Final thoughts on Colts-Patriots – WEEI.com
1. The forecast for Saturday night is for winds and rain, but with highs in the mid-50s. (Weather.com says highs on Saturday could reach 55 degrees.) While much has been made about the Patriots being a superior cold weather team, this could be the warmest outdoor playoff game in Foxboro during the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era, and one of the warmest playoff games in the recent history of the franchise. The highest temperature at kickoff a postseason game at Gillette — according to NFL gamebooks — was last year’s AFC divisional playoff against the Texans, where the mercury reached 51 degrees. Prior to that, the 2006 wild-card contest against the Jets was 49 degrees at kickoff. But the warmest postseason game of the Belichick-Brady era was Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, where the Patriots and Eagles met in a game that was 55 degrees at kickoff. (For what it’s worth, according to our records, the Patriots are 7-2 when the temperature is 40 degrees or more at kickoff, with their only two losses, coming in last year’s AFC title game — 41 degrees at kickoff — and the 2005 divisional playoffs in Denver — 45 degrees at kickoff.
2. While Pete Morelli and his crew will work Saturday’s Patriots-Colts game at Gillette, New England fans might have shuddered when they heard about another one of the other officiating assignments for this weekend. Clete Blakeman was named as the lead official for the Broncos-Chargers game. Blakeman was at the center of the controversial finish to the Patriots-Panthers game, one that ended with a decision to pick up a late flag on a play that who had gone as a pass interference call against Carolina. One more note on officiating: our pals at Football Zebras indicate that Tony Corrente and Gene Steratore will work the conference championship games. If New England does advance to the AFC title game, they will see a familiar face in either Corrente and Steratore — both worked two Patriots games this season without incident.
3. It was a good week for a pair of former Patriots who were able to land new coaching gigs. Ex-New England linebacker Mike Vrabel made the move from the Ohio State staff to join Bill O’Brien as the new linebackers coach with the Texans. As a player, Vrabel always struck as an extremely cerebral type — he considered quitting football to go to law school before he ended up signing with the Patriots — and in the wake of his success at Ohio State, it isn’t a surprise to see him make the leap to the pros as quickly as he did. The 38-year-old Vrabel could very well be following the same career path as Pepper Johnson, who carved out a niche as a smart and heady linebacker with Bill Belichick when he was with the Giants, and then parlayed that into an extensive career as an NFL assistant. In addition, it was nice to see former New England defensive back Terrell Buckley also get the call to join Bobby Petrino‘s staff at Louisville. Buckley had been working as the defensive backs coach at the University of Akron. In his tenure with the Patriots, Buckley distinguished himself as always being pleasant and accommodating with the media, and a smart individual who always had a love for the game.
4. In that same vein, it was interesting to see O’Brien take a page out of Belichick’s book this week in Houston when he reportedly took all sorts of mementos that emphasized individual over team that were hanging throughout the Texans facility. Two things comes to mind: One, it’s a move right out of the Bill Belichick playbook — the coach did the same thing around Gillette in 2010 when he was trying to reinvent the franchise, putting an emphasis on team ahead of individual. (That was the same offseason when he brought in veteran leaders like Alge Crumpler and got rid of players like Adalius Thomas.) And two, it can be a potentially risky move for a new coach. Several reporters responded to the initial news of O’Brien clearing the walls with reminders that Josh McDaniels and Steve Spaguolo did the same thing when they arrived, only to see themselves out on the street within two years. It can be a risky move, but from this perspective, O’Brien is likely in for the long haul in Houston. (After all, it’s not every day that the new coach gets a visit from an ex-President.)
5. Ex-Pats personnel man Lionel Vital is becoming a hot name around the league when it comes to potential GM openings. Multiple reports indicate that Vital is a candidate for the vacant GM job in Tampa Bay. Vital is currently the director of player personnel with the Falcons, but he made his bones with the Patriots, where he spent five seasons in New England, mainly as an assistant director of college scouting, where he worked closely with Thomas Dimitroff. After leaving New England, Vital served three seasons under Ozzie Newsome as a national scout in Baltimore before joining Dimitroff in Atlanta — he became director of player personnel with the Falcons last January.
