FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Predicting Brady vs. Patriots: Everyone is talking about Sunday night’s highly anticipated showdown as Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit coach Bill Belichick’s Patriots (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC). So why not gather some former Patriots players to make their predictions?
CB Kyle Arrington: Buccaneers 28-18 — “Obviously both Tom and Bill will come in highly motivated, but Tampa does have the overall better team. [Patriots QB] Mac Jones will be the X factor, though. I know Tom and Bill cover the majority of the headlines, but as Tom’s successor, Jones has a lot of pressure to come into Sunday night and show everyone he has the gravitas to take the wheel.”
LB Tedy Bruschi: Patriots win — “It’s very unlikely that I pick against the Patriots when I’ll be there, 50 yards away from where RKK [owner Robert Kraft] put a red [Patriots Hall of Fame] jacket on my back.”
LB Rosevelt Colvin: Patriots 20-17 — “New England cleans up the self-inflicted mistakes to put a few drives together, while the defense frustrates and slows down Tom, similar to all the times [Brady has] gone against former coaches who move on to head-coaching positions.”
LB Matt Chatham: Buccaneers 27-20 — “I’m fairly certain the New England offense will move the ball effectively on the ground this season and make life much easier for their rookie QB. But as we saw vs. the Saints, this banged-up version of what would otherwise be a top offensive line is recently playing too far below their norm to assume that kind of game control against the Bucs and Brady. The still-strong Pats D should keep it competitive. Stephon Gilmore would have been a massive help for this particular matchup, but it’s wrong time, wrong opponent for New England right now.”
TE Christian Fauria: Buccaneers 31-17 — “Buccaneers are too talented. Can’t match up with them defensively, and have doubts that the Patriots will clean things up.”
OL Russ Hochstein: Buccaneers 34-17 — “Worried about the Patriots’ production on third downs.”
WR Brandon LaFell: Buccaneers 31-17 — “TB12 will throw for at least three or four touchdowns. He is going to make sure AB [Antonio Brown] gets in the end zone.
CB Ty Law: Buccaneers 27-17/Patriots 27-24 — “If I’m a betting man, I’m going to say Bucs win, but as a die-hard Patriot, and going with my heart, it’s the Patriots with the upset. They are due for a special-teams score and a couple turnovers!”
QB Jim Miller: Buccaneers 28-14 — “I think [Buccaneers defensive coordinator] Todd Bowles will throw some looks at Mac Jones to cause him to make a mistake or two. Todd can be exotic, and it’s just not a normal defense for a young quarterback to see or be exposed to. Mac has looked terrific and will learn these looks and how to attack them as he grows.”
WR Malcolm Mitchell: Buccaneers 35-17 — “I think the Bucs are too experienced and explosive. They have the league’s best leader at QB. If Bill wasn’t the coach of the Patriots, I’d say, 48-7. The Patriots will have some success. They lead the league in preparation. They will execute strategic game plans, but the talent and experience will prevail early and late in the game.
LB Rob Ninkovich: Buccaneers 28-17 — “I just don’t see the Patriots keeping up.”
WR Donte’ Stallworth: Buccaneers 42-17 — “The Bucs coaches and players (none more than Brady and Gronk) may not vocalize it but they want to destroy the Patriots and Bill Belichick for Tom Brady. … The season is still young, and both are coming off tough losses, but these two teams are not the same.”
TE Benjamin Watson: Buccaneers win — “I don’t have a score, but I pick the Buccaneers for the same reason I would pick the Patriots so many times before: Because of the quarterback. He’s more efficient, a greater veteran presence, probably the best of all time, the list goes on and on from a statistical standpoint.”
RB Fred Taylor: Buccaneers 31-13 — “Too hard to bet against the GOAT. Tampa has too many weapons offensively, and the D-line will get after Mac Jones (3 sacks), as the Patriots have only beaten a terrible Jets team with the worst O-line in the league.”
LB Pierre Woods: Buccaneers 24, Patriots 21 — “I’m Pats for life, but it’s hard to go against a man on a mission in TB12. It should be a hard-fought game.”
2. Brady’s approach: Brady said he’s saving any conversations with former Patriots teammates until after Sunday’s game. “They’re some of my great friends and they will be for the rest of my life. It will be great to see everyone after the game. Up until the game, I’m focused on trying to go win a football game,” he said.
