Thinking out loud: What to make of start to season for Patriots

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Thinking out loud…while wondering how Allen Iverson still feels about practice…

·       It has already been well-documented.  The Patriots are off to their worst start to a season since 2002.

·       Think about that for a moment, and seriously…consider your sanity.  The J-E-T-S should be so lucky.

·       That the team has had dynastic success over the previous 18 years isn’t the point.  That we’ve become overly accustomed to their winning ways and spoiled by that success – is the point.

·       I’m just as guilty as you are.  But with this edition, here’s a little come-back-down-to-earth reality for ya’.

·       We’re discovering these guys just aren’t as good as many (any?) of the previous 18-to-20 editions, since their unprecedented run to the top of the NFL mountain began.

·       All good things do, eventually, come to an end.  Jus’ sayin’.

·       It doesn’t mean this team can’t still be good this season – based on how they finish.  Reinforcements returned this week.  But let’s dissect and analyze the rough spots for a moment.

·       It may be a painful process for some.

·       Start at the top – with Bill Belichick.  Not necessarily the coach, but the GM.  My buddy Eldred in North Carolina will surely agree – selecting receivers and tight ends, after getting lucky with Julian Edelman and striking gold with Rob Gronkowski, has been an abject failure.

·       Losing a league-high eight players to Covid opt-outs has severely hampered depth and defensive ability.  This defense, as presently constituted, cannot stop the run right now…even though they may still defend the pass and do a little bending-but-not-entirely-breaking.

·       Stephon Gilmore, last year’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year, isn’t that this year…for whatever reason.

·       But Adrian Phillips has been a find…even though up front, Beau Allen hasn’t yet played, and injuries are a recurring issue.

·       The reinforcement rookies?  Kyle Dugger and Josh Uche.  Not yet ready for prime time.  Uche can’t find the field because he can’t get healthy.  But he did return to practice this week.

·       The offensive line has held up remarkably well, even though the lineup right now resembles little more than a bunch of fat guys riding around in bumper cars or playing musical chairs.

·       And that’s not entirely fair – when healthy, they’ve been a bright spot in the running game – especially rookie Mike Onwenu.

·       But Damien Harris can’t stay healthy.  And when he does, Sony Michel can’t stay healthy.

·       The receivers are…not very good.  Even with his previous notable contributions, Edelman these days is good for at least one bad drop per game.

·       That is, whenever they throw to him, and whenever he can get open.

·       Tight end?  What’s that?

·       And TB12 isn’t walking through the door.  He already has, on his way out to Tampa.  Something tells me this team as it presently consists is part of the reason he’s gone.

·       Already, Cam Newton is being asked to do too much.  Just because he’s an extraordinary athlete.  But he can’t do it all himself, and that’s partially why his time ended in Carolina the way it did.

·       Newton himself said this week on The Greg Hill Show there’s “no need to press the panic button.”

·       But I’m not sure anyone can find a panic button to press…it’s been a long time since anyone here has seen one.

·       There’s still time to fix things, provided there are fewer Covid curveballs for this team to try and hit.  There’s still a lot of season left, and the War of Attrition is just beginning.

·       For everyone.  He who laughs last this year, will probably be the last one healthy enough to stand.

·       Newton was the perfect addition to this team – when it was healthy and fully-constituted.  Which it is not, and never has been with the opt-outs.  Add to the mix underestimation, underperformance and underachievement – and voila!

·       You have two-and-three…when you probably should have had four-and-one.

·       And you know, it might be nothing more complex than Karma finally playing catch-up in New England, after all that success.

·       Wait, wut?  Nah.  Reinforcements have returned, right?  Rookestradamus sez so.

·       Tweet of the Week I, from @MikeReiss: “Entering Sunday, the Patriots had been 39-0 under Bill Belichick in games which they didn’t allow a touchdown (including playoffs). Now 39-1.”

·       Why do I get the feeling Jimmy Garoppolo’s return to Gillette this week could be repeated?

·       San Francisco has been hit as hard as any team in the NFL with injuries and illness.  The Patriots can’t use those as an excuse, whether they’re able to practice or not.

·       New England does have an extraordinary amount of Cap Space (props, Miguel Benzan) for next season, currently at $23+ million.  How they use that salary space will likely define whether a dynastic run is finished or has merely hit a speed bump.

·       Don’t look now, but the Wall Street Journal sez Tampa has suddenly become the new “Titletown” – what with the Rays in the World Series, the Lightning winning the Stanley Cup…and TB12 taking his talents southward to the Buccaneers.

·       Oh, and the Super Bowl is in Tampa this season, too.  But Titletown?

·       I think the sun shines on a different dog’s butt every day.  But it has shined here a lot over the past 20 years, so enjoy it, Tampa.  It won’t last.

