski has only attempted six field goals from at least 50 yards (making four) in his career with the Patriots. For the sake of comparison, Graham has made nine of 18 from at least 50 yards in his career, and he is 4-of-5 in such kicks since 2006, when Gostkowski entered the league.
3. Peyton Manning has been sacked 12 times through nine games this season, which has already surpassed last season's total of 10. He is on pace to get sacked 21 times this season, and he has been sacked more than that just three times in his previous 12 seasons.
4. After the Patriots traded Randy Moss, changed up their identity and won a pair of close games against the Ravens and Chargers, I didn't think they'd blow anyone out in victory the rest of the season. Sunday's 13-point win in Pittsburgh, in which the Patriots held a 23-3 lead through three quarters, was as close to a blowout over a good team as it will get.
5. Steelers kicker Jeff Reed complained about Sunday's poor field conditions after having another poor night and was released Tuesday. The bottom line is Reed missed a 26-yard field goal, but he did have a point about the field conditions. Well after the game was over, the stadium crew raked the field and then used leave blowers to get the loose dirt off the field. Mounds and mounds of dirt came up. I had never seen something like that before.
6. Players in the Patriots' locker room already know the coaching staff will preach a "finishing" message this week after surrendering 23 points in a wild fourth quarter in Pittsburgh. Coincidentally, with the Colts on tap, that was the New England coaching staff's season-long message in 2007 after what happened in the 2006 AFC Championship in Indianapolis.
7. Linebacker Jerod Mayo was asked if Sunday's victory was the biggest of his Patriots career, and he responded with a politically correct, yet on-point message. "Your last win is your best win," Mayo said, "so it was a huge win for us."
8. Quarterback Tom Brady revealed why he was so fired up when he spiked the ball through the end zone after his rushing touchdown in Pittsburgh — a celebration that was reminiscent of the Pats' snow bowl win against the Raiders in the 2001 playoffs — and Brady made an interesting reference. "I was pretty excited," Brady said. "I don't score very often, so when I do, I make sure. I was a 49er fan. I loved [former 49ers fullback and current 49ers running backs coach] Tom Rathman. Every time he scored, he spiked it as hard as he could. I've always loved that."
9. Brady made sure to give a shoutout to offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia on Sunday. Brady was complimenting the offensive line's performance for keeping him clean against the Steelers, whose tenacious pass rush was held without a sack for the first time this season. And Scarnecchia has done a tremendous job, too, most notably working in Dan Connolly and keeping the unit greatly reliable through the Logan Mankins situation.
10. Rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski said he didn't notice any difference between Brady's passionate behavior in Pittsburgh. "If we're down, he's intense," Gronkowski said. "If we're up, he's intense. He's always intense. It's Tom Brady. You know how he is."
11. The Patriots are ranked 17th in rushing yardage this season, and running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead have combined for 715 rushing yards, 249 receiving yards and nine total touchdowns this season. Fred Taylor, who has missed six consecutive games with a toe injury, was complimentary of the youngsters last week. "They've played well, and they'll continue to play well," Taylor said. "They prepare well. We've got some very good coaches. They listen. As you probably can tell, the trend of the running back position is just find anybody off the street and throw them in there. That's been how the NFL feels about it, but it does take some talent to make that position go. They both have talent, and then the next thing is their studies and reading their keys. They've done well."
12. Belichick famously dropped the "stats are for losers" line last season, but Tuesday, he went through the list of stats that were truly important to him. Not surprisingly, it started with victories, then went to points "because that correlates to winning." And then it went to red-zone efficiency, big plays and third-down efficiency. "The [statistics] that correlate the highest to winning," Belichick said, "you still have to consider them as the most important."
13. Vince Wilfork has spent a lot of time at defensive end, and that has given the Patriots two marked advantages. First, they're able to take advantage of some matchups, and maybe most importantly, they're able to use Wilfork to filter their opposition's running direction. Obviously, if Wilfork wins his battle at the line, he can stop runs in his direction, and if the offense runs away from Wilfork, the linebackers and safeties can cheat to that side.
14. Patriots defensive line coach Pepper Johnson indicated another advantage of using Wilfork as a pendulum across the line. It forces New England's opponent to game plan specifically for Wilfork, as opposed to strictly using him at nose tackle, which allows opposing coaches to draw up simple double teams and move on from there. More attention paid to Wilfork really causes bigger headaches for other teams.
15. Wide receiver Wes Welker had his best game of the season against the Steelers, but that wasn't a huge surprise due to Pittsburgh's Cover-2 defense that, to a fault, yields offensive production over the middle. Welker could have similar success against the Colts' scheme, and two games like this in succession could give Welker the confidence he's been searching for since undergoing surgery on his knee.
16. After the Patriots' poor showing on onside-kick recoveries against the Chargers, the hands team was a perfect 2-for-2 against the Steelers, so that's clearly a good sign.
17. The Patriots will get their first look at Colts rookie defensive end Jerry Hughes this weekend. Hughes was one of the players many thought would be targeted by the Patriots in the first round of April's draft, but they instead landed cornerback Devin McCourty, who has turned into an excellent prospect.
18. If the Patriots had turned toward Hughes, who might have been a little undersized for their system, they wouldn't have landed a cornerback of McCourty's caliber in the second round, where they got Jermaine Cunningham, who, like Hughes, was a defensive end in college. Obviously, there's still a lot of time to see how things shake out, but it looks like the Patriots got it right with McCourty and Cunningham, rather than Hughes and Jerome Murphy (Rams), Amari Spievey (Lions) or Myron Lewis (Buccaneers).
19. Hughes has remained as a defensive end in the Colts' 4-3 system, and Belichick shared some good analysis of him Tuesday, comparing him to Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney. "It's kind of scary when you're watching film and they're all [wearing] 90s, whatever it is, 93, 98, 92. Their jerseys are on real tight, sometimes you can't get a clean look at the numbers, and when you're my age, your eyesight isn't that great anyway. You kind of have to run the film back and say, 'Which guy is that? Is that Hughes? Is that Mathis? Is that Hughes? Is that Freeney?' It's kind of scary when they're all that good and they all look the same."
20. Wide receiver Julian Edelman has caught some flack recently for his lack of statistical production, but he's been used almost exclusively as Welker's true backup. Edelman only has four receptions for 14 yards this season, and he hasn't caught a pass since Week 3. But consider Edelman's stats through a season and a half. In four games without Welker, including the playoffs and 2009 regular-season finale in Houston when he was injured early, Edelman has 27 receptions for 265 yards and two touchdowns. In Edelman's other 13 games, he's got 20 catches for 152 yards and one touchdown. Simple enough, Edelman produces when he is used in Welker's role, but he hasn't gotten that opportunity yet this season.
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