Welcome to Season 2, Episode 13 of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-but-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots' weekly matchup that runs right here every Friday around noon. The 8-3 Patriots, coming off a 34-31 victory over the Houston Texans, visit
Otto Graham, Frank Ryan, Brian Sipe, Bernie Kosar QB To Be Determined By Gametime and the 4-8 Cleveland Browns. Kick it off, Gostkowski, and let's get this thing started already ...
THREE PLAYERS I'LL BE WATCHING OTHER THAN TOM BRADY
1. Josh Gordon: Remember back in mid-September, when the Browns had just traded second-year running back Trent Richardson to the Colts, and we thought that deal suggested Browns general manager Mike Lombardi was auctioning off all of his presumed assets? Turns out the Browns realized Richardson was the next Adrian Peterson -- the one who used to play for the Bears. But when that deal still seemed like an odd thing to do, there was some buzz among Patriots fans that Josh Gordon was worth looking into. In retrospect, there's probably no chance the Browns were ever considering dealing him, even with some of the discipline issues that he's had. But watching him perform the way he has with their rotating array of alleged quarterbacks -- he has 1,249 receiving yards in 10 games, including back to back 200-yard receiving games, the first in NFL history to do so -- it's going to be pretty much irresistible Sunday to avoid daydreaming what he might have been able to do here. Even if it never really had a chance of happening.
2. Barkevious Mingo: Joins Trey Wingo, Ringo Starr, Will Lingo, The Dingo that ate the baby, and Ingo Rademacher on our all-Ingo team. Rides solo on our all-Barkevious team. And of course, the sixth overall pick in this year's draft is a linebacker of some promise as well -- in his rookie season with the Browns, he has four sacks and 31 tackles in 11 games.
3. Dont'a Hightower: It's probably too early to declare the 25th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft as a bust. Though I'm beginning to wonder if his own talents were exaggerated by playing with superior teammates at Alabama -- sort of like how Adalius Thomas benefited from playing with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and so on in Baltimore -- Hightower at least is a conscientious kid who has shown some flashes of effectiveness. Unfortunately, most of them came as a rookie, and his regression has been exaggerated by the ease with which opposing teams have run against the Patriots in the absence of Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo. Cleveland is averaging 3.7 yards per carry this year. Willis McGahee, the alleged feature back at the moment, is averaging 2.9 per pop. If the Browns run the ball on Hightower, Brandon Spikes and the makeshift interior line this week, sound the alarms.
COMPLETELY RANDOM FOOTBALL CARD Just a couple of highlights from Ozzie Newsome's football resume: Started four years for Bear Bryant at Alabama when African-American student-athletes were still a relatively new concept on that campus ... Was arguably the best all-around tight in the NFL in the late '70s through the mid '80s while with the Browns ... Worked in the front office when Bill Belichick was the Browns' head coach in the early '90s ... Became an extraordinarily successful general manager with the
Stolen Browns Ravens, a position he still holds. It's been a hell of a football life, as my former colleague Greg Bedard insightfully detailed here, and I'd much prefer to see NFL Films' "A Football Life'' tackle Newsome's legacy before it goes down the A Football Life: The Forward Pass.
"FOR MY NEXT TRICK, I'LL BOUNCE THIS ONE OFF GRONK'S FOREHEAD, OFF THE CROSSBAR, THEN IT WILL DEFLECT OFF KEMBRELL THOMPKINS'S HANDS, AND SPIRAL THROUGH THE WIND INTO THE TRASH CAN 60 YARDS AWAY. AND I'LL DO IT BLINDFOLDED WHILE CHANTING 'CUT THAT MEAT, PEYTON.' "
The star of this trick-shot video is Browns quarterback Alex Tanney, who is running neck-and-neck with Caleb Hanie and, I believe, Todd Philcox as a potential starter this week for the Browns if Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden can't go. He recorded this (with poor audio and a soundtrack that would be cheesier only if it included Right Said Fred) in 2011 while he was a record-setting passer at Division III Monmouth. His skills are impressive -- hitting the cross-bar from the 50-yard line with a pass from his knees, that sort of thing. But the real value of this video is to remind you just how talented even an adequate NFL quarterback really is. Tanney was undrafted, is on his third team, has never taken a snap in a regular-season game, and he can pull off these feats with a football that are pretty extraordinary, even if we're not sure how many takes it took to get it right. He might be your guy to make the perfect pass if someone drives a truck with an open window across the middle of the field. But most extraordinary degree of difficulty is doing all of the things Tom Brady makes look easy each Sunday. His trick-shot video begins at game time ... though wouldn't you love to see how he'd do in one of these?
PREDICTION, OR HOW ABOUT A THIRD STRAIGHT 34-31 WIN?
Don't know about you, but over these last two weeks, I've come to realization that it's a fool's errand to try to draw conclusions in presuming what the 2013 Patriots might ultimately accomplish. They staggered the Broncos with a brilliant comeback, then played the checked-out Texans at a level the lowly Jaguars more or less surpassed Thursday. At the beginning of the year, the defense rescued the offense. Now, because of attrition on the defensive side and the return of Rob Gronkowski to the offense, the opposite is occurring. This week? I can't imagine the Browns, with no quarterback and no running game, give them much of a battle. But even if the Patriots win with ease, it's not going to tell us much if anything about whether this team has a real shot of winning that February game in New Jersey. I like this Patriots team. I just don't know who they are yet, and I don't think we will until the playoffs.
Patriots 34, Browns 10
(Last week's prediction: Patriots 34, Texans 14. Final score: Patriots 34, Texans 31. Season record: 6-6.)
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.