New England Patriots: Josh McDaniels

videoGLENDALE, Ariz. -- When the New England Patriots plotted and schemed to attack the Seattle Seahawks' defense, it was clear Rob Gronkowski's night was going to be about far more quality than quantity.

The Patriots knew it would be about picking the right time for Tom Brady to try to get the ball to Gronkowski and not forcing the issue against the Seahawks' top-end secondary.

"We didn't expect this to be a game we would come in and Gronk dominate the whole game because they don't play much man-to-man coverage," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. "We were patient, he was patient, he made his plays when he had his opportunities."

Gronkowski finished with six receptions for 68 yards in the Patriots' 28-24 win in Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday night. In his previous 18 games this season, Gronkowski had six games with more catches and 10 games with more receiving yards. With Brady aware of when the Seahawks were going to play man-to-man coverage on the 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end, he found Gronkowski on two of the game's bigger plays for the Patriots.

Just before halftime, with the Patriots on the Seahawks' 22-yard line in a 7-7 game with 36 seconds left in the second quarter, the Patriots lined up in a three-wide receiver set. The Seahawks elected to match up linebacker K.J. Wright on Gronkowski in the open space to the right side of the formation.

It's a matchup that's worked for the Seahawks this season, but Brady identified it and locked in on Gronkowski, who won the battle at the line of scrimmage. Brady lofted a pass that Gronkowski reeled in high over his head as he crossed the goal line, two steps clear of Wright's pursuit.

"I just attacked the defender. It was a go route, just gave him a little move, Tom threw a nice ball, it was a nice play," Gronkowski said.

With 4 minutes, 47 seconds to play and the Patriots trailing 24-21, Brady again saw a matchup he liked. He hit Gronkowski for a 20-yard catch-and-run on second-and-11 with Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor, who was wearing a brace on his injured left knee, in tow.

The play moved the ball to the Seahawks' 32-yard line. Two plays later, Brady found Gronkowski again for a 13-yard gain, and the Patriots took a 28-24 lead four plays later.

"A lot of times there's not a lot of space, [but] they were conscious of Gronk," McDaniels said. "He made a couple of huge plays, the huge play on the crossing route there in the fourth quarter to really get us down there in their end. It's a zone team and they played a lot more zone than man tonight and when they played man, Gronk had a big night on some of those plays. You have to make them cover somebody and displace somehow, in the zone coverages, and bring somebody else into that spot where somebody left."

"It's just go out there and do what we gotta do," Gronkowski said, when asked he if he needed to be more patient in the game. "It was awesome."

Super Bowl XLIX was the final piece in Gronkowski's recovery from a torn right ACL and MCL he suffered against the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 8, 2013.

Gronkowski did not play in any of the Patriots' preseason games. However, he did not miss a game in the regular season or in New England's postseason run that ended with the team's fourth Super Bowl title. It is their first title since Gronkowski was the team's second-round pick in the 2010 draft.

"My whole goal, my whole mission when I went down was to get back to this point, to get back to where I need to be to help the team and get back to the Super Bowl," Gronkowski said. "I just worked my tail off all year long to be where we are now. Just to come out healthy, come out of the Super Bowl healthy. This is awesome."

Josh McDaniels happy to stay with Patriots

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
PHOENIX -- After interviewing for head coaching jobs with the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers earlier in January, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is staying put in 2015. At some point, however, he'd like a second chance to be a head coach.

"I would love to do it again," he said Tuesday at Super Bowl XLIX media day. "I think the most important thing to me is to just be in the right situation and just be in a place where I feel good about being. There are a lot of great teams and great places out there. I happen to be in a good situation for myself right now and for my family. If it comes up again and is the right spot, then I would love to do it again and give it another shot.”

McDaniels' first shot, with the Denver Broncos, ended abruptly after two seasons (2009-10).

“There are so many things that I learned there," McDaniels said in a moment of reflection. "I think one of the things that I really learned in Denver is the value of being a good listener. When you do something like that for the first time you feel like you have to run through everything and be in charge of too many things and sometimes that is a significant negative.

"I have tried really hard in St. Louis [as offensive coordinator in 2011] and then here back in New England; we really gather ideas, we listen to one another and try to do the best thing for the offense ... in this particular situation it has really been a great thing. Our atmosphere on our staff has been very healthy and a big part of that is that we have a lot of guys that can contribute and it doesn’t come from one source. I made a lot of mistakes there. I think it was a great learning experience for myself. Hopefully I have grown from that and will continue to grow.”
New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is interviewing for the Atlanta Falcons head coaching vacancy on Friday and will talk to the San Francisco 49ers about theirs on Saturday, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Per NFL rules, coordinators can talk with teams about head coaching positions during their bye week in the playoffs.

