Patriots

Brady, Patriots have felt the heat in Miami in December

Brady, Patriots have felt the heat in Miami in December

FOXBORO - Bill Belichick would tell you he's not in the excuse-making business so any attempt to get him to talk about the heat and humidity the Patriots will face in Miami this weekend will get about the same response he offered Wednesday.

"I don't know," he said when asked if Miami's humidity could be simulated this week. "Look, it is what it is out there. So, whatever it is, it is."

The Patriots, notably, were practicing outside during Wednesday's media availability portion of practice. In the past, when expecting to go to work in drastically warmer temperatures, they've headed inside to the Empower Field House. There's still time for that as the Patriots will practice Thursday and Friday this week. 

"Bill would say, 'Put all your stuff on, we're gonna be in the bubble,' " Rob Ninkovich said on this week's episode of the Ex-Pats Podcast. "And they've got the heat on in there. But it doesn't work. Doesn't work. You can only get the bubble to 77."

At the moment, the forecast in Miami is calling for temperatures in the 80s and scattered thunderstorms. It was 35 degrees in Foxboro during Wednesday's practice.

"Eighty-two degrees? Coming from [the 30s]? You better believe they're going to be in the bubble," Jerod Mayo told Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran on Quick Slants the Podcast. "They're going to be in the bubble...It's always tough. You're coming from 30 degrees to 90 degrees. It's a huge shift."

The reality is the heat matters. The Patriots will be able to wear their normal road white jerseys on Sunday, which could help the team manage the effects of being closer to the equator, but it's still an issue without much of a solution.

"Next week is going to be a good test," Ninkovich said. "I love it. Tale of two teams: home and away. Home games, [the Patriots are] undefeated. Away team, they don't bring the energy. 

"In Miami, they gotta bring it. There's gonna be enough Patriots fans there because every year we were down there and you look around there's so much blue, white and red and it's like, 'OK this is like a home game.'

"Then you're sitting there on the bench sweating in the blazing sun, sucking down oxygen because you can't breathe, taking off your chest clips so you can open your lungs up, it's tough. You're not used to it."

The Dolphins are 5-1 at home this year, versus 1-5 on the road. Against the Patriots in Tom Brady's career, Dolphins home-road splits haven't been quite that drastic, but they've owned the series when in Miami late in the season.

Tom Brady is 7-9 on the road against the Dolphins as a starter and 1-5 in Miami in December. Those five December losses in Miami account almost all of Brady's December losses on the road in his career. He has seven total.

This chart shows those games in Miami in the Brady/Belichick Era (Brady was hurt in 2008), including the teams' records following the game and the game-time temperature. 

Brady's individual numbers have suffered in Miami in December as well. His 62.6 completion percentage for the month of December over his career drops to 59 percent when in Miami in December. His career December rating of 92.3 is vastly superior to his 73.3 rating in Miami in December. Brady has an average of 2.5 touchdowns thrown for every pick in his career in December. In Miami? His December touchdown-to-interception ratio is 9-to-10. 

"You're not used to it," Ninkovich said. "I'm telling you, you can sit in a sauna and put a stair-stepper in there, do whatever you want. You're not going to get the humidity and the feel of when you're down there. It's like the sun is closer to you because it is."

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Next Pats Podcast: Matthew Slater reflects on social unrest within U.S. and NFL

Next Pats Podcast: Matthew Slater reflects on social unrest within U.S. and NFL

As much as we'd love to talk football, it has taken a back seat to the conversations that need to be had about George Floyd's murder and the racial injustices that remain prevalent in the United States.

The "Black Lives Matter" movement has spread across the country with protests advocating for justice and racial equality. It has impacted the world of sports, with countless athletes using their platforms to let their voices be heard. NFL players even sent a strong message to the league with a video stating what they wanted to hear it say regarding the oppression of African Americans.

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On a brand new episode of the Next Pats Podcast, New England Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater joined Phil Perry to discuss the state of the nation.

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Slater covered a variety of important topics in the episode. But one that particularly stood out was his explanation of how if the country operated like an NFL locker room, it would be a more inclusive place.

"It is a very unique place. A locker room setting -- you know, if our country operated and moved like a locker room, man it would be a beautiful thing," Slater said. "I'm not saying it's perfect, I'm not saying we've got it all figured out, but what a unique space where people from all different walks of life, different belief systems and things of that nature to work toward a common goal.

"And there's automatic respect that comes with the fact that you have a jersey and a helmet, and you're one of us. So I'm appreciative of that and I think now is a time for us to maybe forge those bonds even deeper. Guys that maybe hear personal stories and maybe experience this from their teammates have a different appreciation for why that guy is the way he is, why he does the things that he does. And I think ultimately that's going to lead to deeper and more fruitful relationships."

If anyone knows what a healthy, inclusive locker room environment looks like, it's Slater. The 34-year-old has been a captain for the Patriots for nearly a decade and has been an admirable leader throughout his stellar NFL career.

