Some assorted notes and nuggets from Thursday’s video conference calls with New England Patriots players:
— With Le’Veon Bell now in Kansas City, the Patriots can expect to see a heavy dose of Frank Gore when they visit the New York Jets on “Monday Night Football.”
Now in his 16th NFL season, the 37-year-old Gore has been one of the league’s most durable and reliable running backs since many current Patriots players were in elementary school.
One such player is second-year running back Damien Harris, who raved about Gore and his “ridiculous” longevity.
“I don’t even know if my words will do it justice, but just the ultimate respect,” Harris said. “The ultimate — just, I mean, I can’t even express. Just being able to witness something like that and to be able to go up against something like that — all-time great, one of the all-time leading rushers in this game. One of the toughest and most competitive guys to ever play this position. So just seeing what he’s done over the course of his career, it?s — I mean, it’s ridiculous. And you can’t even really put together the right words that show enough respect to what he has done for this game.”
Gore’s 15,687 career rushing yards rank third all-time behind Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith. Remarkably, he led his team in rushing in each of his first 14 seasons before finally having that streak broken in 2019.
“He?s one of the guys that have paved the way for younger guys like myself to play this game, to play this great position,” said Harris, who was 8 when Gore was drafted in 2005. “So being able to see what he’s done over the course of his career and what he’s still doing to this day, tremendous amount of respect.
“So I’m really looking forward to seeing that on Monday. Hopefully, I’ll get an opportunity to just tell him, ?You are one of the all-time greats, and what you’ve done for this game, for myself, for guys that would have never even known how to play this position without guys like you, it?s truly an honor to share the same field.'”
Gore leads all Jets rushers with 340 yards on 90 carries.
— The most recent Patriots-Jets meeting was the infamous “Seeing Ghosts” game last October, which also took place on “Monday Night Football.”
In that game, New England’s defense repeatedly bamboozled Sam Darnold with Cover Zero blitzes. Darnold threw four interceptions and lost a fumble, and the Patriots coasted to a 33-0 win at MetLife Stadium.
Flustering Darnold will be a major part of this week’s defensive game plan, as well, according to Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones.
“Disguise will be huge,” Jones said. “Just trying to get after him and confuse him is going to be big for us.”
We’ll see if the Patriots’ new-look defense can have that same type of success. New England lost each of its top three pass rushers this offseason (Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower) and currently ranks 23rd in the NFL in sack rate, down from sixth last season.
Jets coach Adam Gase said Thursday the Patriots’ defense does not look the same without Hightower, who opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns.
Gase’s offense has been downright putrid, however, especially when Darnold has been asked to throw. The Jets rank dead last in points per game, yards per game and nearly every passing category, including yards per game, yards per attempt, passer rating and DVOA.
— This week’s game will feature two of the NFL’s top rookie linemen in New York’s Mehki Becton and New England’s Mike Onwenu.
Onwenu has been a revelation for the Patriots, seeing time at four different offensive line positions (right guard, left guard, right tackle and jumbo tight end) and excelling at all four.
Even Onwenu has been surprised by his own versatility. The sixth-round draft pick didn’t move around much at Michigan, playing almost exclusively at right guard.
“I definitely didn?t think (playing four positions) was a possibility,” Onwenu said. “But honestly, I?m open to anything that comes my way. I?m grateful for that opportunity.”
With Jermaine Eluemunor on injured reserve, Onwenu has started the Patriots’ last two games right tackle. In last Sunday’s loss to Buffalo, the 350-pounder bowled over two Bills linebackers with a single block, earning himself a rousing ovation during film study.
“Definitely during the film session, all the guys cheered me on,” Onwenu said. “That was a good feeling. To be honest, I didn?t even know that happened until I watched it. But, you know, I?m glad I did.”
Onwenu is Pro Football Focus’s highest-graded rookie and 12th-highest-graded player, trailing only Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Aaron Donald, T.J. Watt, Khalil Mack, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, Indianapolis Colts tight end Mo Alie-Cox, Cleveland Browns guard Wyatt Teller, Dallas Cowboys guard Zack Martin and Detroit Lions punter Jack Fox.