When the Patriots visit Nashville this weekend, it’ll be the first time since 2012, yet, the team might be forgiven if it feels like a home game.
For starters, large contingents of Patriots fans are expected to attend the matchup, which could provide a home-like atmosphere similar to the San Diego game in 2014.
“Awesome!” linebacker Kyle Van Noy exclaimed when this was brought to his attention. “We love Pats Nation. Anytime we’re on the road, and they get to come out and support, we’re excited to be a part of that.”
And once the game gets underway, there will be plenty of Tennessee Titans that will look familiar to the Patriots. Head coach Mike Vrabel tops the list. The former Patriots linebacker won three Super Bowls with New England. He also hired former Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees to fill the same role with Tennessee.
On the Titans roster, running back Dion Lewis and cornerback Malcolm Butler left New England this past offseason for greener pastures in Nashville. Opposite Butler, starting corner Logan Ryan has been with the Titans the past couple of years after leaving Foxborough via free agency.
After practice Wednesday, wide receiver Julian Edelman reminisced about Lewis.
“He’s a good player. A fiery guy, a little jitterbug. He worked hard. He’s a baller. He meant a lot to me when he was here. Now I hate him,” Edelman joked with reporters. “No, [I don’t]… but I won’t play against him. I’ll be thinking more about the other side of the ball… Coach Vrabs is going to have them all riled up.”
Edelman’s fellow receiver Chris Hogan tried not to get too nostalgic when the subject of former teammates came up.
“Just another game,” he maintained. “You see guys you’ve played with every single week. For us, we’re just focused on getting prepared for this game, going down there, and playing good football.
“They’ve got a lot of good players. They’re not giving up a lot of points. They’re really good on third downs. All those guys are big, physical, strong corners. So, it’ll be a good challenge for us.”
Surely, though, the fact that Hogan and Edelman played against Ryan and Butler for so long here in Foxborough should help them prepare for them as opponents this weekend.
“No, I don’t think so,” Hogan insisted. “You know, [they’re in] a new defense, new scheme, new coaches, new environment. You just have to study the tape and do the best job you can. Trying to study things that happened in the past I don’t really think helps you.”
Edelman was more willing to expound on the kinds of players the two former Patriots corners will be like to go against.
“[Malcolm’s] a strong player that plays the ball well in the air. I mean, he’s gotten beat a couple times [this year], but that’s the nature of his game,” he began. “He’s a real aggressive player that competes. He’s got a long upper body. He’s got that ability to make up speed with the ball in the air while looking back. A lot of corners can’t do that. I’ve got a lot of respect for Malcolm. His road to where he’s got shows how hard he works. He’s a stud.
“ Logan was a real instinctive football player that is fundamentally sound. If you mess up with Logan, he’s going to run the route for you. He’s a very cerebral guy who studies everyone, works hard, and the same could be said with Malcolm. These guys are really good football players. They showed it here and they’re showing it now [with Tennessee]. You can’t mess up with them.”
As is often the case, New England’s defense is starting to play some of its best football as the second half of the season gets underway. Van Noy was asked why this seems to happen so often with Patriots teams, who endure considerable outside criticism before finding a way to overcome their flaws.
“Good question. Just guys knowing what to do and playing fast,” he replied. “You know, you’re working through some kinks at the beginning of the season, but now it’s go-time. The season’s ticking down and we know what time it is.
“We’re hungry,” he added with a grin. “We’re hungry to get back on the field and keep proving people wrong.”
Coming off yet another prime time game (perhaps the team’s last of 2018, pending the NFL’s flex scheduling and potential playoff games), the Patriots conducted another Wednesday walkthrough session, rather than a padded workout.
The roster welcomed back right guard Shaq Mason, who was held out of practices and the Green Bay game with a calf injury suffered at Buffalo in Week 8. Mason took part today on a limited basis, as did tight end Rob Gronkowski (ankle/back) and rookie running back Sony Michel (knee). Gronkowski and Michel also didn’t play against the Packers.
The only Patriot not on the field today was left tackle Trent Brown, who’s dealing with an illness that has been going around the locker room of late.
It also appeared that rookie cornerback Duke Dawson was in attendance. Dawson has been on injured reserve with a hamstring since Week 1. He’s eligible to be reactivated, but the Patriots must decide by the end of this week whether they want to do so or not.