Patriots teammates, coaches rally around Joe Cardona's military gesture

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. As an active member of the Navy, Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona hoped to do something this week for military members. Turns out he wasn't alone.

Cardona spoke proudly Friday in relaying how his teammates and the coaching staff supported his efforts by donating 200 tickets for military members to attend Sunday night's Super Bowl LI rematch against the Atlanta Falcons at Gillette Stadium.

"It's a number that far exceeded expectations," Cardona said. "It was a collaborative effort. I was talking to Matt Slater, we were thinking of ways to reach out, especially to our local military community, and show how much we value them. My point of view was, 'Let's give these men and women the experience of coming to a big game.' Let's get them a personal feel, them being our personal guests, guests of the team."

With widespread support throughout the locker room, as well as the coaching staff and ownership, things came together quickly. The 200 service men and women will be on the field before the game, each with an all-access pass of sorts to take a look behind the scenes.

Cardona sees this gesture as being mutually beneficial to players as well, which is part of his goal of "bridging the civilian-military divide."

"One percent of the population in the United States raises their hand and swears to protect and defend the constitution," Cardona explained. "With such a small number of people serving now in our great, all-volunteer force, it's become more of a divide between the civilian world and military world. So one personal goal of mine is to bridge that gap and also the narrow divide and mentality between a war fighter and a professional athlete where performance is so important. Also, the brotherhood between those of us in the locker room is very similar to those many units around the country that are serving all over the world."

Patriots players and coaches each receive two tickets to home games and have the opportunity to purchase others. That's where the 200-ticket allotment came from.

Slater, a 10-year veteran and one of the team's longtime captains, commended Cardona for his efforts while adding some of his own perspective. "I think we all have an understanding of what's been going on in the NFL over the course of the season and dating back to last year. It goes without saying what our team did here, how a lot of guys felt strongly about certain things, but as a Christian I believe we should always be working on bringing people together and focusing more on what we have in common and trying to make people feel loved and included," he said.

"It's important to us that the military knows that those in this locker room, those in this building, we support them, we appreciate what they do and we understand that we wouldn't be able to live the lives we do without them.

"I really appreciate Joe going out of his way, understanding that he's been put in a very difficult situation with his background and everything going on, to lead and spearhead this, to get these men and women here Sunday. I'm proud of him for the leadership he's shown. And I'm proud we'll be able to have those men and women here."

2. Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was named a practice player of the week, an honor the coaches award to players who are deemed to give the team the best look in the days leading up to a victory. He was honored for his work prior to the Oct. 15 win over the Jets. Garoppolo had to step in for Tom Brady, who didn't practice much last week because of what the team called a left shoulder injury. The team doesn't have another quarterback on its roster or practice squad.

"It's a little thing, but it's always good when the coaches recognize you like that," Garoppolo said. "It was a busy week for me last week. The whole scout team has been real good this year."

Practice players of the week wear black jerseys throughout the week in recognition of their status. The Falcons, this week’s opponents, do something similar with their "teammate of the week" award.

3. Garoppolo, who is patiently waiting for his chance to be a starter in the NFL, takes his role as scout-team quarterback seriously. And it's most appreciated by his teammates.

"Each week the quarterback is different, and Jimmy does a great job giving us the look we need to see,” safety Duron Harmon said. "Whether it's Deshaun Watson -- he did a great job scrambling around in practice and finding open receivers -- or whether it was Jameis Winston or, this week, Matt Ryan, standing in the pocket and trying to throw the ball downfield and utilizing all his receivers.

"And then he's just a good quarterback. We see him in practice, all the throws he makes. The touch he has on the ball. The deep balls and how accurate he is on them. It lets you know how good he is. He just has to wait for his time."

4. The Patriots know they have a big decision to make on Garoppolo, with his contract expiring after the season and Garoppolo scheduled for unrestricted free agency. It would be smart business for them to try to extend his contract, but as Bill Belichick often says, it takes two sides to make a deal. If Garoppolo truly wants a chance to start next season, it wouldn't make much sense for him to lock himself into an extension now, unless it was a one-year deal that split the projected franchise-tag figure over 2017 and 2018.

5. Travel itinerary, Part I: The Falcons arrived in Providence on Friday, continuing their practice of leaving on all road trips two days before the game, regardless of time zone. One thought behind the decision is that it gives players and coaches a chance for more bonding on the road, where there are often fewer distractions.

6. Travel itinerary, Part II: The Patriots are home in Weeks 7-8, then have a well-placed bye, before taking what will be their longest trip of the season. Barring a late change, the team will travel to Denver for their Nov. 12 game against the Broncos, then stay in the region for the week before continuing on to Mexico City for their Nov. 19 game against the Raiders.

7. With Patriots cornerback Eric Rowe set to miss another game with a groin injury, one thing to keep in mind is how his reduced playing time will affect the trade the team made to acquire him last year. If Rowe plays more than 50 percent of the snaps this year, the Patriots will send a 2018 third-round pick to the Eagles. If it's fewer than 50 percent of the snaps, the pick will be a fourth-rounder. Rowe is currently at 21.6 percent, a number that will decrease after Sunday night's game against the Falcons. The longer he's out, the more it solidifies the pick being a fourth-rounder.

8. Even after missing one game and being knocked out of another late in the third quarter, Rob Gronkowski has still played 74 percent of the offensive snaps to this point. Gronkowski has multiple ways to increase his salary from $5.25 million to potentially up to $10.75 million, and playing time is one avenue to do so. The 70-percent marker, where he is now, ups his pay to $6.75 million, while 80 percent makes it $8.75 million and 90 percent would make it $10.75 million. Gronkowski is still within striking distance of the top playing-time tier.

9. Three of the greatest players in Patriots history -- John Hannah, Mike Haynes and Andre Tippett -- will be presented with the Hall of Fame Ring of Excellence during halftime of the Patriots-Falcons game on Sunday night. The Ring of Excellence is one of three iconic symbols that represent the elite status of being a Pro Football Hall of Famer, along with the Gold Jacket and Bronzed Bust. The Bronzed Busts of all three are being temporarily moved from the Pro Football Hall of Fame to Gillette Stadium for the presentation.

10a. Did You Know: Brett Hundley steps in for the injured Aaron Rodgers to become just the seventh quarterback to start for the Packers since 1992 (Brett Favre's first year with Green Bay), which is the lowest total in the NFL. The Giants (9), Patriots (10) and Steelers (13) are next on the list.

10b. Did You Know, Part II: The 10 Patriots starting quarterbacks since 1992 are Hugh Millen, Scott Zolak, Tommy Hodson, Jeff Carlson, Drew Bledsoe, Scott Secules, Tom Brady, Matt Cassel, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett.