Five quick thoughts: Patriots get back in stride against Saints

Five quick thoughts: Patriots get back in stride against Saints

Here are five quick-hit thoughts from what went down between the Patriots and Saints in New Orleans, starting with a strong response from Bill Belichick's club after a crushing defeat in the opener . . . 

1. Remember when Tom Brady called out the Patriots for their attitude and energy following the loss to the Chiefs? Seemed to work. The Patriots played with apparent enthusiasm and a renewed energy in New Orleans, which was evident throughout the matchup. Brady's touchdown pass to Chris Hogan resulted in a mini-outburst from the quarterback. Rob Gronkowski's 53-yard touchdown provoked a Hulkamania-style flex that got the Patriots going. Harvey Langi's special-teams tackle in the first quarter gave the Patriots a spark, as did the play up front of Deatrich's Wise (two quarterback hits, one sack through three quarters). There were lapses (a too-many-men penalty in the third quarter, letdowns by Nate Solder at left tackle), but overall it was a strong showing start-to-finish.


2. Brady's accuracy was on point. After the Chiefs game, there were some concerns about Brady slipping; Opening Night overthrows to Hogan to Dwayne Allen were served up as evidence. Against New Orleans, there were no such issues. His touch pass to Rex Burkhead was picture perfect. Gronkowski's score was thrown flat-footed, but it still hit the big tight end in stride. Gronk should've had another score on a well-thrown back-shoulder ball, but it was dropped. 

3. Gronkowski was looking strong . . . until he wasn't. He reeled in six catches for 116 yards and a score on nine targets, looking like his old self after catching just two passes in the opener. But on his final grab, Gronkowski went down and was slow to get up. He immediately called to the Patriots sideline for a substitution and soon thereafter headed for the medical tent. The biggest fear -- a recurrence of the back injury -- appeared to be unfounded, as it was announced to be a groin problem. He returned to the sideline and rode the exercise bike.

4. The Patriots were looking pretty banged up before the third quarter was over. Gronkowski left. Eric Rowe took off with a groin injury. Burkhead was held back and was seen hanging with head trainer Jim Whalen. Hogan was limping at times even though he remained in the game. And newly acquired Phillip Dorsett also made a trip to the tent late in the game. With Julian Edelman out for the year and Danny Amendola dealing with a concussion and a knee injury, the Patriots can't afford to lose many more bodies. 

5. The Patriots made a concerted effort to get Burkhead involved. Before his extended break (it's unclear what kind of ailment he was dealing with, if any), the team was clearly doing more to get him the football. He had just four touches against Kansas City but finished the first quarter with five touches and a 19-yard touchdown. Though he said last week that he wasn't a slot receiver, the route he ran on linebacker Alex Anzalone came from out of the slot. 


Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

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Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

Johnny Manziel said 10 days ago, "I'd go to New England in a heartbeat," when asked about the Patriots as a potential landing spot.

That seemed like wishful thinking at the time, but they're taking a look at him...along with 12 other NFL teams, according to ESPN's Eric Williams. 

Tom Brady's current backup Brian Hoyer is, like Manziel, an ex-Cleveland Browns quarterback. Manziel would again be competing with Hoyer for the Pats' No. 2 job should New England take a chance on "Johnny Football", the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems.

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had it at 12 teams watching Manziel work out at the University of San Diego and said the Patriots gave Manziel a weigh-in.


Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

The Patriots have agreed to re-sign offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, his agent Scott Casterline confirmed on Twitter.  Waddle hit unrestricted free agency when the new league year began and made a visit to the Cowboys earlier this week. In the end, though, he chose to return to the team that claimed him off of waivers at the end of the 2015 season.

Waddle, who turns 27 in July, appeared in 12 games last season for the Patriots. He was the first right tackle the Patriots turned to when Marcus Cannon suffered an ankle injury mid-season against the Chargers. He ended up playing 51 snaps against the likes of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram without allowing a sack. He then started the next three games against the Broncos, Raiders and Dolphins and held star rushers Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Cameron Wake -- all of whom rush primarily off of the offensive right -- without a sack. 

Injuries forced Waddle (380 snaps on the season) to split the right tackle position with Cameron Fleming (543 snaps), but he was the primary backup when healthy. Waddle started the Divisional Round playoff game against the Titans but suffered a knee injury and was removed for Fleming. 

Both Fleming and Waddle visited the Cowboys this week, and the fact that Waddle has re-signed with the Patriots may impact Fleming's decision moving forward. 

The Patriots went to great lengths to build tackle depth last season, and adding Waddle to the roster helps them retain some of that depth after losing their left tackle, Nate Solder, to the Giants via free agency. Waddle could be an option on the left side, but the vast majority of his work since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2013 has been on the right side. 

The Patriots now have Fleming, Marcus Cannon, Cole Croston, Tony Garcia and Andrew Jelks on their depth chart at tackle. Croston, Garcia and Jelks are all headed into their second years as pros. Croston remained on the 53-man roster all season -- an indication that the Patriots liked him enough not to expose him to the waiver system -- but did not see meaningful snaps. Garcia and Jelks both missed the entirety of the 2017 season on reserve lists. 

Once the Patriots lost Solder to the Giants, it seemed to be of paramount importance that the Patriots re-sign either Waddle or Fleming. Behind Cannon, there were simply too many question marks not to have one return. The Patriots could opt to draft a tackle, but this is considered an average year at that position in that there are few ready-made NFL players and several developmental types.

Before the Super Bowl last season, I asked offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia how the team was able to manage offensively with backups at right tackle for much of the season. 

"It's not like [Fleming and Waddle are] not good players," Scarnecchia said. "They are good players. Their skill set seemed to fit that position pretty well. They have the traits that we covet. And they're both really smart guys, very willing learners, and they're both driven to be good and they want to play good. And I think all those things have manifested themselves when they've been out there playing. And we've been very, very pleased with what they've done for us this year, essentially splitting that position."

Asked about the aspects of the game the Patriots worked on with both Waddle and Fleming last year, Scarnecchia said, "For us it transcends everything. Obviously run-blocking and pass-blocking. They're both good at those things. Are they great at those things? No. But they've been able to steadily improve over the last two years to the point where we put them out there and no one's worried. And it's been that way the whole season after Marcus got hurt. Yeah they've done a nice job for us."