FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts/notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Slaters' game balls: When it comes to game balls presented to members of a team, the Slater family has more than a few.
"I'm sitting here looking at 16 of them. I can't put them all out," Pro Football Hall of Famer Jackie Slater said on Friday. "Over the 20 years I played, they would give them to the offensive line, or on occasion an individual ball. It's one way of honoring your team by showing them the people you're providing the ball are all about what the team is all about -- and that it's also possible for everyone else."
Fast-forward to this past Thursday night in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, after the Patriots defeated the Falcons 25-0, and Slater's son, Matthew, received a game ball from coach Bill Belichick that encapsulates a lot of what the Patriots are all about.
Slater had just completed his 200th regular-season game with the Patriots, becoming just the fifth player in franchise history to reach that mark. The others are Tom Brady (285), Bruce Armstrong (212), Julius Adams (206) and Stephen Gostkowski (204).
Slater's sustained success, consistency and availability reflect a major part of the foundation on which Belichick's program is built. And Belichick recognized him for it.
Jackie Slater had the same presence in his playing days with the Rams. When he retired in 1995, having spent his entire career with the franchise, no offensive lineman in the history of the NFL had played more regular-season games (249).
The Rams, of course, presented him a game ball to commemorate that feat. And then when future Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews broke his record, Matthews' team, the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans, flew Slater to town to present him with a game ball to mark the moment.
Slater said receiving a game ball was always something that he took personally, and of course, there's similar feelings when the same thing happens for his son.
Between the two of them, they have played in 449 regular-season games. Add 18 playoff contests for Jackie, and 24 for Matthew, and the Slaters have played in a whopping 491 NFL games.
"I've never thought about that, never let it cross my mind," Jackie said. "It's almost unfathomable that would happen."
2. McCourty's 30th: Longtime safety/captain Devin McCourty's 30th interception was another feat recognized by Belichick with a game ball. Only two players have more in franchise history -- Pro Football Hall of Famer Ty Law and Raymond Clayborn, both with 36. McCourty tweeted the significance of No. 30 to him, noting that 30 is also his brother's jersey number and that he was dedicating the pick to Jason as he battles back from injury with the Miami Dolphins.
3. Opposing view on Mac: When Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan assesses what he's seen from Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones, the main areas are that "he's been really efficient and accurate with the football." While the degree of difficulty on the majority of Jones' throws wasn't especially high on Thursday night, Ryan took note that there were "some great throws into some tough coverage." As for the efficiency, after going 22-of-26 on Thursday, Jones has now completed 70% of his passes in seven of 11 games. He's on pace to break Dak Prescott's rookie record of nine 70%-plus games from 2016.
4. Dugger's arrival: Safety Kyle Dugger, the Patriots' top draft pick from 2020 (second round, No. 37), is playing arguably the best football of his young career the past two weeks. He was a key cog in a multi-player plan to cover dangerous rookie tight end Kyle Pitts (three catches, 29 yards) on Thursday night, and finished with seven tackles and one pass defended. The week before against the Browns, he had six tackles, an interception and two special-teams tackles. The jump from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne to the NFL was larger than most, so it was always going to take some time for Dugger to acclimate. It looks like he's officially arrived. "He soaks it all in," Belichick said.
5. Setting Colts' date: Within the week, the NFL is expected to finalize whether the Patriots' Week 15 road game against the Indianapolis Colts will be played Saturday, Dec. 18 or Sunday, Dec. 19. As a reminder, when the league's initial schedule was released in the spring, there were five games isolated as possibilities to be moved to Saturday of that week, and two will ultimately be selected. The Colts (5-5) might be playing their best football of the season, like the Patriots, making it a potentially attractive matchup to move to Saturday on NFL Network.
6. Karras over Onwenu: With the Patriots on a roll, and things having settled down along the offensive line, it seems like longer odds that Belichick would tinker with his starting offensive line combination of left tackle Isaiah Wynn, left guard Ted Karras, center David Andrews, right guard Shaq Mason and right tackle Trent Brown. So that leaves second-year guard/tackle Mike Onwenu as the top backup, and someone who can come on as a jumbo blocking tight end if needed. A hidden storyline of sorts is Karras' surprise emergence, and how well he's played. Out of nowhere last week, outside linebacker Matthew Judon cited Karras as a player who brings a physical edge to the entire team.
7. Rhamondre closes gap: The way Patriots coaches rotated top running backs Damien Harris (25 snaps) and Rhamondre Stevenson (22) on a series-by-series basis on Thursday night was notable because it's the first time the split has been that distinct. It reflects how they view them as 1A and 1B more than 1 and 2, and also shows how far Stevenson (who says he weighs 228 pounds, not the 246 he's listed on the roster) has come since his time as a healthy scratch in the game that started the current five-game winning streak.
Does Rhamondre Stevenson have the potential to be a top fantasy RB?
Matthew Berry reacts to the Patriots' use of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson in their win over the Falcons.
8. Talkin' turnovers: Belichick has said that no statistic correlates more to wins and losses than turnover differential, and here's something to reinforce it. When the Patriots lost to the Cowboys and fell to 2-4 on Oct. 17, they were minus-3 with eight takeaways and 11 giveaways. Now? After five straight wins, they are plus-6, which puts them into the top-5 of the NFL with 21 takeaways and 15 giveaways.
9. Weekend plan: Players were looking forward to having the weekend off after playing two games in a span of five days, and the current schedule calls for them to return to Gillette Stadium for their first practice of the week on Tuesday. The schedule breaks nicely for them with Thanksgiving on Thursday, so they can have a normal week of practice while still having the holiday off or as a shorter work day.
10a. Did you know, Part? In Thursday night's win, the Patriots became the first NFL team to intercept three different opposing quarterbacks in the same quarter since the Chicago Bears did it in September of 1993 -- against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Craig Erickson, Steve DeBreg and Casey Weldon.
10b. Did you know, Part II? The Patriots have allowed just 13 points over the past three games, the second-fewest allowed in a three-game span in Belichick's head-coaching career. The fewest were 10, between Weeks 13-15 of the 2005 season (16-3/Jets; 35-7/Bills; 28-0/Buccaneers).