AFC East: New England Patriots

CB Brandon Browner, WR Brian Tyms practice after suspensions end

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
2:30
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Because the Patriots played on Monday night, this week is a shortened week and things are running a bit differently at Gillette Stadium.

With Wednesday being the first practice of the week, the Patriots held a walk-through instead of a normal practice.

The conditions outside were rainy with the outdoor practice fields drenched, so the team opted to hold practice inside the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse, the team's indoor practice facility.

Cornerback Brandon Browner and wide receiver Brian Tyms, who returned to the team this week after each served a four-game suspension, were present at practice and wearing their jerseys.

The Patriots will release a practice report after 6 p.m. on Wednesday. The report comes out a little later because the Patriots' opponent this week, the Cincinnati Bengals, are practicing from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Urgency the word of day for Patriots

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
2:05
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video
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The word of the day among New England Patriots players is "urgency."

"There is a sense of urgency and there needs to be," special teams captain Matthew Slater said as the Patriots returned to work two days after their 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. "We're in a fight and it's going to be a fight the rest of the season, as it is every year. We can't just assume that we're going to be the Patriots, show up, and have success. It doesn't work that way. Every one of us needs to heighten our sense of urgency, every one of us needs to heighten our attention to detail in order for us to have the results we want to have."

Slater later added, "I feel confident we're a resilient group and will be able to bounce back. Time will tell. It's easy to sit here and talk about it, but hopefully we go out and do something about it."

The process started Wednesday as players went through meetings and began preparations for Sunday night's home game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

"Our response starts now in how we prepare, how we get ready," said left tackle Nate Solder, who added that the urgency among players is "extremely high, as high as it can get."

Players also expressed confidence that the players in the locker room are capable of turning things around.

"I think we'll be ready," safety Devin McCourty said. "We have enough of the same guys that were here last year … I think guys are going to see this as a chance to fight, and get better and claw our way out of a situation where most people have turned their backs and saying ‘we're not good.' Now it's about playing for each other."

Added Slater, "I know everybody is ready to hit the panic button, but there's a lot of football to be played. I'm very excited and interested to see how we're going to respond. I truly believe that we'll respond with a lot of mental toughness and competitiveness. We have a lot of competitive guys on this team. No one backs down from a challenge. We're in an unfamiliar spot and we have to do something about it."

Belichick stiff-arms attempts to talk Brady

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
11:05
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- If you are curious about how the New England Patriots are dealing with coming off one of the worst losses in recent memory, head coach Bill Belichick has a simple answer for you: "We are on to Cincinnati."

Brady
Questions are surfacing about the talent the team has around Tom Brady along the offensive line and at the skill positions, specifically wide receiver.

Belichick had an exchange with two reporters about the Patriots' long period of success and the talent around Brady:

Reporter: "Coach [Belichick], your team has been successful for so long, how difficult is it to react to the adversity of Monday night -- to get back on track so quickly -- because from a conditioning standpoint, this team, this organization hasn't had these sorts of issues in the past?"

Belichick: "We are on to Cincinnati."

Reporter: "Bill you mentioned Tom's age at the draft ..."

Belichick: "We are on to Cincinnati."

Reporter: "Do you think having a 37-year-old ..."

Belichick: "We are on to Cincinnati. There's nothing about the past, nothing about the future. Right now we are preparing for Cincinnati."

Reporter: "Do you feel that the talent you have here is good enough?"

Belichick: "We are getting ready for Cincinnati."

Reporter: "I'm just asking do you think you have done enough to help Tom Brady?

Belichick: "We are getting ready for Cincinnati. That's what we are doing."

Reporter: "So as you get ready for Cincinnati, does Tom Brady have the talent and protection around him to be on to Cincinnati and handle that challenge?"

Belichick: "We are going to gameplan to do the best we can to be ready to go Sunday night, same as we always do. Nothing has changed."

The Film Don't Lie: Patriots

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
11:00
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A weekly look at what the New England Patriots must fix:

There are a lot of choices this week after an uninspiring performance Monday night, and with the 3-0 Cincinnati Bengals coming to town, struggles on run defense must be rectified. It's not so much that the Bengals are a dangerous rushing offense, but they use the run effectively to limit quarterback Andy Dalton's exposure to potentially compromising situations in the passing game.

