Editors' note: The NFL shut down the New England Patriots' facility on Sunday morning for the third time in 10 days, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter and Field Yates. According to Schefter, New England's Week 5 home game against the Denver Broncos has been moved to Oct. 18.
Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the Patriots and NFL:
1. Rushing record on the radar: The running game has been one of the Patriots' top assets at the quarter mark of the season, and it has a chance to join some esteemed company in their Oct. 18 game against the Denver.
If the Patriots rush for 200 yards or more, it would mark the third straight home game they have hit that mark, joining the 1976 and 1978 squads as the only units to accomplish the feat.
Longtime Patriots followers know what that means. The '76 and '78 squads have long been held as the standard of excellence in that area, led by Hall of Fame left guard John Hannah and recent Patriots Hall of Fame inductee Leon Gray (left tackle) up front, and Sam "Bam" Cunningham at running back. The '78 squad holds the franchise single-season rushing record (3,165), followed by the '76 unit (2,948).
This year's Patriots attack, which was bolstered by the return of running back Damien Harris last week, totaled 217 rushing yards in a Week 1 win against the Miami Dolphins, and 250 in a Week 3 victory against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Overall, the Patriots have eight rushing plays of 15 yards or more, tied for third most in the league behind the Cleveland Browns (12) and Baltimore Ravens (10). Their team block-run-win-rate, a statistic measured using player tracking devices/NFL Next Gen stats, is 74% (third best in the NFL).
"It really is a team effort," said guard/center Joe Thuney, who has played more snaps than any player in the NFL since 2016. "We've got running backs [and] wide receivers running the ball. Obviously, it starts with the offensive line and trying to get good combinations, good doubles, good technique in the run game. And the tight ends, receivers, running backs, quarterbacks -- everyone has been doing their job. Blocking down field. Reading the right things. It takes all 11 guys on offense, working together."
2. Unfamiliar place: The Patriots (2-2) are two games behind the Bills (4-0) in the AFC East, which marks the first time coach Bill Belichick's team has been in such a hole this deep into a season since Week 8 in 2002. The Patriots ultimately missed the playoffs that season. The last time the Bills were two games up this deep into the season was 1995, according to Elias Sports Bureau. That was also the last time the Bills won the AFC East.
3. NFL puts Patriots in tough spot: Belichick notably deflected a question last week on if he believed the NFL should have postponed the Patriots' Week 4 game at Kansas City following Cam Newton's positive coronavirus test. While Belichick is keeping his thoughts under wraps, others around the club have privately expressed the sentiment that the league -- knowing Newton had a positive test three days earlier -- put the franchise in a compromising spot because the visitor's locker room at Arrowhead Stadium is so small that there was literally no way to practice social distancing. So when Belichick says the Patriots followed all the protocols, he isn't answering the more pressing question: Did the people who established the protocols put the franchise in a no-win situation from a health and safety standpoint? Jason McCourty voiced his displeasure, questioning if the league's protocols made players' safety a top priority.
4. Onwenu's rare start: Patriots sixth-round pick Mike Onwenu, of Michigan, has been an early-season revelation in playing 195 snaps at four positions (left guard, right guard, right tackle, jumbo tight end). He's graded out well, and his versatility puts him in a class of his own among rookies to date. Consider he's the only rookie to play at least 30 snaps at three different positions on the offensive line this season, with the Lions' Jonah Jackson (118 at left guard, 117 at right guard) the only other rookie to do so at multiple positions.
Said Thuney: "Credit to him. He's switching right, left and [other] stuff; that's not an easy task, especially for a younger guy."
5. Eyes on the turnovers: The Patriots are traditionally near the top of the NFL in turnover differential, as one of the foundational principles of Belichick's program has been good ball security. That's what made the four-turnover night in Week 4 against Kansas City so rare, highlighting one of the obvious points of emphasis leading into the game against Denver. The Broncos are minus-6 on the season, ranking 31st in the NFL (2 takeaways, 8 giveaways). The Patriots are now plus-1 on the season (8 takeaways, 7 giveaways), and here's the signature stat: New England is 162-18 in Belichick's 21-year tenure when the team wins the turnover differential.
6. Hello again, Broncos: There was a stretch last decade where it almost felt like the Patriots and Broncos were division opponents, as they faced each other in seven consecutive regular seasons (often as a result of first-place finishes). But in a reflection of how the Broncos have been on a rapid descent in recent years since QB Peyton Manning's retirement, the game will mark the first meeting between them since Nov. 12, 2017 and is only a result of the NFL's rotating schedule formula aligning the AFC East and AFC West divisions this season. From afar, it seems like Broncos executive vice president John Elway has had notable missteps (quarterback evaluation, head coach hires etc.) that have contributed to the slippage.
7. Bailey as a weapon: Few things have gotten as much of a rise out of Belichick over the years as much as a punter who he views as a weapon, with the Rams' Johnny Hekker and Saints' Thomas Morstead falling into that category. Now Belichick has one on his own team in Jake Bailey, the 2019 fifth-round pick from Stanford. The Patriots rank second in the NFL in net punting (46.7), with opponents having returned three for 17 yards (5.7 avg.). That showed up in a big way last Monday, when Bailey's ability to combine distance and control essentially nullified dangerous Chiefs returners Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman. Of Bailey's 10 punts, seven have been placed inside the 20 (no touchbacks).
8. Gunner's debut: Gunner Olszewski's return to the roster from injured reserve provided a spark on punt returns, where he took over for Damiere Byrd (2 returns for 0 yards; with 5 fair catches). Olszewski had a 12-yard return and a fair catch, with Belichick noting on sports radio WEEI that conditions were challenging at Arrowhead Stadium with some wind. Look for more Olszewski in that role going forward, with special-teams coordinator Cam Achord saying, "Gunner did a good job for us, tracking the ball. One of the things that goes unnoticed is that hidden yardage as a punt returner."
9. Dawson's return: The Patriots misfired when they traded up in the second round of the 2018 draft to select Florida cornerback Duke Dawson, which was reflected when they traded him (and a seventh-round pick) to Denver one year later in exchange for a sixth-round pick. Dawson hasn't done much with the Broncos, and Patriots fans might have to look closely to find him, assuming he's active (he played eight defensive snaps in a Week 4 win against the Jets). Rookie Essang Bassey, an undrafted free agent from Wake Forest, is among those ahead of him in the Broncos' rotation, along with 2020 third-round pick Michael Ojemudia (Iowa).
10. Did You Know: After Harris rushed for an even 100 yards in Monday's loss to the Chiefs, it marked the second time under Belichick that the team lost when it had a 100-yard rusher. The Patriots are 52-2 when a player rushes for 100 or more yards.