ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Shortly after 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, the three quarterbacks who began the year together on the Patriots’ roster -- affectionately dubbed the “Wolfpack” by its leader -- will all do the same thing: They will take the first offensive snap from center as the starters for their respective teams.
No one could have seen this unfolding at the start of the year -- maybe two of them, but not all three -- which highlights one of the most surprising stories of the Patriots’ 2017 season.
Tom Brady leads the Patriots into action against the host Bills, Jimmy Garoppolo makes his starting debut with the 49ers at the Bears (a homecoming for him), and Jacoby Brissett continues to gain experience as Andrew Luck’s injury replacement with the Colts visiting the Jaguars.
The turn of events was noted at One Patriot Place during the week, from the locker room to the coaching offices.
“It’s a credit to the development of the football factory,” receiver Danny Amendola said with a smile.
Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels and his assistant, Jerry Schuplinski, in particular, can especially take some added pride in what is about to unfold Sunday.
Three quarterbacks starting the year with the Patriots and then all being in starting roles in Week 13? A lot of things have to fall into place for that to unfold. It might never happen in another season again.
2a. Did You Know, Part I (via ESPN’s Stats & Information): With a win over the Bills, the Patriots would guarantee that they reach 10 victories for a 15th straight season. The only team to ever have a longer streak was the 49ers from 1983-98, which of course, were many of the San Francisco teams Brady was rooting for as a youngster.
2b. Did You Know, Part II (via ESPN’s Stats & Information): Brady has won 10 games as a starter in a season 14 times, which is tied with Peyton Manning for the most such seasons in the Super Bowl era. He can break that tie Sunday against the Bills.
3. Patriots captain Devin McCourty is in his eighth NFL season, and last week was a first for him. The safety, who had never played on offense in his career, came on to the field for three offensive snaps at the end of the game. His job was simple: Stand about 10 yards behind Brady as he took a knee to end the game, and use his speed and tackling ability in the unexpected event the defense came up with the ball.
It’s a responsibility usually given to special-teams captain Matthew Slater, but with Slater sidelined with a hamstring injury, wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea informed McCourty he’d be filling the role. No, the Patriots didn’t practice the play beforehand, but McCourty had some fun with it nonetheless.
“We can’t have [Brandin] Cooks back there trying to tackle somebody!” he said, with a smile. “I was telling Chris [Gasper of the Boston Globe] on his podcast that I’ve now taken the field with three future Hall of Famers: Tom [Brady], Randy Moss and Gronk.”
The reference to Moss was connected to how he had played on defense to defend the Hail Mary play, which is a role Gronkowski has filled as well.
4. Here is a stat that reflects the difference between Patriots quarterback stability and excellence from 2000-17 compared to their opponent on Sunday, the Bills: Brady has 38 career passing touchdowns in his career at New Era Field (formerly known as Ralph Wilson Stadium), and since 2000, the most by any player there is Ryan Fitzpatrick with 39. Fitzpatrick, of course, played for the Bills from 2009-12 and then played a handful of other road games there.
5a. With the Jaguars committed to play one home game in London per season through 2020, the Patriots are a possibility to be their foe across the pond in 2018. But here’s a thought: If you’re the NFL, with the Jaguars one of the surprise stories of the year and still in need of building momentum in their home market after too many down years in a row, is it worth taking the league’s marquee team out of Jacksonville next year? Especially when Patriots visits to Jacksonville in the regular season have been so rare (1997, 2006, 2012).
5b. Jaguars 2018 “home” opponents that are options to be London opponents: Patriots, Jets, Eagles, Redskins, Colts, Texans, Titans, AFC North team that finishes in the same spot as Jaguars in 2017 standings.
6. The Patriots play the first of three straight road games Sunday in Orchard Park, and coming out of their early-November bye had long plane trips to Colorado and Mexico City. So it seemed timely to ask some players if the team’s new plane has helped them in any way (e.g. from a rest and recovery standpoint). That idea didn’t gain much traction from the handful of players I asked this past week. While the first-class seats were noted as a positive, most said travel wasn’t much different for them this year.
7. One reason why Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and Brady are viewed as leading MVP candidates: Wentz, who leads the Eagles into action against the host Seahawks on Sunday night, could become just the third quarterback in NFL history with at least 30 touchdown passes and five or fewer interceptions through his team’s first 12 games (he has 28 TDs and 5 INTs). Only Brady (2007) and Aaron Rodgers (2011, 2014) accomplished the feat, and Brady (26 TDs, 3 INTs) might add this year to his résumé depending on how things unfold Sunday.
8. Many media members covering the Patriots submitted their votes this week for the 2017 Ron Hobson Good Guy Award, an honor that was created last year as a way to acknowledge and say thanks to someone in the organization who professionally fulfills obligations. Slater was the 2016 winner and a large plaque hangs in the team’s media workroom that also honors Hobson, a longtime beat writer for the Patriot Ledger who covered the original Boston Patriots in 1960 and played a significant role in the franchise relocating to Foxborough in the early 1970s.
9a. Did You Know, Part I: Bill Belichick has a 60-12 (.833) record in December as coach of the Patriots, which is the best record in December among head coaches with one team in NFL history (minimum 25 games). George Seifert is second (27-6, 818).
9b. Did You Know, Part II: And then there was one. The Patriots, who bring a 13-game road winning streak into New Era Field on Sunday, are the only team in the NFL to be undefeated on the road this season (5-0).
10. This marks the second straight year that Brady didn’t practice on the Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, as an Achilles injury has had him getting extra treatment each of the past two Wednesdays. Last year, it was his knee that kept him out of practice. In each case, Brady had no doubt that he would play, and he has been completely removed from the injury report by the end of each of the past two weeks. It’s almost as if he has taken a longer-range view each of the past two years at this time on the calendar, which could be compared to a car going in for a tune-up at a certain mileage. Just getting it ready for what he hopes is a longer road trip into January and possibly early February.