The Patriots' issues on run defense Monday night against the Chiefs mostly came with their fits, which was similar to what we saw in the season opener when the Dolphins totaled 191 rushing yards against them. By taking a slight step to one side as a reaction to either play-action or misdirection -- or simply running up the field and leaving the inside gap unaccounted for as defensive end Chandler Jones did at times -- Patriots defenders were too easily displaced Monday night. That opened wide chunks of space for Chiefs running backs to exploit.

The NFL is a copycat league and Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't implement some of the same concepts Sunday to see how the Patriots react.

Then it comes down to shedding blocks and tackling for the Patriots, and that could obviously use an upgrade, as well.

Patriots-Bills Week 6 game moves to Fox

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
7:00
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The NFL announced on Sunday that the Oct. 12 game between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills will now be broadcast on Fox, as part of the league's flexible scheduling. The kickoff remains at 1 p.m. ET.

From the NFL news release:
The NFL uses “flexible scheduling” to ensure quality matchups in all NFL Sunday time slots and to give teams a chance to play their way onto prime-time and into the late-afternoon 4:25 p.m. ET time slot on CBS or FOX.

For the first time, flexible scheduling may be applied in Weeks 5-10. During that period, flexible scheduling can be used in no more than two weeks by shifting a Sunday afternoon game into primetime and moving the Sunday night game to an afternoon start time.

Also, for the first time, a select number of games are being “cross-flexed,” moving between CBS and FOX to bring potentially under-distributed games to wider audiences.

The NFL will continue to use flexible scheduling on Sundays in Weeks 11-17. For each flexible scheduling week with the exception of Week 17, the NFL announces the start times of games on Sundays no later than 12 days prior to that weekend. To ensure a Sunday night game and doubleheader games with playoff implications in Week 17, flexible scheduling decisions for that Sunday can be made on six days notice.

Patriots turn up the volume

September, 26, 2014
Sep 26
2:44
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Kansas City is going to be loud. Very loud.

When the Patriots go into Arrowhead Stadium for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” the Chiefs fans will be trying to break the Seattle Seahawks’ record for loudest outdoor sports stadium where fans hit a whopping 137.6 decibels set in 2013 against the New Orleans Saints.

To prepare for the noisy conditions at Arrowhead, the Patriots cranked up the tunes at practice this week.

Here are some of the songs that stood out to Patriots players.

Julian Edelman: “I'm shipping up to Boston” by the Dropkick Murphys. It’s a classic song that plays at every sporting event in Boston. Edelman started singing right away when I asked him his favorite song from practice this week.

James White: “Never Scared” by Bonecrusher. The heavy beat upped the intensity and really simulated high volume levels.

Tim Wright: “Jump on It” by Sugarhill Gang. Wright couldn’t remember the song’s title at first, but once he started humming the catchy beat, he remembered instantly.

Jimmy Garoppolo: Since he was focused on the calls coming through the helmet, he was tuning out the distractions and noise and couldn’t remember too many songs played this week. But like Wright, Garoppolo was feeling the beat of “Jump on It.”

Bryan Stork: A fan of Irish music, Stork enjoyed hearing some Dropkick Murphys blast over the speakers.

Nate Ebner: Locked in the zone, Ebner couldn’t remember a single song name but said he was feeling the vibe regardless of what song was playing. He was riding the energy from the loud music.

Ryan Allen. Like many of his teammates, “I'm shipping up to Boston” stood out to Allen. But, he said there was a new rap/hip-hop song that he and the other specialists were enjoying at practice, though he didn’t know the name. Allen said he sticks to more folk and indie music.

Jonas Gray: He said the usual songs by Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen were played at practice, but a remix on a signature Patriots song really stood out. Gray gave the nod for best song to Lil Jon’s remix of "Crazy Train" by Ozzy Osbourne.

Chandler Jones' play, wingspan draw praise

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
4:10
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Defensive end Chandler Jones is blossoming into the player that the New England Patriots' organization hoped he would become. With 14 combined tackles, two sacks, two passes defensed and a blocked field goal that he also returned for a touchdown this season, Jones is becoming a force for the Patriots' defense.

[+] EnlargeChandler Jones
AP Photo/Steven SenneIn his third season in the NFL, defensive end Chandler Jones continues to show marked improvement for the Patriots' defense.
When asked what Jones is doing differently in Year 3 versus his prior two seasons, linebacker Dont'a Hightower said "not much."