In an interview on Boston sports radio station WEEI on Thursday afternoon, Schefter handicapped McDaniels’ chances at getting a head coaching spot, should he be interested in leaving New England.

“I think the one thing that works against him is the fact that there are a lot of good candidates, and he’s going to be on a playoff team and is there going to be a team out there that’s willing to wait for him? I don’t know that that’s going to be the case,” Schefter said. “But I don’t think he’s concerned. I think he loves being there, you’re in a great organization. If you get one of these head coaching jobs this year, great. And if you don’t, guess what? There were teams last year who were after him, there are teams this year who are after him, and if he doesn’t get one this year, there’ll be teams next year who are after him.

“So in a perfect world you’d get a chance to get one of these jobs. But he’s in a bit of a tricky situation, because you’ve got the playoffs going on, there are some good candidates out there, are all these teams going to be willing to wait? A lot of things still have to be decided."

Schefter later added that the Bills have requested permission to interview McDaniels as well.

Josh McDaniels: Focus 'will stay on Patriots right now'

December, 29, 2014
New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is bound to pop up as a candidate for NFL head coaching vacancies, but he brushed aside the possibility of leaving.

“I haven’t even thought about that to tell you the truth,” McDaniels told reporters on a conference call on Monday. “I know this is that time of the year. But, I know there is also a procedure in place and those things will sort themselves out.”

[+] EnlargeJosh McDaniels
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaPatriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniles could be in line to rejoin the head-coaching ranks.
McDaniels has been in this position before, leaving the Patriots to become the Broncos head coach in 2009. He then returned to New England (after being fired by Denver and joining the St. Louis coaching staff) as an offensive assistant for the Super Bowl in the 2011-2012 season before being named to his current role of offensive coordinator.

“I’ve said a number of times that I’m very happy [here],” McDaniels said. “I have one of the best jobs you could possibly have, and I’m just trying to do the best that I can here. My focus has been on the Patriots. It will stay on the Patriots right now.”

With openings with the 49ers, Jets, Bears, Falcons and Raiders, McDaniels could get in the mix somewhere.

Coach Bill Belichick is prepared for the process if McDaniels opts to interview. Per NFL rules, McDaniels could talk to other teams this week while the Patriots are on a bye.

“Well, that’s something that we’ve dealt with in the past and we know what the procedures are on all of that -- how it all has to work, sequence and how it takes place and what the boundaries in terms of teams doing that,” Belichick said. “So, whatever they are, we will take them as they come.”

Belichick then said he had no idea what the talk of McDaniels coaching elsewhere was about considering there have been no discussions or contact with other teams yet.

“I don’t really know what we are talking about, there is nothing that has happened,” Belichick said. “But, if something does happen, whichever coach it is, we will follow the procedures that are set up for the league to take care of this type of situation.”

Belichick will go through the formal process, if needed. But he and McDaniels have one team-centric focus as the Patriots head into the postseason.

“As always, I will talk with the people involved and try to satisfy all of the needs,” Belichick said. “But obviously the No. 1 need for me is a football team. And that takes place here, so it would have to work around that.”

Quick-hit thoughts around NFL & Pats

June, 22, 2014
Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:

1. Of the things that quarterback Tom Brady said last week, his comments about the importance of being ready on the first day of training camp were among the most notable from this viewpoint. "When you get behind in training camp, it's hard to make up. I think things are moving so fast at that point, and improvements are so dramatic every day with installation, and correcting all the errors, you just have to go through it," he said. This is particularly the case for younger players and that's why I thought seeing defensive tackle Dominique Easley on the field for the final day of mandatory minicamp, his first appearance in spring camps, was a good sign for the team. The first-round draft choice tore both ACLs over two college seasons (2011 and 2013), but the Patriots are counting on him to provide an interior pass rush and it looks like he has a good chance to be ready to go the first day of training camp.

1b. Being on the field for the first day of training camp will also be crucial for Patriots seventh-round pick Jeremy Gallon in his hopes to earn a roster spot at a crowded receiver position. The slot receiver with top traits and production from the University of Michigan was limited for most of spring camps, missing out on potentially valuable time in team drills with quarterback Tom Brady. At this point, Gallon is far behind second-year receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce, and that gap would only increase if he's not on the field for the start of training camp.

2. With so much attention focused on Patriots top picks Dominique Easley and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (second round), I think running back James White (fourth round, Wisconsin, 130th overall) has slipped under the radar a bit. Everything I've heard is that the 5-foot-9, 204-pound White has made a strong first impression, both from a skills and approach standpoint, and even though it's early I don't think it's a stretch to say he will contribute in 2014. Bill Belichick has compared his style of play to fourth-year Patriots running back Shane Vereen.

