Good morning, and Happy Gameday. Here are our Sunday 10-22 Patriots news and notes. We’ll get to the Hall at Patriot Place inductions of Mike Vrabel and Dante Scarnecchia below, but first, the team may looking at wholesale change.
This week, the Patriots continue to lose and are at 1-5, with the Bills coming in today and the team going to Miami next week. A record of 1-7 looks more probable than not. (Hmm, as I typed that, I asked myself,” Where have I heard that before?”)
But the more significant news was the rumors of a possible Bill Belichick firing. And for the first time, it seems possible, which must be music to the ears of Boston sports radio, who have been calling for Belichick’s firing for years.
Albert Breer of SI was on the Colin Cowherd podcast, and reportedly, Robert Kraft has already discussed moving on from the Belichick regime.
These discussions have taken place, and I can tell you for sure, I mean, Robert hears the criticism,” said Breer. “He hears the anger locally, and people in the building know for a fact that he’s hearing the anger from the fan base, and he’s very cognisant of where his team is in the pecking order of NFL teams as well.”
“So the discussions of where this goes post-Belichick have been underway for a while, and I think regardless of how this year went, there was going to be a discussion about the franchise structure and potentially changing the personnel department. ‘Do we bring in a general manager or promote someone to general manager and see if Bill wants to work with him?’”
“I think now we’re at the point where, is this just going to be a flat-out firing, and do they want to go forward with the current program, and what does that mean for Jerod Mayo?”
Breer then appeared on the Rich Eisen show, adding more fuel to the fire. “I think maybe a month ago I would have told you, and I think I said it on your show, I think the likelihood is maybe he hires a GM and maybe says, ‘O.K. Bill, you’re not going to report to the GM, but he’s not going to report to you either,” said Breer. “We’re going to have both of you guys report to me, and we’re going to change the structure here. Now it’s almost like, can you go forward with Bill based on where the roster is, based on what we’re seeing on the field on a week-to-week basis?”
“I think Robert Kraft, and obviously, you and I both know Jonathan, is positioned to be the successor when it comes to the team’s primary owner. Those guys have had those conversations, certainly. I think the Jerod Mayo situation in January and February made those conversations a little bit more serious. I would think they only intensified over the last few weeks as they’ve suffered some embarrassing losses. Now they’re sitting there at 1-5.”
Breer has been wrong before, but this time, there is something to this story. Why? There are a couple of reasons. The team is floundering, and although there are still 11 games to go, they aren’t going anywhere in 2023. And it isn’t that the team is losing, but how they’re losing with the same self-inflicted mistakes and penalties that date back to last year.
Secondly, Robert Kraft sat on the fence earlier today while appearing on the David Rubenstein show. Kraft balked at a direct answer to whether Belichick should continue as the Patriots’ coach.
“I’ll let you ask him. He has to decide what’s right for him.”
I would imagine that Kraft has already discussed hiring a new GM, and that is what he meant by that. Conor Orr of SI penned a fascinating article on whether the Patriots would trade Belichick to a mediocre franchise. It isn’t as far-fetched as one would think. The only caveat would be Belichick’s age.
But one thing is for sure: Father Time is undefeated. Has it caught up to Belichick? Some great coaches have endured the pains of being let go: Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson of the Cowboys come to mind. Belichick himself was fired by Art Modell when he moved the Browns to Baltimore.
Quick Hitters For the Patriots and NFL News:
Ameer Speed: Speed was released from the 53-man roster on Thursday, presumably to make room for Jack Jones returning from IR. The Patriots selected the speedy CB (pardon the pun) in the 6th round of the 2023 NFL Draft (214th overall).
The Patriots hoped Speed would clear waivers and return to the team’s practice squad. Speed has excellent size (6’3, 215) and speed (4.34 time in the 40). He also had a 6.99 time in the 3-Cone Drill. However, the Indianapolis Colts claimed Speed off the waiver wire on Friday. Speed appeared in five games but only had ten snaps on defense and 73 on STs.
Injuries Test Edge Depth: The Patriots ruled out three players and listed 16 more in Friday’s injury report. But two players ruled out, Josh Uche and Keion White, are integral parts of the Patriots pass rush on the edge. With Matthew Judon injured and out indefinitely, this really tests their depth.
Anfernee Jennings has played well, setting the edge in the running game, but hasn’t provided much as a pass rusher. This week, they’ll probably use Jahlani Tavai opposite Jennings and move Mack Wilson into the middle. Playing against Josh Allen and the Bills, they need QB pressure more than ever this week.
Kendrick Bourne: Rumors persist about Bourne being moved at the trade deadline. After being in the doghouse for the 2022 season, Bourne has been a singular bright spot for the Patriots offense.
He leads the team in receptions with 28 yards with 307 and touchdowns with 2. His production through 16 games would project to 74 catches, 816 yards, and 5 TDs. Bourne, however, wants to remain a Patriot, but realizes that this isn’t a decision he can make.