"He's definitely doing it all, even his rookie year -- getting after the ball and playing the run," Hightower said. "I definitely feel like going into our third year that Chandler stepped up a lot as far as being a leader.

"It's kind of hard to lead when you know you have Vince Wilfork in your organization -- a guy that's been a big staple here for a long time. I definitely feel like he has done a real good job of trying to get some of the younger guys to stay together whether it's [Michael] Buchanan or [Jake] Bequette or whoever it is. Just talking to those guys and leading them more."

The praise doesn't stop there for Jones -- especially for his extremely long arms that measure an impressive 35 1/2 inches. Defensive end Rob Ninkovich joked about having a little jealousy for Jones' wingspan.

"Yeah, I mean I wish I had his wingspan but I don't," Ninkovich said. "No, he's a very talented young player, so for him the more he is doing it the more experience he gets, he's just going to continue to get better."

That long wingspan even led a reporter to ask quarterback Tom Brady during his morning news conference about the fantasy of Jones playing some offense.

"Usually they put the guys on defense because they can't catch the ball. They weren't good enough to play offense," Brady said. "They didn't have enough ball skills to catch it. But you're right. He's got phenomenal length, and he's so quick and gangly. He always seems to be making plays. We could probably use that on offense -- those long arms to catch the ball and stuff like that."

Gronkowski ready to increase workload

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
3:30
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Through three games this season, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been a limited participant as he returns from a torn right ACL sustained last December.

Gronkowski
Gronkowski
In the season opener against Miami, he played 38 of 86 offensive snaps (including penalties). The following week in Minnesota, it was a reduced load (28 of 67, including penalties), in part because the Patriots used offensive tackle Cameron Fleming as a blocking tight end on 28 snaps. In Week 3 against the Raiders, the numbers increased to 42 of 73 (including penalties, but not kneel-downs).

On Wednesday, Gronkowski -- who didn't play in the preseason -- was asked if he's still working his way into football shape.

"Nah," he responded. "I'm a few games deep now, three games, so basically it's progressing every week. It’s getting to the point now where we can start rolling more and more."

On Tuesday, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels touched on working Gronkowski back into the mix, which Gronkowski is naturally pleased about.

"Obviously, I'm a football player and I don't want to be limited," he said. "I always want to play as much as I can. I like being out there. It's up to the coaches and whenever my number is called, I'm going to go out there."

PFF: Darrelle Revis has regressed

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
12:51
PM ET
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What do you think of Darrelle Revis' performance so far this season for the Patriots?

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In an ESPN Insider piece, Pro Football Focus’ Sam Monson identifies a handful of players who have regressed the most this season in the NFL Insider.

Among the players he lists is New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis. Writes Monson:

“While [Revis] hasn't graded badly, he has been entirely average in a year where he was supposed to re-stake his claim to being the best shutdown corner in the game.”

Monson goes on to explain why he believes Revis’ game will improve.

Do you think Revis has underperformed so far this season?

McDaniels: Keep adding to Gronk's load

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
2:02
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Rob Gronkowski still doesn’t look like the offensive force we have seen in the past, but New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels thinks the tight end is getting there and will continue to see his workload increase as the season progresses.

“I definitely think that Rob has made some plays for us. I certainly think that will continue and hope that will continue,” McDaniels said. “We are trying to work him back into the game plan to an overall level where he can contribute the most.

Gronkowski
Gronkowski
“And I think each week we have done a little bit more, and hopefully we can continue to do that. I think that any time you are talking about a player who is coming off a situation like Gronk was, you have to be smart and you do what you can do. I’m happy with the things that he has done so far, and we will continue to add more as we go through the year.”

Gronkowski played 38 of 86 snaps against Miami, 28 of 67 against Minnesota (a drop likely due to the use of extra offensive lineman Cameron Fleming at tight end) and 42 of 73 snaps against Oakland. The increased workload against the Raiders is a good sign that Gronkowski is inching closer toward being a steady contributor to the offense.

It goes without question that the Patriots need Gronkowski, especially in the red zone. As wide receiver Julian Edelman continues to be the focal point of the Patriots’ passing game, Gronkowski’s re-emergence will need to come sooner than later. That said, McDaniels doesn’t want to rush Gronkowski back to full action, as he reminded media that Gronkowski is coming off of a serious knee injury.

