Patriots

Why Josh McDaniels will be Patriots' most vital coach in 2020

Why Josh McDaniels will be Patriots' most vital coach in 2020

It’s Robert Kraft’s franchise. It’s Bill Belichick’s team.

But it’s Josh McDaniels’ offense — and he is the most important coach for the Patriots in 2020. 

For years, the Patriots have been able to rely on the metronomic efficiency of Tom Brady. His complete understanding of the Patriots offense, his encyclopedic knowledge of every possible defensive scheme, understanding what plays to get into and out of, when to throw it away and fight another play, when to stand in and take the hit, situational football, clock management, all of it. 

Brady’s interceptions and gaffes were so few over the years, the fact they are easily recalled speaks to the fact a Brady mistake was a noteworthy moment. 

But he gone. 

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If and when the NFL returns to business as usual, McDaniels will be charged with creating an offense around someone other than the greatest quarterback in NFL history.

And that won’t be easy.

The Brady-McDaniels collaboration did a tremendous job of masking how bad the talent/experience drain on the Patriots offense really was. From the 2017 Super Bowl through to the start of the 2019 regular season, the Patriots ran at a trade deficit.  

Now? With no tight ends to help as either receivers or in the running game, a running game that spun its wheels most of last season, a wide receiver group the team hopes isn’t as impotent as last year and a promising quarterback in Jarrett Stidham who’ll be Zooming all tutelage for the foreseeable future? 

There’s no free agent cavalry coming. There’s no draft day panacea. It’s McDaniels and Stidham/Brian Hoyer/whoever gets added in the draft. 

And make no mistake, the offense is all McDaniels. 

As Bill Belichick explained in NFL Films’ production of “Do Your Job III” after Super Bowl 53, “I give him a little bit of input, but 90 to 95 percent is his plan, his vision. 

“Rarely do we see things that differently. But sometimes there will be things that I suggest. Sometimes he’ll say, ‘I think that would be great,’ and sometimes he’ll say, ‘I don’t really think this is the right time for us to do that. Here’s the reason why.’ And he’s usually right.”

Obviously, after 45 seasons in the NFL, Belichick could coordinate an offense as well as just about anyone. But defense is Belichick’s bailiwick and that’s where he spends his time. 

This excellent but perhaps overlooked story by Phil Perry in January illustrates the game-day division of power between Belichick and McDaniels. It was written after the Patriots' back-to-back losses to the Dolphins and Titans ending their season and detailed what game day on the Patriots sidelines looks like.  

When it was written, there was a very real chance McDaniels could wind up with a head coaching gig. The Panthers, Giants and Browns were all in pursuit. 

But McDaniels never got the chance to sit down with either the Panthers or Giants. He was tied up with end-of-season evaluations in Foxboro and when the Panthers made a quick move to hire Matt Rhule, the Giants moved quickly too and hired Joe Judge, who’d been liberated from Gillette to talk to Big Blue. 

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When McDaniels and the Browns agreed the fit wasn’t right in Cleveland, McDaniels was back with the Patriots. 

Boon for them. An even bigger boon now that Brady is gone. 

Losing Brady and McDaniels in the same offseason could have been disastrous. It’s arguably the best OC/QB collaboration in NFL history. Actually, since McDaniels has had so much offensive latitude given to him by Belichick, McDaniels/Brady can be compared to the Bill Walsh/Joe Montana-Steve Young, Mike Holmgren/Brett Favre partnerships even though McDaniels wasn’t a head coach. 

The issue facing McDaniels — having to coach up a young player without having direct access to him or the chance to correct in the classroom or on the practice field — isn’t unique this offseason. 

But the Patriots do have an edge. McDaniels was key in the development of Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett. He’s an excellent teacher and he’s got the ability to coach guys who have different styles. 

McDaniels also got help last season from assistant quarterbacks coach Mick Lombardi, who worked extensively with Stidham all season to bring him up to speed. 

Meanwhile, the Patriots have added longtime college and NFL assistant Jedd Fisch to the offensive coaching room. His role and title aren’t defined but he’s ping-ponged from the Ravens to the Broncos (where he was McDaniels’ wide receivers coach) to the University of Minnesota to the Seahawks to the University of Miami to the Jaguars to Michigan to UCLA to the Rams since 2004. 

It’s logical to think Fisch may have appeal because of his familiarity with spread and read-option at the college level. So many quarterbacks — like Stidham and whoever else the Patriots may add — come into the league with that as their knowledge-base that Fisch could be an asset in that regard. 

None of it matters much until the rules of coaching engagement for 2020 come down. When they do, if there’s an actual season to prepare for, the Patriots will consider themselves lucky that they only lost one hemisphere of their offensive braintrust. 

