ESPN NFL analyst Tim Hasselbeck joined Dennis & Callahan on Monday to discuss the Patriots’ big win over the Bears and next week’s battle against the Broncos. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
New England’s offensive outburst and Brady’s 30-for-35 passing performance has given the Patriots a lot of confidence heading into the second half of the season. Next Sunday the Patriots will face off against Peyton Manning‘s Broncos, a game that will pose another midseason challenge.
Said Hasselbeck: “It doesn’t need hype. … In terms of the tune-up, with the way [the Patriots] played offensively, just the points they had, they end up with over 50 points in that football game. So now everyone looks at it as if New England has solved all of the offensive woes that they had early in the season. And now it’ll be billed as a big shootout between the two star quarterbacks.”
New England’s wide receiving corps and Brady’s supporting cast during Sunday’s win, and over the last few weeks, have stepped up since the early part of the season. The hosts wondered whether it’s time to stop talking about the possibility that they are a weak group.
“I don’t know if a couple of weeks changes it,” Hasselbeck said. “Now, [Rob] Gronkowski is healthy, I think that all of us would agree, Gronkowski’s healthy versus what we saw from Rob Gronkowski after very little work in the preseason and playing about 30 snaps a game at the beginning of the year, versus what we saw yesterday is totally different. Tim Wright, I think we’ve seen very little from Tim Wright. They threw him a touchdown pass down near the goal line, but you probably could’ve taken Jim Dray from the Cleveland Browns and had it sneak out. I don’t that that was a matchup that was won necessarily by Tim Wright. Shane Vereen‘s a nice player, but he’s not Le’Veon Bell.
“I still don’t look at the supporting cast as this unbelievable group surrounding a very good quarterback. I see a very good quarterback making a pretty good supporting cast look a lot better than they did earlier in the year.”
In last year’s matchup against the Broncos, the Patriots made a late-game comeback to win, thanks in part to a botched Denver punt return at the end of the game. Despite the Broncos possibly being even better this year, Hasselbeck said the Patriots could beat the Broncos again. But a win against the Broncos and Manning comes down to the whole team playing well, not just Brady.
“Yeah, I think it’s possible,” Hasselbeck said of the Patriots’ chances of winning. “When you get to wins and losses, even though the build-up is going to be all about the quarterbacks, when you get to wins and losses, there are so many other factors. … We can sit here and talk about [Demaryius] Thomas and Gronk and what a matchup problem he’s going to be. He looks like he’s healthy, full complement of snaps. Well, hey, look at Emmanuel Sanders and what he’s meant for this Denver offense. And now there’s an element of speed that they didn’t have when Eric Decker was in that role. Ronnie Hillman is running it well, they’re better on the offensive line. All of those different things.”
Continued Hasselbeck: “But there’s also these other aspects of the game that we often overlook when you end up kind of trying to forecast who wins. And I think that’s part of it. In many cases, when you look at Bill Belichick and his history of whether it’s special teams play, whether it’s a decision much like the regular-season game last year where he used the wind to his advantage. There are things like that I do believe go in the Patriots’ favor. And ultimately I think that probably ends up being a determining factor in the game more so than which quarterback throws more touchdown passes.
“New England in New England, I think you have to have some really strong feelings to go against them in that environment,” Hasselbeck continued. “I like New England in New England.”
Following are more highlights from the interview.
On the Russell Wilson controversial situation in Seattle: “It’s a bizarre story, it’s an absolutely bizarre story. And I think one of the great things about playing football is that you do get guys from all different types of backgrounds. And look, I grew up in Norfolk, Massachusetts, went to Xaverian in Westwood, Massachusetts. My father played in the NFL and I had an outstanding environment to grow up in. Went to Boston College and became friends with guys that had similar upbringings and then had upbringings that were totally different. I worked with a guy now in Damien Woody from Beaverdam, Virginia. Me and Damien don’t have a whole lot in common in terms of how we grew up. But he was a teammate of mine at BC, he was an intramural basketball teammate of mine at BC and I guy that I work with now. And we get along great — I love him. That type of thing, that makes football special.”
On Geno Smith and the Jets’ continued problems this year: “Geno Smith, he throws eight passes, three of them are intercepted. It was horrendous. What’s it like going to work? It’s embarrassing. There’s really no other way to put it. In terms of how it works for Rex Ryan, in fairness to Rex, and you guys just watched a game where he prepared a team to play probably play over their heads in terms of their performance against New England. The guy is a good coach, he really is. There’s things he does as a head coach that I think you can argue with, but you need a quarterback, plain and simple.”