Good morning, and Happy Gameday. Here are our Sunday 10-8 Patriots news and notes.
This week, the Patriots, at 1-3, are facing a pivotal game of the 2023 season. If they win and get on the right track, they will have some other winnable games that will allow them to climb up a bit in the standings. A loss here at home would drop them to 1-4, and the season could quickly unravel.
We’ll see how they respond to the loss they suffered last week later today.
Remembering “All-World” Russ Francis —
Russ Francis died in a plane crash last week in the Lake Placid area, cutting short the life of a modern-day Rennaissance Man.
Francis was a professional football player, professional wrestler, scuba diver, pilot, and actor, appearing on Fantasy Island and Wrestlemania. He once held the national high school javelin record.
During a Monday Night Football game, Howard Cosell dubbed him an “All-World” tight end, and it was a title that he didn’t care for and asked Cosell to stop using.
Francis was a free spirit and was loved by his teammates. Once, he was flying with Joe Green in the WBZ traffic helicopter when he landed at the Patriots’ 50-yard line in the old stadium so that he could go to practice.
Several years ago, I had lunch with Steve Nelson at the old CBS Scene at Gillette Stadium, and we spoke about some of the great Patriot players of the past, and the subject of Francis came up. He regaled us with some hilarious stories about the TE, his calm demeanor, and the team’s attempts to needle him for his moniker, as well as other things.
Nelson said that Francis disliked lifting weights and would only do so when the coaches were at hand. Nelson recalled that the other players were lifting weights hard and sweating profusely while Francis would walk around with a light dumbbell, not even breaking a sweat. “And he was built like a Greek statue,” Nelson said, laughing.
But once his temper got going, another side of him emerged. Nelson said that if Francis came off the field cussing and tossing stuff, he and other members of the defense would go to head coach Chuck Fairbanks and tell him to run the ball to Francis’ side. He was an excellent blocker, but when he got enraged, his blocking went to another level, Nelson recalled, having seen it in practice.
But he was also an elite pass catcher, becoming a deep threat in the passing game. Many of those who never saw him play will point to his modest stats (by today’s standards) and believe that he wasn’t a dynamic receiver. And they’d be wrong.
The NFL, and especially New England, was a ground-and-pound league. The Pats had four backs with over 500 yards rushing and set the league rushing record with 3,165 yards rushing. Francis led the team with 39 receptions.
Francis and Dave Casper changed the way tight ends were used in the passing game, becoming deep threats down the field. Interestingly enough, although their stats were remarkably similar, Casper was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002. And Francis is still not even in the Patriots team HOF, which is a travesty.
With the rules tighter for defensive players in today’s game, Francis would be a dominant force as an inline tight end with his size, speed, and athleticism.
Francis made the TE position popular among NE high schools, and even in sandlot games, everyone wanted to emulate him. He and Andre Tippett were two of my favorite players from that era.
RIP to Russ Francis and also to Dick Butkus, one of the most intimidating players to ever play the game.
Quick Hitters For the Patriots and NFL News:
Jonathan Jones: The Patriot cornerback, who missed the past three games with an ankle injury, may play on Sunday. While he is still listed as questionable to play on the injury report, he’s getting closer to returning.
Bill Belichick told the media on Friday that Jones is “a lot closer than he was this time last week. It will probably be today, maybe tomorrow, that we’ll make a decision, but I’d say he’s got a chance.”
After the injury to Christian Gonzalez last week that resulted in him being placed on IR and lost for the season, the team was down its top four CBs. Having Jones back would certainly help that situation. And on that note…
J.C. Jackson: The Patriots made a trade to bring back Jackson, who was a ball hawk during his career in New England, intercepting 25 passes in his first four seasons. He then left in 2022 for the Bolts, signing a 4-year, $82 million-dollar deal. But things didn’t pan out, and the Patriots swapped late-round draft picks in 2025 to bring Jackson back.
Jackson suffered a patella tendon knee injury last year, which he claimed last week was still bothering him. He practiced fully on Friday, but Evan Lazar reported that he was icing his knee after practice.