“Like I said, you are mindful of anybody who has missed -- whether it is a specific portion of camp or whatever it is -- how you integrate those players back in," McDaniels said. "And hopefully that is what we are doing and try to get him to do that each week.”

A moment that stood out in Gronkowski’s progression was a 16-yard catch in the second quarter Sunday to set up the team in the red zone. Gronkowski lowered the pads and dragged four Raiders defenders -- basically, Gronk being Gronk.

The Patriots will need more of that because they need versatility in the passing game. McDaniels said the increase is coming.

“Rob has done the things we have asked him to do. He has been fine in terms of his assignments and his conditioning,” McDaniels said. “But we just have to try to add to it as we go throughout the course of the year.”

Tom Brady rectifies Kraft's high-five fail

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
10:59
AM ET
Mr. Kraft, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady knows how you feel ... and he's got your back.

Robert Kraft took some ribbing on social media on Sunday after CBS cameras showed him reaching for a high five from Mark Wahlberg in his owner's box after a Patriots touchdown and the actor left him hanging, apparently not seeing the owner reaching out.



Brady, of course, is no stranger to high-five fails. The excitable quarterback has been spotted on several occasions on the sideline looking for some high-five love from his teammates that would go unrequited.

So on Tuesday, Brady posted a photo to his Facebook fan page that superimposed himself giving Kraft the high five he was seeking from Wahlberg along with a message for his owner:



Brady has noticeably upped his Facebook game in the past week. In a "Throwback Thursday" post last week, Brady posted the college resume he would have needed to find a job had he not been drafted by the Patriots in the sixth round.

And in advance of Sunday's game against the Raiders, Brady posted a photo of his favorite Patriots vs. Raiders memory, a shot of himself spiking the football after scoring a touchdown in the Tuck Rule game in 2002, which was played in a snowstorm and featured one of biggest overturned calls in playoff history.



Belichick explains why he sat Dobson

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
11:14
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Before each game, the New England Patriots -- like every NFL team -- set seven players as inactive. And the surprise inactive this week was wide receiver Aaron Dobson.

Dobson
With the Patriots' receiving corps struggling to gain any rhythm with quarterback Tom Brady outside of wide receiver Julian Edelman, Dobson was thought to be a player Brady could rely on, specifically as a deep threat.

Last week against Minnesota, wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins was inactive and this week it was Dobson. Coach Bill Belichick explained the factors involved with making the decision to sit a player like Dobson.

“We just try to take everything into consideration when we go with our final 46-man active roster,” Belichick said during a conference call on Monday. “The game plan, the matchups, the different roles in the kicking game and sometimes how that affects other positions.”

Thompkins ended up playing 38 of 73 offensive snaps and might have presented a better matchup in Belichick’s eyes against Oakland. Meanwhile, wide receiver Brandon LaFell played 41 of 73 snaps on offense. LaFell also plays on special teams units, which heightens his value over a player like Dobson, who only contributes on offense.

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Dobson's recovery from offseason foot surgery could be holding him back, though he did play 31 of 67 offensive snaps in the Patriots’ win against Minnesota in Week 2.

Dobson, a second-round draft pick (59th overall) out of Marshall, is in his second season and recorded 37 catches for 519 yards and four touchdowns in his rookie season. As a second-round pick, Dobson is seen as having high upside with his long frame at 6-foot-3 and the ability to be a vertical receiver for Brady -- something Brady and the offense lack right now.

Belichick said he would like to have everyone on the 53-man roster active on game day, but lines have to be drawn somewhere -- even on players like Dobson.

“So, in the end if we can more than 46 players active, then we would have had several of the guys that were deactivated in the game,” Belichick said. “And there is a good chance that several of them would have played, but we just have the combination of all the things I just mentioned and try to make a decision that we feel was best for the team relative to the 46 guys that are there. And again, that is a function of multiple things.”

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
3:53
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few thoughts on the New England Patriots' 16-9 victory against the Oakland Raiders:

What it means: When it comes to style points, the Patriots don't get many for this one. It was ugly and produces more questions than answers about the team. But the end result is this: The Patriots are 2-1.

Offense sputters in a big way: Quarterback Tom Brady figures to be grumpy again after this one, as the offense continues to struggle. The problems are across the board, starting with poor protection from the offensive line, extending to questionable play-calling (three throws to open the game against the NFL's worst run defense), time management issues in the red zone at the end of the second quarter, and limited pass-catching options outside of Julian Edelman. We could go on, but the bottom line is that the offense is not in a good place right now. What are the solutions? That is the hot-button question.

