It may only be the preseason, but that doesn't mean there aren't things to nitpick. And certainly, we already know there are plenty of nitwits out there.
During the season, this space will provide a forum for reasoned insensitivity. It's something we seem to have a firm grip upon in New England – the ability to find dark clouds in an otherwise clear sky. Good fortune is never looked at like something that should be cherished; rather, good fortune is often treated as a Pyrrhic victory.
Far be it for me to step in the way of constructive (or otherwise) criticism. Griping, moaning and complaining about something is part of the fabric around here. Even if the Patriots are coming off of a Super Bowl-winning season.
For many millennials, I'll wager you don't get it. You're used to winning. But the Patriots (and Red Sox, and Bruins for that matter) suffered through years of disastrous, wish-we-could-even-be-mediocre play on the field, and often times embarrassing actions off of it.
Check out a selection of the best images from the Patriots preseason game against the Green Bay Packers at Gillette Stadium on Thursday, August 13, 2015.
Those simpler, almost naïve days will always remain part of the history of professional sports in New England. There are those of us who appreciate the current 15-year run of success in this context – and there are those whose memories of dark-clouded days will never fade, forever scarred by one futile Sunday afternoon after another.
So with this in mind, following every game we'll narrow it down to three general areas that could be defined as needing improvement. Sometimes, these observations will seem hollow and at others, hopefully, they'll be on the money. Nevertheless, our dialogue will be meant to stimulate conversation and awareness.
And if you find you need a shoulder to cry upon, or an ear to bend as the season progresses, we're only as far away as your computer keyboard or your cellphone. As that great counselor-of-the-airwaves Fraser Crane was once fond of saying – "Go ahead caller. I'm listening."
It wasn't an O-Line, but an Oh-my-Line
Yes, it's the preseason. No, neither starting tackle was available to play, nor was the likely starting center. Yes, there were two rookies starting at guard. No, Jimmy Garoppolo was not able to update his life insurance policy prior to the seven sack beat-down laid upon his shoulders by the Green Bay Packers.
Yes, the Packers should be a Super Bowl contender themselves in the NFC as the 2015 season progresses. No, these games don't count. Yes, this is a situation that bears watching and needs immediate improvement or no, there won't be a healthy quarterback on the roster somewhere in the middle of this season.
All of this considered, did you catch the block from rookie guard Shaq Mason on Jonas Gray's 55-yard touchdown run? If he can learn to pass-block half as well as he can open holes – having done so successfully at option-oriented Georgia Tech – the Patriots will have something there. But he was also whipped like a rented mule on a couple of the Packers' sacks, too.
You really don't have to go too far back to recall the flag fiesta we all enjoyed during last year's preseason campaign, with officials' point-of-emphasis on one rule change or another.
Eight penalties accepted may or may not seem like much to you, but to the coaches? Let's just say they appreciate attention to detail, and there didn't appear to be much of that going on with the flags thrown last Thursday night. Habits learned in practice games are habits carried forward into meaningful competition.
Bill Belichick is right when he says "I don't think you can really rate anything in the pre-season," which he told the media this past weekend. Perhaps not publicly, at least. But the penalties, especially three in the kicking game against Green Bay, don't sit well.
With several receivers missing for the Packers, there was certainly an opportunity for a guy like Josh Boyce to step into the spotlight and state his case for a roster spot – if not more playing time – when the real games begin.
But with 11 passes targeted his way and only two receptions (for 19 yards) to show for the effort, including a couple that looked to be catchable, Boyce is closer to reprising his role from a year ago than he is to shining in that spotlight.
The 3rd year pro from TCU was a late cut at the end of camp last year, and only returned to the Patriots practice squad after he went unclaimed on waivers. Still, the coaching staff loves his versatility, his speed and his ability to contribute on special teams, hence, his receiving the nod as Garoppolo's go-to guy last Thursday.
To say the least, it's a big week of camp for Boyce this week as the Patriots train in West Virginia against the New Orleans Saints. And it may also be the biggest game of his young, professional career on Saturday night as well.
Oh Geno, you torture us so
That could be a prevalent feeling for fans of the New York Jets, upon learning the news their erstwhile starter at quarterback had his jaw broken by a teammates' sucker punch last week over an alleged $600 debt.
And if that wasn't enough, Smith was photographed by the New York Post over the weekend playing catch in front of his apartment – two days after his surgery to repair that broken jaw – against doctors' orders, and against team wishes.
"He shouldn't be doing it right now," Jets head coach Todd Bowles told the Post. "We handled that internally. We had that discussion. He just got surgery. You don't want him getting it infected."
Partly, it might be a good thing Smith is showing some moxie with his willingness to begin a comeback, even if it's unadvised. For a young QB whose leadership has already been questioned more than once in his team's locker room, however, he already has a tough road to travel beyond the 6-to-10 weeks of recovery time for his jaw.
He missed a team meeting last season the night before a game, cursed at a fan, was thrown off of a plane and apparently wasn't too timely with his debt service to now-former teammate IK Enemkpali.
Smith's message to Jets fans? "Get ready for me to come back," he told the Post. Are they sure they want him back?
Harrison's values worth sharing
Pittsburgh pass rusher James Harrison isn't normally someone Patriots' fans would root for, especially since he'll have his eyes set on crushing a Patriots' QB – whoever that might be – on September 10th.
But his Instagram photo last weekend showing his two sons' "participation trophies" and his subsequent rant on how trophies should be earned has opened some eyes across the country...and earned him a supporter in this corner.
In case you missed it, Harrison said in his post: "I'm sorry I'm not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I'm not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best...cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better...not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy."
The Sports Business Journal reported last week that overall, youth sports participation is down in this country by 20% over the past five years. Why? Burnout is the number one reason. Kids aren't having as much fun, with so much specialization going on these days. Pressure builds, success is taken for granted and failure is almost tantamount to having been branded a life-long loser.
I'll argue this burnout trend began when parents, youth sports officials and some coaches started to offer pats-to-the-back and hugs, rather than actually teach their kids how to improve when they fail. And, that it's actually okay to fail. Competitive sports aren't for everyone. The "everyone's a winner" mentality has now reared its head and caused a new generation of potential athletes to say "if I can't win, I don't even want to play."
That's too bad. I'm reminded of a great line that actor Tom Hanks had in the movie "A League of Their Own," when he said "if it (baseball) wasn't hard, everyone would do it. It's the hard that makes it great." Same goes for football, or any other sport worth playing for that matter.
It's a line that I'll root for every time.
*John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and is in his 23rd year as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities – which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio – Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 27 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame. *
Follow him on Twitter - @JRbroadcaster