FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts/notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Mac's handwritten notes: Patriots offensive linemen didn't want to publicly detail what rookie quarterback Mac Jones gifted them for the holidays, speaking more generally about "Santa Mac" and their appreciation of his effort that included everything from Bitcoin to "No Bull" New England shoes, a Yeti cooler, Keurig supplies and more.
Privately, several have relayed that they were floored mostly by two things: his inclusion of backups and practice-squad players for a total of 12 oversized gift packs that filled up the locker room, and each of the 12 also receiving a personalized, handwritten note from him.
Jones had confided in some of his teammates that he was concerned with falling short in the gift department, which, of course, he didn't. Veteran guard Ted Karras referred to it as a "big haul" and "myriad of items -- each one cooler than the next."
But as it turns out, all Jones really needed was the old-school touch of the handwritten note, including his from-the-heart feelings on what each lineman meant to him.
"Very thoughtful," one said.
Jones' parents, Gordon and Holly, impressed on him the power of pen and paper, as compared to a text message or email.
"I've always been taught that when you sit down and write a note to whoever you're trying to communicate with, it means a little bit more," Jones, 23, said.
Now Jones hopes to write a successful on-field conclusion to the Patriots' season, with Sunday's home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars (1 p.m. ET, CBS) a chance to rebound after two of his shakiest performances of the season.
As for how the offensive linemen feel about Jones after his holiday gesture, Karras summed it up this way: "Very thankful for him. And very glad to be his teammate."
2. McDaniels and Jaguars: If the Jaguars intend to keep general manager Trent Baalke and involve him in the search for the team’s next head coach -- as NFL Media reported last week -- it would be surprising to me if Josh McDaniels has significant interest in the job. At this point, I don’t see McDaniels coveting a job with a GM already in place.
3. Mac's odds: If Jones has a big day against the Jaguars, it could be the performance that puts him over the top for the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award. He is currently -475 to win the award, per Caesars Sportsbook, which means he is a significant favorite (you would have to bet $475 on him to win $100).
The last Patriot to win the award was running back Curtis Martin in 1995.
Other rookies in the running, per Caesars Sportsbook, are Cincinnati Bengals receiver Ja'Marr Chase (+350), Miami Dolphins receiver Jaylen Waddle (+6600) and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (+10000).
Chiefs center Creed Humphrey, the second-round pick from Oklahoma who has started every game for the AFC's current No. 1 seed, might be asking, "Hey, what about offensive linemen?"
4. Bourne's bonus: While many fans headed to the exits late in the fourth quarter of the Patriots' 33-21 loss to the Bills last Sunday, wide receiver Kendrick Bourne hauled in a 20-yard pass that was inconsequential to the final result but especially significant for him personally. It gave Bourne 700 receiving yards this season, qualifying him for a $250,000 bonus. Bourne can earn another $250,000 with three more catches to get him to 50, and would earn an additional $250,000 if he hits 800 receiving yards.
5. Madden on Belichick: Patriots coach Bill Belichick had gracious remarks on John Madden's legacy after Madden died last week at the age of 85. Madden had been a guest on the podcast of Cam Inman of Bay Area News Group and once returned the favor when he said of Belichick: "It took him a while to get started, but once he got started, he's on a great run. Bill Belichick is not only the best coach in football, he, in my mind, is one of the best coaches that ever coached."
6. 'Nother for 'N'Keal? Nelson Agholor's absence last week opened the door for N'Keal Harry to assume his role as a starting receiver, but the results were disappointing (season-high 61 snaps, two catches for 15 yards and one tough drop). With Agholor out again this week because of a concussion, do the Patriots go back to the well with Harry? Their decision will speak volumes, as practice-squad target Kristian Wilkerson is worthy of getting a chance to take those reps to see what he does with them.
7. Bolden's revelation: Patriots veteran running back Brandon Bolden shared publicly for the first time that he had surgery in 2018 after being diagnosed with mucoepidermoid carcinoma, which is a common type of salivary gland cancer. Bolden had been spending time with his son, Brycen, when he looked in the mirror and said to himself, "I have my full face back." That led him to go through pictures in his phone from when he had surgery, and post them on Instagram to share his story. The medical history was part of Bolden's decision to opt out of the 2020 season as a high-risk player.
"I didn't think I'd be able to play another down in the NFL, and here I am going on four years after the surgery and I'm still working strong," he said.
8. Damien's energy: Attend an early part of Patriots practice in recent weeks and there's usually one voice that booms above the rest; it's Damien Harris. The third-year running back has been fired up, and he's usually sparking things up in the direction of Jones, his best pal from the University of Alabama. Asked to explain where that comes from, Harris said: "I love having the opportunity to go out and do what I love every day. It brings me a lot of joy and excitement. When I'm on the field, I can't help myself sometimes."
Damien Harris ... ready to get this practice started. pic.twitter.com/eHSApZmdpI— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) December 30, 2021
9. Ziegler's notes: In the same vein as Jones, I'm told first-year Patriots director of player personnel Dave Ziegler wrote personal holiday notes to the spouses of those on his staff. The spirit of the notes was to acknowledge, and say thank you for, the sacrifice that families make during football season.
10. Did you know? If Harris eclipses 100 yards rushing against the Jaguars, it will be his third consecutive game hitting that mark, helping him become the first Patriot to do so since Corey Dillon in 2004.