It might be a slow news week around Gillette Stadium, with the Patriots on a bye and all, but that doesn't mean it's a ghost town. The Patriots will be at the facility for a full week of work before getting a little time away to rest up for the most important stretch of their year.
Let's roll through 20 nuggets in this week's Two-Minute Drill.
1. I wanted to start off by pointing out the Wes Welker feature that was posted Tuesday, which I spent about a month working on. First of all, thank you for all of the feedback. Second, I wanted to run through a few things that were left on the cutting room floor and couldn't get into the story.
2. The absolute best quote that I didn't use came from former Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach. No introduction will do it justice, so here it is.
"Ask him how he dances. He dances kind of like Elaine on Seinfeld," Leach said. "Despite the fact that he dances like Elaine on Seinfeld, he's still 'The Natural.' At some point, everybody is going to be dancing like that, I'd suspect. He may just be ahead of the others instead of behind."
3. Interestingly, both Leach and Rod Warner (Welker's head coach at Heritage Hall High School) said Welker's football success had a ton to do with his soccer skills. More than anything, they said Welker's field vision benefited from his soccer background, and they believed he was able to see how he'd get from one point on the field to the next by envisioning how the defense would break down.
4. One other great story: Dolphins kicker Olindo Mare was injured in 2004, and Welker beat out quarterback Sage Rosenfels for the emergency kicker role. So, Welker kicked off in a game against the Patriots and then ran down the field to make the tackle, too.
"I asked him about the tackle on the kickoff," recalled Leach, who said his book, "Swing Your Sword," also has some memories about Welker. "He said, 'Well, most of the time around here, I'm on the kickoff team, but I'm one of the guys that ran down [in coverage]. So after I kicked the ball, I just did what I always do, which was run down there. Then I realized, well, I'm the safety on this thing because I'm the kicker, but by then, I was too far to get back, so I better make the tackle.' So he went there and tackled the guy."
5. Leach also had some very interesting comments about Welker's level of focus. It's a long quote, but it's definitely worth reading.
"They always talk about clutch players and things like that," Leach said. "I don't think there are necessarily clutch players, but I think there's a certain number of players that are able to maintain their focus longer than other people. And I think as other people get fatigued, their play will slowly drop off. As other people get beat up and sore, their level of play will drop off. And as they get in a situation where the game is on the line or a key catch, then they'll mentally make more out of it than what it is. 'Oh, this is a really important catch.' Well, no, it's really not. Somebody is going to put the ball in the air. It might come to you. If it does, you're going to catch it just like you have thousands of times in practice, all of the other catches you have throughout this game. Because all it is is a play. The setting is different, but all it is is a play.
"I think his ability to focus with those factors more, because his play never changes. He's able to focus through all those things. I don't think it's so much that he gets better. I think they get worse and he stays the same. For example, I think Joe Montana was like that. You can go right down the line. That's my theory on that. When they hit those situations, it's not so much their play improves as others' play collapses a little bit and go down a little bit. I'm not saying they're not still trying hard. I think they are, but they lose a little perspective with fatigue and soreness. He never does that. He has the ability to focus through that.
"I think it's a talent. I believe some people are just better at it than others, and I say that because Wes Welker is clearly better at it than others, and he's better at it than others by such a significant margin that in my mind there's got to be some talent involved in that than just motivation."
6. Let's put something else in perspective. The Chargers cut Welker when they claimed safety Clinton Hart off waivers from the Eagles. The Dolphins traded Welker for second- and seventh-round draft picks that turned into center Samson Satele and defensive end Abraham Wright, respectively. Satele played two good seasons in Miami before getting traded along with a fourth-round pick to the Raiders for a fourth-rounder and a sixth-rounder in 2009, which turned into wide receiver Brian Hartline and tackle Andrew Gardner. Hindsight is a dangerous thing, but wow.
7. Moving on, I thought it was a good gesture for Bill Belichick to give Rob Gronkowski the chance to catch that record-setting pass Sunday during the final true offensive play of the season. Gronkowski was ecstatic over it, and that's the type of stuff that helps players really get on board with a coach. It's not that I ever thought that was an issue before, but I just think the play call can only strengthen the relationship between Belichick and the Patriots' young star.
8. Backup quarterback Brian Hoyer was also excited about the opportunity to throw his first pass of the season, and he loved the chance to help Gronkowski set a record, too.
"I was just happy for him," Hoyer said. "He was laughing. You know how Gronk is. Coming back into the huddle, he was excited and laughing. It was a good opportunity."
