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Quick-hit thoughts around Patriots, NFL

Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the New England Patriots:

1. I believe what we saw Saturday in the Patriots' 35-31 win over the Baltimore Ravens was the most exciting playoff game in the 13-year history of Gillette Stadium. What a game. What a night.

2. However the Patriots’ 2014 season ultimately unfolds, one of the defining parts of the season has been how we’ve been treated to some of the best pure environments in some time. It started with the Oct. 5 game against the Bengals when the Patriots returned home following a thumping at Kansas City and the place rocked, with fans chanting “Brady! Brady! Brady!” A trip to Lambeau Field (Nov. 30) didn’t produce the desired result for the Patriots but was special nonetheless, then it was followed by what almost felt like a home game in San Diego (Dec. 7). And they don’t get much better than Saturday night. This. Is. Why. We. Love. Football. What else can match it?

3. It takes resilience to be the first team in NFL playoff history -- and just the third team overall -- to come back from two different 14-point deficits, as the Patriots did Saturday against the Ravens. One thing Bill Belichick has said in the past is that his truly great teams rise up when the pressure is greatest and the adversity is at its highest. The bounce back after the beatdown in Kansas City Sept. 29 (another great football environment, but hard to appreciate if a Patriots follower) was the first indication we received that the 2014 Patriots had this characteristic. And I’d say the road win at Buffalo on Oct. 12 was right there -- to hang in when losing linebacker Jerod Mayo and running back Stevan Ridley to season-ending injuries.

4. Rex Ryan as the Bills’ next head coach, as reported by ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, is compelling on multiple layers. They have a similar quarterback situation as the one Ryan leaves behind with the Jets (no sure-fire answer), so it will be critical for him to do better with his offensive coaching staff than he did in New York. But his knowledge of the division, and the struggles he’s given the Patriots, had to have major appeal to the Bills. I like the hire.

5. I’ve been following Ryan’s next step closely because I’ve thought that if he takes a head-coaching job instead of going into broadcasting that could mean significant competition for the Patriots to retain Darrelle Revis in free agency. If I’m the Bills, that’s something I definitely explore this offseason in free agency, especially given Revis’ history with Ryan. It could be a help-yourself-while-hurting-the-opposition situation.

6. The contract extensions the Patriots struck with safety Patrick Chung and running back Brandon Bolden last week addressed the all-important middle class of the roster. Neither are front-line players, but they are part of the important quality depth that successful teams generally have to have. Building a strong middle class can be a challenge in the salary-cap era, and the Patriots smartly got to work in that area a bit early, knowing that in due time bigger-ticket items like Revis and safety Devin McCourty will be the primary focus. Those deals figure to be a bit harder to consummate and will require more time.

7. As a reporter who always respected the passion and energy with which Pepper Johnson coached, not to mention the connection many Patriots players had with him, I was happy to hear that he earned an interview with the Giants for their vacant defensive coordinator post. I think one of the reasons Johnson left the Patriots after the 2013 season was to put himself in a better position to become a coordinator, which he’s coveted for some time now.

8. With former Texans general manager Charley Casserly serving as a consultant for Jets owner Woody Johnson in the search for a head coach and general manager, it’s not much of a surprise that Texans director of college scouting Mike Macagnan has emerged as a front-runner for the Jets' GM job. If Macagnan ultimately is the hire, an obvious question would be whether Casserly recommended the best hire for the Jets or if it was a case where he used his influence to promote one of his understudies. Perhaps the answer is both, but that was the first thought I had as Macagnan was called back for a second interview late last week.

9. As coaching staffs begin to be formed across the NFL in the coming weeks, it’s hard for me to imagine too many former players being a better fit for an entry-level position than Steve Gregory. He was one of the smartest players to come through the Patriots’ locker room in Belichick’s tenure, and when we caught up last week, it was no surprise that he is interested in pursuing an NFL coaching career. I also was also interested to hear him talk about what led him to retire after spending 12 days in the Chiefs' training camp this summer. “People ask me, ‘Do you miss it?’ Yeah, you always miss it -- playing in front of 80,000 people, the adrenaline rush that gives you -- there’s nothing to match it,” he said. “But to play this game, you have to go out and have the hunger and willingness to go out and crash and destroy people. By the time I got to the 12th day of camp, I knew it wasn’t there for me anymore. That’s when you know it’s time.”

10. Jeremy Mincey, the 2006 sixth-round draft choice of the Patriots who never played a regular-season game in New England before reviving his career with Jacksonville (2007-2013), has been a 16-game starter for the Cowboys this season as the primary replacement for free-agent defection DeMarcus Ware. Mincey’s ability to generate pressure showed up in the Cowboys’ wild-card-round win over the Lions. The list of players who fail to meet expectations in New England but do so with another team isn’t long, but Mincey belongs. He also had some flattering remarks about Belichick earlier this year.