There's plenty to dissect, so let's kick off this week's Two-Minute Drill.
1. It's pretty disappointing that Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel won't get his homecoming of sorts with this week's visit to New England. Cassel has been ruled out with a hand injury, which sidelines one of the better stories of the season in terms of the Patriots' schedule.
2. Bill Belichick had a good quote about Cassel during Tuesday's conference call.
"Everybody wrote us off in 2008 when we lost Tom [Brady]," Belichick said, "and Matt led us to 11 wins."
3. Even after the Patriots lost back-to-back games for the third time since 2002, they've got an AFC-low three defeats with a piece-of-cake schedule on the horizon. Their last seven games are against the Chiefs, Eagles, Colts, Redskins, Broncos, Dolphins and Bills, who have a combined record of 21-43.
4. The other three-loss teams are the Steelers (who have the tiebreaker over New England), Ravens, Bengals and Texans. I think it's safe to assume the Texans will fall back to earth with quarterback Matt Leinart taking over for the injured Matt Schaub. The other three teams will fight for the AFC North title, with the two that fall short hoping for a wild-card berth.
5. It's obviously early and presumptuous to bring this up, but if the Patriots run the table against that soft schedule, they'll have a No. 2 seed, a first-round bye and at least one home playoff game in a worst-case scenario. If the Patriots take care of business — and they haven't lost to a team with a losing record all season — they'll enter the playoffs in great position.
6. Speaking of future opponents, the Patriots won't exactly be facing a murderer's row of quarterbacks. Of the teams remaining on their schedule, their current starters are Tyler Palko, Michael Vick, Curtis Painter, Rex Grossman, Tim Tebow, Matt Moore and Ryan Fitzpatrick. And Vick just suffered two broken ribs, so who knows how long he'll last? Palko, Painter, Tebow and Moore started the season on the bench, and Grossman was benched already at one point this season.
7. Marcus Cannon's story continues to get even more impressive, and it progressed further Tuesday when he was activated to the 53-man roster. However, the Patriots didn't release an offensive lineman with Cannon's promotion, which makes me believe it's going to be a little longer until he's game ready, not that there's anything wrong with that. Ryan Wendell and Donald Thomas would still be the backup interior linemen, and Nate Solder is the backup tackle.
8. Belichick has said over and again that he wouldn't rule out the possibility of Cannon playing guard in the NFL, and that's been the original thought since the draft. It makes the most sense, too, because the Patriots figure to be set for the foreseeable future at tackle, where they've got Solder and Sebastian Vollmer.
9. Thing is, I don't know how the Patriots could move on from right guard Brian Waters after this season. He's been their best offensive lineman this season, and he's also been a role model in the locker room. Waters has been one of their better free-agent signings in the last decade.
10. There's a very underrated aspect to the Patriots' no-huddle offense (or any team's no-huddle, for that matter). Brady can hear the coaching staff through his headset until there's 15 seconds remaining on the play clock, when the headsets are disabled by rule. Offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien essentially said the Patriots huddle "on the ball," as Brady relays the call at the line of scrimmage. Basically, as long as the Patriots get to the line quickly, it gives the coaching staff a few extra seconds to study the defense while speaking to Brady on the headset.
11. O'Brien kind of shrugged off the notion that it gives his offense a big advantage. While I agree with him to an extent — because the coaches already know the defensive personnel on the field, the defensive captain listens to his own headset for the same amount of time and the defense can throw a different look at the offense at the 15-second mark — I think the sophistication of the Patriots' offense gives them an additional advantage with that aspect.
12. I will start to keep a closer eye on the play clock now, though. If the Patriots snap the ball around that 15-second mark with any type of frequency, you can be certain there's a correlation to that.
13. It's that time of the week again. The Patriots released safety Ross Ventrone on Tuesday, which marks the eighth time he's been released by the team since 2010, as well as his 20th roster transaction (signed, released, promoted to active roster from practice squad) with the Patriots. It was also his sixth release and 14th roster transaction since the end of the lockout, when the 2011 season began. As always, expect the 21st transaction to come soon when he clears waivers and gets added to the practice squad.
14. I thought the Patriots' new-look four-man front was the best adjustment they have made this season. Read a full breakdown in the link, but the gist of it is the Patriots used a pass-rushing combination of Andre Carter, Brandon Deaderick (at tackle instead of end), Vince Wilfork and Mark Anderson. They essentially dared the Jets to run on them, which the Jets didn't do, and the pass rush rattled Mark Sanchez, who couldn't expose the holes in the defensive zone.
15. So, cornerback Sterling Moore earned his first career start against the Jets, and he got it by playing safety. You know that by now. Moore said after the game he had never played safety before joining the Patriots, who told him to learn three positions — cornerback, nickelback and safety — when he signed in October. But Moore never had a full week of practice at safety until last week. That's just crazy.
16. It also speaks to how far Sergio Brown has fallen. Brown, who played pretty well during his rookie season in 2010, was behind Moore and Ventrone on the depth chart in the Jets game.
17. Linebacker Rob Ninkovich's second interception against the Jets was one of his finest plays as a Patriot, and it's not just because he returned it for a fourth-quarter touchdown. Ninkovich trucked tight end Dustin Keller at the line, realized he had help on Keller, who wasn't getting up quickly, and then freelanced by reading Sanchez and floating through the zone to jump in front of the pass intended for LaDainian Tomlinson. And that all happened in about 2 or 3 seconds. The sequence of events was impressive.
18. Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco ended his reception drought with a pair of catches against the Jets, but before getting overly excited, it can't be forgotten that the Jets basically forgot about him on each play. They were two horrendously blown assignments by the defense. At the very least, the Patriots can hope Ochocinco developed some confidence by showing up on the stat sheet, and it's become apparent this season that Ochocinco needs confidence in order to perform.
19. So, the Patriots' trip to Washington just got a whole lot more boring now that Albert Haynesworth is gone. Speaking of the defensive tackle, I'm not at all surprised that he blocked an extra point in his debut with Tampa Bay. I've said all along that Haynesworth can still play at a high level, but he just doesn't care enough to bring it on every play. Therefore, he's a hindrance to his team when his fellow defensive teammates can't trust him to show up on any given down. It's really a shame, too, because he's letting a lot of talent go to waste.
20. With Cassel out of the picture this week, this is essentially another dud for Monday Night Football, at least from a competition standpoint. It's probably unrealistic to think MNF could implement an element of flex-scheduling like Sunday Night Football, mostly from the perspective of planning and ticket sales. But I think the NFL should look into the idea of playing a weekly doubleheader on Monday night, just like they do now in Week 1 with the first game at 7 p.m. and a 10 p.m. West Coast game. Sure, it might run the risk of oversaturation, but it would also decrease the chances of airing a string of games that few care about outside the direct markets, like the Green Bay-Minnesota and New England-Kansas City matchups that will take center stage in consecutive weeks.
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