If he and Jones can play on Sunday, it would be a huge boost for the secondary, especially with the cornerback position.
Keion White: The Patriots are hoping that the rookie edge player can duplicate some of the production for the defense following the loss of Matthew Judon to a bicep tendon injury.
White has flashed in limited action thus far this season. Jerod Mayo said earlier this week that Judon can’t be replaced by one player, but White is one who can take up some of that slack. He and Anfernee Jennings should see an uptick in playing time.
But he saves his energy for the field. Unlike Judon, who is animated, White is as quiet as they come.
“I mean, I don’t know if anybody noticed, but I’m not a big energy guy,” White said on Wednesday. “I kind of just play the next play and just do my job. So, yeah, we’re different in that sense.”
Jamie Collins: The former Patriot linebacker has made it official that he’s retiring from the NFL. Collins was an athletic freak who had three different stints with the team. He was known for his leaping right over the long snapper to block a field goal in 2015. The NFL then banned the play, citing safety concerns.
“It hasn’t hit me yet, but I’m officially retired,” Collins said. “It was wonderful and something I never thought I’d be a part of. Made a lot of great relationships. Had a ton of fun. Now it’s time to relax and be with my family.”
Collins has stated that he wishes to be a coach in the near future, as football remains in his blood.
Patriots 4th & 2 Podcast: If you haven’t listened to our PatsFans.com podcast, Patriots 4th & 2”, in a bit, please check it out. Patriots 4th & 2 has expanded.
Derek Havens and I spoke about the debacle of the Cowboys game as well as doing a quick look at the Saints. And Russ Goldman, in a separate podcast, gave his take on Mac Jones.
Russ Francis/Chuck Fairbanks: The former Patriot tight end and head coach both should be in the Patriots team Hall of Fame, and the fact that Francis isn’t in is an absolute travesty. Francis and the Raiders’ Dave Casper changed the game with how teams used the tight end position…this will be on our Sunday posts until it happens.
Patriot Players to Watch Against the Saints —
The Patriots and Saints will meet in Gillette Stadium this afternoon, where they really need a win, especially after starting 0-2 at home with losses to the Eagles and Dolphins. Like New England, New Orleans has been leaning on their defense, while their offense, specifically the OL, has struggled.
So here are our players from a Patriots perspective to watch today.
Mac Jones: Jones had his worst day as a pro on Sunday in Dallas. With three turnovers, two of which went to defensive touchdowns (a strip sack and a pick-six), this offensively challenged team can’t afford more of this.
Jones has to turn the page and play much cleaner this week. Bill Belichick praised his mental toughness and expects his confidence to return. But all eyes will be on Jones this week, and he’ll be looked at closely to get the offense untracked.
Keion White: The Patriots invested a 2nd round draft pick in White this spring, and he’s been impressive in smaller doses this season, but now, because of the Judon injury, his learning curve will be cut shorter, as the team will need him to produce more.
White is big (6’5, 290) and incredibly athletic for such a big man. He can set the edge and get after the QB. Bill Belichick said, “Keion’s coming along well. He’s a smart kid. He’s out there every day and works hard. He’s improved a lot, still got a long way to go, but he’s certainly tracking in the right direction.”
Rhamondre Stevenson: The big back has yet to make an impact this season, averaging just 2.7 yards per carry, while the team has just one rushing TD and one game with over 100 yards against the Jets.
While much of that onus falls on the offensive line, Stevenson and Elliott have to get going. The Patriots want to run the football, which will open up the passing game. And Stevenson, who is off to the slowest start in his career, has to start getting to the second and third levels more frequently.
Jon Jones: The Saints have some talented skill position players in Michael Thomas, Chris Olave, Alvin Kamara, and Rashid Shaheed. And it is Shaheed, which is where Jones will be needed the most. He’s the fastest player on the Patriots’ defense and will be going (if available) against the burner from the Saints.
Having Jones back and healthy enough to play this week will be huge for the defense and give them a matchup to cover Shaheed. Not to mention Olave, while Jackson (if he plays) would probably draw Thomas.
