Coming off three straight losses, the New England Patriots will welcome the Buffalo Bills to Gillette Stadium on Sunday. The two division rivals’ first meeting of the year is projected as a clear affair: the 4-2 Bills are 7.5-point favorites over the 1-5 Patriots — New England’s biggest home betting deficit in recent memory.
Naturally, of our focus this week was on that contest. For everything else we might not have covered elsewhere, let’s open up the notebook. Welcome to our Sunday Patriots Notes.
1. New England adopts an ‘underdog mentality’ in light of its 1-5 start: Despite their disappointing start into the year, the Patriots do not seem panicked. Instead, they are seemingly trying to make the best out of a difficult situation and have adopted an “underdog mentality” in hopes of turning the ship around.
“I like being an underdog,” said wide receiver Kendrick Bourne. “A lot of us feel like the Patriots organization is built of underdogs. I feel like Bill [Belichick] likes underdogs, in a sense. And if our team can play like that and know that we’re better than what we’re showing and showcase it, I think we can shock a lot of people.”
A former undrafted free agent, Bourne himself sees himself as an underdog. However, he also is aware that talking about that status does not necessarily mean a team will play like it, too.
“Underdog mentality is a great mentality, and we’re going to have it,” he said. “But we’ve got to play like it. Not just talk about it or go practice like it — play like it on Sundays.”
2. Quick-hit thoughts on the reported Bill Belichick contract extension: Early on Sunday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Patriots and Bill Belichick had reached an agreement on a multi-year contact extension during the offseason. The deal has locked up Belichick for the foreseeable future in an apparent sign of trust on the ownership’s part.
That being said, it is hard to analyze the deal without any details. On the one hand, it might have indeed been a show of confidence in Belichick and his ability to build a long-term vision for the team; on the other hand there is no telling what the financial ramifications of a breach — presumably on the part of the Kraft family — would be.
The timing of the report is interesting given the team’s record and speculation about Belichick’s future, but as for the deal itself: we will have to wait and see what it means in the grand scheme of things.
3. Patriots wide receiver Demario Douglas’ future looks bright. But how about his present? After missing Week 6 due to a concussion, sixth-round rookie Demario Douglas is back in the lineup against the Bills. It will be seen how prominently he will be featured, but the Patriots appear to be confident in his abilities.
“I think he has a very important role,” said fellow wideout Kendrick Bourne. “Pop is great in man-to-man. You don’t really know the threat he brings for opposing defenses. He can do a lot of things that, people doubt him, being an underdog in a sense — a small guy. He just needs to keep doing it, making those big plays. He’s very explosive. I think he can be great. He just has to keep working and doing it and wanting it every day.”
Head coach Bill Belichick did not go quite as far in his praise, but he too spoke highly of Douglas.
“Demario’s a smart player,” he said on Friday. “He’s not a huge target, but he’s fast, he’s quick, he’s got good receiving skills. He can get open.”
Douglas has shown some intriguing agility during his first five games, but the Patriots decided to use him as their No. 4 receiver so far. Will this change moving forward, especially with JuJu Smith-Schuster out against Buffalo and teams willing to test the team with man-to-man coverage?
4. Adrian Phillips will be a player to watch the next two weeks: The Patriots activated special teams ace Cody Davis from the physically unable to perform list this week, and he will likely return to fill his role as personal punt protector — a role held by veteran safety Adrian Phillips during his injury absence that began last October. Along the way, Phillips saw his defensive playing time decrease drastically.
With Davis back, will it go up again? And, if not, what does this say about this long-term future, especially with the trade deadline coming up?
5. Patriots put on a show worthy of Dante Scarnecchia and Mike Vrabel: The Patriots inducted long-term assistant coach Dante Scarnecchia and former linebacker Mike Vrabel as the 33rd and 34th members of their Hall of Fame on Saturday, and the event was a memorable one. Even with the ceremony being moved indoors and thus not being open to the public, it was a fitting way to honor the two franchise legends.
“Mike’s leadership and versatility were principal to one of the most successful eras in franchise history,” said Robert Kraft about Vrabel. “Many Patriots players have made contributions in all three phases of the game, but none more significantly than Mike.”
