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Patriots Notebook

Hard work finally paying off for Patriots defensive end Derek Rivers

Derek Rivers gets a hold of Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the second half, bringing him down for the Patriots' only sack.
Derek Rivers gets a hold of Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the second half, bringing him down for the Patriots' only sack.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Finally healthy, Patriots defensive end Derek Rivers said it was “a blast” to play in Sunday’s season opener, his first NFL game in over 18 months.

“Football is something that God has blessed me to do,” Rivers said Monday ."To be able to go out there and do it again, it was just a blast. It was even more fun to just be out there with my brothers."

Against the Miami Dolphins, Rivers was on the field for 32 percent of New England’s defensive snaps, which marked a new career-high. In the fourth quarter, he fought through two Dolphins offensive lineman to take down a scrambling Ryan Fitzpatrick for a loss of nine yards. The tackle was New England’s first — and only — sack of the game.

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“It’s nothing but the grace of God, man,” Rivers said. “To God be the glory. It’s all Him. It’s just a blessing to be out there with your brothers and your teammates.”

The journey to Sunday’s game hasn’t been easy for Rivers.

After the Patriots used their top draft pick in 2017, No. 83 overall in the third round, to select him, Rivers missed the entirety of his rookie season due to a torn ACL suffered during a joint practice with the Houston Texans. He recovered to make his NFL debut in Week 3 of the 2018 season, and played in six games that year. Then, in 2019, he once again injured his knee, this time in the team’s second preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. He underwent surgery and was placed on season-ending injured reserve.

Rivers, now 26, has worked his back, rehabbing throughout the unusual offseason to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.

His efforts earned a lengthy salute from coach Bill Belichick.

Derek Rivers chases Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) in the second half of Sunday's game.
Derek Rivers chases Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) in the second half of Sunday's game.Steven Senne/Associated Press

“Derek’s really done an incredible job,” Belichick said. “I don’t think I’ve ever really seen him on a down day. He’s always got a positive attitude, he works extremely hard, and he always works on the things that will help him and help the team — kind of the ‘first one in and last one out’ type of guy in the building.”

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Belichick credited Rivers for his mental toughness over the last three years.

“He never had anything but a positive, hard-working, competitive attitude,” Belichick said. “Having the opportunity to play yesterday and go out and help the team win was very gratifying — I know for him — but for all of us, all of his teammates and other people on the team, the training staff, strength staff, all the guys that have worked with him during that time.”

Among those who couldn’t contain their excitement for Rivers was fellow defensive end Chase Winovich, one of the first players to celebrate following his sack in Sunday’s win.

“Football’s one of those weird dynamics, where there’s no guaranteed money, for the most part, so you’re pitted against guys in the same room,” Winovich said. "From a friendship dynamic, it’s kind of weird. But Derek’s personality, I talked to him about this before, it kind of transcends that.

“He’s a great dude and he’s a great teammate. Any time you have a guy like that, that’s clearly selfless and that’s been working hard, get a sack, you’re just fired up for him.”

‘“He’s a great dude and he’s a great teammate. Any time you have a guy like that, that’s clearly selfless and that’s been working hard, get a sack, you’re just fired up for him.”’

Chase Winovich on Derek Rivers

Rivers expressed an appreciation for the support.

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“To have the type of community and brotherhood here, between players, coaches, and just this whole team, whenever somebody is going through something, it’s just awesome to have that type of support from your brothers and your coaches,” he said. “It just makes you want to go harder.”

Kraft donates $100,000 for legal aid

Patriots owner Robert Kraft has donated $100,000 to Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), a local group of attorneys and paralegals that provide free legal advice and representation to low-income individuals.

The money will be used to provide support to families facing eviction amid unemployment as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. According to Kraft’s announcement, GBLS can “help these families navigate their rights, identify their opportunities, provide housing court representation, negotiate with their landlords, and achieve more positive outcomes.”

The donation is part of Kraft’s $1 million pledge to help fight against systemic racism.


Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com.