3. First-year Texans coach Bill O'Brien ended the final day of minicamp with something straight out of the Bill Belichick coaching playbook, with offensive guard Ben Jones attempting to catch a punt. Players cheered wildly when Jones did, and that earned them all a start to "summer vacation." Patriots followers have seen this for years in training camp -- from offensive tackle Matt Light to defensive lineman Vince Wilfork catching punts, with Wilfork having to do with a football already in his grasp. Belichick has cited it as a good team-building exercise, bringing everyone together from the punt returners to the offensive linemen.

4. I thought Patriots safety Devin McCourty's comments on Bill Belichick during a late-week radio interview with the NBC Sports Network were among the most flattering I've heard for the coach. After talking about how Belichick's sense of humor produces team-wide laughter in closed-door meetings, McCourty added, "When you get him off the media and doing all that stuff, and he gets more into his comfort zone where it's him up there teaching football and teaching guys life lessons, you get to see a different side of him. I think that's the joy of playing for him -- you learn things football-wise and he does a good job for each one of us of just trying to give us some lessons that will help you in life."

4b. We don't get to see that side of Belichick often, if at all. For example, on the final day of mandatory minicamp Thursday, Belichick seemed less than enthused to answer questions from reporters and said he'd take just three. It was a page out of the Randy Moss playbook, as Moss was known for starting his interviews with, "Y'all got three." True to form, an edgy Belichick cut things off when a reporter tried to sneak a fourth question into the mix.

5. The Dolphins are 2-1 at home in September under third-year head coach Joe Philbin, a 23-20 overtime loss to the Jets in 2012 the only blemish. They beat the Raiders handily that year (35-13) and came back to top the Falcons last year, 27-23. Part of the Dolphins' competitive advantage playing at home in early September is being able to practice in the heat and humidity, and along those lines, Philbin passed along last week that the club had 99 percent participation in its voluntary offseason program this year, noting he's never been a part of something like that in his 11 prior years in the NFL. We bring this up because the Patriots visit the Dolphins in the season opener Sept. 7, and unlike the 2011 Patriots-Dolphins opener on Monday Night Football when the late-night start helped cool things down a bit, this year's game kicks off at 1 p.m. I think it's a tougher opener for the Patriots than maybe has been advertised.

6. The Patriots' 13 spring practices (10 organized team activities, three minicamp sessions) weren't just important for players, but for the team's coaches to fine-tune some things as well. "I haven't called a play in five months. I have to rebuild all that myself. We all do," Bill Belichick said last week. That explains why we saw offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia wearing headsets during several practices as they were calling in plays as if it was a game-type situation. So Belichick wasn't just coaching the players, he was also coaching the coaches in a sense.

7. One of the areas I'm most interested to watch in Patriots training camp is the competition along the interior offensive line, where I'd say the only roster lock is at left guard with Logan Mankins. I watched incumbent center Ryan Wendell and right guard Dan Connolly get praised by first-year o-line coach Dave DeGuglielmo for their textbook footwork and teamwork in one drill Thursday, but they face competition from a deep group of young linemen including rookies Bryan Stork (fourth round) and Jon Halapio (sixth round), as well as second-year players Josh Kline, Braxston Cave and Chris Barker. Stork and Halapio are likely locks to make the roster based on their draft status, and one could make a case for Kline to be included in that mix as well. The competition should be intense as the Patriots, unlike last year at this time when they were a bit thinner up front and combed the waiver wire in late August for help, have a nice influx of young talent that could pressure established veterans for roster spots.

8. I'm also interested in learning how the role of "assistant to the coaching staff" Michael Lombardi evolves over the course of the season. Lombardi, the former Browns general manager, watched each Patriots offseason practice and was often seen speaking with Bill Belichick before and after practice as they walked on and off the field. Early in Thursday's minicamp practice, I watched as Lombardi intently kept his eyes on offensive line drills, chatting with Logan Mankins (who wasn't participating) as he did so. Belichick has long had a right-hand man in football research director Ernie Adams. Maybe that makes Lombardi, who was also in the team's smaller-than-the-norm draft room, his left-hand man.

9. While this is the post-minicamp time of year for coaches to take vacation, all 2014 draft picks across the NFL will be busy this week at the NFL's Rookie Symposium, a four-day orientation held in Aurora, Ohio. The symposium begins today and the idea is to introduce them to life in the NFL, with the following four core teaching principles: NFL history, total wellness, professional experience, and workplace conduct. Rookies can expect to hear presentations, videos, workshops on player health and safety, decision-making, mental health, substance abuse, workplace respect and maintaining positive relationships. Former Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli, now serving as an assistant general manager with the Falcons, is one of the presenters. Kudos to the NFL for putting it on.