9. Speaking of Hoyer, who I believe will get an opportunity to start somewhere within a year or two, I think his offseason stock dropped Sunday when Packers quarterback Matt Flynn had a huge day against the Lions. Flynn, an unrestricted free agent, is at the top of the totem pole among backups who are next in line to get a starting opportunity with a new team. Heading into the regular season, I thought Hoyer (a restricted free agent this offseason) was neck and neck with Flynn, but the Packers' explosion Sunday all but certainly set Flynn apart.
10. Hoyer's stock was helped by Matt Barkley's decision to stay at USC, though. Obviously, Andrew Luck is the prize of the draft and the offseason, and however unlikely, Peyton Manning could get thrown into the mix if the Colts want to deal him. But teams will likely have a decision to make between Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, Flynn, Hoyer and other draft prospects.
11. The Patriots like Hoyer, and I'm sure they'd be more than happy to welcome him back in 2012 as Brady's primary backup, even with Ryan Mallett on the roster. Maybe the Patriots can give Hoyer a second-round tender and hope to get the draft pick if he signs elsewhere. Or, maybe they could trade him for a third-rounder. Either way, it could be a fun storyline to follow in the coming months.
12. It's not breaking news that Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are pretty great at what they do, and it might even be indisputable that they're the best tandem of tight ends in the NFL. Consider this: They combined for 169 catches, 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns this season.
13. You know what that's about equal to? The four seasons of tight end production before they got to town. From 2006-09, tight ends Ben Watson, Daniel Graham, David Thomas, Kyle Brady and Chris Baker combined for 200 receptions, 2,344 yards and 23 touchdowns.
14. While answering a series of questions Tuesday about Gronkowski and Hernandez, Belichick dropped the line, "Prior to last year, we hadn't had a lot of production out of the tight end position, period, in the passing game — some, but not to the degree that it's come in the last two years." Obviously, that was pretty well-known, but it's the first time I can remember Belichick acknowledging it.
15. Patriots defensive back Sterling Moore showcased some really good ball skills while intercepting a pair of passes Sunday against the Bills. Moore, a cornerback by trade, has had an interesting season, making his first career start for the Patriots at safety after just a week of practice at the position. He's also been released by both the Raiders and Patriots, and he's played across the secondary in New England.
16. I asked Moore after Sunday's game if he knew he was capable of making those types of plays, and he answered without hesitation.
"I knew I was capable of that," Moore said. "When they brought me in here, the first thing they said when they moved me to safety was, 'We kind of like the way you play the ball, so we're going to put you back there.' [Sunday] was the first real opportunity to go out there and get my hands on the ball and play the ball. It was deep down in there because I haven't had to do it in a while, but I'm glad it came back out."
17. It was definitely good for safety Patrick Chung and linebacker Brandon Spikes to get back onto the field Sunday after missing seven games with injuries, and Chung admitted as such, especially with the playoffs on the horizon.
"Sitting around waiting, it kind of hurts a little bit, but now I'm back with my guys," Chung said. "It was very important. You can't go just straight into the playoffs. You have to have a warmup game to get your legs right, get your footwork going, and get your mind back on football and then see how it goes from there."
18. There isn't much to dissect this week about the Patriots' initial playoff opponent because, well, they don't have one yet. The Patriots, whose postseason opener is in the No. 1 spot with the 8 p.m. Saturday game, could find out their opponent right off the bat. The third-seeded Texans play the sixth-seeded Bengals in the NFL's first playoff game. If the Bengals win, they'll head to Foxboro. If the Texans win, the Patriots get the Steelers-Broncos winner.
19. If the Texans and Steelers derail the Patriots' second chapter of Tebowmania, fear not, Tebowmaniacs. Since the Broncos won the AFC West, they'll be heading to Gillette Stadium during the 2012 regular season. Of course, between now and then, Tebow has to prove he should retain his job as Denver's starting quarterback.
20. Nineteen players who have been on the active roster since the start of Week 1 were in attendance for all 54 regular-season practices, not including closed walkthroughs: defensive end Shaun Ellis, defensive lineman Kyle Love, linebacker Gary Guyton, linebacker Rob Ninkovich, linebacker Tracy White, safety Sergio Brown, safety James Ihedigbo, cornerback Antwaun Molden, offensive lineman Dan Connolly, tackle Nate Solder, right guard Brian Waters, quarterback Brian Hoyer, quarterback Ryan Mallett, wide receiver Deion Branch, wide receiver Matthew Slater, tight end Rob Gronkowski, long snapper Danny Aiken, kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Zoltan Mesko.
Despite having perfect practice attendance, Ellis, Guyton, White, Brown, Connolly, Mallett, Branch have not suited up for every game, so there are 12 Patriots who have been on the active roster all season and participated in all 54 practices and all 16 games.
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