Bill Belichick and the rest of the coaches around the league might be happier now that “points of emphasis” calls dropped over the last two weeks of the preseason. (Getty Images)
1. If the fourth preseason game was any indication, the league and the players appear to have found a happy medium when it came to penalty flags and the new “points of emphasis” which dominated the early stages of the summer. According to our pal Brian McIntyre, there were far fewer “points of emphasis” flags thrown on Thursday night than in games earlier in the preseason. The first 49 preseason games, there was an average of nearly six per game. On Thursday, that average dropped to just 3.5 per game. As McIntyre notes, there were other factors in play, but it was interesting to see that the average time of game on Thursday was 2 hours and 52 minutes, with only two games going more than 3 hours. While it’s debatable why the decrease occurred — referees dialing things back or players and coaching picking up on the new approach — but there was a change in the overall pace of the game. But it’s undeniable that when historians write about the 2014 preseason, it’ll be with a heavy shade of yellow: In all, according to ESPN Stats & Information, there were 1,020 total flags in the 2013 preseason, with 38 for defensive holding, 18 for illegal contact and 28 for illegal use of hands. In 2014, there were 1,387 flags (a 36 percent increase from the year before): 172 for defensive holding (353 percent higher), 99 for illegal contact (450 percent higher) and 124 for illegal use of hands (a 343 percent increase).
2. We have long been advocates of the statistical smorgasbord that is Pro Football Reference — it’s easy to go to their enormous database looking for one particular number, get distracted and find the whole afternoon gone after you spend eight hours comparing stats. They’ve introduced a new feature they Tweeted about this week, a team streak finder that measures consecutive wins and losses. The stat that caught our eye was New England’s current string of Week 1 victories. The Patriots are third in NFL history when it comes to consecutive wins to open a season — they’ve won 10 straight season openers, dating back to 2004 against the Colts. (Their last loss came against the Bills in Buffalo in September 2003, an epic curb-stomping that remains one of the worst losses of the Bill Belichick Era.) If New England wins its opener against the Dolphins next Sunday in Miami, it will have tied the Dolphins (1992-2002) for second place on the all-time list. The leaders are the Cowboys, who won an astonishing 17 straight openers from 1965 to 1981. (As of a few years ago, the Steelers were the only other team close to catching the Patriots — Pittsburgh won eight straight openers from 2003 to 2010.) Anyway, click here for the complete list. And if you’re so inclined, you might also want to check out this list also from PFR of the most consecutive seasons of 10 wins or more. The current Patriots have gone 11 consecutive years with 10 wins or more, which is second on the all-time list behind the Niners, who went 16 straight seasons (1983 to 1998) with at least double-digit victories.
3. In the grand scheme of things, this doesn’t mean a whole lot to people outside the media, but both Logan Mankins and Tommy Kelly were known for their interactions with the media. Both were candid, engaging and funny interviews who knew how to work the media better than most of the players who have come through the New England locker room on recent occasions. We wrote about Mankins and his ability to spin a quote briefly here, but it’s worth reiterating that he was a player who was always honest with the media. And in his year-plus with the Patriots, Kelly also distinguished himself as a go-to guy in the locker room, someone who could always be counted on to fill a notebook with worthwhile observations from a veteran who had a terrific perspective on the game. Both will be missed by local reporters.
4. In the wake of Mankins’ departure, it also got us thinking about us ultimate place in franchise history. The Fresno State product, who was named to the franchise All-2000s team in 2009 as one of the guards, is in pretty select company. He was a first-team All-Pro in 2010, and a second-team All-Pro in 2007, 2009 and 2011. A five-time Pro Bowler, his name is inexorably linked to Hall of Famer John Hannah, another guard with a mean streak who paved the way for a generation of New England running backs. While Mankins isn’t a Pro Football Hall of Famer like Hannah, from our viewpoint, he’s on the short list when it comes to the best offensive linemen ever to wear the Patriots’ uniform. Despite the fact that I didn’t get a chance to see some of the older guys play, according to some who did, he deserves a spot in the conversation with the likes of Leon Gray, Brian Holloway, Jon Morris and Bruce Armstrong. As a result, it’s a safe bet Mankins will end up wearing a red jacket and having a ceremony on the plaza at Patriots Place five years after he decides to hang up his shoulder pads.
5. In the wake of the Cowboys and Colts going winless in the preseason, there was a really fascinating piece on what happens to teams that go 0-4 over the course of the summer from our friend Jason Lisk. Lisk took a look at this blog post from Football Geography, which listed all of the teams that have gone winless in the preseason, and whether or not that affects them once the regular season rolls around. Lisk found the following statistical patterns:
a) In all, 14 of the 39 teams had made the playoffs the year before they went winless in the preseason, and the average win total the previous year was 8.1 wins.
b) Only 8 of the 39 made the playoffs after going winless (20.5 percent).
c) Most of the culprits were the previous year playoff teams, where only 5 of 14 returned. The previous year’s playoff teams won 7.9 games on average.
