New England Patriots put 20-year streak on the line Sunday against Pittsburgh Steelers – Reuters

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Thoughts and quick notes on the New England Patriots and the NFL:

1. Series of 20 years at risk: The last time the Patriots started a season losing their first two games was in 2001, which is the longest active streak in the NFL without starting a season 0-2.

That’s in play Sunday when the team visits the Pittsburgh Steelers (CBS, 1 p.m. ET). Some, like former Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich, called it a “win” game considering New England face the Baltimore Ravens in Week 3 and the Green Bay Packers in Week 4. .

Current players don’t go that far, but recognize they can’t afford to dig too deep a hole.

“We’ve had a lot of urgency all week, and I think we understand the situation we’ve put ourselves in,” longtime captain Matthew Slater said. “The last thing we want to do is go out and play the game like we did last week. [in a 20-7 loss to the Miami Dolphins].”

In a notable NFL-wide scenario, the three teams with the longest avoidance streaks from a 0-2 start are likely to have them broken on Sunday: Patriots (20), Green Bay Packers (15) and Dallas Cowboys (11).

The Packers host the Chicago Bears, while the Cowboys — without injured starting quarterback Dak Prescott — host the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Patriots players showed composure and confidence at the end of practice week.

“The energy is great,” starting defensive tackle Davon Godchaux told ESPN.com. “It’s a week. It’s a marathon. Every game counts, but the most important ones take place in November and December. Not that we don’t want to win early, because we always want to take care of business, but it’s a long season.

“We have a chance to bounce back against a great Pittsburgh team. We will be ready to play.

Godchaux’s point is well understood. However, the only way games will make sense in November and December is if the team stays afloat in September and October.

And if the Patriots slip Sunday in Pittsburgh, they’ll have to counter some tough recent history. Since the NFL moved to a 14-team playoff format in 2020, no team that started a season 0-2 has qualified for the playoffs. Since 1990, only 11.3% of teams that started 0-2 have qualified for the playoffs.

Of course, the Patriots accomplished the feat in 2001 when they won their first Super Bowl championship.

2. Strange sight: Patriots first-round pick Cole Strange didn’t have to look far to see the challenge he faces Sunday against Pittsburgh. On the Steelers’ first defensive play in their season-opening win over the Bengals, 12-year-old veteran defensive lineman Cameron Heyward rushed past Bengals rookie left guard Cordell Volson to save a sack.

The Heyward-Strange game will be key to keeping quarterback Mac Jones out of harm’s way.

“I have studied it a lot and I will continue to study it. He has a really good bull rush,” Strange said Friday between bites of a salmon, avocado and cucumber sushi roll.

“But I feel like there’s a point where you don’t want to tear yourself away. He puts his pants on like everyone else. I think it’s very important that I do the right thing. It’s about making sure I’m in a strong position, with good leverage, without going too high. It’s taking care of my thing instead of worrying too much about who I’m going against.

3. Flores Factor: Former Patriots assistant coach Brian Flores is in his first season with the Steelers as a defensive assistant/linebackers head coach, and his presence has been noticed in New England. Flores was 4-2 against the Patriots as Miami head coach from 2019 to 2021, and his aggressiveness with pressure on QBs is well documented.

“I think BFlo is doing a great job blending in with that defensive unit,” Patriots offensive line coach Matt Patricia said. “Obviously Teryl Austin is doing a great job of coordinating, but there’s definitely some influence there.”

4. Find Trent: Patriots starting left tackle Trent Brown clarified some things in locker room chat, saying he didn’t speak to reporters after the season-opening loss because he was rushing to visit to his family before boarding the team buses. And while some may have taken his short videoconference on Monday as a sign that he wasn’t happy, he said that wasn’t the case. He told me he was proud to be tasked with protecting Jones’ blind side and was determined to do a better job. “Why wouldn’t I want to play left tackle?” He asked.

5. Gunners meeting: Former Patriots All-Pro punt returner Gunner Olszewski, now with the Steelers, didn’t go down the cliché route when asked what it would be like to face his former team. “Anytime you play the ex, you want to show off,” he said.

Patriots players can’t wait to see him – and stop him.

“There’s no one in this league that appreciates what they can do more than me,” said New England special teams captain Slater. “I love his story, his journey, where he is now. He’s in the top echelon of comebacks in this league. What sets him apart is his mentality. He’s not scared there He’s going to be aggressive. His football IQ is through the roof. We think we understand how we need to play him. He’s going to have to have all 11 players on the pitch locked in.

6. Welker brand: Wes Welker’s 249 receptions in his first 35 games with the Patriots (2007-08) is the most in NFL history for any player in his first 35 games with a team, according to Elias. Stefon Diggs can top him with 12 catches in the Buffalo Bills’ home game against the Tennessee Titans on Monday night — his 35th game with Buffalo. Granted, Titans coach Mike Vrabel won’t be planning the game with the goal of preserving Welker’s record, but anything he does to slow Diggs down could go a long way to helping his former Patriots teammate stay on top.

7. Slater Steelers visit: When Slater was a free agent in 2018, he visited the Steelers. It was the only free agent visit he made during his 15-year NFL career, spent entirely with the Patriots. “It was a unique moment in my career. I never imagined myself playing anywhere else, but things happen in this league that are unforeseen,” Slater said. “I grew up really hating them, because that they beat my father [Jackie Slater] in a Super Bowl, but I have the utmost respect for them, and Mike Tomlin.

Tomlin on young Slater: “A legendary special teams player. I used to say ‘legendary of this generation’. I don’t include ‘of this generation’ anymore.

8. Emergency Snapper: Belichick once said “you don’t need insurance until you need it”. This line came to mind while watching the Steelers’ 23-20 season-opening win over the Bengals, which probably wouldn’t have happened if Cincinnati hadn’t lost snapper Clark Harris to from a right bicep injury. This spurred emergency snapper Mitchell Wilcox into action, and his high, slow snaps contributed to a blocked extra run (which would have won the game without more time) and a missed 29-yard field goal in overtime ( who would also have won the Game). For the Patriots, defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. and linebacker Mack Wilson Sr. worked as emergency snappers in training camp.

9. The value of Cardona: Joe Cardona has handled snapper duties for the Patriots in every game since being selected in the fifth round of the 2015 draft, providing the club with ideal consistency. The Chargers’ Josh Harris is the highest-paid snapper in the NFL (average $1.4 million per year), while Cardona is in the final season of a four-year deal that averages $1.07 million. dollars per season. When a player like Harris of the Bengals is knocked out of a game and it essentially costs the team a win, it highlights the often overlooked value of position – and, closer to home, the importance of Cardona for New England. .

10. Did you know: The snap-hold-kick operation for field goals typically completes in 1.2-1.4 seconds. Anything slower is considered to have a greater risk of potential jamming, and anything faster is likely to have an accident.