FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
That might be about to change.
With the Titans’ upset victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday, it sets up the possibility Ryan could be returning to Foxborough for a divisional-round game against the Patriots. That’s what will happen if the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
“It would be cool, obviously a lot of fun: familiar faces, playoff game,” Ryan said from the Titans locker room at Arrowhead Stadium. “I probably talk to Devin and Duron every day; we’re still in the same group chat. They wish me luck before every game, and I always root for them to do well. When you sacrifice with those guys like we did, they’re your brothers for life.”
Next Saturday, the three Rutgers alums could be competing against each other for the first time, and the stakes would be high: to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
Even if the Titans wind up traveling to Pittsburgh instead, it is the type of scenario Ryan envisioned when, as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, he inked a three-year, $30 million deal in Tennessee. The Patriots filled his void by making an aggressive move to sign Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million free-agent deal.
“They went their way, I went mine, and there is no bad blood there,” Ryan said. “You win two Super Bowls, play with Hall of Fame players, play for Hall of Fame coaches, and then going to a place like Tennessee, which wanted me. I wanted to help change something in the [defensive backs] room, change the culture. We believe in each other and I’m enjoying the ride.”
Reflective of that, Ryan said he wrote the numbers of his fellow defensive backs on the cleats he wore in Saturday’s victory over the Chiefs, a message to his mates that he was willing to play for them.
That type of leadership is what Titans general manager Jon Robinson, the former Patriots director of college scouting who was high on Ryan coming out of Rutgers in 2013, knew he was getting in Ryan.
Now Ryan could be heading back to where his career started, which would be a storyline few saw coming at the outset of the playoffs.
2. Patriots running back James White, who was held out of the final two regular-season games with an ankle injury, expects to be ready to play in Saturday’s AFC divisional round. That’s good news on two fronts for the Patriots: He’s one of their most clutch players, as evidenced by his work in Super Bowl LI, and the team’s best pass protectors at running back, which should increase Tom Brady's comfort level.
3. There have been questions as to why the Patriots didn’t more strongly consider other teams when they were trading Jimmy Garoppolo in late October, especially given the Browns’ prior inquiries about Garoppolo, and their willingness to give up second- and third-round picks for AJ McCarron in a would-be trade that wasn't filed by the deadline. In addition to preferring to trade Garoppolo out of the conference, here is another reason I believe the Patriots didn’t even dial up Cleveland to get the Browns involved: The last time they worked with them on a trade, for linebacker Jamie Collins in 2016, it was described to me as an arduous process that was the antithesis of other deals the Patriots had made that came together quickly (e.g. Cardinals trade for Chandler Jones, which Arizona GM Steve Keim later used the word “stealth” to describe working with New England). When the Patriots are making a trade, the trust and confidence level they have in the other team to see it through is part of their consideration. That, I believe, was another factor that gave John Lynch, Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers the decisive edge over the Browns for Garoppolo.
4. Brady will play in his 14th divisional playoff game Saturday, passing Jerry Rice for the most divisional-round playoff appearances in NFL history. A 49ers fan growing up, Brady said he wasn’t aware he was about to pass Rice, but liked the company and the stat. “That means you’re playing in a lot of big games,” he said, “which is why we’re here.”
5. While many players kicked back to relax on their day off Friday, safety McCourty had a different approach. As part of the NFL’s players coalition, he led a “listen and learn day” at Harvard Law School, joined by teammates Johnson Bademosi, Matthew Slater and Harmon as well as team president Jonathan Kraft. They met with criminal justice advocates to learn about, and explore solutions to, systemic issues that lead to racially and ethnically disparate outcomes with incarceration in Boston and Massachusetts, with special attention on the juvenile justice system. The group also visited the Haley House, a non-profit organization and café that hires and gives support to formerly incarcerated individuals.
6. When the Pro Football Hall of Fame narrowed its list of 27 semifinalists to 15 finalists last week, it eliminated former Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour from consideration. I reached out to one Hall of Fame voter to get a feel for the strength of Seymour’s candidacy in future years, and here were a few factors mentioned:
The challenge is often greater for defensive linemen who aren’t edge rushers with high sack totals like Seymour because they can fall into the “really good but never really dynamic” category.
While playing for two teams can sometimes help a player, in the case of Seymour, his final seasons with the Raiders (2009-2012) were played more under the radar and on losing teams.
Other Patriots (specifically Ty Law) are ahead of him in the pecking order.
It’s obviously a positive that Seymour in the semifinal mix, and there is more work to be done to explore his candidacy. If Law gets in this year, he could receive a bump.
7. A quick look-ahead: The Patriots will face at least three teams with new head coaches next season -- the Colts, Lions and Bears -- and New England coordinators are among the top candidates to fill those voids. Belichick versus Matt Patricia and Belichick versus Josh McDaniels in one season? Those would be fun weeks.
8. Three things to know about Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores, who interviewed for the Cardinals’ head-coaching job on Saturday and would be the top candidate to replace Patricia as New England’s defensive coordinator:
Like Patricia, he is extremely smart. An English major at Boston College, he was a 2003 All-Big East Academic Team selection, and earned a master’s degree in administration at the school.
Upon graduation, he wrote a letter to every NFL team and the Patriots were the only club to respond. A connection between former BC coach Tom O’Brien and Belichick might have helped.
Among his responsibilities this season has been to prepare the team’s red-zone defense. He is concluding his 14th season with the team, having spent the first four years in the personnel department and the past 10 on the coaching staff.
9. Brandin Cooks led all Patriots receivers by playing 92.7 percent of the offensive snaps during the regular season, marking the third consecutive season he’s appeared in all 16 regular-season games. The Patriots have a saying that availability is as important as durability, which Cooks has taken to heart. “I’m young  and we condition and work hard to be able to go a whole season, to play those snaps,” he said. Cooks, by the way, was hanging with the Boston Bruins on Saturday.
10. Did You Know: The Patriots entered the postseason with 41 players on their roster with playoff experience, which was the most of any team, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. The Steelers (40) were right behind, while the Titans (18), Jaguars (11) and Rams (6) were at the bottom of the list. Patriots players have a combined 317 career playoff games on their roster, which easily outdistanced the next team, the Steelers (207).