Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

Sunday 7: Patriots in midst of what could be turning point in 2018 season

Ryan Hannable
October 07, 2018 - 6:00 am

1. In the locker room following Week 3’s blowout loss to the Lions, the Patriots weren’t sure what kind of team they were. “We’re in the midst of some adversity right now and we’re going to find out what kind of football team we have — what kind of men we have in this locker room,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said. Well, two games later, it appears the team has some toughness maybe not known a few weeks ago. New England has beat the Dolphins and Colts in a five-day stretch (Sunday and Thursday) by a combined score of 76-31 and are now 3-2 on the season. Certainly, things are trending in the right direction, but there are still some questions that need to be answered, especially considering the competition faced. Next Sunday night that will change when the currently undefeated Chiefs come to town in what could be one of the best regular-season matchups of the entire year. If the Patriots can beat them and win three straight games, the narrative would certainly change and they would once again be considered the team to beat in the AFC. If they can’t, there will still be questions of just how good they really are given the fact they should be able to beat them at home. Ultimately, at the end of the season we could be looking at these few weeks as the stretch that defined the 2018 team and being able to once again overcome a sluggish start.

2. The player who saw the most impact in terms of playing time with Julian Edelman returning was Cordarrelle Patterson as the receiver played just eight snaps against the Colts. This came following playing 41, 19 and 28 plays the previous three games. Also with the addition of Josh Gordon, Patterson is now the No. 4 receiver and mostly will be used for specific plays, like screen plays that allow him to use his athleticism. His special teams contributions and pure play-making ability make him worth keeping around, so he doesn’t seem like a candidate to be released — at least as of now.

3. The Patriots only have two active running backs on the roster — Sony Michel and James White — after releasing Kenjon Barner prior to Thursday Night Football. The team also released Cyrus Jones Saturday, so there is an open roster spot and it seems like the spot will go to a running back. A name to keep an eye on is Mike Gillislee, who was released by the Saints on Saturday. While Michel has been solid of late, he still seems to struggle with short-yardage, and that is something Gillislee could help improve.

4. One of the most surprising players the last few weeks for the team as been cornerback Jason McCourty. With Eric Rowe out of the lineup with a groin injury, McCourty has seized the opportunity and really has done a nice job in the No. 2 cornerback role. “Jason – he's been terrific,” Brian Flores said on a conference call Friday. “As a player, he's come in, like you said, he's played a few different roles. But, again, this is a team guy, selfless, really just wants to do whatever it takes to help this team win. So, again, whether it's corner, whether it's safety, I think he's an experienced guy who is smart, he can make adjustments, he knows the strengths and weaknesses of each opponent. This guy spends a lot of time watching film and understanding the opponent, what they're trying to do, so he really does a good job of putting himself in a good position to make plays and help this defense play well. So, I've been really pleased with him.” Not bad for a player who seemingly was on the bubble at the end of training camp.

5. While overall the Thursday games have been more entertaining this year than in the past, there's still concerns with the players having to play a game with only three days rest. The Colts dressing only 44 players at the start of Thursday’s game is another example why the games may need to be tweaked in the future, which Slater — the Patriots’ NFLPA player rep — eluded to this week. Perhaps, a new rule could be imposed that the teams that play on Thursday must be coming off a bye the previous week.

6. Bill Belichick gave the team the weekend off and some of the players took the opportunity to get away and relax. Based on his Instagram, Tom Brady went to Montana, Duron Harmon, Julian Edelman and others attended the Red Sox-Yankees game Friday night and David Andrews spent some time on Nantucket. While it isn’t as much time as during the bye week, the few extra days off give players a chance to get away for a few days and decompress.

7. Even though the Patriots are off Sunday, there are still some notable games to keep an eye on across the league. For starters, one of the marquee matchups in the AFC is the Chiefs hosting the Jaguars, which also will be a chance to see Kansas City ahead of the game next Sunday night at Gillette Stadium. Through the first four games, it seems the Chiefs defense can be taken advantage of. Also, the Dolphins will take on the Bengals and if Miami loses, the Patriots will move into first place in the AFC East. 

Related: Cyrus Jones released for second time this year