The 13th Sunday of the NFL’s 2021 season has arrived, and there is a lot going on around the New England Patriots and the rest of the league. Let’s use this forum right here to go through some of the stories that have emerged over the last few days: time for our Sunday Patriots Notes.
1. The 2021 Patriots are having plenty of fun. The Patriots’ national perception is one of a no-nonsense team with a machine-like approach to the game. While there is some truth to that, the current team shows that reality is far more complex: this New England team is having plenty of fun, especially since it started its six-game winning streak in October.
There are multiple signs of that. From Bill Belichick’s interactions with Kendrick Bourne following last Sunday’s win over the Tennessee Titans, to Matthew Judon repeatedly stealing the show during press conferences (at one point wearing Kendrick Bourne’s hat, Jalen Mills’ chain and Trent Brown’s hoodie), to the assistant coaches having fun with a fart machine brought in by Jerod Mayo.
“You have to keep things light around here, especially how we started off — kind of a bumpy start,” the Patriots’ inside linebackers coach said earlier this week. “It’s just, ‘Next page, you have to change the page.’ So, you have to keep it light.”
The 2021 Patriots appear to be on a mission to prove their doubters wrong. It seems like doing away with the old image of the fun-hating organization is a part of that, even if not by design.
2. Kendrick Bourne credits Bill Belichick for his growth. The Patriots brought in multiple players over the course of the offseason, but few of them have had a bigger impact so far than Kendrick Bourne. The former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver, who arrived on a three-year free agency deal, is now the team’s leader in receiving yards and has established himself as one of rookie quarterback Mac Jones’ favorite targets.
Bourne’s development is noteworthy, but he was sure to credit New England’s coaches for it this week. On person was mentioned in particular: head coach Bill Belichick.
“When I first got here, I kind of was running with the ball in my way, my technique, and doing just how I’ve grown up playing,” he said. “Bill showed me techniques that I’ve never been taught before, and this is how I know Bill is special. He just puts us through certain drills that show us how to run with the ball and I really emphasized working on those drills, trying to simulate game-like reality.
“The more I did it at practice, it just happens in the game. That’s what it really comes down to. Bill’s philosophy here, it just enhanced me at an amazing, rapid rate.”
Practice making game-day reality is a common mantra inside the Patriots locker room, and Bourne seems to have bought in — thanks in large part due to Belichick’s guidance.
3. Kyle Dugger’s potential absence looms large. Second-year safety Kyle Dugger has played an enormous role for the Patriots this season, so his potential absence after testing positive for the Coronavirus would be big: New England could head into a pivotal Week 13 game against the Buffalo Bills on Monday night without its leading tackler and one of its most versatile defensive backs.
Considering how successful the Bills have been throwing the football — and getting tight end Dawson Knox involved — Dugger being out would be a blow to the top-ranked scoring defense in football. New England will likely turn to fellow starter-level safety Adrian Phillips to help take over some of his responsibilities, and maybe insert a bigger player such as cornerback Joejuan Williams into the lineup as well.
Obviously, though, Dugger could still return. If he is vaccinated, and all signs point towards him being just that, he could come back by testing negative twice 24 hours apart. Usually, the final of those tests would have to come before 4 p.m. ET on Monday per NFL rules: at that point, Dugger would either be reactivated to the 53-man roster, or officially remain out for the game in Buffalo.
That said, the team’s travel schedule — it will fly to Western New York on Sunday — makes it unlikely that the team will wait to make a decision until Monday. If not activated today and traveling with the team, Dugger will be out.
4. Patriots don’t worry about Monday’s forecast. Speaking of the Patriots’ game in Buffalo, it projects to be an ugly one as far as the conditions are concerned. Temperatures will be in the 30s, with winds of over 20 miles per hour and rain or snow also a possibility.
According to Bill Belichick, however, the team does not concern itself with weather forecasts until game day itself.
“Usually we talk about it once we know for sure when it is, which, a lot of times, that’s when we get to the stadium,” he said about Monday’s game. “It’s hard to really hang your hat on one of the predictions here. We’ll go with the known information understanding, obviously, what it could be. We’re not expecting overheating and fans on the sideline.”
