The hay is in the barn, as Bill Belichick is often fond of saying.
After a full offseason that looked more familiar than 2020's along with a three-game preseason, the Patriots are ready to make their season debut on Sunday at 4:25pm against the Dolphins.
"Just wrapping up the week here," said Bill Belichick prior to Friday's in-stadium practice. "Still have some things to tie up situationally and just got to pull it all together. We've kind of done some things in segments, and today's a good day to pull it all together as a football team and understand the totality of the situations and how quickly they can come up versus a teaching schedule where you can really take a little more time and plan them out. We'll be in the stadium, and we'll try to have a good review, a good situational practice here and be ready to go on Sunday."
Captain James White looks ready to put a difficult 2020 behind him. The veteran showed good chemistry with Mac Jones in training camp, making one of the best catches of the summer on a perfect throw from the rookie.
Even in his eighth year, White can still get up for the opener.
"You definitely still get excited the first time coming together as a team where the games actually count," said White. "Everybody's kind of chomping at the bit, we have a challenging opponent and the Dolphins are going to come here ready to play, it's a division game as well. It's always tough when we play those guys and guys have been working hard all week. We still have some things to sharpen up on but I think everybody's going to be ready to go."
A big key for the Patriots will be the protection and running lanes opened up by the offensive line and Isaiah Wynn will be a major part of it at left tackle. Against a team like Miami that likes to send multiple pass rushers, being in sync will be vital.
"We definitely had a good week of practice just working together," said Wynn. "It's exciting just to be out there, here we are in the '21 season. I'm just looking forward to being out there and playing with the guys who I've been grinding with all spring and all training camp."
5 Points of Emphasis vs. Miami
- Run to Win: The last time the Patriots saw the Dolphins they were getting run over to the tune of 250 yards rushing yards, a complete flip from the season opener when it was New England piling up 217 rushing yards. With two young and inexperienced quarterbacks playing, the running game again figures to be a key place where this game will be won or lost. Miles Gaskin is a quick, balanced back who could give the Pats defense some problems but the front has been remade and last year's Dolphins game was a prime example of why. For New England, it's really only a question of how many carries Damien Harris gets and whether or not J.J. Taylor or Rhamondre Stevenson play much of a role.
- Attack the Line: Miami's young offensive line against the Patriots' defensive front will be a key matchup, especially for the Dolphins at the left tackle spot where starter Austin Jackson was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Backup Greg Little will have his hands full with Matt Judon. With Ted Karras returning to New England, the Dolphins will be without a former Patriot along the line to help decipher the coming stunts and New England should throw plenty at Tua Tagovailoa. Josh Uche's speed and athleticism off the edge will be something to watch as well.
- Matchup Pieces: The biggest defensive question is Jalen Mills' status. Mills sustained an ankle injury on Wednesday and did not practice on Thursday, putting his availability in doubt. With Stephon Gilmore on PUP, Mills figured to play an important role at cornerback and without him they'll be looking to rely on third-year corner Joejuan Williams. With Jonathan Jones likely to deal with rookie speed merchant Jaylen Waddle, matching up with Miami's other talented receivers will be a big part of the defensive game plan. Could Myles Bryant or Shaun Wade be a surprise contributor?
- Clean Football: Mistakes can play a big part in season openers as teams knock the rust off and get used to playing a max intensity for a full 60 minutes and the Patriots have two rookies in keep positions where mistakes could be especially costly. The first is obvious -- Mac Jones, the rookie quarterback getting his first start. If the Patriots are able to get Damien Harris going it will be a huge help to Jones, who can then lean into play action to make life easier. How much can Mac do alone if the ground game falters or the Pats fall into a hole? He just can't hurt himself with ill-advised throws. Throwaways and punts are fine. The other is rookie kicker Quinn Nordin, who had his inconsistent moments this summer. He still made the team and looks like he'll probably get the start in the first game, but like most divisional games, this one should be close and missed field goals or extra points could be the difference between winning and losing.
- Win: Ultimately getting the win is all that matters, there isn't much need for style points. While it's important to never overreact to a Week 1 result, this is a game the Patriots really need to take if they want to be in the playoff hunt at the end of the season. Holding serve against a similar divisional team at home would be a solid start to the season, but of course as we saw last year, beating the Dolphins in Foxborough to start the season doesn't assure much. With a new quarterback and a bunch of veteran free agents, this is even more of a new-look team than 2020's Patriots squad was. Now it's time to see how it's all coming together after a month-plus of practices.
Practice & Injury Report
Malcolm Perry was the only player not spotted at the Patriots final practice of the week, as they moved inside of the stadium. Perry was later listed as OUT on the injury report with a foot injury.
After being listed as no participating in practice on Thursday, both Nelson Agholor and Jalen Mills were in attendance during stretching and were listed as questionable. Whether or not they're active will be a big pregame piece to watch for.
Yodny Cajuste (hamstring) and Ronnie Perkins (shoulder) were also listed as questionable.
Quotes of Note
Isaiah Wynn on a moment in training camp where Mac Jones' leadership stood out:
"It was at one point during training camp, all 11 guys weren't on the same page. He kind of just told everybody, 'Just relax, take a breather and let's just move on to the next play.' Little stuff like that is really big coming from a quarterback."
Chase Winovich on his Week 1 focus:
"First and foremost it's identifying areas within all of us individually, the coaches do it on a more macro scale, all I can do is identify areas that I need to work on and then identify the fundamentals that go with whatever it is that I'm trying to improve and spend all of my energy trying to improve the things that help me perform those tasks."
Josh Uche on having a plan as a pass rusher:
"As a rusher you have to be ready for anything, so you have to make sure you have a bag of tricks if you will that you kind of work on constantly. I think the better pass rushers are able to adapt as they go and add new tools into their bag as they go. I's just an ever-evolving game as a pass rusher, just working on it every day."