Gronkowski not yet at full participation: Tight end Rob Gronkowski is still working his way to top form, as evidenced by his limited playing time. It took him five games last year upon returning from his forearm injury to be playing every snap, and this being his third game this year, it's no surprise he was on for 42 of a possible 73 snaps (including penalties but not kneel-downs).

Game ball: Julian Edelman. On a day in which the offense struggled, he was one of the few players who produced. It was reminiscent of how Wes Welker often delivered in situations like these. This was Edelman's fourth career game with 10 or more receptions.

Where's Dobson? Wide receiver Aaron Dobson, a 2013 second-round draft pick who is the team's best deep threat, was a healthy scratch in favor of Brandon LaFell, Kenbrell Thompkins and Danny Amendola. Dobson played in his first regular-season game last week in Minnesota (Thompkins was scratched) as the Patriots are playing some musical chairs at receiver, trying to find the right combinations. That Dobson wasn't part of the mix Sunday is a surprise.

Injuries to monitor. Starting defensive tackle Sealver Siliga left the game in the first quarter with a foot injury and did not return. Second-year player Chris Jones took his spot next to Vince Wilfork. This could lead the Patriots to consider a waiver claim on rookie defensive lineman Bruce Gaston, who was previously with the club but was waived by Miami on Saturday.

Stat of note: The Patriots are now 12-1 in home openers at Gillette Stadium, which opened in 2002.

What's next: The Patriots visit the Kansas City Chiefs on "Monday Night Football." It is their first trip to Arrowhead Stadium since the 2005 season. The Chiefs visit the Miami Dolphins during Sunday's late afternoon slate.

RB Vereen active; WR Dobson inactive

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
12:04
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Analysis from the New England Patriots' inactive players Sunday against the Raiders: WR Aaron Dobson, CB Alfonzo Dennard, RB James White, S Don Jones, C Ryan Wendell, G Josh Kline and DE Zach Moore.

Vereen
Vereen
Vereen is active. One question mark leading into the game was how running back Shane Vereen's shoulder injury would affect his availability. He is active, and with the Patriots making White inactive for a third straight game, it reflects that they view Vereen as ready for whatever they need in this game.

Dobson the odd man out in WR corps. Last week, Kenbrell Thompkins was a healthy scratch as the Patriots managed their excess numbers at receiver. This Sunday, it's Dobson, which is a bit of a surprise. Dobson is healthy, so this is a coach's decision that Thompkins, Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell fit best in the game plan, with LaFell's special-teams contributions a factor in his favor. Didn't see that one coming, as the view from here is that Dobson (second round, 2013) has the highest upside of the group of receivers after Julian Edelman.

Collins returns after missing Week 2. Starting linebacker Jamie Collins went through tests before the game to test his injured thigh and obviously passed them based on him being active. Along those same lines, reserve defensive end/core special-teamer Michael Buchanan is active for the first time since injuring his ankle in the preseason finale.

Back to seven offensive linemen. After going heavy with eight offensive linemen on their 46-man game-day roster last week, the Patriots are back to the standard seven this Sunday. That could mean we see less of offensive tackle Cameron Fleming (28 snaps) as a blocking-based tight end.

Ryan's chance to solidify his spot. With starting right cornerback Alfonzo Dennard out for the second straight week with a left shoulder injury, it's a chance for second-year player Logan Ryan to further solidify his hold on the starting spot. Ryan is coming off a strong performance last Sunday in Minnesota.

RAIDERS INACTIVES
QB Matt Schaub
RB Maurice Jones-Drew
CB Chimdi Chekwa
LB Sio Moore
LB Nick Roach
G Tony Bergstrom
OT Matt McCants

Quick-hit thoughts around NFL, Patriots

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the New England Patriots:

[+] EnlargeChandler Jones
Ann Heisenfelt/AP PhotoNew England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones sacked Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel twice during their Week 2 game in Minneapolis.
1. After Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones turned in arguably the best game in his three-year NFL career last Sunday in Minnesota, the club will continue to explore different ways to use him as a Darrelle Revis-type chess piece along the defensive line. The idea is to exploit potential favorable matchups with a top talent and don't be surprised if we see something along those lines today with Jones flipping from right to left end in a 1-on-1 matchup against Raiders right tackle Khalif Barnes. It's something to watch for as we continue to see growth from a budding star.

