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NFL Notes: Changes coming in Foxborough, but how will they unfold?

The Patriots made their intentions for change known last week but how those will manifest themselves remains to be seen.

NFL Notes

Strange times call for strange measures and that's what we had last week in Foxborough.

After missing out on the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, the Patriots – specifically Robert Kraft – were ready to respond.

First, Kraft sent a letter to season ticket members promising changes. A few days later the organization issued a statement claiming the team would indeed be searching for a new offensive coordinator as well as negotiating to keep respected assistant coach Jerod Mayo with the team.

"The New England Patriots and Head Coach Bill Belichick have begun contract extension discussions with Jerod Mayo that would keep him with the team long-term. In addition, the team will begin interviewing for offensive coordinator candidates beginning next week."

In many ways the statement was unprecedented in the Bill Belichick era. Typically the coach would rather perform a duet with Drake than explain his plans for the team, but that's exactly what last week's statement did.

Now, the question is how and when will those changes come to fruition? All eyes are sure to be on Bill O'Brien, who was with the Patriot from 2007-11 and served as offensive coordinator over his last three seasons before leaving to become head coach at Penn State and then in Houston. O'Brien did a terrific job, showing both deference as well as a strong hand with Tom Brady, and his family roots remain on the North Shore area of Boston and it would make sense if he was longing for a return home.

O'Brien also has some familiarity with Mac Jones. Jones was beginning his preparations for the Combine when O'Brien arrived in Tuscaloosa to take over as Alabama's offensive coordinator back in 2021. Jones offered O'Brien a tutorial on the Tide's offense before leaving, so the two have at least had some interaction.

But where does Belichick turn if things can't be worked out with O'Brien?

Most of the names being thrown around are familiar: former Patriots wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea, former Arizona head coach and Patriots draft pick Kliff Kingsbury, former Dolphins and Jets head coach Adam Gase and current tight ends coach Nick Caley have all been discussed.

Honestly, none of those options is especially exciting. If O'Brien can't be coaxed into a return, I'd rather see Belichick step out of his comfort zone and find a young offensive mind who is well-versed in a particular scheme that has been proven.

There was a lot of time spent last summer talking about the Patriots switch to Kyle Shanahan's zone blocking schemes, so why not find a young assistant who is capable of installing such a system? The Rams have offensive coordinator Greg Olson and quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Zac Robinson, both of whom learned under Shanahan disciple Sean McVay.

McVay recently decided to return to L.A. so the Rams coaching staff may not be as readily available as it originally appeared, but Robinson would be an interesting option. Tabbing him as offensive coordinator would represent a promotion and would provide Jones a young (Robinson is 36) sounding board to work with.

Another element of this saga we'll be watching is how the Patriots adhere to the Rooney Rule. The team received mild criticism last year when they moved Matt Patricia from an advisory role and made him an offensive assistant while bypassing the offensive coordinator position entirely. That meant the Patriots didn't need to interview at least two minority candidates, but this time around there will be no technicalities. Their desire for transparency this time around is likely due in part to the Rooney Rule, but regardless it would appear that changes are on the horizon.

Wild Card Weekend

For a weekend that didn't feature many enticing matchups heading in, the first round provided plenty of heart-stopping moments. We'll take a look at each game from the weekend.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) celebrates with tight end George Kittle (85) .
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) celebrates with tight end George Kittle (85) .

San Francisco 41, Seattle 23 – The scoreboard says this was the least competitive game of the weekend but in reality it was closer than the score indicates. Seattle came to play in the first half and took a 17-16 lead to the break. After the Niners opened the second half with a touchdown, Geno Smith again had his team poised to regain the lead with another impressive drive. That's when the Niners vaunted defense turned the tide, coming up with a strip sack of Smith in the red zone to change momentum.

At that point rookie Brock Purdy shook off a shaky start and turned it on the rest of the way. San Francisco racked up 505 yards of total offense and Purdy threw for 332 of them including three touchdowns. The Niners ripped off 25 straight points and cruised to victory.