10. The Pro Football Writers Association handed out its annual awards last week and here were the results:

George Halas Award (NFL player, coach or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed): Ravens senior advisor to player development O.J. Brigance.

Good Guy Award (NFL player for his qualities and professional style): Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson

Dick McCann Award (reporter who has made a long and distinguished contribution through coverage): Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Jack Horrigan Award (league or club official for qualities and professional style): Seahawks coach Pete Carroll

Pete Rozelle Award (NFL club public relations staff consistently striving for excellence in media dealings): Broncos.

I was thrilled for Bouchette, the longtime Steelers beat reporter who spent his early years in Lynn, Massachusetts, and has covered the Steelers for the Post-Gazette since 1985. As Patriots rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said last week, the goal is to be consistently good, not occasionally great. Ed has obviously been just that or he wouldn't have been on the beat for 30 years.

Decker, McDaniels & Patriots' interest

January, 28, 2014
During Super Bowl media day on Tuesday, Denver Broncos receiver Eric Decker was asked about the role former Denver head coach and current New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels played in his career.

"He did draft me, and I’m very thankful that he gave me the opportunity to be playing in the NFL, especially with such a great organization like Denver," said Decker, who was a third-round draft choice out of Minnesota in 2010. "I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a coach. He’s a brilliant mind, offensively. I’m sure, like any coach, he’s excited and he’s happy for the guys that he drafted."

That McDaniels targeted Decker didn't come as a surprise to his former colleagues in New England, as Decker was also a player on the Patriots' radar as their third-round pick approached.

But Decker went off the board at No. 87, a few spots before where the Patriots were picking. At No. 90, the Patriots selected receiver Taylor Price.

Decker was one of McDaniels' best draft picks, having slipped to the late third round because a foot injury cut short his final season at Minnesota and affected his pre-draft workouts. The big target (6-foot-3, 214 pounds) has proven to be a durable NFL player, not missing a game over the past three seasons.

These types of scenarios unfold in every draft, and it's a timely one to revisit with the Broncos playing in the Super Bowl and with Decker scheduled to become a free agent in the offseason.

Double Coverage: Patriots at Broncos

January, 17, 2014

And then there were two -- two teams that know most of what there is to know about each other, two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks who add to their legacies with every pass, all with a Super Bowl trip on the line.

The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, who have faced each other in each of the past three seasons and in the divisional round of the 2011 season, took it to overtime Nov. 24. The Broncos let a 24-0 halftime lead get away, and the Patriots won 34-31 after a punt bounced off Broncos cornerback Tony Carter's leg in overtime on a frigid night in Foxborough, Mass. Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss Sunday's AFC Championship Game in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Legwold: Peyton Manning and Bill Belichick yet again. Do you think, in all your time around Belichick, that he tries to bring something new to the table every time he faces Manning? Or does he assume Manning has done the homework and put his efforts into getting people in the right position?

Reiss: I'd say there's always a new wrinkle or two, Jeff. Belichick has said in the past that Manning is too smart to just do the same thing over and over again -- both within a game and from matchup to matchup. Part of that discussion is also the state of the Patriots' personnel entering the matchup. A player like rookie linebacker Jamie Collins, for example, might give Belichick the flexibility to introduce something unique based on his breakthrough since the Nov. 24 meeting between the teams.

The weather forecast looks promising for Manning. No icy cold forecast. How do you think he approaches this game compared to the Nov. 24 contest? Do you think he will be less reluctant to hand the ball off?

Legwold: It will be a postcard day Sunday with the temperature expected to be 58 degrees with 0 percent chance of rain and light winds. So any decisions the two teams make on offense will have to do with what's in front of them on defense only. Manning will be inclined to hand the ball off if he sees the Patriots in some of those lighter personnel groupings deployed to handle Denver's three-wide-receiver look. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase has a run option built into most things Manning can change into at the line of scrimmage. The Broncos certainly like how Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball are trending in the run game. They have split carries down the stretch, and both run with tackle-shedding power.

Gase, with coaching DNA that includes his time with Mike Martz, is an aggressive sort. With the next-generation numbers the Broncos' offense has put up this season, it's easy to forget they still averaged 28.8 carries per game and topped 30 carries per matchup nine times this season. If they get a look from the New England defense that calls for a run, the Broncos will be inclined to pound away.

Where is Tom Brady's game and the offense right now after some rough moments early in the season? Has Brady benefited from a run-heavy approach down the stretch and into the postseason?

