Welcome to Season 2, Episode 2 of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-but-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots' weekly matchup that runs here every Friday around noon ... except for when it runs before a Thursday night game. The Patriots, who squeaked out a 23-21 victory at Buffalo in their season-opener Sunday, have a quick turnaround as they take on
Lou Holtz Bruce Coslet Pete Carroll Rich Kotite Joe Walton Rex Ryan and the 1-0 Jets Thursday night. Kick it off, Gostkowski, and let's get this one underway ...
THREE PLAYERS OTHER THAN TOM BRADY THAT I'LL BE WATCHING
1. Stevan Ridley: Bill Belichick has no choice but to play him and play him a lot right? I mean, I suppose he could lock the door on the doghouse for another week and go with Brandon Boldin or LeGarrette Blount. But that seems counterproductive. While both are serviceable backs with specific skill sets, neither is capable of the all-around, Tony Collins-style performance Shane Vereen provided last week. Vereen is hurt. Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola are doubtful. Julian Edelman is the Patriots' most dependable receiver at the moment, and dependable is a word that wasn't always attached to him. The Patriots must use their best players in Thursday night's division game, and even with his fumbling problems, which are somewhat exaggerated as it is, Stevan Ridley is irrefutably one of their best players. Unlock the doghouse, give him the football, and let's find out if the hold-on-to-the-football-or-else lesson has sunk in for him like it did for Kevin Faulk so many years ago.
2. Kenbrell Thompkins: Fourteen targets. Four catches. And alarmingly, more than a couple puzzled who-me? stares in Tom Brady's direction during the Patriots' win over the Bills. Not suggesting we're looking at Doug Gabriel Jr. here -- respected NFL observers such as Mike Mayock genuinely believe in him. But he needs to be better in his second NFL game than he was in his first, and it won't be easy with Antonio Cromartie and possibly rookie Dee Milliner defending him. Also: No more stink-eyes in Brady's direction. That's a good way to find yourself playing for the Hamilton Tiger Cats.
3. Geno Smith: He was supposed to be the first quarterback chosen in the 2013 NFL Draft. Instead, it was E.J. Manuel who had that honor, going 16th overall to the Bills. Smith, who has said he thought he should have gone No. 1 overall in the entire draft, slid to the second round, where the Jets scooped him up with the 39th pick. It's going to be fascinating to watch Manuel and Smith develop -- if they develop -- over the next several seasons. But both are off to encouraging starts. Manuel had his moments of both excellence and inconsistency against the Pats, but he nearly helped pull off an unexpected victory. Smith's debut against the Bucs was similar, except that he did pull off the win. I don't expect him to be particularly effective Thursday against a Patriots defense that is going to be better than conventional wisdom expects. Manuel had it easy because the Patriots emphasized shutting down C.J. Spiller (and did it). The Patriots will focus on containing Smith and forcing mistakes. There will be more than a few.
THE BUTTFUMBLE. BECAUSE ANY POST ABOUT THE JETS WOULD BE INCOMPLETE WITHOUT IT
I don't mean to punt Sanchez while he is down -- he apparently needs season-ending shoulder surgery, and who knows where his career goes from here. But I have to admit it was only recently that I realized how absurd the argument is that he deserves praise and even the starting job because he led the Jets to two AFC championship game appearances. I mean, I guess he was there with the rest of the Jets. But he didn't lead them anywhere -- if anything, he rode the coattails of a ferocious and justifiably cocky defense, a good coach in spite of himself, and a tough running game to two AFC Championship games. Had they had a quarterback during those years who was anything better than occasionally competent, the Jets' last championship might be more recent than Super Bowl III. Instead, here's how it's going to be: This clip will be remembered as the defining moment of Sanchez's career, and will be among the main visual evidence for the reporter who has to make Vince Wilfork's Hall of Fame case someday.
THE DRAFT LOWLIGHT VIDEO, BECAUSE ANY POST ABOUT THE JETS WOULD BE INCOMPLETE ABOUT IT.
Best part: Pete Rozelle's pregnant pause right around the 30-second mark when he announces during the 1983 first-round that the Jets select "quarterback ... Ken O'Brien,'' then the John C. Reilly-looking guy in the crowd says he thought for sure they were getting Dan Marino. Also: Kyle Brady over Warren Sapp is good for a snort.
COMPLETELY RANDOM FOOTBALL CARD The Jets' version of Stanley Morgan in the late '70s through the '80s, Walker averaged 19 yards per catch in his 13-year career, all in the green-and-white, including a ridiculous 24.4 yards per catch on 44 receptions in '78. He came into the league in 1977 as the 33d overall choice, the same season Morgan was chosen 25th by the Patriots. Morgan had a slightly better career, with 534 catches for 10,352 yards, 67 touchdowns, and a 19.4 average during 13 years in New England before a final farewell season in Indianapolis. Walker finished with 438 catches for 8,306 yards and 71 touchdowns. But man, they were both something to behold, and Walker's degree-of-difficulty was higher given that he was legally blind in one eye and had Richard Todd throwing to him. They don't make many deep threats like these guys anymore.
PREDICTION, OR MAYBE EVERYONE SHOULD GET A BYE WEEK IN A KNOCKOUT POOL
I picked the Bucs to beat the Jets in our knockout pool here at Boston.com last week, something I immediately regretted for two reasons. 1) The Jets were playing at home. 2) Greg Schiano's Bucs make the Lions look heady and disciplined. Lo and behold, the Jets get a gift late-hit penalty after Bucs linebacker Lavonte David drilled quarterback Geno Smith out of bounds (and gave Pats fans Todd Collins/Kordell Stewart flashbacks), Nick Folk drilled a 48-yard field goal, and that mess of a team escapes with a 1-0 record. Last week, my reasoning wasn't rewarded, but that doesn't mean it was wrong. The Jets stink. They'll prove it tonight. Patriots 24, Jets 7
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.