·       Tweet of the Week II, from @MMehtaNYDN: “Adam Gase is more than a bad NFL head coach. He is a malignant, duplicitous presence that consistently trashes his own players, coaches & front office behind the scenes to shield himself from blame. A cancer that must be removed right now.”

·       Don’t hold back, Manish.  As a media member, how do you really feel about the HC of the NYJ?

·       The Buffalo Bills.  Worthy foe or worthless fraud?  Discuss.

·       And it’s now Tua Time in Miami.  Cashing in the chips on the season already?  I’ll miss Fitzmagic.

·       Fines for the one-time, Covid-encrusted Tennessee Titans.  But no loss of draft picks or anything that drastic.  It seems the NFL’s bark is still worse than its bite…except when it involves the Patriots.

·       Gillette Stadium is ready for fans, but the stands are still empty.  Waiting on clarification from the Governor’s office on what it will take to open the gates, as 19 NFL teams already have.

·       The Patriots proposed playing to 20% capacity, which Governor Baker originally nixed.  Foxboro is presently in a Yellow Zone, not a Red one…a slight downtick from Green status.  Being a ‘green town’ would probably be a starting point, at least.

·       Covid issues are still gunking up the hoop schedules, especially for the Friars.  With 10 different states (and one territory, DC) in the Big East, at midweek there remain three states (CT, NY, NJ plus DC) who require travelers from RI to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

·       But officer?  Your honor?  Governor?  We just wanna ball.  If there are no fans involved, at least at the start…what is the problem, exactly?  Is dispensation from the Pope required?

·       Big East Media Day is this next week, on Oct. 28th. Guessing we may have some clue as to just how the hoop schedules will play out at that time – we do know they’ll begin conference games on or about Dec. 11th, and the preference is still to play home and away rather than bubble up.

·       But bubbling up is still a possibility.  The cost is prohibitive, however, and a major drawback.

·       And it may not be fool proof.  Marquette has had to put their men’s and women’s hoop practices on hold for TWO weeks, with two positives out of 45 tested.  Seems a bit extreme.

·       Wisconsin, however, has been hit hard by the pandemic recently.  Those two teams will be returning to practice by Nov. 4th, provided there are no more positive tests.

·       Mohegan Sun has renamed itself “Bubbleville.”  The Hall of Fame will host a Bubbleville pod Nov. 25th and 27th with Virginia, Florida, Maine and Saint Peter’s, the first of several events running through December 5th.

·       The coaches vote on it – but here’s a guess as to the Preseason poll: 1) Villanova 2) Creighton 3) Seton Hall 4) Providence 5) UConn 6) Marquette 7) Xavier 8) St. John’s 9) Butler 10) DePaul 11) Georgetown.  At least that’s how I’d vote.

·       And while we’re waiting on a schedule (we hope), Forbes reported this week Harvard may not play at all.  Several Ivy coaches, while hoping their own teams play, are saying Harvard won’t.  Students are not expected back on campus for the spring semester.

·       Harvard, and head coach Tommy Amaker, have yet to publicly comment on the story.  Yale’s 6-10 forward Paul Atkinson was co-Ivy Player of the Year last season and has decided to transfer.

·       Several other members of the basketball team are taking the fall semester off but are apparently ready to re-enroll if the Bulldogs have a season.  And, Yale’s men’s hockey team has had a large virus breakout, affecting 18 players.

·       America East (including UVM and UNH) has decided on single site, multiple-game weekends for hoops this season, while leaving a week open in March for makeup games (thanks, Covid) or the start of a postseason tourney.

·       Welcome to the party, Big Ten football.  In the words of Hill Street Blues’ Sergeant Esterhaus, “let’s be careful out there.”

·       Can anyone explain, within a reasonable belief, why UMass played a football game at Georgia Southern last weekend?

·       It was a 41-0 loss.  It may have been the only game they play this year.  And this was a reward for what, exactly?

·       I’m as much a fan as the next guy – but in the absence of a major payday in return (and this wasn’t Georgia, it was Georgia SOUTHERN), I just don’t see the sensibility of making that trip in exchange for being a whipping post.

·       I mean, wouldn’t simply skipping over 2020 have been a better option, with everyone getting a do-over and another year of eligibility?

·       Forget that.  The 22nd ranked Marshall Thundering Herd will now ‘entertain’ UMass on November 7th.

·       Want a real kicker?  The Minutemen will be bowl eligible, even if they don’t score a point this season.

·       PC has hired former Miami (OH) hockey coach Rico Blasi as their new Associate Athletic Director for men’s and women’s hockey.  Blasi was national coach of the year in 2006, and took his RedHawks team to back-to-back Frozen Fours in 2009-10 with five conference titles and 10 NCAA’s in his 20 seasons as coach.

·       Someone please explain to Joe Buck and Troy Aikman that ALL microphones are hot, whether they know it or not.  The two were caught on a taped feed – not live on Fox – mocking military flyovers this past weekend in Tampa.

