FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Gostkowski’s view: Of the 65,878 fans scheduled to be in attendance at Sunday’s sold out Tennessee Titans-Patriots game (1 p.m. ET, CBS), few can share the unique perspective of Stephen Gostkowski.
He kicked for the Patriots from 2006 to 2019 and is the franchise’s all-time leading scorer with 1,775 points. Then in 2020, he joined coach Mike Vrabel’s Titans.
Gostkowski, who has since made Tennessee his year-round residence, planned to travel to New England for the game, bringing his son as a surprise birthday gift. Before boarding the plane to do so, he shared insight on three topics: How much his time in Tennessee reminded him of New England; whether he’s officially retired; and kicker Nick Folk‘s career revival with the Patriots.
“I was there for a cup of coffee, had no training camp, and then it was a COVID year, so things were a little mixed up with the meetings and stuff,” Gostkowski said of his time with Tennessee. “But just like when I played with Mike, he was great then as a player, and now he’s a great coach.
“He’s a great motivator and kind of like [Patriots] Coach [Bill] Belichick — going over a ton of different situations and knowing how to push guys’ buttons.”
Gostkowski, who turns 38 in January, described the Titans as a scrappy group that adopts an underdog mentality. As for his own career, he hasn’t closed the door on kicking again in the NFL, although that likely wouldn’t come until 2022 as a result of a Coxsackie viral infection he caught from his kids that sacked him for the better part of a month.
“I had hundreds of blisters all over my feet and hands. I got it worse than the kids did. All my skin was peeled off my fingers and toes; woke up in the middle of the night and it felt like my hands and feet had pins and needles in them,” he said.
“That was kind of right in the beginning of the middle of the season when I had a semi-itch to play. It was tough because I was getting in decent shape, but then you can’t work out. I couldn’t do much other than walk. So I don’t think right now would be the right time; I’m not in good enough shape. But I’m not closing the door of never playing again. It’s just not in my immediate future.”
Gostkowski got to know the 37-year-old Folk, who has succeeded him as the Patriots’ kicker, when they had lockers side by side in New England in 2019. Gostkowski was on injured reserve because of his hip, and Folk was trying to find a permanent job after being out of the league for almost two years.
Folk has since become one of the league’s most consistent kickers — 14-of-17 on field goals in 2019, 26-of-28 in 2020 and 26-of-28 this season.
The two also know each other from taking the same MBA classes online through Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.
“Nick is just a great dude. It’s hard not to root for someone who is a nice guy, keeps his mouth shut, goes about his business, and just performs. And if he messes up, he doesn’t make excuses. I respect that very much,” Gostkowski said.
“It takes a certain kind of person to fit in New England and he’s obviously done that. The guy is ‘Steady Eddie’. It’s fun to watch the tradition of good specialists coming through New England.”
2. Belichick under weather: He wasn’t on the injury report, because that’s for players and not coaches, but Belichick was fighting an aggressive cold this week; his voice scratchy and tailing off quickly. Players took note of Belichick powering through it, which is what they would be expected to do in a similar situation.
“You definitely noticed it,” said safety Adrian Phillips. “I was like, ‘Oh, this isn’t the same voice you’re used to.’ But he acts like there’s nothing different.”
Belichick sounded a little better by the end of the week, joking that he was five pounds heavier after Thanksgiving.
3. Vrabel’s red jacket: Mike Vrabel has been a finalist for the Patriots Hall of Fame each of the past five years, and is deserving of induction, but he keeps falling short in the fan vote. His former teammate, Troy Brown, has a theory as to why.
“It will always be waiting for him when he’s done coaching, but I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon, because it looks like he’s having too much fun,” said Brown, the Patriots’ assistant receivers/returners coach. “But it’s kind of tough to give it to someone when you’re competing against them.”
4. Barmore’s energy: Mention fast-talking Patriots rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore to a player, and they inevitably smile. The 22-year-old Barmore, whose role continues to grow, described himself as a “goofy guy” and his everyday energy and non-stop questions seem to get a rise out of his peers. Veteran linebacker Dont’a Hightower put him in the category of linebacker Matthew Judon, receiver Kendrick Bourne and safety Devin McCourty when he said: “People like that help you get through the 17-game season and practice.”
5. Mike on Mac: Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones is 245-of-349 for 2,540 yards, with 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Studying him this week, Vrabel said: “It looks like he’s really improved and has a great grasp of what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to play the football game. Making great decisions. I’m sure he’d like to have that one [interception] back from the [win over Atlanta] but all in all, looks like a lot of accuracy, a lot of command, poise. Playing well.” I didn’t have the gumption to ask Vrabel if it reminded him of any quarterback he was teammates with back in 2001 with the Patriots.
6. Slater on Mayo: High praise came from longtime Patriots captain Matthew Slater, who was asked about former teammate/current linebackers coach Jerod Mayo in his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI. Said Slater: “He’s someone I’ve known for 14 years now; we got drafted together. You talk about elite leadership. I put him and Devin McCourty at the top for best leaders I’ve been around. Their ability to connect. And football IQ to go along with that. Jerod’s football IQ is second to none.”
7. Jakobi’s blocking: When Vrabel was asked about the identity of the Patriots’ offense last week, he highlighted an area often overlooked. “Probably the best blocking wide receivers in the league,” he said, noting their role in helping the rushing attack elevate to among the best in the NFL over the past five games. Specifically, Vrabel noted Jakobi Meyers (54 catches) when he said, “When your leading receiver is your best blocker, that makes for a good combination. He goes in there and is fearless. He’s going in with a purpose.”
8. Bye-bye to full bye week: Last week’s announcement that the Week 15 Patriots-Colts game would be moved to Saturday, Dec. 18 shortens an already shortened Patriots bye week because the team’s Week 13 game is at Buffalo on Monday, Dec. 6. “Come on, NFL!” joked McCourty. Side note: NFL Network plans to finalize/announce its broadcast team for Patriots-Colts by the week of Dec. 6.
9. Rookies return: Draft picks Cameron McGrone (linebacker, fifth round, Michigan) and Joshuah Bledsoe (safety, sixth round, Missouri) practiced for the first time last week after spending the season on the non-football injury list. McGrone tore his ACL in college and Bledsoe injured his wrist at the Senior Bowl. Belichick noted how hard they have worked, and they now get three weeks of practice to build a foundation for 2022, while providing potential short-term injury insurance. Both have been regulars in meetings throughout the year.
10a. Did You Know, Part I: Titans QB Ryan Tannehill is seeking his third straight win against the Patriots (including playoffs), and if it happens, he will become the first quarterback since Eli Manning (SB XLII; 2011 Week 9; SB XLVI) to do so.
10b. Did You Know, Part II: Vrabel is 2-0 against Belichick, and with a win Sunday, he would join Dave Wannstedt as the only coach to beat Belichick (2000-present) in their first three meetings.