6. Getting a chance to interact with Logan Mankins while the veteran offensive lineman was at the podium on Thursday was entertaining. The Fresno State product has evolved into one of the best quotes on the team, and could be one of the most underrated talkers in the league: Win or lose, good or bad, he always gives it to you straight. It struck me that he’s come a long way from his rookie season in 2005, when he was a good-natured but painfully quiet interview with us in the media. it was a struggle to get more than a sentence or two out of him. Part of that was likely just him being an introverted rookie. But since then, he’s become far more at ease when speaking with the media, delivering insight and perspective on the game but making sure to mix in a dash of humor along the way. To give Mankins some historical perspective, he’s reached the same level as veterans like Rodney Harrison and Kevin Faulk, two guys who were always entertaining, insightful and great with reporters when they played in New England.
7. Even in the thick of the playoff chase, the Patriots were making moves this week with an eye toward 2014. On Friday, they signed former Notre Dame running back Jonas Gray to a futures contract for the 2014 season. The 5-foot-9, 230-pound Gray spent most of the season on the Ravens practice squad, but as a collegian, he totaled 1,100 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns in 34 games with the Fighting Irish from 2009-2011. (For what it’s worth, a futures contract is a relatively easy way to keep a prospect under your control for the coming season — ultimately, with an eye toward getting him through to the practice squad — even though the calendar year for that season hasn’t yet started. Such deals can be offered only to players who weren’t on an NFL team’s roster when the regular season ended. By way of example, the Patriots signed seven players to futures contracts at the close of the 2013 season, a group that included fullback James Develin and defensive end Marcus Benard.)
8. Four stats that stuck out for me this week that I wasn’t able to shoehorn into any story I wrote:
a. Via ‘NFL Network’s Playbook,’ the Patriots 14 playoff wins from 2003-2012 are second only to the Redskins, who posted 15 from 1982-1991 for the most postseason victories in a 10-year span in NFL history.
b. Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com: No. 6 seeds are 5-2 vs. No. 1 seeds since ‘05.
c. From noted salary cap guru Brian McIntyre: Salary cap dollars on injured reserve among remaining AFC playoff teams: Patriots ($27.8 million), Broncos ($24.4 million), Colts ($23.6 million), Chargers ($13.5 million).
d. Via Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders: The AFC’s No. 1 seed has won just two of the 23 Super Bowls since 1990, and has gone one-and-done 10 times in that stretch.
9. We’re obviously going to be focused on what’s going on Saturday with the Patriots, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a take on what’s going on with the three other divisional playoff games. Here’s our scalding hot sports take on how this weekend is going to go down:
a. From our perspective, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Chargers go into Denver and knock off the Broncos (Peyton Manning hasn’t won an outdoor postseason game January 13, 2007, and has been one-and-done in the postseason eight times in his career), but the San Diego defense is just too inconsistent for my taste.
b. It was hard not to be impressed by the play of the Niners last weekend, who went into a freezer in Green Bay delivered a statement win — while the Panthers have done well over the course of the season, it’s feeling more and more like San Francisco is getting hot at the right time of the year.
c. While the Saints will almost certainly provide a better opponent than they did the last time they went into Seattle, this feels like a Seahawks win. (For what it’s worth, we’re not completely sold on Seattle as a Super Bowl champion for a few reasons, including the fact that they were the league-leaders in penalties in 2013, and only two other teams who finished the season having led the league in penalties assessed and won the Super Bowl — the 1974 Steelers and 1971 Cowboys.)
10. And finally, given the back and forth between the WWE and the NFL recently — with Ric Flair giving a pep talk to the Niners before their playoff game with the Packers last week and Hulk Hogan publicly throwing his support behind the Patriots with a pair of videos — it would be fun to see one of the great all-time wrestling videos at Gillette Stadium for Saturday’s game between New England and Indy. Help get the crowd fired up.
Final thoughts on Colts-Patriots – WEEI.com