The Patriots wasted little time identifying their plans for the future, naming Jerod Mayo as the next head coach a day after officially moving on from Bill Belichick. Despite the swift action, however, there are still plenty of questions left unanswered.
While Mayo's ascension didn't come as much of a surprise – Robert Kraft referred to him as the heir apparent in the past – the manner in which the move was made was curious. Since Kraft included a clause in Mayo's contract that ensured him as the successor, the Patriots weren't required to conduct interviews and simply made the announcement and now we await his press conference on Wednesday.
But by setting up things in that manner the team cost itself an opportunity to speak with other candidates and in turn lost out on the chance to gain some potential information from the perspective of an outsider or two. What harm would have been done by listening to say, Eric Bienemy or Shane Waldron, and possibly garnering some fresh thoughts on offense? Many teams have a specific guy in mind when they conduct interviews – so Mayo could have been the guy all along but information still could have been gathered.
That part is done, however, and there's excitement around Mayo's appointment and what he might be able to bring to the table. What remains in doubt, though, is the structure of everything else. How will the coaching staff be constructed? What will the personnel department look like? Who will have final say? Are more changes on the way?
In the short term, it appears as if the answers to many of those questions won't be coming anytime soon. Various reports indicate the Patriots plan to keep the personnel department in place through the draft, which is similar to how Belichick handled things when he arrived back in 2000. Bobby Grier and the rest of his scouts remained through the draft despite the arrival of Belichick and Scott Pioli, with the idea being the draft research had been done all season long. Once the draft was finished, Grier and Co. were let go.
It remains to be seen how the futures of Matt Groh, Eliot Wolf and the rest of the personnel department will be affected down the road. Wolf, the current director of college scouting, could stick around long term as part of a collaborative setup even after the draft is complete. At this point, there have been no reports indicating any new potential decision-makers will be making their way to Foxborough so it appears as if the status quo will remain in place.
If true, it could represent another lost opportunity. Many critics of Belichick felt his personnel choices were largely responsible for the team's shortcomings and the idea of adding a new voice was appealing. So far, it doesn't appear that will be the case.
In terms of the coaching staff, that seems much less clear at the moment. According to some reports, both Steve and Brian Belichick have been offered the opportunity to stay on Mayo's staff. Steve Belichick and Mayo have a strong relationship and have worked well together in the past so the idea of keeping that element intact makes some sense – assuming the Belichick boys would be interested in staying rather than joining their father in whatever stop he may make next. (Belichick interviewed for the vacant Atlanta job on Monday).
The offense is a different story. Bill O'Brien may want to move on after a difficult first year back in Foxborough with very little to work with in terms of playmakers. He could be intrigued by the arrival of a new quarterback, but there would be no guarantees that will take place. At this point, there haven't been any potential outside offensive coordinators thrown into the mix with only Josh McDaniels mentioned as a possibility, which is problematic. And McDaniels would more than likely join Belichick at his next stop as well.
So, despite the excitement of what Mayo could add in terms of a new coaching style, it looks like it will be largely more of the same at Patriot Place in terms of personnel with some changes on the way for the coaching staff.
Not so super wild card recap
Texans 45, Browns 14 – Real impressive playoff debut for rookie C.J. Stroud, who tore apart the vaunted Cleveland Browns defense. He found several big plays throughout, including a 76-yard hookup with tight end Brevin Jordan that gave the Texans a lead they would not relinquish.
Joe Flacco got off to a hot start, keeping the Browns in it for a while before tossing pick-sixes on consecutive possessions that turned a 24-14 game into a blowout. But while Flacco ultimately fell short, the more alarming development for the Browns was the defense.
The top-ranked group was shredded throughout, continuing a season-long dichotomy between the unit's performances at home and on the road. Cleveland was lethal at home but was the second-worst group in all of football on the road. Corner Greg Newsome was the main culprit as Stroud targeted him often and beat him for huge plays each time. Newsome was the closest defender on Dalton Schultz' comically easy 37-yard touchdown, and on several other big plays as well.
It all added up to a young, talented team clicking behind its rookie quarterback who appeared to be unfazed by the moment. It also was the start of a largely uncompetitive weekend.
Chiefs 26, Dolphins 7 – Blowout No. 2 came in the Saturday nightcap as the Chiefs defense bullied the banged-up Dolphins in a game that wasn't as close as the lopsided score. Kansas City marched up and down the field all night but struggled in the red zone (just 2 for 6), making the game appear more competitive than it was. Playing without a half dozen starters on defense, particularly edge rushers Bradley Chubb and Jaelan Phillips, Miami couldn't put any pressure on Patrick Mahomes and couldn't slow down the Chiefs.