Reiss: The biggest benefit for Brady with the run-heavy approach has been how it opens play-action opportunities. Danny Amendola's 53-yard catch in the divisional round is one of the best examples. Also, part of the reason the Patriots have gone so run-heavy is that it's the area where they have their most assets. They are limited when it comes to pass-catchers who create consistent separation at tight end and receiver. As for Brady's game, there have been no signs of decline in arm strength, accuracy or decision-making. The main reasons for the struggles early in the year, from my view, were more about the changes around him. That's not to say Brady didn't make his mistakes, but it's sort of interesting to look back on some of the media-based discussion around Weeks 6 to 8 about how maybe Father Time had caught up to him.

Now that we're a full season in, how would you sum up the Wes Welker signing? Just as the Broncos hoped for? Better? Worse?

Legwold: Welker finished the regular season with 73 catches for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns. His presence in the slot, along with Julius Thomas at tight end, is part of the reason the offense had a historic season. With the Broncos lining up in a three-wide-receiver set the majority of the season -- and every snap of the divisional round win over the San Diego Chargers -- they force defenses into some difficult choices. Thomas is often in the slot on one side of the formation, and Welker is in the slot on the other side. When Thomas missed two games earlier this season with a knee injury, both the Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs (Dec. 1) elected to double-team Welker. He missed three games after suffering his second concussion in a four-week span Dec. 8 against the Tennessee Titans but played last week against the Chargers without issue.

Welker did have some spells this season when he had a cluster of dropped passes -- three against the Patriots on a frigid night to go with drops against Washington and San Diego in the regular season. Overall, though, he was exactly what the Broncos hoped he would be in their offense. He meshed with Manning quickly and was a big part of the plan right from his nine-catch performance against the Baltimore Ravens in the season opener.

The Patriots did not face Thomas in the Nov. 24 meeting. Do you think they will try to match up Collins on Thomas this time around?

Reiss: That seems like the natural matchup, especially after seeing Collins splitting out wide on Colts tight end Coby Fleener on Saturday night and playing very well. Collins is unique in that, at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, he is fast enough to be competitive down the field in coverage (e.g., fourth-quarter interception versus the Colts) but powerful enough to play in the box and deliver a blow in the running game and as a pass-rusher. The Patriots' top draft pick in 2013, selected 52nd overall out of Southern Mississippi, he is an intriguing player whom Patriots fans really got their first extended look at Saturday as he played every snap against the Colts. He had been groomed behind the scenes up to that point, playing just 25 percent of the defensive snaps on the season in more of a reserve role.

Thomas may not have played in the first game between the teams, but Von Miller did. How does Miller's season-ending knee injury affect the Broncos' defense?

Legwold: Of all the players who were signed in the weeks after the initial leaguewide binge in free agency, the Broncos' signing of Shaun Phillips was easily one of the best. Denver signed Phillips to a one-year, $1 million deal during the draft weekend in April, well over a month after free agency had opened, a deal that didn't have a signing bonus but did have some incentives based on sack totals.

Phillips was initially how the Broncos planned to deal with the loss of Elvis Dumervil in free agency. When Miller was suspended for the first six games of the season, Phillips had 5.5 sacks in those games to lead the way. He finished the regular season with 10 sacks to lead the team. In Sunday's win, with Miller on injured reserve, Phillips had two sacks against the Chargers. He is the single-most important player in the Broncos' pass rush in Miller's absence. Denver may have to take more risks without Miller on the field, and that's always a tough choice against someone like Brady, who can easily find the holes in coverage. But if Phillips can consistently create pressure -- with both sacks on three-man rushes against San Diego -- it allows the Broncos to move things around a little more and cover more of the bases.

Did Belichick make a conscious effort to get big backs like LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley in the lineup when he knew he would get smaller defensive personnel against the team's passing attack?

Reiss: That's fair to say, as the Patriots pride themselves on creating those matchups during the game, with coordinator Josh McDaniels finding his groove in recent weeks. They refer to themselves as a "game plan" offense because they tailor their plan weekly based on what they perceive to be the weakness of the opposition. They'll shuttle in different personnel groupings early -- multiple receivers, two backs, two tight ends, etc. -- to get information on how the opponent is matching up and then focus on the one they like best. This week, what's fascinating to me is that I think they probably see vulnerability in the Broncos' secondary, but I wonder how they feel about their own personnel in being able to exploit it. So that could keep them grounded.

The Patriots have been running the ball very well. How is the Broncos' run defense?