Jacksonville 31, Los Angeles 30 – Total. System. Breakdown.

No other way to describe the Chargers meltdown that saw L.A. cough up what was a 27-0 lead and find a way to lose. It wasn't really any specific failing by Brandon Staley and the Chargers, but it was a combination of several factors that led to the unraveling.

First, consider the fact that the Jaguars finished minus-5 in turnovers and still won. Trevor Lawrence showed incredible mental toughness in overcoming a disastrous first half that saw him throw four straight interceptions before rallying with four touchdown passes, three coming in the second half.

There were far too many shortcomings by the Chargers to list, including Staley running the ball just eight times in the second half to go along with 25 passes, but we'll focus on two. The first came late in the first half with the Chargers in possession of the ball leading 27-0 and facing a third-and-inches from their own 27 with 2:26 to go. The goal should have been simple: get the first down to ensure the 27-0 lead at the break. The Chargers called for a wide receiver jet motion handoff, which was botched for a 10-yard loss, and suddenly the Jaguars had a chance for the last possession. Predictably, Lawrence led a quick touchdown drive and Jacksonville had life.

Later in the game Staley needlessly gambled again. Leading 30-20 with 7:27 left, Lawrence hit Zay Jones for an 8-yard completion to the Jags 41. Short throws with the clock running should have been exactly what the Chargers wanted, so of course Staley foolishly decided to challenge the play. This stopped the clock, took a timeout away from L.A. and allowed the Jags to regroup. Shortly thereafter they were in the end zone and it was a one-score game.

Joey Bosa's unraveling then helped the Jags go for two and convert, allowing the last-second field goal to be the game-winner rather than just tying the score. All the while the Chargers failed to use their last timeout, even when it was apparent the Jags were primed to kick the field goal. Staley's job security has to be tenuous at best.

Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson and Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence
Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson and Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence

Buffalo 34, Miami 31 – Many felt the Damar Hamlin injury and subsequent recovery would lift the Bills to a team of destiny, but I thought there was a chance the wide range of emotions could hinder the Bills in various ways. That seems to be the case thus far as the Bills were quite sloppy in a season-ending win over the Patriots, and even more so in the playoff opener against the Dolphins.

Josh Allen was equal parts dynamic and disastrous, throwing for 352 yards and three touchdowns while also turning it over three times as well as taking seven sacks. He was reckless with the ball at times, and only his immense talent allowed him to overcome the mistakes to make enough plays to win.

Miami was thoroughly outplayed in the game, but it's hard to blame rookie third-string quarterback Skyler Thompson. He was repeatedly let down by his receivers, who dropped several catchable balls, and some sloppiness on the sidelines that caused problems getting plays in on time. Ultimately the Dolphins turned a fourth-and-inches into a fourth-and-5 on their final offensive play thanks to a delay of game. Even then Thompson found a way to give Mike Gesicki a chance to make the play but it fell incomplete.

The Bills will need to tightened things up significantly in order to make a deep run.

New York 31, Minnesota 24 – How about Daniel Jones?

The much-maligned Giants quarterback may have played the game of his life, although it's hard to tell when going against the wretched Vikings secondary. Jones threw for 301 yards and rushed for 78 more in leading the Giants to the road victory.

Minnesota played with fire all season, posting an amazing 11-0 record in one-score games. But when Kirk Cousins and the offense needed to make a play, they fell short when it mattered most. The final snap came on fourth-and-8, and Cousins' pass to T.J. Hockenson travelled only 3 yards. He was tackled well short of the sticks and the Giants had the win.

For all the talk about Jones and the offense, it was the Giants secondary that impressed the most, limiting Justin Jefferson to seven catches for 47 yards. Cousins was efficient in finding other receivers, but when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter Minnesota was unable to muster a response.

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8), middle, pushes for a first down.
New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8), middle, pushes for a first down.