“I want to be here. I love to be here,” he said. “But if there are other plans, then it is what it is. But just focusing every day on what I have to do and the task at hand. I think I’m in a good place. So, whatever happens happens. Just focusing day by day, and just let it play out.”
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 loss to the Raiders, the problems with the roster, and the upcoming game against the Bills today.
Russ Francis/Chuck Fairbanks: The former Patriot tight end and head coach 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. Casper is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Francis’ numbers stand up well against Casper’s, yet he isn’t in the team’s.
Mike Vrabel, Dante Scarnecchia Induction —
The Patriots honored Mike Vrabel and Dante Scarnecchia on Saturday and they have donned their red jackets to take their place among the Patriots greats in the team’s Hall of Fame.
Scarnecchia was inducted first and many will remember his being a coach who was very tough to please but brought out the very best in the players he coached. The players always recognized this and had have great feelings for their former coach.
Robert Kraft led off the speeches where he said, “Many football coaches act like marine drill sergeants, but for Dante, it was no act,” said Kraft. “His journey with the Patriots spans over four decades, a testament to his unwavering commitment and love for this team.
“You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who made greater on-field contributions over his 34 seasons which propelled us to 10 of our NFL-leading 10 Super Bowl appearances and helped us claim five of our six Super Bowl championships.
“Dante’s contributions to the Patriots are not just measured in wins and losses, but in the countless players he has mentored, the lives he has touched and the culture of excellence he helped foster.”
Scarnecchia took the stage and thanked his family for being so supportive and then got to the players.
“Thank you for being attentive. Thank you for buying in. Thank you for the hard work in the meeting room and on the practice field. Thank you for practicing like winners and playing like champions. Thank you for establishing and maintaining a culture that was conducive to winning. Thank you for all those things and, most importantly, thank you for putting up with me.”
Kraft then introduced Vrabel, a player who was stuck behind some really good linebackers in Pittsburgh but flourished with the Patriots for eight seasons.
“I showed up, and all I wanted to do was start for this team, wanted to start, and I want to show Tedy Bruschi and Willie McGinest, Brian Cox and Roman Phifer and all these guys that I belong,” said Vrabel.
“Wherever I coach, and now it’s in Tennessee, obviously. But I’m trying to recreate what we had in that locker room. And I don’t know if we’ll get it, but we’re going to try every day. I’m going to try because nothing was more important than the team. Not your feelings. Not your stats, not your paycheck. Not what you’ve done in the past. Nothing was more important than the football team.”
Finally, it was time for Bill Belichick to take the stage, and after hugs for many of the former players in attendance and a brief, cold handshake with Kraft, he showed the humor that former players say they were so surprised to witness and which many fans never see.
It started with a hilarious story about ‘Big Cat’ Williams, a huge tackle the Patriots brought in. “You had a great way,” said Belichick to Scarnecchia. “A great way of teaching, of getting [your] point across and a very, very effective, great teacher… great fundamental teacher and a great scheme teacher.”
Belichick then moved on to Vrabel, where he noted Vrabel’s wit and his greatness as a player.
“It was very easy to picture Mike as a coach when he was a player,” said Belichick. “It really was because he was very cerebral, but at the same time, Mike is one of the best fundamental players that I think I’ve coached.
“I’ve coached a lot of linebackers, but Mike was a very good fundamental player, the use of his hands, he’s long, he’s very strong, very stout, and has a good feel for how to rush against those long tackles.
“Obviously, that’s why he’s wearing a red jacket. I mean, he was a very, very productive player, his leadership and his intelligence that he brought to our team, not just our defense, obviously, but even the coaching staff.”
Patriot Players to Watch Against the Bills —
The Patriots pretty much owned the Bills during the Brady era. Since he left, the tables have turned a complete 180. Buffalo is 7-1 against the Patriots since then, with the only victory coming in the wind game where near hurricane gusts were blowing in Buffalo.
So here are our players from a Patriots perspective to watch today.
J.C. Jackson/Jack Jones: Jones could be activated off IR for this week’s game. It would boost a banged-up secondary, especially facing Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs. Diggs has routinely shredded the Patriots since he came to Buffalo.
Without Christian Gonzalez and Jonathan Jones hobbling, the unit could use all the help it could get. Jackson may draw Diggs today, and if so, would get safety help over the top.
Buffalo has plenty of other weapons, including two tight ends who have been productive in the offense. But slowing down the Bills first starts with Diggs. He has 49 catches for 629 yards and five TDs thus far in 2023. His least productive day was 66 yards on seven catches in a 38-10 blowout win against Las Vegas. He had six catches against Miami, but those went for 120 yards and three touchdowns.
Offensive Line: This is, again, a collective area rather than just an individual. The Bills lead the league in sacks with 24. Bill Belichick called it the best pass rush in the NFL. Buffalo is getting good production from several players. And they are just getting Von Miller back and healthy.
