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NFL Notes: Mayo hits the ground running

Less than a week into his tenure as Patriots coach, Jerod Mayo is already busy trying to rebuild the team.

Patriots head coach Jerod Mayo.
Patriots head coach Jerod Mayo.

Jerod Mayo has officially been on the job for less than a week, but the Patriots new head coach has been quite busy. With a coaching staff to fill and a personnel department to sort out, Mayo will have some key decisions to make in the coming days and weeks, and that doesn't even include the far more difficult task of improving the roster.

The first part of the process has already begun with reports indicating the Patriots have conducted interviews for the offensive, defensive and special teams coordinator spots. According to Mayo those meetings have included both Eliot Wolf and Matt Groh, who remain at the top of the personnel department as the team continues to figure out the front office structure moving forward.

Among those who have already drawn interest from Mayo are Zac Robinson, Nick Caley and Dan Pitcher on offense, DeMarcus Covington, Michael Hodges, Christian Parker and Tem Lukabu on defense and Jeremy Springer, Marquice Williams and Thomas McGaughey on special teams.

The one opening we know will exist at this point is offensive coordinator with the news of Bill O'Brien heading to Ohio State circulating over the weekend. O'Brien had a trying first season back in Foxborough working with an at times dysfunctional group and therefore it wasn't surprising to see him look elsewhere for a new opportunity.

In searching for his replacement, Robinson is a name that intrigues me given his ties to Sean McVay and the Rams offense. He joined McVay's staff in 2019, working with quarterbacks and receivers until ascending to the title of passing game coordinator in 2022. Although Robinson never called plays for the Rams, his knowledge of the system makes him an attractive candidate. The fact that Caley was also part of the Rams staff (tight ends coach) could potentially bring two new voices to New England with in-depth knowledge of a different system – one that has enjoyed success in the league in various locales.

On defense, it appears that Covington would be considered the inside favorite. He oversaw the defensive line during the season, and that was by far the most impressive element of the 2023 Patriots team. He obviously worked well with Mayo and has experience operating in a defense that the new coach is comfortable with. Despite receiving very little support from the offense, the unit generally kept the team competitive most weeks so it would be understandable if Mayo wasn't looking for wholesale changes on that side of the ball.

Another option to consider would be Steve Belichick. Speaking on sports radio WEEI, Mayo said both Steve and brother Brian were given the opportunity to stay in New England as part of the staff if they chose not to join their father on his next stop (assuming there is one). For Steve Belichick, who has called the defensive plays for the Patriots, that would likely mean a significant role on defense – perhaps as assistant head coach if Mayo wanted Covington for the coordinator position.

While the coaching news will garner most of the attention at this early stage, the direction of the team will also be worth noting. With the third overall pick in April's draft, Mayo will have an opportunity to select a significant piece to help the sagging offense – including quarterback. Mayo also mentioned on WEEI that he intends on spending money to add to the roster.

"We're bringing in talent, 1,000 percent," Mayo said with a laugh. "We have a lot of cap space and cash. We're ready to burn some cash."

Mayo made some waves in the aftermath of his introductory press conference last week when he told WBZ's Steve Burton that the team would be taking a player "at an important position," intimating that a quarterback would be the pick in the draft. He seemed to douse those flames when asked about it on WEEI.

"We're going to take the best available player for the biggest need on the team – offensive line, receiver, quarterback – pick your [choice]," he said.

Lots of decisions to be made, and Mayo is just getting started.

Weekend recap

After a rather dull start to the postseason during wild card weekend, the divisional round did not disappoint, featuring three-and-a-half tight games and plenty of drama. Only the Ravens second-half dominance over Houston prevented all four from being nailbiters.

Ravens 34, Texans 10 – Houston was outplayed for stretches of the first half but used a punt return and some timely defense to find itself tied at 10 heading to the locker room. It was all Baltimore from there.

The Ravens defense, which was among the best in the league in a variety of categories, showed why in shutting down C.J. Stroud, the NFL's passing leader, and the Texans offense. Stroud was limited to 175 yards passing and Houston picked up just 213 yards of offense and managed just three offensive points.

Meanwhile, Lamar Jackson had his MVP form on display, rushing for 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns while adding another pair through the air. It was a dominant second half for the AFC's top seed, who now get to host a conference title game for the first time since 1971.

49ers 24, Packers 21 – Things didn't go quite as smoothly for the NFC's top seed. San Francisco was outplayed for large chunks of the rainy night, and Green Bay was in position to pull off the upset heading into the fourth quarter. But that's when the clock struck midnight on Jordan Love, who followed seven playoff quarters of solid play with one bad one that cost the Packers a chance to advance.

