FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Mama McCourty's plan: The last time Phyllis Harrell attended a game in which her twin sons, both defensive backs, were playing on opposite teams, she was prepared with a creative half-Patriots/half-Titans jersey. It was part-Devin McCourty, part-Jason McCourty -- with both of their teams and numbers.
Now, with Devin's Patriots playing host to Jason's Dolphins in the season opener on Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS), she has been thinking outside the box after having to retire her split McCourty Patriots jersey.
"It's not going to be a jersey this year. It's going to be a T-shirt, because down in Miami, it's too hot for the jersey," she said with a laugh.
Stitched together with a touch of "Mama McCourty's" love, the T-shirt meshes the Patriots' nautical blue with the Dolphins' aqua, and splits both teams' logos down the middle. On one side is Devin's No. 32. On the other is Jason's No. 30.
Across the top, with a flair of silver, is the name "McCourty."
The sons have had some fun leading up to Sunday's game, with Devin saying no one with Dolphins' gear is allowed in his home.
"That's for everybody else but me!" Harrell said. "I'm going to be staying with Devin, because all the kids will be there. Jason's wife and kids are staying at Devin's. And when we're there, and when we're together, there's no Dolphins and no Patriots. They're all just family. Dolphins and Patriots, that's only for football."
Naturally, Harrell liked it better when her sons were teammates, as they were in New England from 2018 to 2020.
"I don't think it's the best thing, but it's going to be a funny thing that they're playing against each other again," she said. "All these years and they're still playing football [Devin in his 12th season; Jason in his 13th]; maybe they have a chance to play together again before this whole journey is over."
Harrell will be in attendance at Gillette Stadium for the game, and chances are, the CBS cameras will find her at some point. After all, Devin and Jason are big parts of the storyline, each of them voted team captains.
That's the type of thing that would make any mother proud, so one can excuse her if she's the only one pulling for a 0-0 tie.
"I'll be rooting for both defenses," she said.
2. Missing JMac: With Stephon Gilmore opening the season on the physically unable to perform list, and projected starter Jalen Mills rolling his ankle in Wednesday's practice and not 100% for the opener, the Patriots' depth at cornerback could be tested against the Dolphins and 2021 first-round draft pick Jaylen Waddle, the dangerous rookie wide receiver from Alabama. Had the Patriots re-signed Jason McCourty, he might be the "next man up" in the game if Mills is slowed by the injury, but instead they will face him (and potentially have to rely on a combination of Joejuan Williams, Shaun Wade and Jonathan Jones, among others). In the end, the Patriots never made McCourty an offer, which is somewhat of a head-scratcher given how they had limited depth at the position.
3. History on Mac's side: The Patriots hope history repeats itself with rookie quarterback Mac Jones making his first career start. Under coach Bill Belichick, quarterbacks are 6-0 in their first starts, a group that includes rookies Eric Zeier (with Cleveland Browns) and Jacoby Brissett (with New England).
However it unfolds, Jones has impressed his teammates.
"I feel like that's a hard situation to step into -- being a rookie quarterback for a system that's been proven to work. The fact he's come in and handled it the way he has is something to be proud of, honestly," wide receiver Jakobi Meyers said.
4. Rally around Mac: The spotlight has shined brightly on the rookie QB -- right down to his jersey being the second-hottest seller in the NFL -- but one theme that resonated throughout the week was how Patriots players wanted to ensure he didn't take too much on his shoulders.
"You just don't want to put too much on Mac's plate. As good as he is, you don't want to stunt his growth, and that's where a lot of us older guys come in," said linebacker Dont'a Hightower, a fellow former Alabama player. "We want to do our job and take as much as we can off of him."
Added Devin McCourty: "That's all we're asking of him -- to go out, have fun, play his game. ... Nothing more. Nothing less."
5. Tight to cap: The Patriots enter the season with a league-low $1.5 million of salary-cap space, according to ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates. That won't be enough to make it through the season, so some adjustments should be expected in the coming weeks. I asked Miguel Benzan, the Patriots' cap wizard who has become a must-follow on Twitter, his top five candidates who could provide cap relief. His response (in no particular order): Offensive tackle Trent Brown, right guard Shaq Mason, Hightower, McCourty and cornerback Jones (with Gilmore an addition in five weeks when eligible to come off the PUP list).
6. Harris' end zone routine: Watch Patriots top running back Damien Harris in any practice and he finishes every run -- no matter where he is on the field -- by taking it to end zone. When veteran Brandon Bolden first noticed it, his initial reaction was: "He's out of his mind!" Now he's a believer. "We talk about it as a group. We want to work on finishing. We want big plays. Long plays," Bolden said. "When I came back and saw him doing it, I was like 'everyone should do it.'"
7. New twist on interviews: Something that is becoming more common in Patriots player interviews held in person has been teammates sticking around to hear what their peers are saying. It happened after the preseason finale against the New York Giants with Matt Judon hanging around during McCourty's remarks, and then this past week with Bolden/Harris and Adrian Phillips/Judon. It has provided a snapshot of some of the personalities around the team, which would usually be observed in an open locker-room setting. Judon, it was learned last week, has been the team's locker room DJ.
Personality shows in media workroom: Brandon Bolden calls out Damien Harris - who carries a football everywhere - for never seeing "The Program."— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) September 9, 2021
Harris responds, then greets Adrian Phillips as he arrives at the podium, before saluting Matt Judon, who stays for "moral support." pic.twitter.com/ZcsMiBkxiR
8. Patriot flavor in Miami: With longtime Patriots assistant Brian Flores now in his third year as Dolphins coach, it's no surprise he has six former New England players -- backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, defensive tackle Adam Butler, Jason McCourty, linebacker Elandon Roberts and cornerbacks Eric Rowe and Justin Coleman. The decision to turn things over to Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback, which led to the free-agent departure of Ryan Fitzpatrick, led to the Dolphins targeting Brissett for the QB2 role. Flores cited Brissett's team-first approach, along with toughness and smarts, as traits that embody what the organization looks for in players.
9. Props for 2012 defense: The Colts' defense has set a goal to force 40 turnovers this season, which hasn't been done in nine seasons. The last teams do it it? The Chicago Bears (44) and Patriots (41), both in the 2012 season. That was the year Devin McCourty had a team-high five interceptions (the defense had 20 overall), and the ball-hawking unit recovered 21 fumbles (Rob Ninkovich and Brandon Spikes forced five apiece). The single-season record for turnovers is 66, by the 1961 Chargers.
10. Did You Know: There are 15 teams projected to have a different starting quarterback from last year's season opener, tied for the second most year-over-year change in the Super Bowl era (behind 1999, and joining 2018).