When the New England Patriots revisit the site of Super Bowl LIII for “Thursday Night Football,” Mercedes-Benz Stadium won’t be all that is familiar. There’s also the faces.
Eleven former Patriots players are now in the fold for head coach Arthur Smith’s Atlanta Falcons between the active roster and practice squad.
Here’s a glance through those on-field connections ahead of the 8:20 p.m. ET kickoff.
Cordarrelle Patterson, running back — The Patriots acquired Patterson from the Oakland Raiders in a swap of picks in the fifth and sixth rounds of the 2018 NFL draft. A ring followed. The Tennessee Volunteer totaled 475 yards and four touchdowns on offense during his lone regular season with New England, starting five games between wide receiver and running back. He would also average 28.8 yards per kickoff return with an additional trip to the end zone. Patterson then signed a two-year, $10 million pact with the Chicago Bears before finding his way to Atlanta in April. Now 30 years old, the six-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler on special teams has amassed 303 rushing yards, 473 receiving yards and seven touchdowns on offense as a Falcon. He suffered a sprained ankle in Week 10.
Marvin Hall, wide receiver — The Falcons brought back Hall on the practice squad as the calendar turned to November. The 28-year-old wideout had scored his first career touchdown with the organization in 2017 before making stops with an additional four teams. The Patriots were among them. Hall signed with New England in June and was placed on injured reserve at the 85-man roster cutdown in August. He subsequently agreed to an injury settlement having made his lone appearance in the preseason opener. Through 45 NFL games, the 2016 undrafted free agent out of Washington stands with 37 receptions for 772 yards and five touchdowns.
Lee Smith, tight end — Turning 34 before December, Smith had his draft card turned in by New England at No. 159 overall back in 2011. The blocking tight end by way of Marshall has since appeared in 141 NFL games. None transpired with the Patriots, who waived Smith after his rookie preseason and saw him claimed by the Buffalo Bills. Smith has gone on to make 75 starts while logging 72 receptions for 511 yards and 11 touchdowns. The veteran returned to Buffalo on a three-year deal in 2019 after a stint with the Raiders. He now finds himself 172 offensive snaps into his stint with the Falcons. Inactive last Sunday, Smith has caught eight passes for 53 yards and one TD on the campaign.
Colby Gossett, guard — A 2018 Minnesota Vikings sixth-round pick, Gossett’s NFL itinerary included a 2019 stop on New England’s practice squad. The interior lineman would be released after nine September days. Gossett, now 26, went to on to spend parts of two seasons with the Cleveland Browns before being claimed off waivers by Atlanta at the 53-man roster deadline. The Georgia native and Appalachian State product has checked into six contests for the Falcons, working in for 14 snaps on offense and 21 snaps on special teams.
Willie Beavers, guard — The Falcons signed Beavers to the practice squad in 2020, and the 28-year-old re-signed to the practice squad at its formation in 2021. Time with five NFL clubs and the XFL’s Dallas Renegades preceded Beavers’ time with Atlanta. Originally a Vikings fourth-round pick in 2016, the offensive lineman out of Western Michigan appeared in two games as a rookie. He then accrued two weeks on the Patriots’ practice squad in September 2017 before being released.
Mike Pennel, defensive tackle — The Patriots signed Pennel to a two-year deal worth up to $8 million in 2019. The ex-AFC East rival with the New York Jets would go on to appear in three preseason games before being released ahead of that summer’s finale. The nose tackle via Colorado State University-Pueblo then went through the workout circuit before signing with the Kansas City Chiefs on the way to collecting a Super Bowl LIV ring. Pennel began 2021 with Chicago. After his release from injured reserve, the 30-year-old joined Atlanta’s practice squad. Pennel has since signed to the 53-man roster. He’s notched six tackles through four appearances.
Nick Thurman, defensive tackle — Atlanta added Thurman to the practice squad in October. Prior to then, the 26-year-old had reverted to New England’s injured reserve at the roster deadline before reaching a settlement to begin September. Thurman entered the league with the Houston Texans as an undrafted rookie via the Houston Cougars in 2018. He spent the following April with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before agreeing to terms with the Patriots. Thurman resided on New England’s practice squad for the duration of the 2019 season and saw action in seven games last campaign. Those games brought his first career start and 10 tackles, including one for loss.
Brandon Copeland, linebacker — Copeland signed a one-year deal with the Patriots that qualified for the salary benefit in March 2020. His stay in Foxborough concluded on injured reserve with a torn pectoral after 12 tackles, four starts and 80 percent of the workload on special teams. The Falcons signed Copeland as free agency opened in the spring, and the veteran linebacker has proceeded to record 14 tackles, with one for loss, through eight matchups. Undrafted out of Penn in 2013, Atlanta marks the sixth NFL club for the 30-year-old Copeland. He set a career high with five sacks as a Jet in 2018.
James Vaughters, linebacker — Entering the league as part of the Green Bay Packers’ 2015 undrafted class, Vaughters went on to sign a futures contract with New England following his rookie season. The linebacker from Stanford would be waived heading into organized team activities that May. Since then, Vaughters, a Grey Cup champion, has posted 30 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble through 22 NFL games. The 28-year-old began 2021 as an elevation from the Atlanta practice squad for before officially signing to the active roster in November.
Duron Harmon, safety — Drafted No. 91 overall by the Patriots in 2013, Harmon arrived eight slots after Rutgers roommate and fellow defensive back Logan Ryan. Harmon’s tenure with New England ended as a three-time Super Bowl champion with 17 interceptions, 175 tackles, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries. The Patriots sent the safety, nicknamed “The Closer,” to the Detroit Lions in a move that cleared roughly $3.5 million against the salary cap entering the 2020 league year. Harmon, now 30, agreed to terms with the Falcons on a one-year deal in April. He’s started all nine games this season to total 33 tackles and a pair of passes defended.
Younghoe Koo, kicker — Before Koo became a Pro Bowler for the Falcons, the 27-year-old specialist went from the San Diego Chargers to the Atlanta Legends and then to New England. Koo spent two weeks on the practice squad after Patriots all-time scoring leader Stephen Gostkowski was placed on injured reserve in October 2019. The Georgia Southern alum has since converted on 92.5 percent of his field goals and 94.2 percent of his extra points across three seasons as a Falcon. He’s had two game-winning kicks thus far in 2021, going 15-of-16 with a long of 53 yards.
Justin Bethel, cornerback — Bethel signed a one-year deal with the Falcons in 2018 after a run with the Arizona Cardinals that spanned three Pro Bowls and two first-team All-Pros at gunner. The Presbyterian Blue Hose standout gathered 14 tackles through 14 games for Atlanta while handling 67 percent of the snaps on special teams. Bethel then began 2019 with the Baltimore Ravens before being released in a move dictated by the NFL’s compensatory formula. The 31-year-old has been on the field for 35 games as a Patriot dating back to then. He’s accumulated 750 snaps in the kicking game over that span while having a hand in 22 tackles, one pass deflection, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.