That is bad news for whoever the Patriots put at right tackle this week. The protection for Mac Jones has been shaky (or worse) all season. And with all of the injuries along the offensive line, this is a major area of concern today.
“[They] lead the lead in turnovers, best pass rush in the league, probably most disruptive defensive lineman in the league – or certainly one of them, we haven’t seen them all, but put Oliver up there,” Bill Belichick said earlier in the week. “It’s not just him, it’s [Greg] Rousseau, [A.J.] Epenesa, [Leonard] Floyd, they’ve got a whole bunch of them.”
Stevenson/Elliott: The Bills have injury concerns of their own, right in the middle of their defense. Matt Milano and DaQuon Jones are both on IR, leaving the middle of the defense a tad vulnerable against the run.
This is an area that the Patriots must try to attack with Rhamondre Stevenson and Zeke Elliott this week. Having some healthy bodies along the offensive line may help.
But if the Patriots will have the slimmest hope of winning today, it must start with the running game. The backs must reach the second level and provide solid yards after contact.
Jahlani Tavai: The Patriots pass rush has trended downward since Matthew Judon was injured. As mentioned above, with Judon out and now White and Uche injured, more onus will be placed on Tavai, who has proved versatile enough to play on the edge.
Tavai has played well for the Patriots and will now be expected to bring another dynamic to the table as a pass rusher. They have to find a way to pressure Allen without resorting to blitzing. Allen has shredded blitzes this season.
Another player to watch as a pass rusher is DT Christian Barmore, who, despite having a sore knee, has been playing some good football lately as he returns to form. He is an excellent disruptor.
Demario Douglas: The Patriots’ small but speedy slot receiver has returned to practice, indicating that he has recovered from his concussion. Douglas can separate at the line of scrimmage and turn a short pass and turn it into a long one. Although he’s short, he has flashed enough to warrant more snaps.
As I wrote in the key matchups piece on Friday, the team should play more of Douglas, Thornton, and Boutte for the remainder of the season to see what they have in the young players. But they probably will just ride with DeVante Parker and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Week 7 Predictions —
Thursday Night Football:
Jacksonville over New Orleans 1-0
Sunday Day Games:
Las Vegas over Chicago
Cleveland over Indianapolis
Buffalo over New England
Washington over NY Giants
Tampa Bay over Atlanta
Detroit over Baltimore
Pittsburgh over LA Rams
Seattle over Arizona
Green Bay over Denver
Kansas City over LA Chargers
(Cinn, Dallas, NYJ, Carolina, Houston, Tennessee – bye week)
Sunday Night Football:
Philadelphia over Miami
Monday Night Football:
San Francisco over Minnesota
Last Week 12—3
2023 Season 57—36
2022 Season: 178—92—2
2021 Season: 183—88—1
2020 Season: 169—86—1
2019 Season: 162—93—1
“Mike’s one of the players, I would say, that really benefited from free agency. He was on a very good team in Pittsburgh, played behind two very good players, didn’t get to play much – defensively, he played in the kicking game. We had an opportunity here.
“We were playing a 3-4 defense. He was a 3-4 outside linebacker. It was a good fit for him, and he had two good players ahead of him at Pittsburgh. So, he came here, had a great career, obviously he was a great match for Willie [McGinest]. Willie was a good complement to him. Having been through the [Carl] Banks – [Lawrence] Taylor situation at the Giants. That’s a good complement to having two good outside linebackers vs. one.
“Mike was a very cerebral, smart player, played inside linebacker for us when we needed him – which wasn’t often, but he could do it. He was the kind of guy that, at practice, would take reps at every position: free safety, strong safety, occasionally defensive line. If there were a certain player we were trying to replicate, he would jump in there and do that. It was competitive, especially with him and [Tom] Brady, quite entertaining at times, to be honest with you.
Mike had a great personality, a great love for the game, passionate, high energy, and very strong. Mike’s a really strong, physically strong player, handled the tackles, obviously could handle tight ends, good power rusher, and had enough moves to go with it. His strength was his length and his power, and his intelligence. He was a good tackler.
“That was quite a workout, even at Ohio State when he was coming out, a whole bunch of first-round draft choices. He wasn’t one of them, but there were multiple first-round draft choices on that field, kind of like first-round pick over here, first-round pick over here, first-round pick over there.
“That was back in the days when they would all work out at the same time. Now, they kind of space them out so that you can go from one group to another, but then they were kind of all over the place. So, you know, Mike worked hard, trained hard at Ohio State in their program, and got some things from that.
“We took some things from that as well that supplemented to what we were doing. No surprise that he went into coaching, no surprise he’s been successful. Good, smart football player and coach, good fundamentals.”
Bill Belichick speaking about Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel, who was inducted into the Patriots team Hall of Fame yesterday.
“Talent sets the floor; Character sets the ceiling.” Bill Belichick
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Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bill Belichick Dante Scarnecchia Kendrick Bourne Mac Jones Mike Vrabel New England Patriots Patriots Patriots edge rushers Patriots Hall of Fame Robert Kraft