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Chase Winovich gives back to hometown by paying off school-lunch debt

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Riddick: Forget the Patriots' weaknesses in the playoffs (1:37)

Louis Riddick and Emmanuel Acho discuss the Patriots' chances to excel in the playoffs despite their regular-season struggles. (1:37)

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

1. Winovich happy to pay his 'tax as a human': Patriots rookie outside linebacker Chase Winovich said he wasn't expecting any publicity when he paid the school-lunch debt of 96 students in the West Jefferson Hills (Pennsylvania) School District last week. That wasn't why he did it.

But it came quickly when the official Facebook page of the school district thanked him publicly for the gesture.

"Obviously that community raised me. I lived in the same house my whole life, the same township. A lot of great memories there. It's a special place. I feel like it's part of my tax as a human, being raised there, to try to make it a better place," Winovich told ESPN.com this week.

Winovich, 24, played linebacker and quarterback at Thomas Jefferson High School in Jefferson Hills. He totaled 149 tackles, 22 sacks, seven fumble recoveries and one interception in his high school career, and was more of a runner on offense, totaling 1,031 yards on 119 carries with 17 TDs.

But the stats are secondary to what Winovich -- who went on to play at the University of Michigan -- wants those in his community to take from him.

"I want to help out the youth and inspire people coming up -- letting them know that if you believe in your dreams, and you're willing to put the hard work in, you can do anything you put your mind to," he said.

"Giving back to my community has always been important to me. It was an opportunity, around the holidays, to lighten the load on people and give them one less thing they had to focus on."

Winovich, whose parents, Peter and Nina, have been regulars at Patriots games this season, has played in every game as a situational pass-rusher. He has 19 tackles and 5.5 sacks, while adding six tackles on special teams.

2. Watson's perspective on Brady's age-based feat: Tom Brady will become the first quarterback to start a full 16-game schedule at 42 when he takes the first snap against the Dolphins on Sunday. The only quarterbacks who have started a game and have been older than Brady are Steve DeBerg (44 years, 9 months), Warren Moon (44 years, 0 months) and Vinny Testaverde (44 years, 0 months), and veteran tight end Ben Watson -- who has a locker next to Brady's and provides a behind-the-scenes perspective on what that means from his view.

"Amazing," Watson said. "There are certain guys that have an innate ability to play and are able to withstand the pressure and hits and the mental and physical side of it. We all know [Brady] takes care of his body, but I don't think we really understand the extent to which he deals with a lot of injuries, and the commitment he has through those.

"You're never 100 percent when you're out there. One of the biggest things that happens to guys is you just get tired of being hurt, and being sore all the time. It's not that he hasn't had them, but he's been able to fight through them. Sometimes it's just blood and guts and grit. It's 'I'm going out there to fight with my guys.'"

Watson, who had retired after last season before electing to return for a 16th NFL season in 2019, added that any player at that stage of his career has to fight fatigue and the boredom that comes with repetition.

"That's another side of it. There's a physical side of it, but that mental and emotional component has to be so strong in order to last for 20 years in a sport as intense as NFL football," Watson said. "He's an inspiration. Every time I see him here, next to my locker, I think to myself, 'I'm going to be telling my grandkids about that.' He's just a guy, like all of us, and we have conversations. But when you sit back as a football fan, and think about all he has done, it really is incredible the fact he is still an elite quarterback."

3. Quote of the week: "When I was a kid, I'd be in the parking lot at Candlestick, throwing the football to my friends. Now I'm throwing to the best athletes in the world and getting paid for it. In a lot of ways, I'm still doing it as a kid. I feel like a kid. I think it's important to still look at it like that." -- Brady.

4. Van Noy playing for $375k: Patriots outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy enters Sunday's game having played 79.47% of the defensive snaps this season, which is a significant number because he earns a $375,000 incentive for playing 80% of the snaps this season. If Van Noy falls short, there's still a possibility the Patriots pay out the incentive, which they've done at times in the past -- especially when considering he missed one game because of the birth of his son.

5. Special connection between Scar and McDaniels: Veteran offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia (now in his 34th Patriots season) has a powerful connection with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, saying on Friday that coming out of retirement in 2016 wouldn't have been a consideration without McDaniels on staff. Despite the intense media coverage of the Patriots, the special bond between Scarnecchia, 71, and McDaniels, 43, has flown under the radar. Scarnecchia is one of the more respected coaches across the NFL and he couldn't have been more effusive in his praise, giving McDaniels the type of recommendation that is sure to catch the attention of any owner who is in the market for a head coach.

6. Bielema remembers Aschoff: Before Patriots defensive line coach Bret Bielema answered any questions from reporters on Friday, he took the time to remember ESPN college football reporter Edward Aschoff, who died Dec. 24 on his 34th birthday. Aschoff had joined ESPN in 2011 as part of the SEC blog network, which meant he and Bielema -- who served as Arkansas' head coach from 2013-17 -- regularly crossed paths. Bielema relayed how kind, conscientious and upbeat Aschoff was; words that has echoed many of the poignant tributes in recent days.

7. Mayo using lessons in business on coaching staff: When linebacker Jerod Mayo retired from the Patriots in 2015, he went on to work at Optum, which is a subsidiary of health care giant UnitedHealth Group. Now in his first year as Patriots inside linebackers coach, Mayo sees a connection between what he learned off the field and his new job. "I'm definitely thankful for the three years I spent over at Optum. I learned a lot about people management and things like that. And I try to apply some of the principles to what I'm doing coaching -- managing multiple personalities," he said. "No regrets."

8. Chandler Jones as DPOY? With one regular-season game remaining, the race for NFL Defensive Player of the Year has intrigued me, specifically as it relates to the former Patriot and current Cardinals defensive end. Because of his eye-popping total of sacks (19) and forced fumbles (8), some view Jones as a top candidate. Others don't have him in the top three. Exposure can be a big boost for players, and Jones is flying under the radar because the Cardinals are seldom on national TV, whereas Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore has built a strong case, aided in part by national exposure and delivering exemplary performances in games with higher stakes.

9. What Flores misses most about New England: A native of Brooklyn, New York, who attended Boston College and then spent 15 years as a Patriots assistant, first-year Miami coach Brian Flores has been like a Dolphin out of water this December. "It's nice to have 80-degree weather in the Christmas season," he said. As for what he misses most from his time in the Northeast, Flores didn't hesitate -- it's the people. "I built a lot of great relationships in New England," he said in advance of returning to town Sunday for his first time as a visiting coach.

10. Did You Know: Since 1976, only two teams have posted a shutout against the same opponent twice in a season -- the 1976 Broncos (26-0, 17-0 wins against the Chargers) and the 2002 Falcons (30-0, 41-0 wins against the Panthers). The Patriots, who host the Dolphins on Sunday after beating them 43-0 in Week 2, look to become the third.