Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the New England Patriots:
1. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady played every offensive snap this season, marking the first time that has happened in his 14-year career. A number of factors contributed to Brady’s ironman performance, starting with his toughness as his right throwing hand took a good shot in an Oct. 20 game against the Jets and was an issue for him at times. It’s also a result of the Patriots playing so many close games, with few blowouts in which to call on backup Ryan Mallett, and the season finale (a game in which we often have seen the backup) still having significant playoff implications. It’s well documented that Brady doesn’t like to come out of games and when possible in victories Bill Belichick likes to give him the chance to kneel on the ball as it’s viewed as a sweet reward for a week of hard work. Still, it’s somewhat hard to believe that it took until the 14th season of Brady's career for him to go wire to wire.
1b. Brady was one of four players to attempt every pass for his team this season, joining Carolina’s Cam Newton, San Diego’s Philip Rivers, and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford. The list would have included four other quarterbacks -- New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick and Arizona’s Carson Palmer – had their teams not had non-quarterbacks attempt passes of the trick-play variety.
2. I always enjoy watching introductory news conferences for head coaches, and there were a few Patriots-based things that stood out Friday with Bill O’Brien and the Texans. One theme was the Texans’ desire to be more of a game-plan team, altering their strategic approach weekly instead of being more of a “this-is-what-we-do” type of team. That, of course, has been a Patriots trademark in Bill Belichick’s 14-year tenure. Then there was O’Brien striking a Belichick-type theme when talking about how players will determine their roles on what he hopes will be a “tough, physical, smart, fast football team that can play in all different types of environments.” O’Brien is different from past Patriots assistants who have moved on because he has more varied experience working under other head coaches in college, but those were two Belichickian moments.
2b. I also liked how O’Brien responded when asked about his lack of ties to Houston, saying that immediately after the news conference he has plans to buy his first pair of Cowboy boots. He also gave a somewhat fiery "Come on!" when asked about his years-ago sideline spat with Tom Brady.
2c. O’Brien on his five years with the Patriots: “I had a great experience in New England. It’s a fantastic organization. We won a lot of games there. Really enjoyed the players, the strategy from week to week, offseason preparation, the part I had in the draft and free agency up there. I really enjoyed it. I missed it.”
2d. If the NFL rotating schedule formula continues in its present format, the Patriots and Texans will next meet again in 2015 when the AFC East and AFC South play each other (the game would be in Houston). Belichick-O’Brien would be much like Belichick-Josh McDaniels in the Patriots-Broncos matchup of 2009, when McDaniels’ fist-pumping after an overtime victory was unforgettable.
3. McDaniels interviewed for the Browns head-coaching job Saturday and one of the reasons he might be reluctant to take the job (if offered) is the inability to put together a strong enough staff with those who have loyalties or ties to him. It doesn’t help that O’Brien is already in the process of putting together his staff in Houston, with one report saying Romeo Crennel is a good bet to be his defensive coordinator. Crennel would have been a natural choice for McDaniels from this viewpoint. When I think of reasons why McDaniels' tenure in Denver turned out to be rocky, one of the reasons is that he didn't have enough coaches who had been with him in the past and had experience in the type of program he was attempting to implement.
4. With O’Brien hired as head coach in Houston, and McDaniels under consideration to become Cleveland’s head coach, the biggest beneficiary could be Patriots free-agent-to-be Julian Edelman. Just as we saw when Eric Mangini was coaching the Jets and Browns, McDaniels was Broncos coach, Romeo Crennel was Browns coach, Scott Pioli was putting teams together in Kansas City, and Bill Parcells was coaching in Dallas and putting a team together in Miami, the more branches connected to the Bill Belichick coaching tree with other teams means more competition for the same types of players on the open market.
5. Five-year veteran Ryan Succop's career long field goal for the Chiefs is from 54 yards, but even then, I was surprised that there wasn’t more discussion of a possible 60-yard attempt with Kansas City facing a 45-44 deficit and fourth-and-11 with two minutes remaining in Saturday’s wild-card round game against the Colts. The roof was closed at Lucas Oil Stadium and it at least seemed debatable that a 60-yarder had a greater chance of success than a fourth-and-11 attempt. Anyone else have that thought?
6. We see how quickly things can change for head coaches, with Peter King of TheMMQB.com reminding Saturday that in the last 53 weeks, 15 of the league’s 32 head coaches have been fired. Here’s another thought: How quickly things change with NFL officials. We couldn’t wait for them to return in September of 2012, as replacement officials were struggling, but there hardly seemed to be a week of the 2013 season when there wasn’t some type of missed call, or made call, that had a major impact on the final outcome. Commissioner Roger Goodell should expect some tough questions on officiating, and the league’s plans to improve, at his annual Super Bowl news conference.
7. Another issue I’m curious to hear Goodell address is what concern the league has that three of the four wild-card round playoff games came down to the wire in terms of selling the required number of tickets to avoid a TV blackout. As neat as it was to hear about the businesses and corporate partners who bought the remaining tickets, you’d think the NFL has great concern about this. Hopefully this is a wake-up call to the league about the possibility of an 18-game regular season. If they are having trouble with this issue in the wild-card round of the playoffs, just imagine if we were currently in the last two weeks of an expanded regular season.
8. Construction is underway at the Patriots’ home facility at Gillette Stadium, with plans to add 25,000 square feet to the east side of the stadium. Team president Jonathan Kraft detailed part of the project during his weekly pregame interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub, explaining that the club’s video and scouting departments currently are housed above the team’s football operations wing, but will move down. “We need more space, we need more technology-related capabilities,” Kraft said. “The way the work of a football team is done today is very different than it was 12 years ago [when Gillette Stadium opened].”
9. Advancing to the playoffs means an additional payday for players. Patriots players will each receive $23,000 for playing in the divisional round and another $42,000 if they advance to the conference championship. A player on a Super Bowl-winning team gets another $92,000 this year, while a Super Bowl loser gets $46,000. That’s a slight increase from last year when a divisional playoff game netted $22,000, the conference championship game $40,000, and the Super Bowl winner received $88,000 and Super Bowl loser $44,000.
10. Given the run of injuries at the hard-to-fill defensive tackle spot, and the minimal cost involved, it’s hard to criticize Bill Belichick for trading a 2014 fifth-round draft pick to the Eagles for defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga and a 2014 sixth-round pick. But some of the immediate optimism we had when the deal was struck hasn’t been realized. Sopoaga was a healthy scratch for the Patriots’ final two regular-season games and while his 6-foot-2, 330-pound frame previously helped in some short-yardage situations, the emergence of second-year tackle Sealver Siliga has been as much of a surprise as Sopoaga’s disappearance in recent weeks. It’s hard to imagine Sopoaga returning in 2014 at the base salary he is due ($3.75 million). So at this point, the trade is a win for the Eagles, as they were able to dump salary and future cap charges for a player who wasn’t part of their long-term plans while Sopoaga hasn’t emerged despite a great opportunity to do so in New England.