The weekend is almost here and while there won’t be football for the second consecutive Sunday, the good news is we’ll at least see New England back in action Monday night when they resume the season in Carolina against the Panthers.

As we wind down this week, here are a few thoughts for this morning:


Aqib Talib’s potential return may be a big key for the Patriots defense Monday night vs Steve Smith and the Panthers.
(USA TODAY Images)

1) It appears that Bill Belichick may have resisted his fondness for Ed Reed and went with his football instincts by letting him go elsewhere on Thursday, after Comcast Sports New England reported that the team never even contacted him.  Obviously the guy that Belichick admired years ago isn’t that same player now, and with the early promise shown by Duron Harmon over the last couple of games, it appears he’s sticking with the potential shown by the rookie while Steve Gregory continues to recover.  It’s disappointing to see Reed end up in New York, but considering the fact Reed played under Rex Ryan in Baltimore, the move isn’t exactly surprising.  Fortunately unless the Jets reach the postseason, these two teams are at least done for this year so there won’t be any drama from that front moving forward.

2) It seems Aqib Talib is improving, at least judging by a  report by Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald this morning that indicated Talib may be available for Monday night’s game.  His availability may end up being critical because the Patriots are about to face Carolina receiver Steve Smith, who has been having a terrific season.  So far he has 42 catches for 450 yards and three touchdowns, leading all Panthers receivers.  He’s definitely going to be the guy to watch Monday night, and hopefully this is the week Talib’s able to return because that’s a match-up they could really use him for.

3) Now that Austin Collie is gone it’s going to be interesting to see if Kenbrell Thompkins is in the line-up Monday night against the Panthers.  The rookie receiver sat out their match-up against the Steelers two weeks ago as a healthy scratch, but after Collie suffered a knee injury the Patriots are now down a man at the receiver position.  It sounds like Thompkins had some “extra study time” over the bye week, so hopefully the additional time off has helped him work on whatever it was that kept him out of the line-up.  New England’s offense took some giant steps forward against Pittsburgh, and hopefully heading into the last half of the season Thompkins will become a part of that.

PANTHERS AND 3RD DOWN RUN SUCCESS:

Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald pointed out a mention by Bill Belichick this morning, who noted Panthers are among the NFL leaders in 3d-down runs. They’re second with 4.7 per game, while quarterback Cam Newton’s 24 3rd-down runs are 2nd most in NFL.  Overall defensively this season teams have run on New England 27 times for 66 yards (2.4 avg) while picking up 14 first downs along with a touchdown.  Here’s a breakdown of teams’ overall success against New England’s defense on 3rd down running the football:

Left End: 4 carries, 27 yds (6.8 avg)
Left Tackle: 4 carries, 7yds (1.8 avg)
Left Guard: 2 carries, 2yds (3.5 avg)
Middle: 13 carries, 11yds (0.8 avg) 1 TD
Right Guard: 2 carries, 7yds (3.5 avg)
Right Tackle: 1 carry, 3yds (3.0 avg)
Right End: 1 carry, 4yds (4.0 avg)

Interestingly enough, with the team set to face Cam Newton Monday night, three quarterbacks have the three highest rushing totals against their defense on 3rd down this season.  Geno Smith (2 carries 13yds, 1 first down), Ryan Tannehill (1 carry, 12yds, 1 first down), and Andy Dalton (2 carries, 10yds, 1 first down) are the three that fall into that category.

HIGH PRAISE FROM GRONKOWSKI ON PANTHERS’ DEFENSE:

Rob Gronkowski spoke to the Carolina media this week and had high praise for the Panthers defense, calling them an “unbelievable” opponent.

“They’ve got a great defense,” said Gronkowski. “They’re unbelievable. They’re 5-0 in the last five games. They’re on a hot streak right now and they’re playing very well. The front seven, they play great together. They’ve got a great combo at the D-ends. Their linebackers are unbelievable. They’re just overall a great defense. Quick, fast and physical.”

Gronkowski was also asked about Tom Brady and his performances in big games, with the tight end mentioning how prepared the veteran QB is and his ability to step up under the spotlight.

“He’s Tom Brady,” said Gronkowski. “He works so hard and he’s such a competitor, and when the lights are shining, that’s when the guys that work hard and put the extra work in always shine. That’s Tom. He’s an unbelievable player, he has a lot of enthusiasm and he’s always ready to play the game.”

He was also asked about the rap video that he recently did, saying it was a family friend who helped put it together.

“Yeah, that’s my brother’s friend that he played baseball with who did that,” said Gronkowksi.  “He did it all himself, it was pretty cool. I give Future some props, I mean it was legit.”

ON TO THIS MORNING’S LINKS:

BOSTON GLOBE:

Patriots may get back Vereen and Talib – Shalise Manza Young – Manza Young writes that both Talib and Vereen may return Monday night.

Kenbrell Thompkins staying optimistic – Michael Whitmer – After being sidelined the last game, Thompkins remains upbeat.

BOSTON HERALD:

Notebook: Ed Reed opts for Rex Ryan, Jets – Jeff Howe – Howe files his notebook this morning which leads off with a look at the safety position after the team opted not to sign Reed.

Aqib Talib ready to talk it up – Jeff Howe – Howe has an article on Talib, who seems to be improving.

Chatham : Newton-ian law exam – Matt Chatham – Chatham files his weekly report, which looks at how the Patriots need to handle Panthers QB Cam Newton.

ESPN BOSTON:

Weekly Patriots chat recap – Mike Reiss – Reiss held his weekly chat on Thursday and as usual there were some interesting topics discussed.

ESPN:

X Game: Tom Brady vs. Carolina defense – David Newton – Newton looks at this aspect of Monday night’s match-up.

WEEI:

Transformer: How return of Shane Vereen changes Patriots offense – Christopher Price – Price looks at the difference Vereen makes in this offense.

Numbers are down, but respect is up for Tom Brady – Christopher Price – Despite Brady’s struggles this season, Panthers QB Cam Newton has plenty of respect for the Patriots QB.

CSNNE:

Source: Patriots didn’t contact Reed - Tom Curran – Curran has his story regarding the fact New England didn’t contact the free agent safety.

Do Gronk’s actions fit into the ‘Patriot Way?’ – Curran and Russ Tucker ponder Gronk’s recent actions and whether or not it fits the team’s philosophy.