It reminds me of the 2003 Cowboys/Patriots game at Gillette Stadium when everyone was watching if coaches Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick would connect before kickoff, and Parcells was hanging around midfield to possibly make it happen. But Belichick kept his distance, and it wasn’t until after a Patriots 12-0 win that they had their moment.
Marcus Spears details what he expect to see from Tom Brady this weekend against the Patriots.
3. White’s void: The Patriots’ offensive production through three games has been better with running back James White on the field. The offense averaged 1.1 more yards per play with White, and 1.2 more yards per rush with him, while quarterback Jones’ QBR is 19 points higher. With White now expected to miss the rest of the season due to a hip injury, running backs coach Ivan Fears said, “Everybody is going to get some work [and] they will all share in replacing” him — which means it will be a combination of Damien Harris, J.J. Taylor, Brandon Bolden and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson. A healthy scratch the past two games, Stevenson (fourth round, Oklahoma) now has an opening to climb out of the doghouse.
4. Mac’s journal: Jones said this week that he keeps an “improvement journal” — a list of things that aren’t where he wants them to be, or that Belichick highlights in their weekly meetings. Jones said he picks one thing each day (e.g. bending his knees) and makes it a point not to try to do too much so he doesn’t get overloaded. Interestingly, one of the things Jones talked about was his reaction to failure, and not riding the highs and lows, which is a work in progress for him as evidenced by how long he stayed on the bench hanging his head after last Sunday’s loss to the Saints.
5. Moss memories: Former Patriots receiver Randy Moss is back at Gillette Stadium on Sunday as part of ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown show, which had him reminiscing about his favorite parts of the stadium.
“I was always in awe of Gillette,” he said. “Ten years in the National Football League, I had always been going away to training camp. When I got to Foxborough, I was like, ‘Hey, where’s training camp?’ They were like, ‘Right here.’ It was good to be at Patriot Place — everything was right there. That’s one of the things I’ll never forget, and you could really just focus on football.
“Just our walks from the locker room all the way to the field, those are memories. It’s not even plays. Just the walks, through the tunnel, by security, walking up the steps — you walk with somebody different every other day. It’s just good to have those relationships, and those talks — sometimes it would be real talk, sometimes it would be opponent talk. That’s something I miss.”
6. Red zone means stop: One of the most troubling statistics for the Patriots is their No. 32 ranking in red zone offense, having scored just two touchdowns in eight trips inside the opponents’ 20. It’s going to be hard to beat the Buccaneers if that doesn’t improve, and establishing a more consistent ground attack could be a big part of the formula. “We’ve killed ourselves with penalties, and I was part of that last week [with a false start],” tight end Hunter Henry said. “We have to be locked in and finish those drives. We’re kind of stalling on that fringe and kicking a lot of field goals.”
7. McCarthy’s memory: There’s no comparison to Brady’s return, but some have pointed to when Brett Favre went back to Green Bay in 2009 as a Minnesota Viking as one of the closest facsimiles. Current Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy was the Packers’ boss that year, and he said this week, “There was obviously a lot of emotion around that game that really had nothing to do with who was going to win and who wasn’t. As a head coach, you want to keep it about the main thing, and the main thing was to win that game.” Favre did, 34-24, and he was booed. It would be shocking to hear boos for Brady on Sunday night.
8. They said it: “His career alone is old enough to drink.” — Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, on Brady still going strong in his 22nd NFL season. Mayo, of course, was Brady’s teammate from 2008 to 2014 in New England.
9. Judon’s mouthpiece: Patriots outside linebacker Matt Judon, who has brought a notable edge to the defense in his first season, expects to be jawing with Brady on Sunday night. He pretty much mixes it up verbally with anyone. “I talk trash all the time; that’s why I wear a little, thin mouthpiece, so you can hear what I say,” he said.
10. Did you know? Brady is 50-14 (.781) in his NFL career following an in-season loss, the best record by any starting quarterback since 1950, according to Elias Sports Bureau research (minimum 23 starts). The Seattle Seahawks‘ Russell Wilson (34-10, .773) and Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Montana (30-9, .769) are next.