The Patriots began preparations to face the Steelers in their season opener as they welcomed a full roster at practice and hit the ground running with their in-season Wednesday schedule. The two teams don’t lack familiarity, they’re two of the biggest AFC rivals of the last two decades, though the Patriots have dominated any game that has meant something.
That doesn’t dull any of the anticipation for what should be a dynamic opening game. The Steelers have a wide array of weapons despite the names they lost this offseason, while the Patriots are once again evolving on offense but have the luxury of perhaps their most experienced and deep defense of recent memory.
Let’s get the ball rolling with the Unfiltered Notebook, recapping everything that happened around Gillette Stadium on a busy Wednesday.
The Patriot had full attendance at practice, including all members of the practice squad. It’s a great place to start the season, without already having a handful of walking wounded. However, there were a few names on the injury report:
TE Matt LaCosse, Ankle
S Obi Melifonwu, Ankle
WR Demaryius Thomas, Hamstring
Thomas’ hamstring is a new development after he spent most of the summer rehabbing a torn Achilles. LaCosse is apparently still recovering from the ankle injury suffered in Week 1 of the preseason. Both players would be expected to play significant roles in the passing offense against the Steelers and will be worth monitoring for the rest of the week.
Belichick & Tomlin Presser Points
The head coaches played it predictably close to the vest in their pregame conference calls. Both teams are experiencing the loss of notable names, like Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown, but coach Tomlin sees both teams having experience in dealing with this kind of turnover.
“[D]ynamic playmakers are going to come and go and others are going to rise and assume the roles,” said coach Tomlin. “I'm sure organizationally New England feels the same way.”
Another topic of interest was the Steelers win over the Patriots last season, a 17-10 victory that was their first victory over New England since 2011. Belichick was asked if the Steelers changed their tactics in that game.
“I wouldn't watch them play and look and say, "Oh, there's a whole lot of new things, we've never seen those before,” said Belichick. “They've been in their system for a long time so there's a lot of breadth just built into it. They don't do everything every week. They pick the things that they feel are best for that week and matchup against you.”
Tomlin didn’t think the impact from last year’s game would be extensive.
“I'm sure we'll glean some things from [last year’s game], as I'm sure they will,” Tomlin projected. “Some of it will remain the same for us as it will them. Some of it will produce reasons for change. I think anytime you put two teams in a stadium, the game has a chance to unfold in a very different manner.”
One of the key areas to watch will the Steelers disruptive front against the Patriots two new starting offensive linemen. Belichick left no doubt how good the Pittsburgh front seven is.
“They have a very good front, they're very disruptive. They've led the league in sacks the last two years – that's pretty impressive,” Belichick relayed. “They play hard, they're aggressive, they're well-coached.”
But most of all the coaches were just excited to get going.
“I like football,” said Belichick. “I like football season and all of the things that go with it.”
Don’t we all, coach.
Brady Presser Points
Tom Brady spoke with the media Wednesday afternoon and was happy to be getting the Steelers at home for the first time since 2017.
“We’ve played a lot of meaningful games. We’ve played at their stadium quite a bit the last few years so it’s good to get them here. We’ve got a great home crowd that puts a lot of pressure on their offensive side of the ball to make their communication really solid.”
Brady spoke about how much respect he has for the Steelers, top to bottom.
“They’ve got a great football team, they have a great history. One of the best defenses still to this day in the history of the league. Big Ben what he’s continued to do and how that offense has evolved over time. I have a lot of respect for Coach Tomlin how he coaches and what he demands out of his players. They’ve got a great defensive front. Great group of linebackers, talented secondary. Difficult team to play against, they stress you in a lot of areas. We’ve got to be at the top of our game early in the season, as do they, which makes it a great matchup.”
Locker Room Sound Bites
Michael Bennett on how he feels being on the Patriots now after losing to them in Super Bowl 49
“I don’t like anybody on the opposite team that I’m playing against. It’s good now that I’m here because I like everybody. Tom is cool, the whole team is cool. It’s good. It’s important to walk into this building every single day and see the standard of level of play, expectations every single day at practice. It’s good to be here and I’m looking forward the opportunity to continue to build my career here.”
Sony Michel on the veteran running backs helping him out
“They’re helping me go every day. Every day I get a chance to use those guys, day in and day out I’m in the meeting room with them. Whatever I can pick up I’m there to pick it up.”
Ted Karras on taking over the starting center job
“I’m just coming in working every day, trying to have a good attitude and get better every day. Just taking reps and trying to my very best to help the team."