FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts/notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. What a difference a week makes when it comes to pregame hype surrounding a Patriots contest. Last week's buildup versus the Bills was off the charts, while today's game against the Jaguars lacks the same buzz. The excitement, in some ways, comes in the form of four players approaching significant milestones:
Rob Gronkowski needs one touchdown to hit 60 for his career, and will become just the fifth tight end to record at least 60 career touchdowns. He's on course to easily become the fastest tight end to hit 60, as today marks his 68th career game. For a comparison, it took Tony Gonzalez 154 games to hit the 60 mark, and Antonio Gates 110 games.
Receiver Julian Edelman can become the first player to have 10-plus receptions in the first three games of a season. No player in the NFL has been targeted more than Edelman this season (31);
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski has made 419 consecutive extra points and could break Matt Stover's NFL record of 422 straight.
2. Devin McCourty is one of the NFL's highest-paid safeties, inking a five-year, $47.5 million contract with the Patriots this past March. But if McCourty wanted to go for top dollar, he could have been playing against the Patriots today, not for them. One of the behind-the-scenes stories from McCourty's free-agent experience was that Jacksonville viewed him as an elite player worthy of an even richer deal, at $10 million-plus per year. The Jaguars flattered McCourty in the legal tampering period (the Eagles and Giants did too), and McCourty was strongly considering the possibility in Jacksonville if the Patriots didn't up the ante late in the process.
3. Dion Lewis has emerged as the Patriots' top passing back, playing 119 of a possible 147 snaps through the first two games, and he relayed to me that it wasn't until 2013 that he viewed himself through the lens of a third-down back. Lewis said his time with the Browns under Norv Turner changed his outlook and how he could fit that type of role. Even at his size, the 5-foot-8, 195 pound Lewis had viewed himself more as an early-down option going all the way to his college career at Pittsburgh. The NFL stats reflect that, as in 24 games with the Eagles in 2011 and 2012, he totaled three receptions. Lewis, who celebrates his 25th birthday today, already has 10 catches this year.
4. If the Patriots are to swing a trade for a cornerback, where their overall quality and depth is questionable, I wonder if they'd explore how willing Kansas City might be to swap third-year man Marcus Cooper (Rutgers). The Chiefs will be getting top cornerback Sean Smith back from suspension after Week 3, and they drafted Marcus Peters (first round) and Steven Nelson (third round). Cooper, who the Patriots attempted to claim on waivers from San Francisco in 2013 but were trumped by Kansas City, was inactive for the season opener and played just one snap in Week 2.
5. With the Jaguars coming to town, I asked Bill Belichick his recollections of the 1996 AFC Championship Game when Bill Parcells' New England squad recorded a 20-6 win over Tom Coughlin's Jacksonville team. Belichick was a defensive assistant that year in New England, and he quickly recalled Otis Smith scooping up a fumble and returning it 47 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown. The Jaguars had started play as an expansion team in 1995, and that game remains one of the biggest in franchise history, right behind the 1999 AFC title game at home against Tennessee.
6. No one is using the empty formation (no one in the backfield) more than the Patriots through the first two weeks of the season. According to ESPN tracking, 23 percent of the Patriots' offensive plays have come out of the empty formation, which easily puts them atop the charts followed by Oakland (16.5 percent), Dallas (15.2) and the Jets (13.1). Brady has completed 25 passes out of the empty formation this year, with the next-best quarterback at 11. So "empty" is filling up the stat sheet in New England.
7a. Did You Know, Part I: If it seems like you're seeing more yellow on the field, you are. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there were 298 accepted penalties in Week 2 and 504 accepted penalties through Week 2, both of which are the most in a single week (minimum 6 games) and through the first two weeks of a season in NFL history. Along those lines, the referee for today's Patriots-Jaguars game is Walt Coleman.
7b. Did You Know, Part II: The Jets have beaten 30 NFL franchises but never the Eagles, who they host today. They're 0-9 all-time against the Eagles.
7c. Did You Know, Part III: The Jets are off to a 2-0 start and the defense leads the way. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Jets are the first team to have five or more takeaways in each of its first two games since the 1992 Steelers. Call it the Darrelle Revis Effect.
8. With their bye next weekend, the Patriots draw the earliest possible break on the schedule along with the Titans. Byes go from Week 4 to 11 and teams generally like them in the middle of the season. The last time the team had the bye this early was the 11-5 season in 2008, which coincidentally is the last time the Patriots didn't make the playoffs. Of course, that had less to do with the early bye and much more to do with Brady tearing his ACL on the 15th offensive play of the season opener. Go back a little further and the Patriots had a Week 3 bye in the Super Bowl championship 2004 season.
9. Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said he developed a connection with Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles through being part of the same 2014 draft class. The two spent four days together at the NFL combine and also took one team visit with each other on the same day. This past week, Garoppolo (No. 62 overall) studied Bortles (No. 3 overall) closely as part of his work running the scout team, as his size and athleticism stood out to him. The focus on the scout team is something Garoppolo has taken seriously. “Every week, I try to tell myself,' I'm going to take one thing from this guy's game, and one thing from this guy's game, and put it towards my own.' All of them are so different. You see if it works for you,” he said, before relaying one example: “Let's put it this way; [Aaron] Rodgers last year, I stole a couple things from him and they've been working pretty well for me.”
10. The Patriots have run 10 plays this season with four or more tight ends on the field, while the rest of the NFL has run nine combined. Why so many? Part of it is that the Patriots aren't carrying a pure fullback after starter James Develin broke his leg in the preseason and landed on injured reserve, so they're going with four tight ends instead of the regular three. The four-TE package has been especially effective in the red zone, producing four touchdowns.