Benjamin Watson: 'I do think there's a much more acceptance now of players speaking out'

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Benjamin Watson: 'I do think there's a much more acceptance now of players speaking out'

The death of George Floyd last week in Minneapolis has sparked protests throughout the United States as people have gathered to raise awareness and call for change in the fight against racial injustice.

Many athletes across different sports have been leaders in that movement, including a few right here in Boston.

Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to engage in peaceful protests last weekend. Celtics centers Enes Kanter and Vincent Poirier, as well as guard Marcus Smart, participated in peaceful protests in Boston on Sunday.

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NBA players aren't alone, though. The 2020 NFL season isn't scheduled to start until September, but many of the league's players have not been shy about speaking out or taking part in peaceful protests in recent days.

NFL players also haven't been afraid to protest racial injustice before games, including former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the national anthem during the 2016 season. Several other players have done the same since Kaepernick.

Former Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson joined the latest episode of the "Patriots Talk Podcast" with Tom E. Curran to discuss a number of topics related to the events that have unfolded throughout the nation over the last week or so.

Does Watson think NFL players will be more willing to and unified in protesting when the season begins, and will the league, its fans and the owners be more receptive to understanding those protests if they happen?

"Yes, yes, and yes," Watson said. "I think we are on a continuum of awareness, we're on a continuum of involvement of many people in different phases and spheres of life who are getting on board with this. Some people may not even agree that it's an issue, but they say, 'You know what, everyone else is doing it and I don't want to be left out.' And so they get involved, maybe disingenuously, but then over time they realize the truth of the matter. And that's great as well, even if they get in on false pretenses. At some point if they realize it, then I think the goal has been accomplished. I do think there's a much more acceptance now of players speaking out about these things."

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Watson also thinks the Patriots have done well to allow their players to speak out and make an impact on important matters away from the football field.

"And I'll say this, I was talking to someone the other day with the team, and I was telling him just that the Patriots, I believe, have done a good job in allowing their players to get involved with issues outside of the game," Watson said. "They've provided a space. There was a bill about education that came up last year, here in Massachusetts. A number of players got on board, speaking about it and talking about it. They had support from Mr. Kraft. They had support from coach Belichick to go and do those things. Support from the PR department. Other teams aren't like that, so there are varying degrees of which the organization will support and understand.

"I think the biggest thing here in Boston that I've seen is the reaction, especially of fans, when players are kneeling -- everybody can get behind education, but when it comes to police brutality and racism and those sorts of things, it gets a little touchy. I do think that there will be more of an acceptance -- there will be more involvement from other players. We've seen an outcry from players, black, white, it didn't matter, when it came to George Floyd. I've had multiple players reach out, 'I don't understand these things, give me some resources so I can read about what's been going on that I'm just not privy to.' I think there's definitely going to be a greater awareness and a greater togetherness with at least in identifying the issue. ..."

You can check Watson's full conversation with Curran in the latest episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network or on YouTube.

Kraft family issues statement on George Floyd's death: 'We are horrified by the acts of racism we've witnessed'

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Kraft family issues statement on George Floyd's death: 'We are horrified by the acts of racism we've witnessed'

The New England Patriots reacted Tuesday night to the death of George Floyd by releasing a statement from the Kraft family.

Floyd died in Minneapolis police custody last week, which has led to protests over racial injustice throughout the United States over the last several days. 

Here is the Kraft family statement in full:

"Over the last several days, we have tried to listen, learn and reflect. We have been at a loss for the appropriate words, perhaps because there are none to adequately describe the horrific incidents of the last few weeks. It is impossible for us to comprehend what happened to George Floyd or the pain his family must be feeling, a pain that resonates with so many others who have lost loved ones in similar brutalities that were not captured on video for the rest of the world to see. We cannot begin to understand the frustration and fear members of our black community have faced for generations. Recent events have shined a light on a topic that demands much more attention.

"Our country deeply needs healing. We don't have the answers, but we do know that we want to be a part of the change. As leaders in the New England community, we must speak up. Here is where our family, and our organization, stands:

"We are horrified by the acts of racism we've witnessed. We are heartbroken for the families who have lost loved ones, and we are devastated for our communities of color, who are sad, who are exhausted, who are suffering. We know that none of the sadness, exhaustion or suffering is new. We know it is systemic. Our eyes, ears and hearts are open.

"Our family has a long history of supporting vulnerable people in our communities and advocating for equality. But past efforts don't mean anything until we all stand on equal footing in America, so we must act in the present, and not simply rely on what we've done in the past. There remains much work to be done. We will not rest on statements, because words without actions are void. Rather, we will work harder than ever before – through our philanthropy, community engagement, advocacy and supporting the work of our players – to build bridges, to promote equality, to stand up for what's right and to value ALL people."