New England Patriots

In games, practices and meetings, Brian Hoyer (5) is almost always at Mac Jones's side. (Photo by David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Thursday afternoon in Mac Jones’s absence, Brian Hoyer got to experience a rare opportunity of late, though one he is no stranger to after 14 years in the NFL.

    The soon-to-be 37-year old, in his third stint with the first of his eight teams overall, has started 39 games at quarterback for seven of those squads, including the 2020 Patriots.

    And for one practice at least, Hoyer occupied the lead role again, splitting reps with rookie third-stringer Bailey Zappe. A day later, as Jones returned for the last full practice before visiting Pittsburgh, Hoyer resumed his duties as the less-visible yet still invaluable backup to the Pats’ second-year starter, serving as counsel and sounding board.

    On Sunday against the Steelers, Hoyer’s importance will increase. He’ll provide an extra set of eyes, and be the voice of calm and reassurance in Jones’s ear in the din of Acrisure Stadium. Just as he was for Tom Brady from 2009-11 and again in 2017-18.

    And for Jones all last season, as well as last weekend in Miami.

    “I’ve always talked a lot with Mac,” Hoyer said on Wednesday. “This year we have a better understanding of each other than we had last year, being our first year together. Just always trying to keep an open line of communication.

    “A lot of it is like callback from earlier in the week. ‘Hey, on third down, they’re doing what we thought they were going to do.’ Or, ‘Hey, it’s different than what we’ve been studying.’ Because we spend so much time together during the week, only one of us can be out there playing on Sundays. But we’re all in the meetings together, we’re all talking, so it’s just keeping those lines of communication open or recall from the preparation and studying, all those things.”

    Hoyer is available in meeting and locker rooms, on the field for warmups, seated or standing in-game on the sideline. If Jones has questions, he’ll offer answers.

    At times, Hoyer will confirm what Mac thinks he saw on a play or in a defensive look. At others, he’ll counter, constructively.

    “When you’re playing out there you can’t see everything. Sometimes on the sideline you can see things a little better, then you confirm it on the tablet,” Hoyer says. “It’s really just that, words of encouragement. I think, even going back to Tom, that’s kind of your role. ‘Hey, good job. Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re doing a great job.’ You know, all those things.”

    When Hoyer, who first joined the Pats as an undrafted rookie in 2009, was released from his second stint here a decade later, Brady reacted strongly to seeing his friend and teammate let go.

    “He added so much to our meeting room,” Brady said on WEEI radio. “I had so much trust and confidence in the things that he saw. He also had been exposed to a lot of different offensive systems so he brought some different knowledge — how people ran different offenses and so forth. He always provided great insight and great leadership.”

  • Mike

    Now in his 16th season as head coach, Mike Tomlin has 155 career wins and has never experienced a sub-.500 campaign in Pittsburgh. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

    Tomlin tough

    On the subject of leadership, Hoyer is very complimentary of Mike Tomlin, a head coach who’s had his own distinctive way with words while motivating and guiding his Steelers to 15 straight non-losing seasons heretofore.

    Consider, for instance, how Tomlin assessed last Sunday’s debut of rookie free agent running back Jaylen Warren.

    “He didn’t urinate down his leg, and that’s a great place to begin,” Tomlin said. “That’s capable of happening for a young guy, but I think that’s been indicative of him throughout this process, and that’s why he’s gone from being an undrafted guy to a guy that’s carving a role out for himself.”

    Metaphorically speaking — we think — Tomlin was saying ‘the kid did okay.’ And while it’s his unique phrasing that most others will remember, more importantly, Tomlin’s underlying message won’t soon be forgotten by Warren.

    Tomlin’s been connecting in his own way since he was hired by the Rooney family at age 34. He’s never endured a losing season, reaching 150 victories faster (232 games) than all but three other head coaches in NFL history. 

    Hoyer had the opportunity to hear Tomlin’s daily messages to his team for three weeks in the fall of 2012, when he was signed by Pittsburgh following his release from New England.

    “I remember just the type of coach Tomlin is. He gets his players ready to go,” Hoyer says. “Maybe you’d call him a player’s coach, but the way he motivates his players, I thought, was very impressive. So whenever we play him now, I enjoy going up to talk to him. 

    “It was three short weeks, but I have a lot of respect for him and his program, what he does, because being able to see it from the inside you see how much his team loves him and how hard they play.”

    Their effort is evident usually from start to finish, whatever happens in between. 

    Like when the Steelers fall behind through three quarters. They’ve won eight games after doing so — most in the league — in the past two-plus seasons.

    Or if they find themselves in a contest undecided until the end. Pittsburgh is 16-4-1 in one-score games during that same span, starting in 2020.

    Which is to say — with apologies to their head coach — if the Steelers fall behind the Pats and/or Sunday’s  game gets tight late, don’t expect them to…you know what. 

  • Steelers

    (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

    “Renegade”

    Trailing Cleveland, 24-7, in the second half of a 2002 Wild Card playoff, a Steelers marketing intern chose to blare a song released 23 years earlier over then Heinz Field’s loudspeakers to fill the air of a television timeout.

    The young man’s name was Mike Marchinsky and the tune he picked to play was “Renegade,” off the album “Pieces of Eight” by the band Styx. Amped up, the home team rallied to a 36-33 win.

    A tradition, now nearly as much a part of the Pittsburgh football experience as Terrible Towels, was born. When the third quarter ends, Styx is cued up and blares as the soundtrack to a video board montage of defensive highlights. 

    Recently, a study by researchers at Point Park University revealed that through 54 games from 2014-2021, 72.2% of the time “Renegade” played at now Acrisure Stadium, the Steelers either maintained their lead or came back to win.

    Perhaps the outcomes would be the same if “Mr. Roboto” was substituted for the Tommy Shaw-written Pittsburgh anthem. Most certainly, the atmosphere would not.

    “It’s a great environment,” the Patriots’ David Andrews said Friday, recalling his first experience at Pittsburgh in 2016. “Someone told me at the start of the fourth quarter, “Renegade” was coming on and it did. I think it’s great. It kind of brings you back to like college fight songish, but it’s not.

    “You know what I mean, it’s a great atmosphere, it gets them going. As a competitor, I think you love that, love being in those environments and atmospheres. It’s why I play the game.”

    Sunday marks Matthew Slater’s sixth road game against the Steelers; thus, his sixth exposure to the “Renegade” phenomenon.

    “There aren’t very many places like this in the NFL. I can name all of them on one hand,” he says. “Pittsburgh is a football city, their fans appreciate the game, (the Steelers) play the game the right way and going in there and playing in that environment is probably one of the best experiences I’ve had playing football any time I get a chance. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.”

    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 @Bob Socci.