FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. One thing Patriots players were buzzing about this week, and truly seem to enjoy, is the NFL Next Gen Stats that track their top speed during games. While Devin McCourty reaching an NFL-high 22.05 miles per hour on his 84-yard interception return was the headline Monday night against the Bills, not to be overlooked was 280-pound defensive end Adrian Clayborn being clocked at 19.5 mph on the play -- which is impressive given his size. Clayborn flashed a big smile when that was brought to his attention in the locker room, before humbly saying, "I thought it was faster."
2. Bill Belichick is the NFL's longest-tenured head coach with the same team (19 years), and a trickle-down effect of that is how many of his assistant coaches have been able to set up roots in New England. That is rare in a business where a three-year stay can seem like an eternity. Such continuity is often noted as one of the benefits of being on Belichick's staff, and with that as a springboard, I asked several assistants what other things they have appreciated most:
Dante Scarnecchia (offensive line, 33rd Patriots season): "The culture of the organization, the way he does things. He lays it out in no uncertain terms -- no ambiguity in anything. The good thing about that is that you know what's expected of you, what he wants to have happen, and if you do it, there's no issues."
Ivan Fears (running backs, 22nd year): "That we get a chance to win. Winning is really something special, and it's hard. You work hard, everybody is working hard, and we're fortunate enough to put it together to get a chance to win."
Brian Flores (linebackers, 15th year): "There's a lot of camaraderie on the staff. We have a group of guys who have been together for a while and understand what it takes to have a successful staff. ... We all understand it's hard to work here, but we kind of band together. There's a lot of buy-in, and that's what I really enjoy about it."
Steve Belichick (safeties, seventh year): "My whole life, that's all I wanted, was to be on a Bill Belichick coaching staff. Every day I take it in and try to learn from him in some capacity. Obviously with him being my dad, when the opportunity presents itself, I try to take advantage of that -- especially in the offseason."
Joe Judge (special teams, seventh year): "I appreciate the education you get. Every day you come in, you learn something. He doesn't tell you what to think, but he teaches you how to think. It's definitely something where the longer I've been here, the more perspective I've gained in different ways of how to affect the entire game and how to look at things from personnel to situational football, completely from a big-picture standpoint."
3. It was fun this week to hear NBC play-by-play man Al Michaels, who will call Sunday night's Patriots-Packers game, reminisce about his rides into Gillette Stadium with John Madden when they were calling games together. Michaels said Gillette is a rare stadium to visit from the standpoint of arriving at the back entrance through a neighborhood -- seeing the fall foliage and pumpkins on doorsteps of homes when it looks "like you're in the middle of the country" -- before the stadium appears seemingly out of nowhere.
4. The energy inside Gillette Stadium for Patriots-Packers should be electric, and here is something that could turn up the volume even more: What if members of the World Series champion Boston Red Sox are present and part of the in-game festivities? That would be consistent with what the Patriots have done in past years, and it's yet another reminder of the remarkable championship run the New England region has been on since the Patriots' first Super Bowl title in the 2001 season.
5. Did you know? The Patriots-Packers game -- featuring the Tom Brady versus Aaron Rodgers storyline -- marks the 10th regular-season contest in NFL history between players with multiple MVP awards. Home teams have won seven of the previous nine.
6a. Bill Belichick seems to get a rise out of tweaking reporters and the NFL'’s media policy at times, perhaps a result of what he views as oversaturation and too much hype. One example of this came this year with a new rule that requires assistant coaches be made available once a month, with the Patriots choosing one of the last days of each month, and then one of the first days of each month, to do so. For those wondering why there might have been a sudden explosion of insight from Patriots assistants this past Wednesday and Thursday, there's your answer.
6b. Belichick opened his Friday news conference by paying respect to longtime Sports Illustrated football reporter Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman, who died Thursday at age 86, and it sparked memories of the days before one of the Patriots' Super Bowl appearances, when Zimmerman was peppering starting left tackle Matt Light with technical questions about the defensive front he was preparing to face. After a few minutes, I remember Light -- in his trademark humorous tone -- saying something along the lines of, "Do you just want me to tell you the game-plan? You know I can't do that, right?" That was precisely what Zimmerman was trying to ascertain, which falls into line with something Belichick said on Friday about Zimmerman: "He would ask different types of questions, in-depth questions."
7. Scarnecchia, the Patriots' offensive line coach and one of the most respected voices in the NFL on offensive-line play, used his platform in media interviews this week to tout the Pro Football Hall of Fame candidacy of Chris Hinton, whom he coached in the late 1980s with the Colts. Known most for being a player included in a trade for quarterback John Elway in a Broncos-Colts swap, Hinton played for the Colts (1983-89), Falcons (1990-93) and Vikings (1994-95). His Hall of Fame candidacy has never truly generated momentum, likely because he never played on a consistent winner. Scarnecchia touted Hinton's athleticism, physicality and intelligence in saying that the seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro has "kind of been forgotten." He then added, "Sometimes those guys need someone to beat the drum for them."
8. The Patriots have been carrying nine offensive linemen on their roster -- one more than their norm -- and that depth will be tapped against the Packers with starting right guard Shaq Mason (calf) and backup center/guard Brian Schwenke (foot) not expected to play. Third-year player Ted Karras will be thrust into the starting lineup for a fourth time in his career, with Scarnecchia not flinching when he said, "We can really rely on this guy to come through for us."
9. From the "what record is Tom Brady breaking next" department: He enters Sunday's game second all time with 79,781 total yards (passing, rushing, receiving) in the regular season and playoffs, and is on the cusp of passing Peyton Manning (79,978) for the top spot.
10. The Patriots are 52-14 against NFC teams since realignment in 2002, which is the best mark in the NFL. The Steelers (45-20) are next on the list.