Sunday 7: Patriots bring historic respect to Lambeau Field

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1 – When the Patriots arrive at Lambeau Field for Sunday’s matchup with the Packers, they’ll be stepping into the NFL’s most historic venue. Though Lambeau has been updated with all the modern amenities and necessities, it still has a unique aura as the longtime home of the history-rich Green Bay franchise.

Obviously a man with a great appreciation for football history, Bill Belichick made sure to emphasize to his players this week just how special Lambeau Field and Packers’ history really are.

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“I had a chance to show the team some of the great Packer players, coaches, [Curly] Lambeau, so we all know who Lambeau is. Saw him on the sideline. [Clarke] Hinkle, [Cecil] Isbell, [Don] Hutson, great. Some of the great players there. Just connecting the dots a little bit there. Lot of tradition there, lot of tradition going into Lambeau. Seeing those names up on the stadium,” Belichick said.

“You see the films scan, on the scoreboard and you see those names up there, and the great players and coaches they've had there. It really brings back a lot of memories and appreciation for what this franchise has done and really how great they've been.”

2 – The 70-year-old noted football historian Belichick isn’t the only one who appreciates Lambeau Field’s spot history. New England’s players also noted this week that this isn’t just another road trip to just another stadium.

“It’s awesome,” veteran safety Devin McCourty said of preparing to play at Lambeau. “I think any time you get to go there and play a football game, because you understand what that place is. Not only about their tradition, but what it’s meant to the game of football and the NFL. Especially, I think we have a lot of young guys this will be their first time there, just enjoying that. Same thing, I remember my rookie year going to Solider Field in Chicago, just the history that comes along with that I think it’s just taking advantage and enjoying the moment of being able to say, you know, ‘I’m playing a football game at Lambeau Field.’ That’s a pretty cool feeling.”

“Anytime you get a chance to play at Lambeau, I think that's a pretty cool experience there,” veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer agreed.
“I heard Devin talking about it. It's a historic place. A historic organization.
But it's a great opportunity. Anytime you get to go in there and play.”

3 – Hoyer is of course the story of the day Sunday in Green Bay from a Patriots perspective. With Mac Jones out due to the ankle injury he suffered on the on the final offensive play of last week’s loss to the Ravens, Hoyer will start for New England, going head-to-head with Packers future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers.

Hoyer’s last start for the Patriots came in Week 4 of 2020, stepping in for Cam Newton in Kansas City due to COVID. It was a crazy week for Hoyer in a crazy season, and he quite honestly didn’t play too well in the 26-10 loss to the Chiefs that eventually saw him pulled in favor of Jarrett Stidham.

This time around Jones missed practice all week and Hoyer prepared as the starter all week.

“It’s obviously more beneficial than finding out Saturday morning that Cam has COVID and I’m thinking to myself, ‘I have COVID, I was around him all day yesterday.’ That was a unique year, a unique situation. For me, if I get to take more practice reps, that obviously is beneficial and hopefully you take that. Coach Belichick always says … practice execution becomes gameday reality. I know Julian [Edelman] likes to use that one a lot. I’ve heard it a million times. Obviously, hope it translates to that.”

4 – Hoyer has a 16-23 record as an NFL starter and has actually lost each of his last 11 starts. Hoyer’s last win as an NFL starter came in Week 4 of 2016 when he led the Bears to a 17-14 victory over the Lions.

Hoyer has an opportunity to get back on the field on Sunday and get back in the win column for the first time in a long time as a starter.

“At this point you don't know how many chances like this you get anymore,” Hoyer said, his 37th birthday set to arrive on Oct. 13. “So obviously, it's a part of the job. You're always ready to play. So for me, it's an opportunity to go out there and have fun, and go out and execute really.
Have fun. I really love my teammates, what they do, how hard they work. So an opportunity to go out there and play with those guys.”

And those guys sound like a group that has faith in their veteran backup, even in what is clearly a challenging spot.

“Overall as a team we have confidence in every guy in the locker room, Hoyer is no exception to that,” McCourty said. “Obviously a veteran guy. Been in a bunch of different offenses. The biggest thing since he’s been back here the second time is just his leadership and ability to help Mac out has been awesome. I think just the everyday of being able to watch those two guys go back and forth, Hoyer sharing his knowledge. So I think we have complete confidence in whoever steps on the field for us as a team and I think Hoyer is no exception to that. He’s probably one of the more veteran guys when it comes to guys going to him and asking questions and trying to pick up the things he knows from his time and experience in this league. So I think guys will be very confident in him.

“He’s seen so much, not just from playing with the Patriots but in this league. Guys already feel his brain power and what he’s brought. His presence has already been felt even when he’s not out there.”

5 – Hoyer originally arrived in New England as an undrafted rookie out of Michigan State in 2009. He beat out current Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell that summer for New England backup job behind Tom Brady. He’s gone on to have a long career seeing starting and backup action for the Patriots (three times), Cardinals, Steelers, Browns, Texans, Bears, 49ers and Colts. But it took until this week for many in New England to find out that Hoyer’s real first name is actually Axel.

“My dad’s name is Axel,” Hoyer explained. “I know I saw (Sports Illustrated writer) Albert Breer thought maybe it was like Beverley Hills Cop.
It’s actually a family name. My dad’s from Germany, so I think it’s a pretty common name there. I think my mom gave him the OK, like ‘we’ll name him Axel, but I’m only ever going to call him Brian.’ It’s all I’ve ever known. First and second grade roll call was always rough when the teacher would call out Axel and all the kids would laugh at me. Eventually my parents sent in a note and said, ‘he goes by Brian.’

6 – It’s interesting that Hoyer brought up his German heritage this week as the Patriots and other NFL teams will actually be wearing small decals on their back of their helmets over the next two weeks as part of the league’s international diversity initiative. According to the league, players will proudly wear a helmet decal of the country or territory's flag that represents their nationality or cultural heritage across Weeks 4 and 5. Indeed a photo gallery on Patriots.com showed Hoyer’s helmet with both a U.S. and German flag. McCourty, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and Matt Judon will be among the Patriots players taking part in the program.

7 – Prediction Time!: Sunday’s trip to Lambeau Field isn’t just an opportunity for Hoyer, but for the New England team as a whole. Sitting at 1-2 on the new year with Jones missing time, there is plenty of reason to doubt where the Patriots’ season is headed on the first weekend of October. A win over Aaron Rodgers and the well-respected Packers would not only pull New England to .500 but turn the tide of expectations. But the reality is that this is a tough spot for Hoyer and what is for now his team. The Packers have a good defense with a good pass rush. That’s a concern for New England as its line and pass protection have been inconsistent early on. Green Bay is likely going to try to run the ball and the Patriots will be without key cog Lawrence Guy up front. Rodgers is also beginning to seemingly build a rapport with his new receiving corps, including rookies Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson. The reality is that the Packers are the better team, with the better quarterback and better defense playing on its historic home turf. Sure if the Patriots can run the ball consistently with Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson while avoiding turnovers then New England has a chance to at least keep it close with Rodgers and Co. But that’s also a tough ask for a backup QB who’ll be without what should be his most reliable target in Jakobi Meyers. In the end this is a game the Packers should probably control from start to finish and win pretty easily. In the end this is a really tough spot for Hoyer and the Patriots, which will lead to something in the range of a 33-13 loss.

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