New England Patriots' James White off to strong start after difficult 2020

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

1. White's rebound: One of the most revealing developments around the Patriots this past week has been with running back James White.

When running backs coach Ivan Fears was asked if White, now in his eighth season, is still improving, he pushed back.

"I never thought he dropped off," Fears said.

But White himself admitted 2020 wasn't his best season. It was understandable as to why.

Monday will mark the one-year anniversary of the death of White's father, Tyrone, in a car accident that also involved White's mother, Lisa. It happened the day James was preparing to play a prime-time game against the Seattle Seahawks, and when White returned to the team a couple weeks later, his season never unfolded the way he hoped. Everyone could understand why, but White made no excuses when he said multiple times recently that "obviously last year wasn't my best year."

Nonetheless, White said his confidence never wavered entering his eighth NFL season, and he's off to a strong start, totaling six catches for 49 yards in the season opener, adding a 10-yard run and acing a couple challenging blocking assignments.

Fears made another notable point on White last week when he said, "Last year we couldn't take advantage of him. New scheme. New quarterback. This guy [Jones] has the chance to take advantage of James ... He's had a great camp and it showed in the first game."

2. Mac's breathing exercises: One of the more insightful parts of CBS' broadcast of the Patriots' opener was a close-up look at quarterback Mac Jones on the bench after throwing his first touchdown pass.

It was an exhilarating moment for Jones, and CBS cameras showed him going through breathing exercises, similar to what Phil Mickelson did earlier in the year coming down the stretch to win the PGA Championship.

Jones told CBS' broadcast team of Kevin Harlan, Trent Green and Melanie Collins, that it is part of his routine to remain calm, and a few days later, Jones relayed to Patriots reporters he has been doing them for two to three years. He has found them beneficial because it "kind of lowers the pressure part of it" for him.

That makes a lot of sense to experts in the field, such as PJ Strebel, owner of MaxWay Performance, a sports performance and functional facility based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Strebel explained the exercises Jones went through -- breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth -- would help calm his heart rate. Some might call that a "boxer's breath."

He said there is also a sports psychology benefit to such an approach. Focusing on the breath helps the brain calm down, which allows for control of everything else (controlled breathing -- controlled thoughts -- controlled body).

"Think of it like when someone is having a panic attack. The first thing a professional would try to do is get them to regain their breath," Strebel said. "That's like going from 'fight or flight' mode to 'relaxed and calm' mode."

Strebel added that being able to transition into "relaxed and calm" mode is significant from a physiological standpoint.

3. Belichick vs. Saleh: "Do Your Job" meets "All Gas, No Brake" when coach Bill Belichick's Patriots face off against Robert Saleh's Jets on Sunday at MetLife Stadium (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Those are the mantras both coaches are best known by, with Belichick noting the "new energy" Saleh has brought to the Jets.

Belichick, 69, is in his 27th season as a head coach. Saleh, 42, is in his first as a head coach. They know each other "a little bit" according to Belichick. And for those keeping track, Saleh will be the 137th head coach Belichick has faced, according to data from Bryan Beasley of ESPN Stats & Information.

Give yourself a gold star if you had Rex Ryan as the head coach Belichick has faced more than any other (17 times, with a 12-5 record).

4. 'Non-stop' football for Mac: Tight end Hunter Henry and his wife, Parker, have developed a quick connection with Jones and his girlfriend, Sophie Scott, in part due to them living close to each other. So how would Henry describe what the ultra-serious Jones -- whose laser focus was reflected in him not accepting the football from teammates after his first career touchdown -- is like off the field? "He is definitely serious. He loves football. I think that's one thing that definitely stands out -- it's football, non-stop," Henry said.

5. Fumbled chance: When you carry the football, you carry with it the fate of the entire team. That's a message that has been stressed over Belichick's 22-year Patriots tenure, and is relevant this week after the Patriots had four fumbles (two lost) in the opener. Fears said the teaching point on Damien Harris' crushing late-game lost fumble was he needs to know the situation in the game and when the journey is over, and for rookie Rhamondre Stevenson (who might have been down but replay couldn't confirm it) to know the goal is to always hand the ball to the official. The opener was the 15th time under Belichick that the Patriots have fumbled four or more times (their high is six, against the Broncos, in 2013).

6. Durant's time: With Patriots starting right tackle Trent Brown (calf) out against the Jets and top backup Yodny Cajuste (hamstring) questionable after being limited all week in practice, the Patriots appear ready to turn to second-year player Yasir Durant as their starter. The 6-foot-7, 330-pound Durant was acquired from the Chiefs on Aug. 31 for a 2022 seventh-round draft pick. He has shot up the depth chart quickly because of injuries and 2020 sixth-round pick Justin Herron's struggles. Offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo credited assistant coach Billy Yates for spending extra time with Durant, who started 33 of 34 games at Missouri, to get him up to speed.

7. Why not Onwenu? My read on why the Patriots haven't considered moving impressive 2020 sixth-round draft pick Mike Onwenu from left guard to right tackle, and then slotting Ted Karras at left guard, is they primarily view Onwenu's ceiling at guard as significantly higher than tackle. Onwenu filled in admirably at right tackle as a rookie, but it was notable to hear him say last week he has hardly practiced there this season.

8. Kicker clarity. With Patriots undrafted rookie kicker Quinn Nordin landing on injured reserve Saturday, and veteran Nick Folk elevated from the practice squad for a second time, look for the club to give Folk a permanent spot on the 53-man roster on Monday. As for Nordin (abdomen), his situation sparks memories of when the Patriots had undrafted rookie Robbie Gould in 2005. The team knew it had a promising prospect with long-term potential, but Gould needed a little more time to develop, and he wound up on the Ravens' practice squad instead. Nordin's injury prevents the Patriots from possibly having that type of history repeat itself.

9. Road warriors/worriers: Taking care of business against the Jets would help the Patriots erase the "nasty taste" of defeat from a disappointing opener and get them off to a good start in an area that gave them issues last season. The Patriots were 2-6 away from home, with four of those losses by seven or more points.

10. Did You Know: The last time the Patriots opened a season 0-2 was in 2001, which is the longest streak in the NFL. The Packers (2006) and Cowboys (2010) -- both of whom lost their openers last week -- are next.