Legwold: In a year when the Broncos have been forced, by injuries and Miller's suspension, to mix and match on defense, their run defense has likely been more consistent in comparison to some of the other issues they've had. When defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson went to injured reserve Nov. 27 with a hip injury, they did wobble a bit, surrendering 159 yards rushing to the Chiefs and 177 yards rushing to the Chargers in two of the three games that immediately followed.

They have regained their balance a bit since, moving Paris Lenon into the middle linebacker spot in the base defense, and rookie defensive tackle Sylvester Williams has played better each week. Overall, the biggest issue for the Broncos will be how they defend the run if the Patriots get them in nickel or dime personnel on defense and then run the ball at the smaller looks. The Broncos' safeties will have to tackle and tackle well to make it work.

Belichick has always tried to make "other" people beat him and take away an offense's front-line players. How do you think he would rank the Broncos' threats in the passing game, and where do you think the one-on-one matchups will be?

Reiss: One insightful point that ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi made in his weekly chat was the idea of defending the Broncos from the inside-out. Manning is still an accurate marksman, one of the greatest of all time, but I'm guessing that even he would agree that some of the downfield and outside-the-numbers throws he used to make don't come as easily to him. So it makes sense that the Patriots would focus more resources on the inside part of the field, where it would seem we would most likely see Welker and Thomas. With this in mind, I could envision the Patriots matching up cornerback Aqib Talib with Demaryius Thomas on the outside and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard with Eric Decker and taking their chances that those one-on-one matchups will be competitive. Trusting those cornerbacks in those one-on-one matchups would allow the defense to focus extra attention/personnel to the inside part of the field.

Any X factors or special-teams contributors we should keep on the radar?

Legwold: The Broncos have usually been lockdown tight on special teams -- opening the season with two touchdown returns and two blocked punts, one of those returned for a score, in the first four weeks of the season. Those normally reliable units, however, have wobbled plenty down the stretch. The Chiefs' Knile Davis had a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the Titans' Leon Washington had a 95-yard kickoff return, and the Texans' Keshawn Martin had a 51-yard punt return. Toss in the first blocked punt of Britton Colquitt's career in Oakland to go with Trindon Holliday's occasional adventures catching the ball, and it's been an unpredictable stretch. But Holliday is always a threat to uncork a return because of his breathtaking speed. The Broncos used wide receiver Decker as the primary punt returner against the Chargers last week, and he had a 47-yarder. So the Broncos have the potential to pop one at any time, especially in Denver, where Holliday returned both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in last January's playoff loss to the Ravens.


Pats-Broncos connections, Part 2

January, 17, 2014
Each week we use this space to highlight members of the New England Patriots' upcoming opponent's organization who have ties to the New England area. Given that the Patriots have previously played the Broncos, we'll switch things up and highlight current members of the Patriots' organization that have ties to Denver, led by head coach Bill Belichick.

Head coach Bill Belichick. After starting his career with the Baltimore Colts, Belichick spent two years in Detroit. That led to a season in Denver with the Broncos, where he served as the assistant special teams coach and a defensive assistant for the 1979 season. He would wind up with the Giants a year later and spent the next decade with that franchise.

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. A meteoric rise up the coaching ladder landed McDaniels as the head coach in Denver in 2009, and he spent nearly two seasons with the team. He started out 6-0, but struggles ensued thereafter. However, McDaniels' imprint remains with the team, including drafting many prominent players who will be on the field this Sunday, led by Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Zane Beadles, Knowshon Moreno and others.

Special teams coach Scott O'Brien. A longtime special teams coach (a role he's had with the Patriots since 2009), O'Brien spent the 2007-2008 seasons in Denver in that capacity.

Assistant director of pro scouting Dave Ziegler. Ziegler joined the Patriots this past offseason after spending three seasons in Denver in the scouting department.

Defensive tackle Sealver Siliga. Now a starter along the Patriots' defensive line, Siliga spent parts of three seasons with the Broncos, originally being signed to the team's practice squad. Siliga has been a part of four organizations during his young NFL career: the Patriots, Broncos, 49ers and Seahawks, the final four teams in this year's playoffs.

Wide receiver Greg Orton. Now a practice squad receiver for the Patriots, Orton had two stints with the Broncos earlier in his NFL career during parts of the 2011-2013 seasons.

Bonus connections: A pair of former Patriots have also recently been signed by the Broncos, as defensive back Marquice Cole was signed on Monday, while defensive end Jeremy Mincey, a 2006 sixth-round pick, was added on December 17.

McDaniels comments on Browns interview

January, 6, 2014
New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels confirmed that he met with the Cleveland Browns about their head coaching vacancy this past weekend, but didn't elaborate on discussions.

"We met and that’s about all there is at this point. Nothing further," McDaniels said during his weekly conference call leading into the Patriots' AFC divisional round playoff game.

