FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes on the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. A career that crosses generations: Tom Brady's remarkable longevity will be highlighted in a unique way Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC) -- for the first time in his 20-year career, he can now say he has played a regular-season game against a father and his son.
In 2001, Brady's first year as a starter, the Patriots beat the Browns 27-16 in a December game that Devin Bush Sr. started at safety for Cleveland.
Now, Brady is preparing to face the Steelers and their impressive first-round pick, linebacker Devin Bush Jr.
Brady was unaware of the father-son football connection when it was mentioned to him this week, but it hasn't been lost on the Bush family.
"It really hits you when you think about both of us living our dream of playing in the NFL, and to be playing against the same opponent, how many times does that happen?" said Bush Sr., who was drafted at No. 26 by the Falcons in 1996.
Bush, who won a Super Bowl with the Rams in the 1999 season, also laughed when asked what it says about Brady himself.
"That he's freakin' amazing," he said. "When I faced him, I didn't know as much about him. I'm from the era of Drew Bledsoe. I knew he was his replacement, so we were like, 'Let's go get this guy.' But now, I get a chance to say I played against one of the best quarterbacks ever. And my son can also say that, and it's the same guy."
Bush had seven tackles for the Browns in the 2001 game against Brady, who finished 19-of-28 for 218 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Corey Fuller returned one of the picks 47 yards for a touchdown, and Brady, with uncanny recall, said the Browns played Cover 4 on the play and he foolishly threw over the middle.
As for this week, Brady noted how impressed he was with Bush Jr. and how they share an alma mater.
"They drafted a great player from Michigan. I've watched him a lot over the years," he said.
As for the connection that will unfold Sunday night, it's hard to believe for Bush Sr.
"It goes by so fast," he said. "It seems like I was just out there playing against Tom Brady myself. Now my kid is playing against him. I'm just so proud of him."
2. Did You Know: Brady and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have a combined 880 career passing touchdowns, which is the third most in a quarterback matchup in NFL history, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. It trails only Brady-Drew Brees (2017) and Brady-Peyton Manning (2014).
3. Gunner almost didn't make it to training camp: How much of an underdog story was Gunner Olszewski of Division II Bemidji State in making the Patriots' initial 53-man roster? Coach Bill Belichick said in his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI that Olszewski almost didn't make it from spring practices to camp. "We brought him in for a workout, didn't sign him. Then we signed him later on. We weren't sure that we were going to keep him through training camp," Belichick said, before summing up one of the remarkable Patriots stories of 2019: "Sometimes it's just getting that first look and getting started."
4. No underselling the risk of releasing Hoyer: Of all the moves the Patriots made in forming their initial 53-man roster, the headliner was releasing veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer. With Brady, Hoyer and rookie Jarrett Stidham, I viewed the Patriots as having the NFL's best quarterback room. Thinning the ranks to just Brady and Stidham is risky, especially when considering no 42-year-old quarterback has ever started all 16 regular-season games. Here are three comments from Belichick that highlight the risk he has willingly taken in moving on from Hoyer:
"I don't think you can have too much depth at that position. We've all seen what can happen there. You put your whole team at risk if you don't have a quarterback that can run it." -- April 29, 2011, after selecting Ryan Mallett in the third round.
"I don't think you want to bring a guy on to the team in the postseason that hasn't been with you all year, which is where we would be if we only had two quarterbacks," -- Dec. 22, 2016
If the Patriots had kept Hoyer this season, another player would have been let go, so one way to look at it is Hoyer vs. Olszewski.
Or Hoyer vs. defensive end/outside linebacker Shilique Calhoun.
Or Hoyer vs. safety Obi Melifonwu.
Such decisions on how much value to place on quarterback insurance -- against a player who has a greater chance to contribute on game days on a week-to-week basis -- aren't easy to make.
5. Andrews takes on coaching/mentor role while on IR: At one point in the Patriots' practice Thursday, starting center David Andrews walked on the field with newly acquired Jermaine Eluemunor, even though Andrews is out for the year after being diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs. "He's been watching me and giving me pointers, things I can improve on so I can become a better player," Eluemunor said. "It was really cool for him to come up to me. It's only my sixth day [here]. I've watched him on TV a bunch, and he's a guy who always stands out. He's a great leader." What types of things do they talk about? "As an offensive lineman, your punch is a big thing," Eluemunor said. "Your footwork too, making sure your set is perfect. And keeping my hands up. In Baltimore, I set more with my hands by my hips. Here, I've worked to get them up."
6. Do Patriots regret handling of Harry? First-round draft choice N'Keal Harry had pulled up in a practice with the Lions on Aug. 6, and he showed toughness in suiting up for the team's preseason opener two days later. But looking back, one wonders if the Patriots regret having him on the field. Harry came up limping after two impressive catches in that game, hasn't practiced fully since and now is on injured reserve (with a chance to return in games after eight weeks).
7. Mayo leading defense in first year on staff: When Greg Schiano resigned from the Patriots' coaching staff in March, it opened the door for 2008 Patriots first-round pick Jerod Mayo to join Belichick's staff -- and experience a remarkably quick ascent to a coordinator-type position without the title (he's officially inside linebackers coach). Not that there was much doubt, but veteran defensive end Michael Bennett pointed out that Mayo is leading the defense. "Coming into the league the same time as Mayo, and now he's my coach, is kind of weird," Bennett said. "But at the same time, it's cool."
8. Former Patriots punter Allen could have been a Viking: When the Patriots released veteran punter Ryan Allen in mid-August, officially handing the job over to rookie Jake Bailey, many assumed it wouldn't be long before Allen landed with a new team. But Allen, whose performance was exemplary in Super Bowl LIII, remains unsigned as the first week of the NFL season kicks off. I'm told had the Vikings not persuaded Britton Colquitt to sign with them at the last minute -- instead of Colquitt following through on a visit to Buffalo, as reported by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune -- Allen believed there was a good chance he could be a Viking.
9. Remembering Craig "Ironhead" Heyward: One poignant leftover from a conversation with Devin Bush Sr., was how he had the memory of late fullback Craig "Ironhead" Heyward on his mind. The two were teammates with the Falcons in Bush's rookie season in 1996, and now their sons are teammates in Pittsburgh (Cameron Heyward is in his ninth NFL season, all with the Steelers). "I loved him. He would be so happy about that," Bush said.
10. Patriots place more players on IR: Health is often a big factor in the success of NFL teams, and the Patriots are behind their pace from last year's Super Bowl championship season. Entering the 2018 season opener, the Patriots had placed five players on injured reserve (Isaiah Wynn, Ryan Izzo, Ulrick John, Christian Sam and Braxton Berrios), and only one was a front-line player (Wynn). This year, they're already up to eight players on IR -- Andrews, Harry, core special-teamer Brandon King, cornerback D'Angelo Ross, safety Malik Gant, outside linebacker Keionta Davis, guard Hjalte Froholdt and defensive end Derek Rivers.