FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts/notes around the New England Patriots and the NFL:
1. McDaniels factor: There was a notable “what could have been” moment that unfolded after one of the Patriots-Eagles practices last week when New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Philadelphia executive vice president and general manager Howie Roseman were talking.
They hadn’t known each other well before connecting this offseason when Roseman was looking to hire Doug Pederson’s replacement as Eagles coach. McDaniels was a finalist, and had Roseman offered him the job instead of Nick Sirianni, he would be in the initial stages of his second stint as a head coach, fulfilling what remains a career goal.
Instead, McDaniels returned for his 18th season with the Patriots and 10th straight as coordinator since beginning his second stint with the organization following his time with the Denver Broncos (2009-10) and Los Angeles Rams (2011). No current NFL offensive coordinator has been in the same position with the same organization for a longer stretch.
When quarterbacks Cam Newton (8-of-9, 103 yards, one TD) and Mac Jones (13-of-19, 146 yards) perform as well as they did Thursday — albeit against Eagles’ second-unit defenders — it sparks hope for the franchise as it transitions from the Tom Brady era.
Josh McDaniels catches up with the Eagles’ Howie Roseman after practice. They are familiar with each other, of course, from McDaniels’ offseason interview for Philadelphia’s head coaching job. pic.twitter.com/hNyHRq56dW
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) August 16, 2021
It is also a reminder of the role McDaniels plays as O-coordinator and quarterbacks coach — no one works closer with Newton and Jones — and how significant it was for the organization that the Eagles passed on hiring him.
“No. 1, he’s a great person and he relates well to players, but in terms of him as a coach, one of his biggest strengths is his ability to teach,” said longtime NFL quarterback Matt Cassel, who credits his time with McDaniels and the Patriots (2005-08) for laying the foundation for a 14-year career. “There’s guys that can go through a play, but not really know how to detail it, teach it, and have you fully understand conceptually why you’re going a certain place with the ball. Or why you’re making this check.
“He tells you the expectation of the [quarterback] room. From there, every single day he has something new and creative to keep your mind going, to keep you learning. He challenges you. By doing that, you grow so much as a player.”
That dynamic was what had appealed to the Eagles, who hope to see second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts grow into their franchise quarterback.
“My rookie year going into my second year, I spent a whole offseason with Josh,” said Cassel, who is a must-watch analyst on NBC Sports Boston. “He would set up unique drills that are unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. He’d have me call out plays in a two-minute situation. We’d work down the field and he’d say, ‘We have a second-and-6, what do you like here?’ We’d work all the way down to the red zone and it was ‘What’s your top two red zone calls?’ … It makes you think about situational football, why you’re calling certain plays, what your go-to plays are, and it allows him to know what you like.”
2. Uche update: Promising second-year outside linebacker Josh Uche left Thursday’s game after six plays, and it’s unclear what sidelined him, though my understanding is it does not involve long-term ramifications.
3a. Late return: When coach Bill Belichick told reporters first thing Friday morning the Patriots had just returned to Gillette Stadium a couple hours earlier, he wasn’t kidding. What would have normally been a quicker return trip from Philadelphia became significantly delayed, and the team arrived about sunrise.
3b. Plane to Haiti: It was a top-notch gesture by owners Robert and Jonathan Kraft to load up the team’s plane with medical supplies to aid earthquake-ravaged Haiti. It took off from Boston’s Logan Airport Saturday morning. In addition to supplies, three physicians, two surgeons and a nurse were on board. It is a reminder the Patriots’ logo represents more than just football.
4. Cam down the field: Newton was dialed in Thursday, with Patriots radio analyst Scott Zolak opining it was as good as he has looked as a Patriot, right there with his Week 2 performance against the Seattle Seahawks last season (30-of-44 for 397 yards, one TD, zero INTs). That’s a solid link to make when considering Newton completed three passes of at least 10 air yards on one first-quarter drive, which is something he did on a single drive twice in all of 2020 — both against Seattle. Yes, Cam can still let it rip.
5. Sirianni on Mac: Sirianni said his staff got a look at Jones during the pre-draft process, in part because Philadelphia was watching so much of wide receiver DeVonta Smith at Alabama (whom it picked No. 10 overall). Sirianni said Jones’ accuracy and decisiveness of knowing where to go with the ball stood out. “When you’re watching DeVonta’s highlights, it’s easy to be like, ‘Whoa, that guy can make some great throws,'” said Sirianni, who then watched Jones on Thursday.
6. First-class RB problem: It’s a good “problem” when a team has too much talent at one position, such as the case with Patriots running backs. Damien Harris, Sony Michel, James White and Rhamondre Stevenson form a solid top four, and J.J. Taylor’s dynamic spin move Thursday and playmaking ability make him worthy of a roster spot, with core special-teamer Brandon Bolden rounding out the group. It’s hard to imagine the Patriots keeping six, and five might be a stretch. So running back-needy teams might consider dialing up New England. As Belichick noted after the game, the competition seems to be bringing out the best in everyone, and it’s “a great situation.”
7. Field trip to NFL Films: Belichick seemed to enjoy expounding upon the Patriots’ field trip to NFL Films in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, last week. With the team practicing in Philadelphia, and Mount Laurel about 20 miles from the Patriots’ hotel, the schedule worked out for a visit that was educational and fostered some team bonding.
“It was a great trip for all of us,” Belichick told 98.5 The Sports Hub. “NFL Films does such an outstanding job of capturing all the aspects of football — the highlights, the drama, sometimes the humor, the emotion and so forth. It was really interesting for all of us to see the behind-the-scenes work they do — how they compose the music, how they put together different edits, all the cameras they have, all the storage, all the films. It’s an enormous operation, and it’s done at such a high level. … It certainly gave us perspective of how NFL Films has enhanced the popularity of football.”
8. Barmore at the mic: Rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore slipped to the second round of the 2021 NFL draft in part due to a combination of limited playing experience and maturity questions — he had posted on social media he wanted out of Alabama in 2020 and deleted references to the school from his account — but he showed a level of respect that caught my attention in Philadelphia. Because there wasn’t a traditional setup for interviews after practice, it required a Patriots staff member to uncomfortably crouch in front of him and hold a microphone. Barmore, 22, asked if he could hold it instead.
9. Giant week ahead: The Patriots welcome the New York Giants to town on Wednesday and Thursday for practices (10 a.m. start, open to public), and the teams will play their preseason finale Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. So why the practices in Foxborough when the game is on the road? Giants coach Joe Judge previously said part of the reason is with the change in the preseason schedule (three games instead of four), the organizations decided to “exchange a little bit year by year” and give fans a chance to see a second opponent in the preseason. So next year, when the Giants will likely host one preseason game and visit the Patriots in the 2022 preseason finale, the teams would plan to practice together beforehand in East Rutherford.
10. Did You Know: Had the 17-play, 91-yard touchdown drive that Jones led on his first series Thursday happened in the regular season, it would have been the Patriots’ longest touchdown drive since Week 3 of 2015 (a 51-17 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars). One common thread between the two 17-play drives was how they finished: LeGarrette Blount scored on a 1-yard run against Jacksonville, and Thursday, Stevenson — a player who has drawn comparisons to Blount — did the same.