Cincinnati 24, Baltimore 17 – This was another much-closer-than-expected game that quite honestly the Ravens probably should have won. After managing to navigate through most of the regular season healthy, the Bengals offensive line is in shambles minus three starters and as a result the Ravens defense dominated the second half.

Backup quarterback Tyler Huntley had Baltimore in position for the go-ahead score inside the Bengals 1 early in the fourth quarter but made an unwise decision to try to reach the ball out as he took his sneak over the top. The ball was knocked loose before he broke the plane, and Sam Hubbard grabbed it on the fly and raced 98 yards for the touchdown.

Even with the unfortunate turn of events, Baltimore had another chance to tie it late, marching to the Bengals 17 in the final minute. John Harbaugh opted not to use timeouts during the drive, hoping to score with little to no time left for a Cincinnati response.

Harbaugh's strategy backfired when a holding call pushed the Ravens back, and ultimately Huntley's fourth-down heave into the end fell incomplete after Robert Proche was unable to secure the deflection.

It was a strange decision by Harbaugh for a number of reasons. First, the Ravens needed to score to stay alive and that should have been the main focus. But for Baltimore specifically the lack of timeout usage in essence took away the Ravens ability to do what they do best: run the ball. With 1:30 left from the 20, running J.K. Dobbins or Gus Edwards would have been an option. But allowing the clock to tick inside of 30 seconds, as Harbaugh did, meant the Ravens were all but forced to throw, especially after the holding call came on the final running play they attempted.

The Bengals got away with one, but the state of the offensive line is a major concern moving forward.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) meets with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) after the Cowboys defeated the Buccaneers.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) meets with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) after the Cowboys defeated the Buccaneers.

Dallas 31, Tampa Bay 14 – This was by far the least competitive game of the weekend. After a slow start offensively, Dak Prescott got the Cowboys moving and they scored touchdown on four straight possessions. Only Brett Maher missing his first four PATs left any intrigue in the remainder of the game.

That was mostly due to the ineptitude of the Bucs offense, which was stuck in neutral all night. Tom Brady never resembled the GOAT and ultimately went out with a whimper. It was eerily reminiscent of his last start as a Patriot in the wild card loss to the Titans in 2019.

Now the focus will be on Brady's future, which figures to get some attention down the road.

Final thoughts

Interesting to look at the final eight coaches still alive: only Buffalo's Sean McDermott comes from a defensive background. … Although the weekend was more competitive than most thought, it was hard not to focus on the officiating that impacted several of the games. Bosa indeed lost his mind and cost the Chargers dearly, but watching Jags tackle Jawaan Taylor jump the snap count repeatedly with no flags was ridiculous. On the play that finally caused Bosa to snap, Taylor not only was guilty of a false start but he also put the pass rusher in a bear hug with no call. … The roughing the pass penalty called on the Giants Dexter Lawrence on the Vikings final drive was borderline criminal. It basically handed the Vikings a chance to tie it when Lawrence did everything short of gently placing Cousins to the turf to avoid the penalty. But the flag came nonetheless. Fortunately for the Giants they came up with the stop and the victory anyway. … The Seahawks took some liberties early in their game with the Niners, including one play where Johnathan Abram intentionally twisted Deebo Samuel's ankle after a tackle. Purdy also was roughed up out of bounds, but none of the plays drew penalties.

Power 8

  1. Buffalo (13-3) – The Bills need to protect the football better to make a run.
  2. San Francisco (12-4) – The Purdy machine keeps rolling.
  3. Kansas City (14-3) – The Chiefs watched the sloppiness and now await the Jaguars.
  4. Cincinnati (12-4) – The Bengals have some concerns up front.
  5. Philadelphia (14-3) – Like the Chiefs, the Eagles are rested and ready.
  6. Dallas (12-5) – The Cowboys shook off their recent struggles and rolled in Tampa.
  7. N.Y. Giants (9-7-1) – Impressive playoff debut by Daniel Jones and the Giants.
  8. Jacksonville (9-8) – The Jaguars pulled off a miracle but will need another one in K.C.

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