FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. When the Patriots approached cornerback Jason McCourty about adjusting his contract prior to the regular season -- which meant trimming his base salary of $2.375 million to $1.6 million and giving him a chance to make up the difference in incentives -- McCourty could have balked. He didn’t, even though it wasn’t the news he wanted to hear.
“Once it’s done, however it turns out, you take it and try to make the most of it,” he said. “At that point, you don’t end training camp and say ‘Boom! We’re moving across the country. I wanted to be here.”
McCourty has made the most of it as he’s on pace to recoup the lost money -- and then some. He earns $200,000 if he hits 40 percent playing time, and an additional $200,000 at 50, 60, 70 and 80 percent. He also can earn $400,000 in per-game roster bonuses.
Since taking over for Eric Rowe as a starter after two series of the team’s Week 2 loss to the Jaguars, McCourty has now played 252 of 350 possible defensive snaps (72 percent).
As part of the sweetened contract he agreed to in August, Brady can earn $1 million apiece if he is top five in passer rating (currently 13th), completion percentage (11th), yards per attempt (26th), touchdown passes (tied-third) and passing yards (19th) among qualified quarterbacks.
Meanwhile, Gronkowski can earn $1.1 million apiece for 70 or more catches, 1,085 receiving yards, 80 percent playing time, and nine or more touchdown catches. He is slightly behind the pace, with 23 receptions for 308 yards and one touchdown, but he’s in good shape to hit the playing-time benchmark as he’s been on for 298 of 334 offensive snaps (89.2 percent).
Incentives can be a delicate balance between motivating a player to perform well but also potentially creating a situation where the player’s personal interests could be placed ahead of the team.
Fortunately for the Patriots, that hasn’t been an issue -- whether it’s McCourty, Brady or Gronkowski, with Gronkowski saying this week that it’s the last thing he’s worried about.
2. Watching former Patriots left tackle Nate Solder get beat on a play that resulted in Eli Manning getting strip-sacked near the goal-line on Thursday night sparked a question on which to follow up: Are the four major Patriots free-agent departures this offseason playing up to the rich contracts they received elsewhere? It isn’t a clear-cut analysis, because there is more to it than just on-field performance (e.g. intangibles, leadership etc.), but the answer at this point is closer to "no".
Solder: Signed to a four-year $60 million pact to help stabilize the Giants’ offensive line, the unit (and his play) has been inconsistent.
Malcolm Butler: Signed to a five-year, $61 million contract by the Titans, he has been prone to giving up the big play, but has contributed with an interception and forced fumble.
Dion Lewis: Signed to a four-year, $19.8 million contract by the Titans, he has 177 yards on 55 carries (3.2 avg.) and a touchdown, while adding 21 catches for 130 yards (6.2 avg.).
Danny Amendola: Signed to a two-year, $12 million contract by the Dolphins, he has 16 catches for 151 yards (9.4 avg.).
3. Did You Know: The Patriots didn’t allow a sack in each of the last two games, and if they can make it three straight on Sunday night against the Chiefs, it will be the first time since 2009 that the team went three or more games without allowing a sack. Tom Brady has said he wants to play until he's 45, and this is a good formula for him to accomplish that, as he's not getting hit often.
4. Something to keep in mind while watching Patriots-Chiefs: Kansas City center Mitch Morse was a player that New England wanted to select in the 2015 draft, according to Michael Lombardi. Lombardi would know, as he was serving his second year as assistant to the Patriots coaching staff in 2015, and part of the team's draft room. But the Chiefs, picking No. 49 overall, took Morse before the Patriots were picking at No. 64. So the Patriots selected safety Jordan Richards.
5. Former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, who is in his 10th season as a studio analyst for NBC’s Football Night in America, didn’t pull any punches when discussing what he views as shortcomings on the Patriots’ defense.
The overall unit: “This is a very, very slow defense. They can’t cover anyone, really. They are grabbing guys.”
Devin McCourty: “A liability in coverage. They tried to use him to cover some of the tight ends from the Colts -- even last year, he got beat by one of Kansas City’s tight ends. He’s not a cover guy.”
Dont’a Hightower: “[He] has lost a lot of explosiveness. He’s not running with the same speed. The injuries have taken a toll.”
6a. Stat of the week, Part I: The Patriots (3-2) have won 11 straight games against opponents that entered the matchup with a better record (Sunday's opponent, the Chiefs, are 5-0). According to Elias, that is tied for the seconnd-longest win streak in NFL history behind only the 2009-12 Steelers (12). The Patriots’ last such loss came against the Saints in 2009.
6b. Stat of the week, Part II: Quarterbacks under the age of 25 have posted an 0-23 record in regular-season games on the road against the Patriots since 2001. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes turned 23 last month.
6c. Stat of the week, Part III: No team has won three straight regular-season matchups against the Patriots in the Brady/Belichick era (since 2001), which is what would the Chiefs would accomplish if they defeat the Patriots on Sunday night.
7. “Fat Friday” is something many Patriots players look forward to each week as the team brings in food and players can indulge after a week of hard work. Prior to last year’s opener against the Chiefs -- a 42-27 loss -- players had P.F. Chang’s, but cornerback Eric Rowe made note that hasn’t been on the menu since (perhaps just a coincidence). Here is part of this year’s lineup:
Jaguars: Mac and Walt’s
Colts: Five Guys
8. Running back Kenjon Barner has been signed three different times by the Patriots since Sept. 12 -- a back-and-forth as a result of roster management to account for depth in other areas -- but his spot might be a bit more secure now. When the Eagles placed running back Jay Ajayi on injured reserve last Monday, bringing back Barner -- who played for them from 2014 to 2017 -- would have been an ideal move. But the Patriots had already moved to re-sign Barner a third time at that point. So if the Patriots let Barner go a fourth time, they might now have an aggressive suitor that could scoop him up and eliminate the possibility of him coming back to New England.
9. In a perfect world, the NFL likes its games to fit neatly in a three-hour window. With this as a springboard, last week’s Patriots-Colts game was the team’s longest of the season, at 3 hours, 14 minutes. So it goes when both teams heavily lean toward the pass. This year’s Patriots time breakdown:
vs. Texans: 3:12
at Jaguars: 3:02
at Lions: 2:47 (third fastest game in NFL this season behind Rams-Cardinals - 2:45/Week 2 - and Bills-Titans - 2:46/Week 5)
vs. Dolphins: 2:56
vs. Colts: 3:14
Of course, all of those games pale in comparison to the Titans-Dolphins game in Week 1 that was delayed twice by lightning and finished in a record 7:08.
10. Stephen Gostkowski has been a consistent kicker for the Patriots since 2006, having navigated a few dips over the years that is common for those at the position. Considering NFL-wide kicking issues this season, Gostkowski is off to a fantastic start to the year -- 7 of 8 on field goals and 16 of 16 on extra points. Across the NFL, there have been 75 missed kicks (field goals and extra points) through five weeks this season, the most through that span over the last 25 years. When teams are tied or down by three points or fewer in the fourth quarter or OT this season, the field goal percentage is 74.4 percent.