6. We mentioned this over here, but it bears repeating: there will be more moves between now and the start of the regular season, but at this point, here’s a look at the average number of players the Patriots have opened with at each position over the last five seasons compared to the number of players currently on the roster they have at each position. (Two notes here: one, I’m Matthew Slater as a special teamer as opposed to a wide receiver. And two, I’m also counting James Develin as a tight end as opposed to a fullback. I know he can do both, but he’s taking more reps with tight ends, and is stretching with them in their group prior to practice.)
7.8 defensive linemen (9 currently on the roster)
7.4 linebackers (5 currently on the roster)
5.4 cornerbacks (5 currently on the roster)
4.2 safeties (5 currently on the roster)
9.4 offensive linemen (10 currently on the roster)
3.2 tight ends (4 currently on the roster)
5 running backs (4 currently on the roster)
4.8 wide receivers (5 currently on the roster)
2.2 quarterbacks (3 currently on the roster)
4 special teams (3 currently on the roster)
7. Last year, the Patriots made 15 personnel moves — not counting transactions relating to the practice squad — between the final cuts and the regular-season opener against the Bills. Those moves included the signings of tight end Matthew Mulligan and Develin to the active roster, two players who had a relatively sizable role on the 2013 team. In 2012, the Patriots ended up signing tight end Michael Hoomanwanui and dealing for wide receiver Greg Salas between final cuts and the start of the regular season. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that the team-building process doesn’t stop just because final cuts have been made.
8. In that vein, the Patriots have also made their share of deals between the start of September and the beginning of the regular season. Here’s a look at some of the more notable deals between final cuts and the opener over the last decade:
Sept. 1, 2012: Acquired Salas in a deal with the Rams for an undisclosed future draft pick.
Sept. 2, 2006: Acquired wide receiver Doug Gabriel from the Raiders for an undisclosed draft pick. (Later that same month – one day after the start of the regular season – the Patriots traded wide receiver Deion Branch to the Seahawks for an undisclosed draft pick in 2007.)
Sept. 1, 2006: Traded running back Patrick Cobb to the Steelers for an undisclosed draft pick.
9. While there weren’t any colossal surprises when it came to this week’s cuts, here were a few or the more notable moves, with an emphasis on the AFC East as it relates to the Patriots.
a) Michael Sam, St. Louis – The 249th pick in the draft, the defensive end out of Mizzou was bidding to become the first openly gay player in the NFL. According to reports, there’s a strong belief that he could still be ticketed for a role on the Rams’ practice squad.
b) Dmitri Patterson and Stephen Hill, New York Jets – Eight days after he went AWOL, the Jets decided to cut ties with the 31-year-old Patterson, who was originally projected to play a sizable role in the New York secondary, which is now a bit of a mess. And Hill, a second-round pick of the Jets in 2012, saw two injury-plagued seasons come to an end in New York. The 6-foot-4 Hill finished his Jets career with 45 catches for 594 yards and four touchdowns.
Hill’s agent ripped the Jets on their way out the door.
“I’m disappointed in (general manager John) Idzik and Rex (Ryan) with the way the whole thing went down there,” Alan Herman, told USA Today. “Two years in that kind of situation is disheartening. He didn’t have a chance that first year with that whole Tim Tebow- Mark Sanchez fiasco. … His second year, Geno Smith was learning how to play quarterback. So they never threw the ball deep because they wanted to simplify things for Geno.”
c) Jeff Tuel, Thad Lewis and Jordan Palmer, Buffalo – The Bills are cycling through backup quarterbacks at a dizzying rate, and they let these two go over the last 48 hours. Tuel, who played in two games as a rookie last season in Buffalo, was kicked to the curb on Saturday. Lewis played six games with the Bills last season, but was also released earlier in the week. Meanwhile, Palmer didn’t even last a week on the roster before he was cut loose after throwing three picks in a preseason loss to the Detroit on Thursday. Buffalo appears to have settled on journeyman Kyle Orton as the backup for EJ Manuel.
d) Champ Bailey, New Orleans – Bailey, a lock for the Hall of Fame, was cut loose by the Saints, and it appears to be the end of the line for the once-great corner. The 36-year-old, who has 52 career interceptions, has played for the Broncos and Redskins over the course of his 15-year career.
e) Nate Burleson, Cleveland – Browns need all the help at receiver they can get after losing Josh Gordon for the season, but the 33-year-old Burleson simply didn’t have enough left in the tank. Burleson, who was limited to 15 games the last two years because of ankle issues, missed the first three preseason games of the summer with a hamstring problem, and caught just one pass in the final preseason contest.
10. The next time someone tells you that no one cares about the fourth preseason game, let them know that the TV rating for the preseason finale this past week registered a 17.1 household rating and 30 market share, making it the highest-rated preseason game since 2002. Jimmy Garoppolo’s first NFL start drew an average of 567,100 total viewers — a 30 percent increase when compared to last year’s record 435,000 that tuned in to last year’s finale against New York. Overall, the game capped a New England preseason that garnered a 14.7 rating, attracted an average of 516,100 total viewers and was the most-watched program in the Boston market every week.