Slater also discussed how head coach Bill Belichick has been involved in the team's discussions about recent events, his experiences living as a black man in America, and much more.

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Patriots Roster Reset: Rookie tight ends offer optimism after 2019 drought

Patriots Roster Reset: Rookie tight ends offer optimism after 2019 drought

What if? What if Rob Gronkowski had announced his retirement just a few days sooner, allowing the Patriots to make a legitimate play for free agent Jared Cook? 

By the time the man who is arguably the greatest tight end in NFL history decided to hang 'em up (briefly), Cook was already making plans to join the Saints. He ended up eighth among tight ends with 705 receiving yards and second with nine touchdowns.

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Meanwhile the Patriots were left to piece together that spot with the likes of Matt LaCosse, Ben Watson and Ryan Izzo.

Reluctant to invest in young players at the position since taking Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in 2010 — since then they'd only drafted Izzo (2018, seventh round), Lee Smith (2011, fifth round) and A.J. Derby (2015, sixth round) — the Patriots had arguably the least-productive tight end group in the NFL last season: 37 catches for 419 yards and two touchdowns.

They've attempted to remedy that situation. In this year's draft, they traded up to land two intriguing talents in the third round.

UCLA's Devin Asiasi is a do-it-all player with the size to move people on the line of scrimmage and the body control to draw comparisons to some of the game's elites at that position. Dalton Keene is an athletic option with experience playing out of the backfield at Virginia Tech who could be the key to unlocking snap-to-snap unpredictability for Josh McDaniels' personnel packages.

Do they enter the equation as the immediate No. 1 and 2 options there? Let's reset the depth chart.

LOCK ‘EM IN

Asiasi. Keene. That's it. Those are the locks. Given the output, it should come as no surprise that there's not a player from last year's roster who comes into this season guaranteed to have a regular-season role. 

ON THE BUBBLE

LaCosse makes sense here. He could potentially end up on the roster as a 2020 version of Alge Crumpler — a veteran who can help guide two promising rookies — because his experience level dwarfs that of others on the depth chart.

However, his experience level isn't exactly overwhelming (33 career games). If he can't stay healthy, as was the case last season, or can't win a job, he'd save the Patriots $1.3 million on the salary cap if released in camp.

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LONG SHOTS

Izzo will have to open eyes in camp or become a special teams staple in order to have a chance to make an impact. Though he showed flashes of being a capable receiver last season, that part of his game was lacking consistency. As a blocker? It was there that he was thought to be a potential contributor when drafted out of Florida State two years ago. But according to Pro Football Focus, his 44.9 run-blocking grade was second-lowest among all players at the position in 2019.

Undrafted rookies Jake Burt from Boston College and Rashod Berry from Ohio State also have to be considered in this category. Burt looks like an in-line option at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds. Berry actually played both on the defensive line and at tight end as a senior. He finished his career with 17 receptions. 

NEWCOMER TO WATCH

In what was considered a tight end class short on game-changing talent, Asiasi might've been the most gifted. Notre Dame's Cole Kmet was the first tight end taken in the draft, going off the board in the second round as the "safest" of this year's tight end crop, according to several evaluators. But when it comes to physical ability? Asiasi can "do it all," one tight ends coach told me.

Some questions about Asiasi's makeup lingered into draft weekend, helping him stay undrafted through almost three full rounds, but the Patriots may have found themselves a steal if Asiasi can make good on his on-the-field promise. Asiasi's trainer Dave Spitz, who has also worked with Browns tight end Austin Hooper and Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, spoke to NBC Sports Boston earlier this offseason.

"He has the catch radius of Austin," Spitz said. "He has the body control and awareness of Zach. And he, I think, has more bend, more wiggle, than both of them. He's a beautiful combination."

X-FACTOR

Asiasi might be the most talented addition the Patriots have made at this position in years, but Keene's versatility makes him an interesting queen-on-the-chess-board piece for Bill Belichick and McDaniels. He has enough size (6-foot-4, 253 pounds) to play in-line as a "Y" tight end. He has the movement skills to serve as more of an "F" option. He's played in the backfield before. He's served as a lead-blocker like a fullback. There are a variety of ways in which he can be deployed.

Why does that matter? Perhaps the Patriots want to use their 12-personnel package with one back and two tight ends. Perhaps, because tight ends are oftentimes glorified receivers these days, a defense will respond to that two-tight end set by matching it with an extra safety instead of a linebacker. If that's the case, Keene could flex in as a fullback and the Patriots could run a 21-personnel look at a lighter defense for an advantage. If the defense keeps linebackers on the field to check Asiasi and/or Keene, the Patriots could use them in the passing game where their athleticism should give them an advantage over a traditional second-level defender. Options.

That's what Keene provides, making him an X-factor in the truest sense if he can handle a wide range of alignments and responsibilities early in his career.