2. At this time last week, I didn't think NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would be in jeopardy of losing his job unless sponsors started dropping out. Now I'm not so sure about Goodell's fate after Friday's news conference and ESPN's “Outside the Lines” report on how the Ravens, and to a lesser degree the NFL, handled the Ray Rice investigation. There simply has to be some form of accountability for Goodell, and if it's not his job, what is it? If Goodell ultimately does survive, the feeling here is that his credibility, and thus the credibility of every ownership group that employs him, is significantly compromised.

3. One observation since the Patriots' surprising Aug. 26 trade that shipped captain and locker-room spokesman Logan Mankins to the Buccaneers is that Nate Solder has stepped up to fill some of that off-the-field void. Although maybe not always comfortable in the media-based spokesman-type setting, Solder has seemed to go out of his way to answer on behalf of the offensive line -- and taking personal accountability -- in showing a new level of leadership in his fourth season.

Solder
Solder
4. Three games into the regular season, one wonders if the Buccaneers might be having some second thoughts on the Mankins trade. They are 0-3, with issues that look greater than guard play, and have the following three-game set before their Week 7 bye: at Pittsburgh, at New Orleans, versus Baltimore. The Buccaneers shipped a fourth-round pick and tight end Tim Wright to New England in the trade, which isn't a major haul, but is still significant. It's only natural to wonder if general manager Jason Licht maybe overrated his roster when consummating that trade.

5. With the Raiders coming to town today, the past week has been spent getting familiar with their roster and team-building process under third-year head coach Dennis Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie. The regime inherited a difficult salary-cap situation, took some lumps in 2012-13 while cleaning it up, and set things up for 2014 to be the turning point. But from afar, the addition of so many later-career veterans this year looks like a panic move that almost aborts what they were trying to build.

6. Did You Know: The Seahawks-Broncos game today marks the first time there has been a Super Bowl rematch of the game the following season since 1997 when the Packers and Patriots played after meeting in Super Bowl XXXI. One common link between the game is the presence of head coach Pete Carroll on the sideline. You're a hard-core Patriots fan if you remember what unfolded that day -- the Patriots led 10-7 in the second quarter before the Brett Favre-led Packers with Dorsey Levens and Mark Chmura scoring touchdowns, ultimately recorded a 28-10 "Monday Night Football" victory at Foxboro Stadium.

7. Watching Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt line up as a goal-line tight end and catch a 1-yard touchdown pass in last Sunday's win against the Raiders made me think that first-year head coach Bill O'Brien is utilizing Watt the way Bill Belichick once did with linebacker Mike Vrabel. O'Brien, of course, is a former Patriots assistant who has hired Vrabel as his linebackers coach in Houston. Not surprisingly, it turns out it was Vrabel who was a significant voice in suggesting to give Watt a chance in the role.

Spikes
8. Two years ago, then-Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes stayed away from voluntary team activities in hopes of doing away-from-the-team work that proved he could become a three-down linebacker. At least that's the way it was framed by some close to Spikes. It didn't unfold that way in New England and it looks like the Bills view Spikes the same way after he played just 15 of 79 defensive snaps last Sunday. Spikes is what he is: A downhill, two-down, run-stuffing linebacker who plays with infectious energy and still has value to a team; just not three-down value.

9. We don't see much of them in New England on a regular basis, but the Arizona Cardinals are one team that has impressed me through two weeks of the season. Despite losing multiple key players on defense, and then traveling to face the Giants last weekend without starting quarterback Carson Palmer, they're 2-0 entering their Week 3 home tilt against the 49ers. That reflects well on second-year head coach Bruce Arians.

10. One of the more surprising personnel-related storylines with the Patriots is what has unfolded at the safety spot next to Devin McCourty. At one point in training camp, I remember watching the tandem of McCourty and Duron Harmon working alongside cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, and it was easy to draw the conclusion that Harmon -- the No. 3 safety on the 2013 Patriots -- was part of the top group. But the 2013 third-round draft pick hasn't been the choice, as Patrick Chung (84 snaps) and Tavon Wilson (35) have both played more than him (29 snaps). Meanwhile Nate Ebner has played 14 snaps in the dime package as the Patriots have mixed and matched with Chung the top option in the base defense.

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