As far as practicing for challenging conditions, Belichick pointed out that the Patriots are not spending considerable time on that.
“We practice in a variety of conditions from the start of training camp to the end of the preseason, so whenever they come up, they come up,” he said. “We learn from those. Those may or may not be what we get that particular week. Somewhere along the line, it could come into play. We talk about that, how it would affect certain plays, situations, ball handling, et cetera. It’s kind of a continual conversation we have on that. ...
“I don’t think there’s too much we haven’t seen. We haven’t seen a lot of snow this year, but I don’t know what we could do about that. We practice in wind. We practice on sunny days, cloudy days, windy days, calm days, hot days, cold days, wet days, dry days. What’s it going to be? Whatever it is, it is, and if we haven’t done it, then we’ll adjust to it. We’ve dealt with almost everything.”
5. Teams struggle kicking field goals against the Patriots. New England has one of the most reliable kickers in the league under contract: Nick Folk has made 31 of 34 field goals so far this year (91.2%) and 29 of 33 extra points (87.9%). But while the Patriots have enjoyed plenty of success in the kicking game so far, their opponents have not been as lucky.
As pointed out by Boston Sports Info on Twitter, opponents have made only 60.9 percent of their field goal tries against New England — clearly the worst number in the league:
Patriots— Boston Sports Info (@bostonsportsinf) November 29, 2021
Opposing FG kickers have the worst FG% against the Patriots in the NFL this year
League avg - 83.0% pic.twitter.com/ytZ86IQzU4
What’s the issue? One part of the reason could be team’s willingness to attempt long field goals against a stout New England defense: of the nine misses, five have come from beyond 50 yards out. In fact, the Patriots’ opponents are a collective 0-for-5 when attempting field goals from 50 or more yards away.
6. Patriots’ perfect road record will be on the line. All four of the Patriots’ losses so far this season have come at Gillette Stadium. Five of their eight wins, meanwhile, happened on the road. Now heading into the primetime matchup against the Bills, New England’s perfect road record will be on the line.
So far in their history, the Patriots have gone entirely undefeated on the road just twice: in 2007 and 2016. Those teams were among the best the NFL has ever seen, which means the 2021 squad would join a pretty illustrious group. Obviously, though, it would have to beat the Bills and win its other two road games in Indianapolis and Miami as well.
7. Hunter Henry is prepared to skip a game for the birth of his child. Hunter Henry has received seven touchdowns so far this year, but he is due to receive something far more valuable soon: his wife, Parker, is pregnant with the couple’s first child. The baby is due in late December, which means that Henry might have to miss some time even if that means skipping a game.
“That’s a tough conversation, but this is my first. If it had to be a game or seeing my firstborn born, I’m going to go see my child be born,” he said. “We’re going to do our best to not have that come across. The biggest issue is when the game starts, and then if she goes into labor during the game. That’s where the issue kind of lies. But we’re ready, and we have a lot of backup plans to be ready to go.”
Henry’s decision is certain to have Bill Belichick’s blessing. Multiple Patriots have missed games in the past because of babies being born, and their absence has never been an issue with Bill Belichick.
“I don’t think that’s ever been an issue. I’ve always talked about it with the player,” he said back in 2019. “It’s not like it’s a surprise. It’s something that there’s certainly a lead-up period to, communicate about it, and depending on the time, the situation, the circumstances and all that, you take everything into consideration. Everybody wants to do what’s best, and we arrive at that conclusion.”
8. Patriots have looked good in throwbacks, literally and figuratively. With this week’s announcement that the New England throwbacks are about to make a comeback in 2022, it is time to take a look back at how the team has fared in them through the years. In total, the Patriots have decided to use a throwback “Pat Patriot” look 12 times since moving away from its original outfit in 1993. They won nine of those games:
- 1994: 2-1
- 2002: 1-0
- 2009: 2-2
- 2010: 2-0
- 2011: 1-0
- 2012: 1-0
The last game with the Patriots wearing their red throwbacks came in 2012, a 29-26 overtime win versus the New York Jets.