“If there was ever anybody that deserves to be in, regardless of the process, or the voting, in terms of just the impact they had on an organization — if there’s anybody that could just kind of leapfrog that entire process, it’d be Scar,” added former offensive tackle Matt Light.
Light was one of several ex-Patriots to attend the induction ceremony, a show of respect for both Vrabel and Scarnecchia.
Another highlight of the festivities was the speech by Bill Belichick — showing a humorous side not often seen from the usually-stoic head coach.
Listen to Bill Belichick here— Football (@BostonConnr) October 21, 2023
Sounds like an actual human and is giving real emotion about Dante Scarnecchia coaching the Oline
This is really cool to see
Almost every current or former Patriots player who gets asked the question, “What surprised you the most about Bill Belichick?” gives the same answer: his sense of humor. His speech at Scarnecchia’s and Vrabel’s Hall of Fame induction gave a rather extended glimpse at it.
6. What is going on with James Ferentz? The Patriots’ interior offensive line has been a major weakness with starting guards Cole Strange and Michael Onwenu both missing extensive time due to injury. In their place, the team relied on rookies Atonio Mafi and Sidy Sow, among others, which led to some issues up front.
This begs the question: how about James Ferentz? While not the highest-upside option available, the veteran has plenty of experience playing alongside center David Andrews. And yet, the team decided against using him so far.
“He’s been inactive for all the games, so his role on the sideline is to help us with his experience, interaction with his teammates and the experience that he has as a player,” said Bill Belichick. “And, knowing our system, you know, things that happen on the field that players see sometimes that coaches don’t see.”
7. Jahlani Tavai is staying true to his nickname. With the Patriots missing several players along their defensive edge, the team turned to off-ball linebacker Jahlani Tavai to fill the position against the Las Vegas Raiders last week. For the 27-year-old this was just staying true to his nickname: Tavai was dubbed “The Adjustor” by linebackers coach Jerod Mayo.
“I’ve always been able to adapt to any situation,” he said. “It’s just another way to get onto the field. Whether it’s D-end, outside ‘backer, inside ‘backer, I’m ready to step up to the opportunity.”
8. Patriots might have reached the ‘Brenden Schooler playing defense’ stage of the season: The Patriots defense missing Matthew Judon, Josh Uche again Keion White against Buffalo puts pressure on the unit’s depth, including forcing players such as Tavai to move around. This, in turn, might open the door for opportunities for other players.
One of those was spotted at practice working with the defense this week: special teamer Brenden Schooler.
No sign of DE Josh Uche (foot/knee) here at the media-access portion of practice, which likely foreshadows he won’t play Sunday.— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) October 20, 2023
Uche’s role as situational pass rusher (36% playing time) could be filled by multiple players (e.g. Flowers if activated, Tavai, Mapu, Schooler etc.). pic.twitter.com/y5al2G8cPY
A safety and wide receiver in college, Schooler has played mostly on special teams since joining the Patriots as an undrafted free agent last year. It seems unlikely he will suddenly emerge on defense, but training him as an emergency option would make sense.
9. Patriots sign a former German soccer star, sort of. The Patriots are expanding into the German-speaking market, and in doing so have recruited the help of a former German soccer player and executive: Oliver Bierhoff, who most recently worked for the country’s national team, will work as a business advisor moving forward.
10. Fans not confident in the Patriots’ ability to return to the win column consistently: This week’s SB Nation Reacts survey asked fans how many games they think the Patriots will win for the remainder of the season. Needless to say, there is not a lot of confidence in the 1-5 squad to improve massively.
11. Setting up the week ahead: The Patriots’ week will likely be determined by the performance against Buffalo on Sunday. Traditionally, Monday and Tuesday would both be practice-free days, but the team did conduct walkthroughs on Tuesday in back-to-back weeks now. With another challenging game coming up in Week 8 — a road contest versus the Miami Dolphins — Bill Belichick might stick to this routine if it bears fruit versus the Bills.
Other than that, the week will follow its traditional schedule. Injury reports on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, plus practice squad promotions and other inactives on travel day (Saturday).
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