FOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots' offense is off to a flying start, but the defense is still figuring itself out a little bit. There are plenty of storylines on both sides of the ball, so let's get it going with this week's 20 thoughts.
1. Obviously, wide receiver Chad Ochocinco has been catching heat because he hasn't made much of an impact on the offense, and it's merited to a large extent. However, I think it's very unfair to compare him to Randy Moss, who was absolutely brilliant at the outset of his Patriots career.
2. Moss had 17 receptions for 288 yards and three touchdowns in his first two games of the 2007 season, which dwarfs Ochocinco's three catches and 59 yards through two weeks. It's fair to put Moss and Ochocinco in the same light because both are historically tremendous wide receivers, but it's a stretch to compare the way they started in New England, in my opinion.
3. Moss showed up to a completely revamped passing attack along with wide receivers Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth. The returning targets were tight end Ben Watson, wideout Jabar Gaffney and running back Kevin Faulk. Basically, quarterback Tom Brady had no choice but to rely on Moss from the start because he didn't have a tight connection with the other wide receivers and tight ends.
4. Now, Brady has Welker, wide receiver Deion Branch and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (as well as Danny Woodhead). Those are four extremely useful assets to the New England offense, and Brady trusts all of them, evidenced by their deployment through Brady's great start.
5. So, Ochocinco has had to work harder to establish his position on the depth chart than Moss did because of the wide receivers and tight ends who were already on the roster.
6. If the Patriots needed to immerse Ochocinco into the game plan the way they did with Moss, I'm sure he'd have much more impressive statistics through two weeks. But at this point, he's just not as good of an option as the other guys.
7. That said, Ochocinco needs to step up his game in Buffalo. I've cut him some slack against the Dolphins and Chargers due to their tough cornerbacks, but the Bills' secondary isn't very impressive. Ochocinco should make more of an impact for that reason alone, if not from the Patriots' efforts to simply get him going.
8. There's also the Hernandez effect. I've been extremely impressed with Hernandez's growth this season. Last year, he got by because he was a gifted athlete who created matchup problems. This season, it's very clear that he has earned Brady's complete trust. His absence will hurt the Patriots, though they won't fret it much in Buffalo. Without Hernandez, Ochocinco should be the next guy up in terms of chances.
9. Speaking of injuries, I bet it would kill Bill Belichick to carry two punters on the active roster if Zoltan Mesko's knee isn't right. For a head coach who likes to maximize the usage of his 53-man roster with as much versatility as possible, Belichick would have to grossly despise carrying two specialists.
10. If I were the head coach and knew there was a good chance Mesko couldn't play Sunday, I'd carry a second punter on the practice squad so he could learn some terminology and get into a rhythm with the snapper, as well as learning his responsibility as the holder. If they determine Sunday that Mesko can't go, activate the backup then. And if Mesko turns out fine, this strategy would keep them from cutting anyone from the active roster.
11. Bill Belichick: A Football Life has been good stuff so far. I think the biggest thing I took from the first episode was that Belichick knew right away in 2009 that the offense couldn't do anything when Welker and Moss were taken away. Brady relied way too heavily on Welker that season because no one else really stepped up.
12. Derrick Mason knows that exchange with Belichick happened two years ago, right? Why is he so worked up about it now? Just another storyline to add to the Pats-Jets rivalry.
13. Former Patriots wide receiver Tyree Barnes, who was released in the final week of the preseason, has rejoined his ship, the USS Gonzalez, in the Navy. Barnes can leave the ship if a team wants to sign him. The USS Gonzalez isn't scheduled for any tours in the immediate future, so Barnes will remain in Virginia for the time being. He's on Twitter if you want to follow his journey.
14. I really thought the Bills did the right thing by not drafting a quarterback in April and giving Ryan Fitzpatrick a chance to remain as the starter, and he's made them look smart so far. Fitzpatrick has 472 passing yards and seven touchdowns through two games, and reports have indicated he might be closing in on a contract extension. Good for the Harvard kid.
15. I think NFL officials should be a little more liberal when blowing the whistle for an injury timeout — as in, if they can tell a player is faking to counter the no-huddle offense, don't blow the whistle.
16. I also think it should be a fineable offense to preserve the integrity of the game. And don't just fine the player. Give the organization a matching fine as an incentive to keep that tactic out of the minds of the coaching staff. Start with a $5,000 fine for a first offense, and increase it for repeat offenders.
17. The Patriots have executed two intensive game plans geared toward stopping Dolphins slot receiver Davone Bess and Chargers tight end Antonio Gates. Since the Bills don't have anyone as dangerous in the passing game on the interior of the spread, I wonder if the Patriots will give cornerback Devin McCourty a little more help over the top after leaving him in single coverage through a large portion of their first two games. And if the Patriots gear up to stop anyone in particular, it will be running back Fred Jackson.
18. The Patriots have two 99-yard touchdown drives in two games. Count right guard Brian Waters among the impressed. Waters said a lot of teams will take the field just trying to get a first down or two, but he said the Patriots will take over at the 1-yard line and expect to score a touchdown. "Some places are better at it than others," Waters said with a smile.
19. Patriots linebackers A.J. Edds and Jeff Tarpinian (practice squad) lived in the same house together at Iowa. Chiefs quarterback Ricky Stanzi also lived there, and Edds said Chiefs tight end Tony Moeaki might as well have lived there, too. That's a talented house.
20. Speaking of which, linebacker Dane Fletcher has found himself living in a house with two Gronkowskis since the Patriots signed Rob's brother, Dan. I feel like the Patriots should have consulted Fletcher prior to that transaction.
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