Mike Gesicki: The offense hasn’t targeted Gesicki very much in the first four games, just 13 times, and he has 10 catches for 99 yards but no TDs and a long reception of just 18 yards. He and Hunter Henry were expected to be big red-zone targets this season, but it has yet to materialize.
Also, the YAC hasn’t been there yet, either. But this week, perhaps they can jumpstart his production against a good Saints defense. Matched up with LBs should be a mismatch for Gesicki, but it is a matchup that has been underutilized. That has to change… this week would be a really good time to do so.
Week 5 Predictions —
Thursday Night Football:
Washington over Chicago 0-1
Sunday Day Games:
Buffalo over Jacksonville
Houston over Atlanta
Detroit over Carolina
Tennessee over Indianapolis
Miami over NY Giants
New England over New Orleans
Baltimore over Pittsburgh
Philadelphia over LA Rams
Cincinnati over Arizona
Denver over NY Jets
Kansas City over Minnesota
(Cleveland, LA Chargers, Seattle, Tampa Bay – bye week)
Sunday Night Football:
San Francisco over Dallas
Monday Night Football:
Green Bay over Las Vegas
Last Week 11—5
2023 Season 39—25
2022 Season: 178—92—2
2021 Season: 183—88—1
2020 Season: 169—86—1
2019 Season: 162—93—1
“Russ was a pretty special player, a really unique type of guy. At the Giants, we didn’t play against them too much because there were different conferences, but we got them a couple of times, and then we got them when he went to San Francisco. They weren’t in our division, but it felt like it seemed like we played them twice a year.
“So, coached against Russ a lot, tremendous athlete. He was really a prototype tight end, super athletic, good blocker, strong, good football player, really good football player. I got to know him a little bit here when he came back for a couple of events, back here got to spend some time with him.
“Fun-loving guy, sat out his senior year at Oregon; you don’t see that very often. In any case, great guy, really a love of life, and a love for the game. He’s about as good as we faced, and we faced some pretty good ones when I was at the Giants. I’m talking about that era, the 80s, late 70s.
“Chuck [Fairbanks] drafted him. He was in the league before I got in the league, but was one of those guys who was really a good player. Not a wide receiver, but he had some wide receiver skills, I would say, for a a tight end, kind of like [Rich] Caster did at the Jets. Back then, most of the tight ends were more like tight ends, a version of an offensive lineman that could also run and catch a little bit.
“They could split Russ out. Russ had some, like I said, receiver skills. Keith Jackson was like that at Philly; a couple of guys like that. He had some special skills as a tight end, and he could block, and he was tough. And he was tall. He was a big target. You couldn’t overthrow that guy. He had a huge catch radius and good hands. Yeah, he was tough. Sad day, sad for that, and obviously Tim Wakefield.”
Bill Belichick speaking about former Patriot great Russ Francis, who passed away in a plane crash last week.
“Yeah, prototype middle linebacker, in everything, from his playing style to the look. He was a Chicago Bear if there ever was one.
“You know, I got to spend a little bit of time with him at the NFL 100, the Super Bowl in Miami when they introduced us, spent a little time with him down there. That was great to get to meet him, talk to him, and spend a little bit of time with him; a ton of respect for Dick, his play style, and what he did for the game.
“At that time, the way he played, he was the ultimate middle linebacker – tall, long, too… obviously a great run player, great tackler. But, he had a lot of length. It was hard to throw around inside… Yeah, Butkus was a heck of a player. Butkus and (Mike) Ditka, I mean, those are your two Bears.
Belichick was also asked about the passing of HOFer Dick Butkus, who passed away at 80 this week.
“Talent sets the floor; Character sets the ceiling.” Bill Belichick
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Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Alvin Kamara Bill Belichick Chris Olave Dick Butkus Kendrick Bourne Mac Jones Matthew Judon Michael Thomas Mike Gesicki New England Patriots New Orleans Saints Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rashid Shaheed Rhamondre Stevenson Russ Francis Steve Nelson