FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Barmore's breakthrough: The Patriots' 2-9 season hasn't had many silver linings, but third-year defensive lineman Christian Barmore is one of them. He represents a glimmer of future hope for the Patriots, who have six games remaining and will be looking to identify budding players to serve as centerpieces in their rebuilding plan.
"The level I want to reach doesn't come easy," Barmore said at his locker recently inside Gillette Stadium. "So the days you don't want to do it, you have to do it. All the great ones -- Aaron Donald, Chris Jones, DeForest Buckner -- you wonder why they are the way they are. They work harder and then go prove it on the field. That's my goal. To keep being a consistent guy, don't miss any days, and be a dominant player."
While the 6-foot-5, 315-pound Barmore expressed disappointment with the Patriots' record, this has been a breakthrough season for him.
Barmore has recorded a 13% pass rush win rate against double teams, according to ESPN Stats & Information, which is right there alongside Donald (13.4%), Jones (12.4%) and Buckner (11.9%). He has a higher number of disrupted dropbacks (10%) than the trio, in part because he's batted down six passes, which is tied with the Saints' Bryan Bresee for most among primary defensive linemen.
"It's just squeezing through double teams; especially on the nose or the 3 [technique], I don't want to get pushed out of the pocket. Our defense, we have a middle push. We can't give up the pocket," he said. "If you know two guys are coming to you, you have to beat two guys. I need to get there as fast as I can and help my team get off the field."
Last year at this time, Barmore was in the midst of a seven-game absence due to a knee injury. He ended up playing just 29% of the defensive snaps, which was a disappointment, following a 2021 rookie season that sparked promise after the team traded up to select him in the second round.
This year, entering Sunday's home game against the Los Angeles Chargers (1 p.m. ET, CBS), the Alabama alum has played in all 11 games and been on the field for 61.6% of the defensive snaps. Captain Deatrich Wise Jr. is the only defensive lineman who has played more (64.3%).
"The main thing is he's been healthy, and you see his game growing and growing because of it," veteran Patriots defensive tackle Davon Godchaux said. "Very quick in the passing game. A good penetrator, disruptive on third down. He's getting more confident each game and less hesitant."
Barmore has four sacks, which is tied for the team lead, and his 30 tackles are ninth on the team but don't fully reflect the strides he's made as a run defender who has worked hard to keep his legs moving to powerfully occupy blockers and allow others to make plays behind him.
That has been the area the 24-year-old Barmore, who will enter the final year of his contract in 2024, feels he's grown the most.
"I just want to be the guy that does everything right for this team," he said. "You can't be a selfish player. You have to be a team player, and a guy that makes the team trust me. I want to make my team understand 'I have your back and I'm coming with it every time.'"
2. Mac's role: With Bailey Zappe set to start at quarterback against the Chargers, and Malik Cunningham elevated from the practice squad to chip in at receiver and possibly as a change-of-pace quarterback in a specific package, where does that leave former starter Mac Jones? Barring an unexpected change, the expectation is that Jones will still be part of the game-day roster as the team wasn't planning to enter the game with just Zappe and Cunningham.
3. Kicking into gear: Chad Ryland's missed 35-yard field goal that would have tied last Sunday's score against the Giants -- which came after he missed a 35-yarder in the previous game -- led the Patriots to quickly put together a workout with five free agent kickers two days later. Those involved said they didn't receive word of the tryout until Monday morning. That's how quickly things happen in the NFL, serving up a reminder of something former Patriots punter Josh Miller (2004-06) used to say: While competition might not be directly in the locker room, it's always only a phone call away. Following the Monday tryout, the Patriots signed Matthew Wright to the practice squad.
4. Zeke's health: Veteran running back Ezekiel Elliott (95 carries, 377 yards, 4.0 YPC, 2 TDs) said his strained thigh responded as he hoped it would in Friday's practice. So, although he was listed as questionable on the injury report, Elliott believed it was nothing that would keep him out of Sunday's game against the Chargers. He played a season-low 15 snaps last week compared to Rhamondre Stevenson's 53.
5. In-stadium practice: With the Patriots returning to play at home for the first time since Nov. 5, coach Bill Belichick held Friday's practice inside Gillette Stadium, saying it would be beneficial for players to refamiliarize themselves with the setting. One drawback to the decision for players: The synthetic grass surface is generally not preferred over the natural grass practice fields, with some players remarking late Friday that their bodies could feel the difference.
6. MNF flex: There was a slice of irony in the Patriots being involved with the first-ever game flexed out of Monday Night Football, with their Week 15 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs moved to Sunday Dec. 17. Patriots owner Robert Kraft, as chairman of the NFL's Broadcast Media Committee, had been a proponent of the new rule that allows the NFL to flex games in and out of Monday for Weeks 12-17, ensuring the likelihood of more competitive late-season games in prime time. The Patriots still have prime-time games Dec. 7 (at Pittsburgh) and Dec. 24 (at Denver), which perhaps dulls the sting for Kraft in having his team bumped, as the NFL experiments with the rule for the first time to see if it has staying power.
7. Updated draft percentage: Per ESPN Analytics, the Patriots have an 83% chance to earn a top-5 pick in the 2024 NFL draft and a 10% chance to land the No. 1 overall pick. Both are the third-highest of any team, trailing only the Bears (via the Panthers) and Cardinals.
8. They said it: "It's the ultimate team game, and right now we're not doing a good job of putting it all together. It pisses me off, because week in and week out, Bill [Belichick] comes up there and tells us what we need to do, and we don't do it." -- Safety Jabrill Peppers, as part of his passionate response to having comments caught on a hot mic after last week's loss to the Giants, when Peppers told former teammate Saquon Barkley: "You lucky we ass."
9. Did you know -- Part I: The Patriots have recorded seven straight wins over the Chargers (including playoffs), with the last loss coming in Week 6 of the 2008 season (30-10) when Philip Rivers totaled 306 passing yards and three TDs.
10. Did you know -- Part II: The Patriots and Packers are the only teams in the NFL who haven't had a receiver with a 100-yard game this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.