McDaniels didn't want to get into specifics.

“I appreciate the question. I understand it. I know that’s something that comes up each time this year for other coaches – the opportunities are certainly flattering if they come up. That being said, I’m going to try to keep my focus on the Colts and our preparation this week," he said. "Like I’ve said in the past, I’m fortunate to have the job I have. I love being here. I love doing what I’m doing. Each opportunity that comes along is a little different. I’m going to leave it at that and continue to focus and put my attention and my effort into the Colts this week.”

Recapping top Patriots storylines

January, 1, 2014
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Recapping highlights from the Patriots on Wednesday as they held their first of three playoff bye-week practices:

1. McCourty cleared for action: Safety Devin McCourty, who left the team's Dec. 22 win over the Ravens in the third quarter with a concussion, was back on the practice field for the first time. He also held court with reporters as he's been fully cleared for action. "I'm feeling all right, doing pretty good," McCourty said, later adding that he's never had to deal with concussion issues in the past. "I'm just happy to be back on the field." McCourty watched the injury on tape. "It was a weird hit," he said, before turning to one of Bill Belichick's favorite lines. "It is what it is."

2. Cold-weather practices shape mental toughness: Several players noted how Wednesday was one of the team's coldest practices of the season, with wind cutting fiercly through the lower practice field. Players also said they are preparing for possible snow later in the week, and the hope is that working in those elements might help the team in the playoffs. "We may get one of those [days]," quarterback Tom Brady said. "Mental and physical toughness is something that is really important this time of year. You get less-than-ideal conditions out there, and we play in an environment where it's not 70 degrees and no conditions like you may be in a dome, or you may be somewhere else in warm weather. With us, it's not the way it is, so you've got to try to play to your strength, and part of our strength is hopefully going out there and practicing every day, understanding the elements, the conditions we deal with -- wind, snow, rain. We're out there almost every day, so you just get used to playing in it, and hopefully by getting used to it, you develop the mental toughness to deal with it."

3. Closing the door on O'Brien talk: Coach Bill Belichick instructed players to steer clear of any discussion relating to former New England assistant Bill O'Brien (hired as Texans coach) and current offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels (of interest to the Browns for their head coaching job). He did the same when asked about O'Brien. "I love Billy O'Brien, but right now really we're on the playoffs and our situation," he said. "I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on another coach or another team. I don't even know what team we're talking about here."

4. Patriots focus mostly on themselves: With members of the scouting staff working ahead on three possible opponents (Bengals, Colts, Chiefs), Patriots coach Bill Belichick said the team is focusing mostly on itself. "We'll try to get some work done on [opponents] preliminary until we know for sure who it is," Belichick said. "Really we're just trying to grind it out here and find ways to improve."

5. Belichick advocates change for P.A.T.: A significant part of Belichick's news conference was focused on the kicking game, with Belichick saying he'd like to see rules altered so more kickoffs are returned and point-after-attempts aren't converted at a 99 percent rate. "It's virtually automatic," he said. "That's just not the way the extra point was put into the game. It was an extra point that you actually had to execute and it was executed by players who were not specialists. They were position players."

6. Talib and Slater also draw a crowd: Cornerback Aqib Talib and special teams captain Matthew Slater were other players drawing larger media crowds. Slater has emerged as a go-to guy for reporters and also an inspirational leader among players.

Belichick quiet on McDaniels interview

December, 31, 2013
On Monday, NFL Nation reporter Pat McManamon reported that the Browns have asked for permission to interview Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for their vacant head coaching position.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was asked Tuesday whether the team has granted McDaniels permission to interview, but the coach deferred on an answer.

"I'm not going to get into any of that. The procedures are in place with the league, so forth and so, any comments on that I don't think are appropriate," he said.

McDaniels was a subject of speculation surrounding the Browns' vacant head coaching position last offseason as well, though he remained with the Patriots.

There are currently six head coaching jobs left to fill in the NFL.

Sources: Browns ask to talk to McDaniels

December, 30, 2013
The Cleveland Browns have asked permission to interview Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for their head coaching vacancy, sources tell ESPN Browns reporter Pat McManamon.

The Browns also have asked for permission to interview Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles; Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who can interview Jan. 5, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter; and Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who also will interview.

Gase would prefer to wait until after the season before speaking with anyone, a source told Schefter.

Given his past relationship with Browns general manager Mike Lombardi, McDaniels, a native of Ohio, would figure to be a strong candidate. McDaniels had interest in bringing Lombardi to Denver when he was head coach of the Broncos.

McDaniels was 11-17 in two seasons with Denver.

