One player experienced the joy of winning the Super Bowl last season. The other had to watch while his former teammates scaled the highest NFL mountain without him.
Both men then endured the frustration of having to overcome major offseason surgeries, but there's finally light at the end of the tunnel for defensive lineman Chris Jones (calf) and linebacker Dane Fletcher (knee).
While Jones and Fletcher remain on PUP (the physically unable to perform list), their appearances in uniform at practice this week mark the most significant milestone in their 2015 seasons to date. As noted here on Tuesday, either or both of them could be activated as early as this weekend.
Before then, though, they each expressed gratitude for how far they've come already.
"It felt good, man. It's been a long time," Jones said of his first action in pads since Super Bowl XLIX. "It was good to be out there and get a little contact work in, get that football feel. I'm still trying to get in the swing of football mechanics."
"Yeah, it's not easy to be on the sideline watching your guys," said Fletcher, who spent his first four NFL season with New England before signing as a free agent with Tampa Bay last year. "It wasn't the easiest thing in the world [to see the Patriots win it all last year], but we're here now and I'm just happy to be back. I feel really comfortable right now. I feel like I'm pretty strong. I train as hard as I can every day."
For the third time in his football career, Fletcher has had to overcome a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament, and at age 29, the veteran admitted to having doubts about his future in the NFL.
"I think everybody goes through that when you get injured," Fletcher mused. "I'm not going to lie. After it happened, I had my head down and kind of just thought that was it. The first couple of weeks, you don't know where you stand. So, yeah, I was definitely back and forth with it, but once I really geared up and set my mind to it, I've been gung ho and haven't looked back one instant."
After being injured in the regular season finale last December, Fletcher said he came back to visit his old teammates in New England, with whom he remained close, and they encouraged him to give it another shot. His Bucs contract was just for one season, so, he was free to re-sign with the Patriots. The person who ultimately convinced him, though, was his own mother.
"My mom doesn't take 'no' for an answer. She's crazy like that," Fletcher laughed. "I told her, 'I'm just debating retiring.' She said, 'No, you're not.' I said, 'No, I'm not, then. All right, I'll take it from there.'"
Once Jones was able to start rehabbing, he found that the process was taking longer than he expected. Yet he took solace in the fact that his coaches elected to keep him around by placing him on PUP to allow him sufficient time to recover.
"Absolutely, gave me a lot of confidence in myself and them. They're giving me this great opportunity to come back and play. I took that to heart, worked really hard when I could.
"You don't really appreciate it as much until you can't do it, until it's really gone," added Jones. "Now I really appreciate the opportunities that I get. I can't take anything for granted. Definitely blessed."
"There's no promises in this world," echoed Fletcher. "I'm just trying to earn a spot on the team, just like everybody else. I don't want anything handed to me. Got to go out there and earn it.
"It's been a terrible year away, I'm not going to lie. I'm just excited to be back and be a part of things again. Eager to get back on the field."
McCourty not seeing double
As Tuesday's trade deadline approached, media rumors circulated that the Patriots might be interested in trading for a cornerback, specifically Jason McCourty of Tennessee. He happens to be the twin brother of Patriots safety and co-captain Devin McCourty.
If there was any truth to those reports, the potential deal apparently fell through, as the trade deadline came and went and Jason remains with the Titans.
The identical twins last played together as high school and college teammates in New Jersey at St. Joseph Regional High (Montvale) and Rutgers University.
"It was funny just hearing about it," Devin told reporters Wednesday. "Someday, we'll play together. Just not this year."
They will, however, face each other next month when Jason's Titans visit Foxborough in Week 15.
As was the case on Tuesday, only three Patriots were not present and accounted for: DE Jabaal Sheard (ankle), OL Marcus Cannon (toe), and rookie OL Tre Jackson (left knee).