But the bigger issues were on offense, with a group that was largely healthy. Tua Tagovailoa appeared to be affected by the harsh elements (-4 degrees at kickoff) and the Dolphins struggled with communication issues and failed to move the ball.
Second-year coach Mike McDaniel failed to have his team prepared after stumbling down the stretch, and suddenly questions abound in Miami. It's still a talented team that has grown immensely under McDaniel, but the young coach needs to figure out how to maintain their level of play throughout the season.
Packers 48, Cowboys 32 – This was the true stunner of the weekend, not necessarily the result but the effortless manner in which the Packers dismantled Dallas. Jordan Love was comfortable from the first snap and the Packers took the favored Cowboys to the woodshed, and immediately questions about Mike McCarthy's future surfaced. Might Belichick be headed to Big D?
Green Bay's young corps of offensive weapons ran roughshod over Dallas' stout defense and the game was rarely competitive. A couple of meaningless late touchdowns made the game look like a shootout, but Love was the only one who showed any firepower. He was near perfect moving around the pocket and making off-platform throws throughout, mostly to Romeo Doubs, who enjoyed a huge game.
Meanwhile, Dak Prescott's MVP-caliber season ended with a dud. He appeared flustered from the start, particularly when targeting his top wideout CeeDee Lamb. The poor execution led to a 27-0 deficit until the final play of the first half, and the game was never in question. Now, we wait to see about McCarthy.
Lions 24, Rams 23 – How can you not feel good for Detroit and its fans? After 30-plus years of ineptitude, for one night at least it all came together in an exhilarating playoff win over the Rams.
It's rare that pregame storylines come together in such an obvious way and then turn out to be worth it. That was the case with Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff, both of whom played well in what was the best game of the weekend.
The difference in the game came in the red zone where the Lions went 3 for 3 while the Rams failed on all three of their trips. Otherwise, Stafford was brilliant, as was rookie Puka Nucua. But in the end it was Goff finding Amon-Ra St. Brown for a gutsy first down to close the game on the first play coming out of the two-minute warning. The completion converted a second-and-7 and allowed Detroit to take three knees to kick off the celebration that Detroit has waited decades for. Just a terrific atmosphere and a game that matched it.
Bills 31, Steelers 17 – This was another game that wasn't as close as the score indicated as the Bills basically dominated large stretches of the play. But multiple injuries on defense and struggles in the kicking game allowed Pittsburgh to make a run at it, and Josh Allen was ultimately forced to put together another scoring drive to end it.
Buffalo led 21-0 and was poised to add to it late in the first half when some questionable play calls set up a Tyler Bass field goal. The Steelers blocked it and the ricochet set up Pittsburgh deep in Buffalo territory and led to a touchdown. Instead of 24-0 at half, it was 21-7. Buffalo then lost a boatload of personnel on defense and the Steelers suddenly began to move the ball and crept within 24-17 in the fourth quarter.
That's when Allen capped his solid night with a long touchdown drive that ended with a terrific run-after-catch by Khalil Shakir that put the game out of reach. Now Buffalo gets to face its rival Kansas City in the postseason yet again, only this time in Orchard Park. Should be a good one.
Buccaneers 32, Eagles 9 – Someone should commission the 30 for 30 on the 2023 Eagles because it will be a fascinating inside look at one the true collapses in recent NF memory. Philly went from 10-1 and the best team in football to a laughingstock – all in the span of two months.
Tampa rolled over the once mighty Eagles, breaking tackles all over the secondary while shutting down Jalen Hurts and the Eagles once-potent offense. Yet another blowout ensued, and Baker Mayfield continues his resurgence a season after playing for three teams and wondering if he'd ever earn a starting job again.
The Bucs are supposed to be rebuilding after dealing with some cap issues, but Todd Bowles' team was dominant and now finds itself in the divisional round.
I understand that officiating is often more lenient when the playoffs come around but there were so many blatant pass interference penalties that went uncalled I lost count. Early in the Browns game David Njoku was tackled prior to Flacco's pass arriving yet drew no flag. Lamb was also held and interfered with on Jaire Alexander's interception, a key play that allowed the Packers to create their early separation.
But the Rams were victimized more than any other. There were at least three defensive penalties let go against the Lions secondary, including a key third down on LA's final drive where Nucua's jersey was held and the receiver wasn't able to jump to make the catch as he was being hauled down. Stafford also was victimized by a highly questionable late hit that somehow didn't warrant a roughing call.
We all want the players to decide the games on the field and for officials to stay out of the way, but the flip side where clear infractions go unchecked potentially impacts the games.
Baltimore 34, Houston 23
San Francisco 33, Green Bay 20
Detroit 27, Tampa Bay 16
Buffalo 24, Kansas City 20