Sources: McDaniels a Browns candidate

December, 30, 2013
New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is on the short list of the expected candidates for the Cleveland Browns’ head coaching vacancy, league sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

The Browns fired coach Rob Chudzinski on Sunday night after a 4-12 season.

San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is also among the expected candidates, sources said.

Kline, Daboll among unsung contributors

December, 23, 2013
As reporters arrived in the locker room after the New England Patriots' 41-7 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, center Ryan Wendell turned to one and said, "Go interview Josh Kline." It was a case where a veteran player wanted to make sure a rookie making his first career start received his just due.

[+] EnlargeJosh Kline
David Butler II/USA TODAY SportsRookie offensive lineman Josh Kline made his first NFL career start on Sunday at Baltimore.
Kline, who went undrafted out of Kent State and has been on and off the team's practice squad this season, had just put on his AFC East Championship hat and T-shirt when approached by reporters.

“It’s great to win the AFC East and have a shot to be a 2-seed next week. It's unreal for me, my first start. Personally it means a lot,” Kline said, struggling to come up with the words for how he was pressed into action in a critical spot.

Kline said he treated the week like any other, preparing as if he would start.

How he arrived at this point is, first and foremost, a credit to his approach and improvement. Patriots coach Bill Belichick also noted the work of assistant coach Brian Daboll when it comes to Kline.

"Brian Daboll worked him out in the spring and I think that [was] part of the impetus in our interest in him," Belichick said. "He wasn't drafted -- we were able to recruit and then sign him as a college free agent."

With Nate Solder out with a concussion, Logan Mankins was asked to move out to his college position of left tackle, thrusting Kline into a starting role for the first time in his young NFL career.

The results were positive for the Patriots on Sunday, as they mustered 142 rushing yards against what had previously been the NFL's seventh-best run defense.

Should Solder be forced to miss any more games, it seems likely Kline will continue to start alongside Mankins and Wendell.

Based off of remarks from offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on Monday, it appears Daboll not only helped in the process to bring Kline to New England, but also in his development throughout the season.

"He's spent a lot of time with our young linemen to give them extra teaching and extra classroom work when we have our meetings and are able to split those up like that," McDaniels said. "I think he's really done a nice job of teaching those guys the foundation of our system and trying to help them move along because eventually during the course of the season you know you're going to need some of those young players to step in and play potentially significant roles, as Josh did yesterday."

Aiding in the development of young linemen is just one of the hats Daboll -- who is officially listed as an offensive assistant -- has worn this season.

McDaniels added that he's provided substantial value in a multitude of ways during his first full season back in New England after stops in New York, Cleveland, Miami and Kansas City.

"Whether it's game plan thoughts and ideas or in-game adjustments or teaching some of the other players or helping us out in any way, shape or form that he could with his volume of experience as a coordinator, as a position coach in our system, I think it's just been an incredible benefit to have him here and he's really contributed a ton to our success," he said.

McDaniels: Can't replace Gronkowski

December, 10, 2013
The Patriots have turned the page after their Week 14 win over the Cleveland Browns, with a focus now on the Miami Dolphins, their Week 15 foe.

Offensively, the challenge this week is not only sizing up the Dolphins' defense, but game planning without tight end Rob Gronkowski, placed on injured reserved Monday afternoon.

In a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels dissected the process of trying to account for Gronkowski's absence.

"I don't think you can replace a player like that, a guy that can do so many unique things, with anybody," he said. "I think the thing that we rely on the most from one week to the next has always been trying to figure out what part of our offensive system do you use to maximize the strengths of the players that we have available for us that week against the strengths of the opponent we're playing that week as well.

"And so I think for us the formula's not going to change, the variables that can we use, however, will and I think that happens a lot during the course of the season," he continued.

For the Patriots, that could mean more of a reliance on tight ends Matthew Mulligan, recently re-signed D.J. Williams and perhaps Michael Hoomanawanui, who is working his way back from a knee injury.

Playing without Gronkowski is not necessarily a new challenge for the Patriots -- he missed 11 games dating back to last season before making his 2013 debut -- though McDaniels doesn't know whether playing without Gronkowski previously makes them better equipped to do so again now.

"I think we've experienced playing without him before and I think that -- I don't know if we're better equipped," he said. "I'm not exactly sure how to rate that, I just know that any time you lose a player like that where you can't use a player like that, you need to put your time in to a few different things and other people have to play different roles and you just play offense a little differently."

With a trip to Miami on the horizon, McDaniels and the rest of the offensive staff are focused on ways to maximize the healthy personnel on the roster for this Sunday and going forward.

"I think we kind of have an idea exactly what we need to use, how to kind of formulate our game plan to max out our strengths and try to make up for the loss of a unique player," he said.