New England Patriots

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

While calendars in the NFL reset after game days, the work week typically syncs with most others outside the sport. Each begins anew every Monday.

But when the next game takes place on Thursday, it’s easy to become discombobulated. Say the previous one was played on a Sunday. In roughly three hours, from kickoff to conclusion, you lost three days. Sunday afternoon morphed into Wednesday night.

The next morning, Monday for everyone else becomes your Thursday. Tuesday is like Friday and Wednesday serves as Saturday. The next day, Thursday, is game day.

When it’s followed by a second straight Thursday contest and the game after that falls on Monday night, trying to keep the days straight can leave your head dizzyingly out-spinning the Earth on its axis.

Take the past few weeks for the Patriots. Thanksgiving night in Minneapolis. Home hosting Buffalo a week later. Off to Arizona for a third straight weeknight game with Joe, Troy and the Manningcast on Monday.

No wonder Patriots linebackers coach Steve Belichick feels the way he does.

“It’s definitely a unique week,” Belichick says of the longer-than-usual interlude between a Dec. 1 loss to the Bills and Dec. 12 date with the Cardinals, before thinking about the odd Thursday-to-Thursday schedule of the week before. “ I didn’t know what day it was in my world, and then in the real world.”

As if remembering what day it is isn’t hard enough, there’s the maddening matter of telling time. In the Phoenix area, the Pats will be on Mountain Standard Time. From there they go to Las Vegas, site of their Week 15 affair with the Raiders. It’s in the Pacific time zone, and after originally being scheduled for 5:20 locally, it’s now set for 1:05 PT.

At least it’s on a Sunday.

Anyway, far less concerning for Belichick and New England’s defensive staff than which day is which is who’s who among the Cardinals.

Beaten by a Chargers’ two-point conversion, 25-24, with only 15 seconds left on Nov. 27, Arizona is 4-8 and coming off a bye. More to the point above, the Cardinals have used a league-high 77 different players.

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury has started a dozen different offensive lineups. His offensive line has featured eight different combinations to date.

Following are Belichick’s impression of what he’s seeing on film, as he tracks Cardinal comings and goings; special teams coordinator Cam Achord’s assessment of one of the Pats’ few in-season signees; and team Hall of Famer Troy Brown’s thoughts about a highly-drafted receiver trying to break out of the shadows of older teammates and a rookie classmate.

  • Going Deep


    Tight end Zach Ertz is one of a handful of key Cardinals on offense who’ve missed multiple starts due to injuries. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

    On the surface, Arizona’s offense has been disappointing. Its 22.0 points per game rank smack dab in the middle of the NFL — 16th of 32 teams. The Cardinals are barely middle-tier in total yards (20th) and bottom-third on third down (24th), though they have the NFL’s eighth-best red-zone percentage.

    Absences have surely taken a toll. Star receiver DeAndre Hopkins was suspended for the season’s first six weeks due to a PED violation. A month after Hopkins’ return, quarterback Kyler Murray missed two November games due to a hamstring injury. 

    In addition, Arizona’s lead running back James Conner (two games), tight end Zach Ertz (two), receiver Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown (five) and receiver A.J. Green (two) have missed multiple weeks with various ailments.

    “Even with a lot of guys in and out of the lineup,” Belichick said. “They’re still very explosive, very dangerous and obviously you can see that they have good depth on their roster, because the quarterback missed some time, receivers missed some time (and) Ertz missed the last (couple of) games. But they are still a really good team, really good offense. 

    “They have a lot of good players out there, a lot to defend.”

    Against Los Angeles, Conner rushed for 120 yards and caught a touchdown pass. Meanwhile, Brown and Hopkins combined for 10 catches — the longest a 33-yard TD grab by the latter.

  • Getting The Hang of It


    Michael Palardy finished Thursday’s game vs. Buffalo with six punts and a net 41.2 average. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

    Michael Palardy’s second game spelling injured punter Jake Bailey was a study in inconsistency, despite kicking indoors at Minnesota’s U.S. Bank Stadium. 

    Palardy’s longest punt traveled 56 yards to the Vikings’ 18-yard line. Sandwiched around it, though, he seemingly mishit a 36- and 31-yarder. Neither traveled inside Minnesota’s 35-yard line.

    But Thursday vs. Buffalo, despite the cold and wind strong enough to affect kicks according to Achord, Palardy’s performance was a rare bright spot for the Pats.  His net average for six punts was 41.2 yards, including a pair that pinned the Bills at their 12- and 6-yard lines.

    “Mike’s done a great job for,” Achord says. “Mike came in and has been really good to work with. He’s a really good, knowledgeable, football I.Q. guy, having played quarterback at the high school level. He’s been able to see it from the whole environment of each situation, very similar to (the way kicker) Nick (Folk) is, but at the punting position of understanding what the situation is.”

    Such awareness is audible to Achord while discussing strategy on the sideline before Palardy is dispatched to punt. 

    “He’s getting more and more comfortable, you can tell, each week,” Achord says. “He’s handling everything very well. He’s going out there (and) punting with good location.

    “He’s given us good balls to cover, as far as punting (is concerned), and he’s handling the holding responsibilities very well.”

  • Catching On


    Overshadowed by rookie classmate Marcus Jones’ offensive highlight, Tyquan Thornton caught two passes on the Pats’ second scoring drive on Thursday night. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

    After all-purpose Marcus Jones dazzled with a 48-yard catch and burst off a bubble screen for the Patriots’ lone touchdown, it didn’t go unnoticed that rookie classmate and full-time receiver Tyquan Thornton went without a target until midway through the fourth quarter.

    Thornton was the 50th player selected in this year’s NFL Draft, as a wire-thin speedster from Baylor. He started preseason well, but suffered a fractured clavicle and incurred a month layoff. 

    In his second game back, Thornton’s seven touches in a 38-15 rout of Cleveland included four receptions and three rushes. He scored on one of each. But from Weeks 7-12, Thornton caught just four passes while being targeted 13 times. His longest catch covered 19 yards; his last two gained only five yards apiece. 

    Against Buffalo, while Jones flashed early, Thornton mostly stood idle. 

    However, on the Patriots’ second scoring drive, he made two catches for 31 yards. The first took Tyquan toward the middle, as he wound up snagging a hip-low toss thrown behind him before backpedaling between corner Xavier Woods and safety Jordan Poyer.

    Following an incomplete overthrow deep along the right sideline, Thornton’s second reception converted a 4th-and-1 at Buffalo’s 11-yard line. He finished with 21 offensive snaps. 

    Despite Thornton’s preseason injury impediment, receivers coach Troy Brown sees progress being made.

    “He got banged up early in the season, so he missed time and made his way back,” Brown said. “He’s made some plays for us, given the opportunity to make them. He’s a pretty talented player. We just got to figure out ways for him to be involved, for us to be involved in a good way.

    “You know, a lot of time you don’t have to catch a lot of passes to be involved in the game. Just your presence alone sometimes can help out a team. Tyquan, so far, his development over the first year is obviously rocky with the injuries. But he’s coming on just like most other rookies in the league.”

    An emphasis on the short-passing, so-called ‘quick game,’ and preconceived plan to involve Jones offensively, coupled with experience ahead of him on the depth chart, kept Thornton off the field much of last Thursday. 

    Considering that two of the four full-time receivers he’s behind in the Patriots’ rotation (Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor) are scheduled to hit free agency after the season, let’s hope Thornton continues to come on — early and late — in the season’s final five weeks. 

    Bob Socci is in his 10th season calling play-by-play for the Patriots Radio Network on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Follow him on Twitter @BobSocci.

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