FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Coach Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots (6-2) exit their bye week with some interesting, formidable challenges on the horizon.
New England will play five of its next six games on the road. That begins with this Sunday night’s trip to Denver to take on the stumbling Broncos, followed by a Week 11 battle with the disappointing Oakland Raiders, that game in Mexico City.
With consecutive distant road games, both of which will be played at a high altitude, New England will leave this Friday for Denver and then remain in Colorado next week to prepare for the Oakland game.
It’s an unusual situation, but one Belichick is leaving for his travel staff while he and his players hope to extend the team’s winning streak to five games after a bye week spent “evenly divided” looking back at some self-scouting of the first half of the season while also preparing for the road ahead.
“We have people in our organization that have been working on it, are working on it,” Belichick said of the two-game road trip. “I mean, it’s like going to Mexico. You just don’t jump on the plane and go to Mexico. There’s a lot of planning that needs to go into it. Logistically, it’s a very challenging trip. So yeah, there are a lot of things like that. But that’s really not where our focus is right now. We’ll get to that when we get to that.”
The focus is on Denver. It’s a place where New England has had its issues over the years. And even with the Broncos having lost four in a row, including Sunday’s 51-23 beatdown in Philadelphia, the Patriots know heading to Denver to take on a defense that still ranks No. 2 in the league is challenge enough.
“When you’re out there in Denver it’s a different deal certainly for us,” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia admitted. “We’ve always had some tough games out there. They’ve played us extremely well when you’re at home and you’ve got to travel out to Denver. For our situation that’s a tough place to play — just the environment and the atmosphere.
“It’s what it is when it’s on the road, but we deal with it week in week out. But I think they have a great fan base out there that really gets behind the team, and those guys play well at home in those situations against us. That’s the difficult part.”
Patricia’s defense gets ready for a Broncos offense that struggled with both Trevor Siemian and, on Sunday, Brock Osweiler under center.
New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who was the head coach in Denver for two seasons, has to deal with a Broncos defense that once again has the ability to control games.
“From our perspective, the defense is the most challenging part,” McDaniels said, downplaying outside factors such as the altitude. “That’s an exceptional unit that’s been exceptional for a number of years. We know that that’s who we’re playing against. You play against the opponent, not the crowd or the weather or anything like that.”
Linebacker McClellin recuperating
Linebacker Shea McClellin began practicing on Oct. 17, the first step in the process of returning from injured reserve. Having missed most of training camp and the first eight games of the year to a head injury, McClellin is eligible to come off IR for this week’s trip to Denver.
Though Belichick has yet to commit to McClellin joining the 53-man roster, the veteran would certainly help the team’s depth in the front seven, especially since the season-ending pectoral injury to linebacker Dont’a Hightower.
“Like he always does, Shea works hard. Shea’s a smart football player. He has a lot of position flexibility both athletically and mentally with his experience,” Belichick said. “We’ll see how it all plays out, see how it all works. He works hard and can do a lot of different things on defense and in the kicking game, so we’ll see how it all goes.”
Pats prepping Hoyer
Quarterback Brian Hoyer was a interesting side story to New England’s shocking deadline deal to trade backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers in exchange for a second-round pick. As San Francisco’s former starter and backup, Hoyer was cut by the 49ers after the deal and swiftly signed a three-year contract to return to New England, where he opened his NFL career in 2009 as an undrafted rookie out of Michigan State. He spent three seasons with the Patriots before moving on to different teams, including some time as a starter in multiple stops, with Pittsburgh, Arizona, Cleveland, Chicago, Houston and the 49ers.
After 55 career NFL games and 37 starts, Hoyer is now back where it all began trying to get up to speed as quickly as possible as Brady’s backup for the second half of the season.
“Well we’ve had him. We know what he can do,” Belichick said in his first comments since re-signing Hoyer. “He’s been productive. He’s been in a lot of big games and big situations. We’ll try to get him ready to go.”
But just because Hoyer was starting games as recently as this season in San Francisco, doesn’t mean he’s immediately ready as the Patriots’ insurance policy behind Tom Brady.
“He hasn’t played for us,” Belichick emphasized. “I think we have a lot of work to do, but he’ll work hard at it and we’ll see where we’re at.”
49ers GM wanted Brady
Quarterback Tom Brady is clearly the present and future of the passing game in New England. But prior to last week’s trade of Garoppolo, some wondered if there was a passing of the torch on the horizon in Foxborough.
So, it probably should come as no surprise that another team might at least ask about the possibility of trading for Brady, right? Apparently, that’s exactly what first-year 49ers general manager John Lynch did last spring after initially being told Garoppolo, the player San Francisco finally acquired at the Oct. 31 trade deadline, was not available.
“So Lynch calls back,” Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer reported Nov. 5. “‘Garoppolo’s off limits. Will you trade us Tom Brady?’ Belichick said, ‘What did you just ask me?’ (Lynch said), ‘I’m asking would you trade us Tom Brady? You said Garoppolo’s off limits.’ He goes, ‘Did you just ask me if you’d trade Tom Brady … Did you just ask me if I’d trade the greatest quarterback of all time?’
“And (Lynch) said, ‘So is that a no?’”
Can’t fault a guy for trying.
NOTES: LB Dont’a Hightower (pectoral) curiously remains on the 53-man roster despite undergoing surgery to repair the torn muscle, a procedure expected to sideline the Pro Bowler until 2018. … CB Stephon Gilmore missed the three games prior to the bye week with a concussion. On the first day of work for Sunday night’s trip to Denver the veteran said he should be good to go for a return to action against the Broncos.