The Niners struggled offensively most of the night, largely due to the erratic play of Brock Purdy and some questionable decisions from coach Kyle Shanahan. With Purdy struggling in the rain, Shanahan seemed unwilling to turn the game over to Christian McCaffrey and almost paid the price for it. But trailing 21-14 entering the fourth quarter, the Niners finally woke up.

Love tossed a pair of interceptions to Dre Greenlaw, and Purdy fashioned a terrific game-winning drive to take the lead with just over a minute left. Love's second pick was particularly crushing as he rolled to his right and threw back toward the middle, forcing the ball despite having plenty of time to get his team into field goal range. That ended the hopes of the Packers becoming the first 7-seed to reach the title game.

Lions 31, Buccaneers 23 – There were times when Tampa Bay appeared to be poised to pull off the upset, but then Jared Goff mounted a couple of fourth quarter touchdown drives to take command. With the game knotted at 17 entering the final quarter, the Lions responded with touchdown drives of 75 and 89 yards, the first ending with a 3-yard by Jahmyr Gibbs and the second with a Goff touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown.

Still, the Bucs responded with a quick touchdown drive to make it interesting. The failed two-point conversion left the deficit at 8, and the Lions were unable to run out the clock due to some overly aggressive play calling near the two-minute warning. A pair of passes failed to produce a first down and gave Tampa possession for one final drive and plenty of time.

Then Baker Mayfield made his only real mistake of the game, forcing a passing into coverage over the middle that Derrick Barnes picked off to seal it, sending the Lions to San Francisco for their first conference title appearance since 1991.

Chiefs 27, Bills 24 – I could watch these teams play every week. Two great quarterbacks trading haymakers all night long with Patrick Mahomes, as usual, coming out on top in the end.

The much-maligned Chiefs offense has been great in the playoffs, and operating against a severely undermanned Bills defense that was certainly the case on Sunday. Mahomes mixed Isiah Pacheco runs with pin-point passing to Travis Kelce and Marquez Valdez-Scantling as Kansas City posted touchdowns on its first two second-half possessions, the second giving the Chiefs a 27-24 lead.

Josh Allen matched Mahomes all night, using his legs and a short passing game to methodically chew up yards and time while putting Buffalo in position to exorcise their postseason demons. But it wasn't to be, as yet again he was let down by his supporting cast.

Allen threw three perfect long balls, two to Trent Sherfield and one to Stefon Diggs, and all three were dropped. The one to Diggs was particularly deflating as he hit his favorite target some 60-plus yards downfield in stride while trailing by a field goal on the final drive.

Still, Allen overcame that and marched the Bills into easy field goal range, only to watch Tyler Bass push a 43-yarder wide to the right, sending the Chiefs to Baltimore.

Things that bugged me

I won't spend too much time on the Bucs choice to go for two after cutting the Lions lead to 31-23. The analytics experts constantly explain how the odds of converting one of two conversions are in your favor, and therefore if you convert the first one then a potential game-winning PAT kick exists. It's not a concept that is difficult to understand; it's just one I don't agree with.

The problem is twofold: First, missing the first one stunts momentum, which is what happened to Tampa; and second, there are no odds that quantify how much more difficult converting the second one with the game on the line is compared to any other time of the game. So, telling me the conversion rate is 54 percent is irrelevant. It's much tougher than that given the pressure of the season ending on a miss.

Both coaches erred in the final minute of the game with regard to clock management. After Barnes' interception with 1:33 left the Lions needed only to take three knees to close it out since Tampa had only one timeout remaining. But Dan Campbell had Goff snap the ball for second down at the 1:06 mark with 13 seconds still left on the play clock. Goff then took the third down snap with 37 ticks left (11 seconds on play clock). But Todd Bowles never used the final timeout, even after the third down snap would have left more than 30 seconds to set up fourth down.

Bowles later said the Lions would have had a field goal anyway, but the attempt would have been from 48 yards, which was no sure thing. He chose to let the time run out instead. It should have been a moot point if Goff simply allowed the play clock to wind down before taking a knee, thus eating up the remaining time, but Bowles chose not to take advantage of the mistakes. Both were guilty of poor game management.

Finally, hard to imagine what was going through Greenlaw's mind as he was aimlessly running back and forth following his game-clinching interception. He needlessly risked a fumble rather than falling to the ground, perhaps looking to score a touchdown rather than simply securing the victory.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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