FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and the NFL:
1. There are many notable storylines leading into Sunday’s rematch of last season's AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and Jaguars, which includes the owners’ box for both teams.
If the Patriots win, it will be the 300th victory of Robert Kraft’s ownership tenure, which is a benchmark-type number. Jaguars owner Shad Khan hopes the Jaguars deny Kraft that milestone, but at the same time, he is happy to acknowledge the success of someone who has quickly become a close friend.
“Robert was the first owner who called when it was announced that I had made a deal to purchase the Jaguars from Wayne [Weaver] and [his wife,] Delores. And he was the first owner who called me when the deal actually closed on Jan. 4, 2012. He said, ‘Welcome to a life of experiencing the highest of highs and the lowest of lows -- that’s the NFL, and there is nothing like it.’ And he was right,” Khan told ESPN.com.
If win No. 300 comes Sunday against the Jaguars, it would be in the 430th game of Kraft’s ownership tenure -- easily the fastest a franchise has hit the mark in an ownership tenure. The Broncos reached 300 wins for owner Pat Bowlen in his 30th season (501 games), while the Raiders hit the mark for Al Davis in his 31st season (495 games).
The connection between Kraft and Khan is one of several between the Patriots and Jaguars, which includes the small role that Bill Belichick helped play in the Jaguars’ recent turnaround.
Said Khan: “Robert has always been very cordial and welcoming to me and my family. He’s had phenomenal success on the field, but he’s also a very rational, reasonable and excellent businessperson with exceptional personal skills.
“One of the pleasant surprises of my first NFL meeting was finding myself across from Robert and Jonathan [Kraft] thanks to the seating arrangement they have, and that continues today. With Robert and Jonathan sitting across from me throughout the day, I am always guaranteed to learn something from them.”
2. Tom Brady wore a new helmet in a season-opening win over the Texans, an updated model that provides him more protection. He had also experimented with it in the preseason -- including different options with the accompanying facemask -- and his comfort level with the change is still evolving. “The other one is pretty darn good,” he told me this week of the helmet he has worn since his early years in the league. “I haven’t decided [if it’s a permanent switch]. It just fits so tight. It’s good, but we’ll see how it goes. I’m not a full convert.”
3a. The weather forecast in Jacksonville calls for temperatures in the mid-90s at kickoff, with thick humidity, which was something Patriots players had on their radar throughout training camp. More recently, when the team practiced in 90-degree heat and humidity on Sept. 3, center David Andrews said afterward, “This should be good for Jacksonville.” Bill Belichick came out of the preseason feeling as if the Patriots were in good condition, and this game, in these elements, will be a good barometer of that.
3b. Sometimes Florida-based teams elect to put the Patriots in their darker home blue uniforms for early-season games in the Florida heat, but not so this week. The Patriots will be in their traditional road whites for Sunday’s game in Jacksonville.
3c. One more Jacksonville nugget: One local radio host, prior to my Thursday interview on 92.5 FM, opined that this might be the biggest regular-season game in Jaguars history (1995-present). That’s a good preview of the type of environment the Patriots can expect.
4. Eric Mangini was once in the same position as Lions coach Matt Patricia -- a former Belichick assistant in his first year as a head coach -- so I made it a point to seek out what he said about the Lions’ disappointing debut under Patricia.
“First of all, I struggle with the narrative of ‘everybody who leaves Belichick is lost,’” Mangini said on the “Cover 2” podcast on Patriots.com with Don Banks and Nick Stevens. “As a first-year head coach, it’s hard. You don’t realize what you don’t know. That’s true whether you come from Bill’s family tree, or Andy Reid’s family tree, or whoever’s it is. It takes time, and you get better as a head coach. When you look at Belichick’s progression, people forget, Bill had one winning season in his first six years as a head coach -- in Cleveland . There needs to be some patience with any situation. ...
“You’re learning who you are as a team, you’re getting a better sense of who you’re playing with each week of film. I doubt very much that Matthew Stafford is going to struggle like he did every single game. This is a team that has a lot of potential offensively, and then defensively, it’s going to be how quickly they adapt to Matt’s scheme, and how good a job Matt does in saying, ‘We can’t do the things I want to do yet, so we have to really focus on the things we do well.’ Sometimes you can get caught up in -- especially as a rookie head coach -- trying to push everything forward too fast. Sometimes you have to take a step back and just say, ‘We need to do the basic things a lot better, and then we’ll get to Phase 2 and Phase 3.’”
5. Former Patriots running back Brandon Bolden has made a favorable impression quickly with the Dolphins. In Thursday morning’s special teams meeting, coach Darren Rizzi said he made it a point to highlight how Bolden was with the team for just four days but didn’t have a single mental mistake in a season-opening win over the Titans, while delivering a “huge block” on a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
6. Safety Patrick Chung (10th NFL season) was flattered to be named a first-time Patriots captain this season, which he called a blessing. Maybe the only downside? He loses some sleep because he’s now required to be at the stadium for a weekly captain’s meeting with Belichick at the 7 a.m. hour.
7. Did you know: Alabama had the most players on NFL rosters in Week 1 of the season, with 44. LSU was second, with 40.
8. From the things-that-might-only-interest-me file: The Patriots used three defensive linemen on their field-goal protection unit in the season opener -- Deatrich Wise Jr., Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton. Those spots most often go to offensive linemen and tight ends/fullbacks, but the club probably didn't want to expose right tackle Marcus Cannon to extra work as they managed his conditioning and calf injury after not playing in the preseason. Ever since Rob Gronkowski injured his forearm playing on the protection unit in 2012, my eye has always been drawn to what personnel the Patriots employ on that unit.
9. When the Patriots signed receiver Bennie Fowler to a one-year deal on Tuesday, it provided a springboard to revisit how he occupies a unique spot in NFL history. Fowler was the last player to catch a pass from Peyton Manning, a two-point conversion in Super Bowl 50. Fowler, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan State in 2014, later gave the football to Manning as a keepsake. As it turns out, Fowler won't have a chance to catch a pass from Tom Brady, as Fowler was released Saturday so the team could promote offensive tackle Cole Croston from the practice squad to account for much-needed depth at the position. The release of Fowler was the Patriots' 21st transaction at wide receiver since July 23. With the Bills releasing receiver Jeremy Kerley on Saturday, my first thought was that perhaps the Patriots would consider him for the 22nd move. Josh Gordon? My hunch would be no.
10. Three stat-based nuggets in the Patriots-Jaguars game:
Tom Brady can earn his 225th career victory (including playoffs), which could move him into a tie with Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri for the top spot in NFL history (depending on the Colts’ result vs. Washington at 1 p.m.).
If Tom Brady connects with Rob Gronkowski for 61 yards, the tandem will pass the duo of Tony Romo/Jason Witten (7,287 yards) for the second-most passing yards between a quarterback/tight end combination. Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates are first (8,954).
The Jaguars are one of seven NFL teams that Brady has an undefeated regular-season record against (5-0), joining the Falcons (5-0), Bears (4-0), Cowboys (4-0), Lions (4-0), Vikings (4-0) and Buccaneers (4-0).