For those who aren’t familiar with the coverage over at NESN.com, their featured beat writer is Jeff Howe, who does a terrific job and handles all things Patriots for their site. Howe is entering his second season as NESN.com’s Patriots reporter, and is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the pro sports scene in Boston since 2006. We had a chance to catch up with him for a few questions for this week, so you can read his thoughts below.
1) Obviously the Randy Moss fiasco consumed much of the discussion this week following the news that he was being waived by the Vikings. Had he cleared waivers and would have been willing to take less money to come back to New England, do you feel it would have been a good move by the team to bring him back? Or do you feel they’re better off without him?
Jeff Howe: I think they were happy to move on without him a month ago. After all, they didn’t trade Moss for the purposes of acquiring an extra draft pick. More and more after the trade, it looked like a dump. Obviously, the 3-0 record and Deion Branch’s contributions since then have made the trade look all the better, too.
Do I think they would have brought him back if he promised to be on his best behavior? Well, I’m not ready to rule that out, but I think they’re better off without him.
2) I read an article Thursday morning about the fact that Tom Brady may be a leading candidate to be the NFL’s Most Valuable Player through the first seven games of the season. Would you agree with that?
JH: Yeah, he’s definitely in the running, but Peyton Manning and LaDainian Tomlinson are certainly up there, too. I think, eventually, Tomlinson’s production will slip, and that could leave Brady and Manning going head-to-head once again. Don’t rule out Aaron Rodgers, either. He was my preseason pick for the award, and he’ll receive an extra spike in votes if he gets the Packers to win that division without running back Ryan Grant.
After a productive ’09 season, Patriots receiver Julian Edelman has been relatively quiet so far through the first seven games of this season.
3) Julian Edelman has been relatively ineffective to this point in the season. Is it because he’s not getting enough snaps, or from what you’ve seen, is he just having a tough time getting open?
JH: Yeah, that’s been surprising to an extent, too. I’d say it’s more due to a lack of actual reps, as the Patriots have used him primarily as Wes Welker’s backup. I still think Edelman would be a good complimentary piece as a second slot receiver, but tight end Aaron Hernandez’s effectiveness in a similar role has probably taken away from Edelman’s chances in that regard.
And consider this: In four games without Welker, including the Houston game when Welker was injured and the Baltimore playoff game, Edelman has 27 catches for 265 yards and two touchdowns. In Edelman’s other 11 games with Welker fully in the lineup, Edelman has 20 receptions for 152 yards and one touchdown.
4) Deion Branch started off with a big game in his first week back in New England, but has been relatively quiet since. Why do you feel that is?
JH: Branch actually said something last week that really stuck out to me.
“Earlier in the [Chargers] game, Tom [Brady] looked at me like, ‘I could have had you on this,’ and I’m like, ‘Go through your reads,'” Branch said. “It’s just not all about getting me the ball just because. That’s just not what we’re about. I think the thing for us is to execute our plays. I appreciate him trying to throw me the ball, but if it’s not there for him to do it, then don’t do it.”
Branch doesn’t care if he gets catches, which is refreshing in a way. His biggest contributions were definitely in the Ravens game, especially with seven receptions for 75 yards and a touchdown coming in the fourth quarter and overtime. And all four of his receptions in the San Diego game came after the half, so the thing you can read into that is Brady is comfortable going to Branch when it matters most. It’s going to take time for Branch to be his old self in the offense, but he’s big in clutch situations, and that’s where his star was originally born earlier in the decade.
5) And finally, so far through seven games we’ve seen plenty of impressive performances from some of the rookies on defense. Who has impressed you the most so far this season, and why?
JH: I was a huge Brandon Spikes advocate during his college career, the draft process and now as a pro, and he’s been very, very good against the run. But for this question, I’ve got to go with Devin McCourty. He’s been a stud, and he is already one of the four best cornerbacks in the division. He has also played faster in the last two weeks, which is a direct correlation to his ability to react instead of having to think his way through a play. McCourty looks like a guy who is ready to do some big things.
A special thanks to Mr. Howe for taking the time to join us this week. You can find Jeff’s coverage at NESN.com, and if you’re on Twitter be sure and follow him at @jeffphowe for plenty of great insight and information.