FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
“He’s like my brother, like a brother from another mother,” Patterson said with a smile.
They first crossed paths in 2013, when Patterson was a first-round draft pick of the Vikings out of Tennessee and Thielen was hoping to make the team as an undrafted free agent out of Division II Minnesota State-Mankato.
“He was on the practice squad but I would always study with him, just learning things from each other,” Patterson said, recalling times in which they would gather in the basement of the home of Thielen’s sister and cousin. “I think we got so close in rookie camp, I was like, ‘This guy could be my roommate.’ And then we were for all four years, and for the road games and home games.”
What stood out most to Patterson was how Thielen, who currently leads the NFL with 93 receptions, never seemed to stop working. And when it came to route running, it was always smooth.
“Look at him now, he’s one of the best receivers in the league. I can vouch for him because I was there with him for the first four years,” Patterson said.
The two, who had a dinner reservation Saturday night upon the Vikings’ arrival in town, have remained close.
“Every other day, we try to make sure we’re communicating with each other, make sure we’re talking. Adam is one of those guys, on and off the field, he’s a great guy.
“He already knows how much I love him, how much I care about him. Once you build a relationship with guys like that, it’s unbreakable. You get on some teams with some guys and the next year you don’t talk to them and go years without talking. Me and that guy? We’re going to always talk.”
2. If Patriots quarterback Tom Brady wants to continue wearing his old helmet in 2019, should the NFL allow him to? A week after Brady switched back to the old helmet in a victory over the Jets, I don’t see any compelling reason why not. In one respect, the league is trying to do the right thing by specifying which helmets meet safety guidelines (Brady’s didn’t make the cut and is among those prohibited in 2019). But in Brady’s case, or those of other players with 15 years of experience or more, a case can be made they should get to choose what they want to wear. Brady clearly feels most comfortable in the old helmet, while fully understanding the risks in making that choice. The 41-year-old told Westwood One radio that he’s going to make an effort in the offseason to get his old helmet cleared for use in 2019.
3. Senior writer Mike Sando’s piece on the top 25 NFL players under the age of 25 (ESPN+ required) didn’t include any Patriots, which highlights a theme of two other pieces from the past week (Tom Curran of NBCSports Boston and Albert Breer of MMQB.com) that noted New England as a team with an aging core. There are also some bloated salary-cap numbers for foundation-type players in 2019 that will likely have to be addressed in some form (e.g., Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower). That’s all fair, as is the thought that the team would greatly benefit from stacking a couple of productive drafts together. If that challenge is met, and Brady follows through on plans to play until he’s 45, I don’t see the Patriots experiencing a sudden decline. And based on past history, I wouldn’t doubt them pulling it off.
4. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s conference call with Patriots reporters struck me as being as close to what Patriots beat reporters experienced when Bill Parcells was coach from 1993 to 1996. There was a refreshing directness and humanness to his answers, right down to the acknowledgment that the Patriots are using Patterson better than his team did (Zimmer said it’s something he’s filing away as a learning experience). After 10 minutes of listening to Zimmer, I found myself seeking more insight from him.
5. The thought of Parcells, and a Patriots-Vikings game in Foxborough, sparks memories of an all-time great New England football game: On Nov. 13, 1994, Drew Bledsoe rallied the Patriots from a 20-0 deficit against Minnesota by going 45-of-70 to lead the team to a 26-20 overtime victory. The 45 completions and 70 pass attempts are NFL records that still stand today. I was at the game as a fan — the Patriots were 3-6 before going on to win their final seven regular-season games to make the playoffs for the first time since 1986 — and the one-dimensional aerial attack born out of desperation was remarkable to watch unfold and provided further hope that Bledsoe’s arrival could propel the team to new heights. Fullback Kevin Turner caught the winning touchdown pass in overtime.
6a. After the Patriots host the Vikings on Sunday, they will experience something that has never happened before in franchise history: The order of their final four opponents (at Dolphins, at Steelers, vs. Bills, vs. Jets), and the venue in which those games are played, is the exact same as last season. What an unusual scheduling oddity.
6b. Speaking of the schedule, one thing to watch for as the Patriots move toward clinching the AFC East is how that will solidify the team’s final two opponents in 2019. A first-place finish means the Patriots will host the first-place finisher from the AFC West (likely the Chiefs) next season and visit the first-place finisher from the AFC South (likely the Texans).
2019 home games: Browns, Steelers, Cowboys, Giants, AFC West team that finishes in the same spot in standings, Bills, Dolphins, Jets
2019 away games: Ravens, Bengals, Eagles, Redskins, AFC South team that finishes in the same spot in standings, Bills, Dolphins, Jets
7. It was notable to hear Patriots safety McCourty note that recently signed Obi Melifonwu (6-foot-4, 224 pounds) brings size to the team’s safety corps that inspires confidence among others when matching up against opposing tight ends. Patrick Chung often does yeoman’s work against tight ends, but if he wasn’t available, the club would have a significant void that Melifonwu could now potentially fill. While Melifonwu’s role could eventually grow, that is one early niche in which he’s made an impression on teammates. “He’s brought a really good edge to our group,” McCourty said.
8. Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s name found its way into a new rap song by Meek Mill called “What’s Free,” which is a flattering tribute that highlights Kraft’s attention to criminal justice reform on Mill’s behalf. As part of the lyrics specific to Kraft, Mill is noting those who “got his back.” Philadelphia 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin is also mentioned.
9a. Did You Know, Part I: The Vikings face Brady this week after beating Aaron Rodgers in Week 12, which makes them the seventh team to face Brady and Rodgers in back-to-back games. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the previous six combined to go 2-8, and none won both games.
9b. Did You Know, Part II: If the Patriots beat the Vikings, they would improve to 9-3 and clinch a winning record for the 18th consecutive season, the second-longest streak in NFL history behind Dallas (20, from 1966 to 1985).
10. Television history will be made Sunday when former Patriots offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer, alongside former Giants defensive lineman Markus Kuhn, will broadcast the Patriots-Vikings game from Gillette Stadium live to Germany on the Prosieben television network. Vollmer, of course, was born in Germany. Kuhn, who is also German, spent 2016 training camp with the Patriots. Prosieben sent other reporters to town this week to do various interviews with players.