·       It’s one thing to give your political opinion.  Everyone has one.  Joe should know better, however, even if Troy doesn’t.  You just alienated half of your audience.

·       Mike “Doc” Emrick is, and has been, a rare breed in the broadcast world.  Someone who is universally loved and admired for his work – like Vin Scully.  Or Al Michaels.

·       Emrick’s decision this week to retire as NBC’s lead hockey voice is bad for us, but good for him.  So few in this business have the chance to leave and make their own decision in doing so.  We’re all the poorer for it, however.

·       For more than 50 years, Emrick has been the rarity in the broadcast world – enlightening, entertaining and energetic without being annoying in a fast-paced sport.  He’s also increased our vocabularies, so he’s made us smahtah, too.

·       His AHL days in Maine (1978, 1979) were long ago.  Yet many hockey-krishnas seem to remember him, and those days, rather well…as the Mariners won two Calder Cup titles in those years (and another in the ‘80’s) before the franchise eventually moved to Providence in 1992.

·       It’s a cliché, but there’s his picture in the dictionary – right next to the word “classy.”

·       And now, introducing the anti-Doc.

·       Tweet of the Week III, from @pedrogomezESPN: “Zack Greinke: ‘For me, it’s nice not having fans in the stands. Because there’s no one trying to talk to you and ask for autographs and wanting to take pictures and all that stuff. I don’t like any of that stuff.”

·       Want this guy on your team?

·       So, so much wrong with that quote from Greinke.  So, so much wrong with baseball – and this may be at the root of at least some of it.

·       Oh yeah, the World Series. The first at a neutral site. Having a hard time deciding if I’m hate-rooting for the Dodgers because they have Mookie with a $108 million payroll this year, or hate-rooting for the Rays because the Red Sox will play them often next year and they hold a mere $28 million payroll this season?

·       I also hate that I agree with the Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy on this, but I do – the Rays’ winning is bad for baseball…at least in the traditional sense.

·       28th in payroll.  ‘Openers’ on the pitching staff.  Shifts.  Platoons.  Analytical, stat-driven nerds.

·       But if they win it all, be ready for the ‘new normal,’ if it isn’t here already.  What in the wide, wide world of Billy Beane and Moneyball is going on here?  Amiright, Chaim Bloom?

·       Randy Arozarena stands as living, playing proof whatever they’re doing in Tampa still works.

·       And let’s hate some more on baseball – even though fans can attend the Series, have you seen the ticket prices?  At 29% capacity for Globe Life Field in Arlington, tickets for Game One averaged between $1100 and an astounding $17,874.

·       Do we get our own personal oxygen tank to breathe clean air to go along with that?

·       Sports betting is one of the few activities benefitting from the pandemic – largely because so much is taking place over a short amount of time.

·       New Jersey pulled in a record $748 million for September alone, an all-time record for any state.  Eight different states and Washington, DC set earnings records for last month.  Thanks, football.

·       Rhode Island, which brought in a paltry $6.9 million for the entirety of 2019, did manage to nearly triple its sports betting earnings for FY 2020.

·       One-time WLNE-TV Channel 6 reporter Kristen Welker had a large task in front of her as moderator during Thursday’s Presidential debate – knowing when to use that “mute” button.  Thought she excelled.  Her agent is undoubtedly getting calls this week.

·       And could we “mute” the urge to panic buy, cleaning out the grocery shelves of toilet paper and paper towels?  C’mon people, what is wrong with you?

·       Suck it up, save the real panic buying for bread and milk when the first snow hits us…like REAL New Englanders.

·       “We talkin’ about practice.  Not a game, not a game, not a game.  We talkin’ about practice.”  Allen Iverson’s rant on missing practice, while a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, took place a little more than 18 years ago.

·       Every time I hear a coach or player refer to a “practice,” as in having a need to practice…sends me through my personal ‘Wayback Machine’ made famous by Peabody and Sherman on the old Rocky & Bullwinkle Show.

·       Iverson is already a Hall of Famer.  But his practice rant is indelibly branded as a Hall-worthy interview and was replayed in my head several times this week with the Patriots’ reaction to “needing more practice.”

·       Yes, the Patriots need to practice.  But they also need to execute WHAT they practice.  Bigger issue.

·       Not for nuthin’, did you know the Wayback Machine was an acronym? WABAC – the Wormhole Activating and Bridging Automatic Computer.

·       Nerd alert.  But you probably knew that already.  These times, they haven’t really changed at all.

·       Interested in having your questions on local Rhode Island sports (and yes, that includes the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics) answered in a somewhat timely fashion? Send ‘em to me! It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions, comments and local stories to jrooke@weei.com. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/Tweets right here!  Would appreciate the follow on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster…and join in on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke ...

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