NEW ORLEANS -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. When Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower injured his right knee in the season opener but remained on the sideline the rest of the game -- at one point riding a stationary bike -- it was generally viewed as a sign that the injury wasn’t severe and might not even keep him out one week. Since that time, I’m told that Hightower sought a second opinion over the last week from Dr. James Andrews. When I saw Hightower a few days ago, he didn’t confirm plans to visit Andrews, but he also didn’t deny it, only saying with a smile, “I’m OK.” That Hightower was believed to be seeking more clarity on the injury days after the opener was notable to me based on the initial optimism. This is the same knee that led to him beginning training camp on the physically unable to perform list.
1b. Contract note: As part of the four-year pact he signed with the Patriots in the offseason, Hightower can earn up to $875,000 in roster bonuses, which are paid in $54,687 per-game installments if he's on the 46-man game-day roster. That’s a higher total than most players. Hightower has already been ruled out for the Patriots’ Week 2 game against the Saints.
2. Remember the neat story about how Patriots running back James White was given a truck by late-night television host Conan O’Brien for his Super Bowl heroics? Here’s the postscript to it: As White told the "Toucher and Rich" program on 98.5 The Sports Hub last Tuesday, while appreciative of the gesture, he has traded the truck in. “I tried to give it a shot, for like two months,” he said with a smile. “Some people really like trucks. I just never [did].” White added that he thought about keeping the truck as a reminder of the Super Bowl, but when it became clear to him that he wouldn’t drive it, and no one in his family drives trucks, he parted ways with it. So White is back to showing up to Gillette Stadium each day in a BMW.
3. Call it a delay-of-plane penalty. The Patriots’ highly-touted new 767 Boeing wide-body jets aren’t yet ready for takeoff, so the club didn’t travel on them en route to Sunday’s game in New Orleans. Perhaps the game plan calls for them to be ready for the next road game, Oct. 5 at Tampa Bay.
4. Three leftovers from a Q&A with Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo:
Playing the scout team role of Drew Brees in practice: “Loved it. Every week is a different offense that you get to run, and the Saints have a very unique and fun offense to run. A lot of vertical stuff. It makes for a fun practice.”
Eastern Illinois reunion with Saints coach Sean Payton and CBS analyst Tony Romo: “We’ll have a big celebration [smiling]; I’ve heard that a bunch. All we’re missing is Kamu [Grugier-Hill]; he’s with Philadelphia. It’s a small group of us, but three of the four coming together is pretty unique. It will be cool.”
Patriots’ QB room down to two: “We did it for my first two years here, just me and Tom [Brady], so we’re kind of just back to that. I don’t know if it’s changed too much, especially now that the season has started, we’re nonstop grinding and everything. We have a good room. Good conversations going on in there. Plenty to learn.”
5. Did You Know: Rookies combined for 1,361 scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns in Week 1, which is the most yards and touchdowns totaled by rookies in opening-week games since the 1970 merger, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information. With Kareem Hunt (Chiefs), Leonard Fournette (Jaguars) and Dalvin Cook (Vikings) all hitting the 100-yard rushing mark, they will look to become the first rookies to total 100 or more in each of their first two games since Cadillac Williams did it for the Buccaneers in 2005.
6. One somewhat overlooked storyline that has challenged Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio in forming the Patriots' 53-man roster is how injuries to core special-teams players Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner have the Patriots carrying so many special-teams-only players. In addition to Slater and Ebner, the team also has Johnson Bademosi, Brandon Bolden, Brandon King and Marquis Flowers in that category. It’s hard to imagine there is another NFL team that has devoted six roster spots to special-teams-only players (not including kickers, punters and snappers). In turn, that has taxed the team’s depth in other areas.
7. When Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks addressed reporters a few weeks ago and a photo of him during the interview was shared on social media, the sheer volume of gloves in his locker caught the attention of some. Why so many gloves? Cooks later explained that he usually wears one pair of gloves per week, breaking them in during practice and then using them during a game, then starting over. The stock in his locker came with him from New Orleans, which is why he had so many gloves.
How is Brandin Cooks feeling? "I feel amazing. I'm 23 years old. I feel like I'm playing Pop Warner again, just running around, having fun." pic.twitter.com/zz9YK45d1f— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) August 28, 2017
8. With the Patriots visiting the Saints, it’s timely to revisit the team’s decision-making process in the first round of the 2011 draft. Picking at No. 17, it’s my understanding that the club was ultimately deciding between left tackle Nate Solder and defensive lineman Cameron Jordan. They went with Solder, who has been solid. Meanwhile, the Saints nabbed Jordan at No. 24, and he has been one of their best selections in recent years. Part of what makes Jordan so unique is that he seldom comes off the field. He played more than 90 percent of the defensive snaps last year.
9. Another Saints-based storyline with a Patriots twist today: Will undrafted rookie receiver Austin Carr, a preseason fan favorite in New England who was claimed on waivers by the Saints on Sept. 3, be active for the game? Carr is behind Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr., Brandon Coleman and Tommylee Lewis on the receiver depth chart and was inactive for the season opener. While the Patriots are currently managing a receiver shortage -- and some point out that Carr could have helped -- Carr never seemed like he was part of the team’s plans when putting together its roster and practice squad.
10. The NFL was pleased that 10 of the 15 games from opening week were played in less than three hours, as speeding up games is somewhat of a point of emphasis for the league this year. Patriots-Chiefs was the week’s longest game, checking in at 3 hours, 37 minutes. The next closest game was Cardinals-Lions at 3 hours, 26 minutes. Meanwhile, the Cowboys-Giants game, at 2 hours, 48 minutes, was the shortest game of the week.