FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Here are some quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Running back Danny Woodhead spent three seasons with the Patriots (2010-2012) and four with the Chargers (2013-2016), so he views a Patriots-Chargers matchup in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs through a different lens than most.
“When I was in New England, something we did a lot of times, we minimized pass-rushers, and you can do that in different ways,” he said. “Maybe that’s get the ball out quick. Maybe that’s chip the defensive ends early. Everyone would talk about how ‘they'll get to the quarterback,’ but there are ways to minimize that. We would make it a point to not allow them to get going, and I could see that happening [Sunday]. That’s what I would do.”
“One of the things I really respected out of Phil was the pride he took in the process of the week in figuring out [the opponents’] defense. Obviously, Tom is the same way,” he said before expounding on other links he sees between them.
“Both of them run the show, and both have the ability and trust from their coaches to change plays whenever they need to, to get into the correct protection they need to. They both have a lot on their plate. And if you asked both of them, that’s how they want it. They want everyone to rely on them. I think there are a lot of similarities in what they do.”
As for the Patriots and Chargers organizations as a whole, it is a bit more challenging for Woodhead to find similarities.
“I don’t know if it’s where it is on the map, [but] California is different than the Northeast. It’s not in, like, a better or worse way, and I don’t want to say it’s the laid-back mentality because when you look at this Chargers team, there is nothing laid-back about it, but probably the biggest difference is that everything is kind of under Bill [Belichick]. He’s essentially the general manager [too], and everyone knows the expectations,” Woodhead said. “It’s not that there wasn’t an expectation to be great in San Diego or L.A., but everyone knows the expectation of the Patriots, and that’s something that is obviously a trickle-down effect.
“I’d say in San Diego, it’s different when you have a general manager and coach. It was still work. You cared about things and took pride in what you did and doing your job. Was it a little more lax? Maybe. I know that works in some places. And what works in New England has worked a long time. I don’t think one is right or wrong.”
Meanwhile, retiring after last season proved to be the right decision for Woodhead, who has returned to Nebraska with his wife, Stacia, and their four children. He will turn 34 on Jan. 25.
“I’m really happy,” Woodhead said, adding that he has enjoyed family time, public speaking and more opportunities to play golf. “Eventually, I have an interest in doing some business stuff, but there’s no rush right now for me.
“It’s funny now, being out, in watching the game -- and I’ve talked with other people who have retired -- you see it, and you’re like, ‘Holy crap, I did that stuff?’ It’s a crazy game. It’s a fast, physical game. I was beyond blessed to be able to play for 10 years. I wouldn’t have thought 10 years when I first got into it.
“I had a ridiculous amount of great fans at each stop who have followed me and been supportive. I feel very, very fortunate people have supported me the way they have.”
2. When Ohio State announced last week that Greg Schiano wouldn't be returning as defensive coordinator in 2019 and that he would be pursuing opportunities in the NFL, the first thought that came to mind was that he would be a perfect fit on Belichick's coaching staff, especially if the Miami Dolphins follow through with their hope to make Brian Flores their next head coach. The connection between Schiano and Belichick is well-documented. One other notable point as it relates to Flores' potential departure: While it was clearly Flores' defense on game day in terms of making calls, my understanding is that Belichick was notably involved during the week of preparation, in terms of his presence in some full-unit defensive meetings. That would likely continue, and perhaps even expand, regardless of who fills the void created by Flores' departure.
3. When Flores was interviewing for the Cardinals' head-coaching job last offseason, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that he would have brought along two-time head coach Jim Caldwell as his offensive coordinator if he landed the job. If the 37-year-old Flores lands in Miami this year, as is expected at this point, that type of hire -- having a former head coach as a sounding board -- would be critical for him. Caldwell, 63, spent 2018 out of football after being fired by the Lions.
4. Kliff Kingsbury's hiring as Cardinals head coach, sparked a thought of one notable thing the Patriots learned when they selected him in the sixth round of the 2003 draft, and he didn’t pan out: The importance of hand size for quarterbacks playing in often-inclement New England weather conditions. Kingsbury had the smallest hands of any quarterback in the draft that year, which VP of Player Personnel Scott Pioli once said was something the team regrettably didn’t put enough stock into at the time.
5. Tom Rinaldi’s 1-on-1 interview with Bill Belichick that aired Monday on ESPN’s College Football Playoff National Championship Pregame Show -- centered on Belichick’s bond with Nick Saban -- was insightful. When Rinaldi asked Belichick for one thing the two understand about each other that others can’t, he said, “how hard it is to sustain and how hard it is to do it year after year. How you always have new players. Your opponents have new players. You’re the target for them. The bulls-eye is on you from them every week.”
6. In catching up with Tony Dungy for a story on the Bill Belichick/Anthony Lynn head-coaching matchup on Sunday, he said something that didn’t surprise me: Former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison is a great teammate on the NBC “Football Night in America” program. “He’s been a great guy to work with," Dungy said. "He cares about what we’re doing, and he’s never satisfied with average at all. He wants to do everything we can to make us great, and that’s what I appreciate about him." Sounds familiar to the way Harrison was as a player. Dungy added that Harrison, while not afraid to be critical of the Patriots on TV, is an unabashed fan of the team behind the scenes. "I had to give him a pep talk a couple weeks ago when he said, 'I've never seen the Patriots look like this,'" Dungy joked. "I told him, 'Trust me, Week 2 of the playoffs, they're going to be there ready to roll with a team that looks impressive. Don't worry about it.' He really wants to see them do well."
7a. How important was the playoff bye week for the Patriots? Safety/captain Devin McCourty probably would have missed a game in the wild-card round with the concussion he sustained in the regular-season finale, and it might have been close for receiver/returner Cordarrelle Patterson (knee) to be ready for action. Patterson's impact against the Chargers was felt before the opening kickoff when Los Angeles signed kicker Nick Rose just to get more distance on kickoffs. The Chargers will carry two kickers on their 46-man game-day roster.
7b. One other bye-week nugget: The Patriots promoted tight end Stephen Anderson from the practice squad to fill the spot created when Jacob Hollister was placed on injured reserve. Anderson, who played two seasons for the Texans (2016-2017) after entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of California, is listed at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds but said he's closer to 237. He's considered more of a pass-catching tight end than an inline blocker, and he has experience on all four core special-teams units, which was his primary value to the Patriots this season when healthy.
8. Great work by Nick Korte of OverTheCap.com to fill in some of the important compensatory picks teams are projected to receive this year, with the Patriots a primary beneficiary. Per Korte, the Patriots will add two third-round picks, a fifth-rounder and seventh-rounder to their stable. That means the club will have one first-round pick, two second-rounders and three third-rounders to continue the all-important process of injecting promising up-and-comers to the roster.
9a. Did You Know, Part I: According to Elias, the 10 seasons between postseason meetings for Tom Brady and Philip Rivers makes for the second-largest gap for starting quarterbacks in postseason history, behind that of Brady and Ben Roethlisberger (11-season gap between 2004 and 2016 meetings).
9b. Did You Know, Part II: The Patriots have won eight straight home playoff games, the fifth-longest streak in NFL history, according to Elias.
9c. Did You Know, Part III: The Chargers are trying to join the 1989 Los Angeles Rams as the only West Coast team to win multiple games in the Eastern time zone in one postseason.
10. I wonder if the recent trend around the NFL, with so many franchises hiring young head coaches who might not be ready for the job, makes 66-year-old Bill Belichick reconsider something he said in the 2009 "A Football Life" documentary: "I won’t be like Marv Levy and coaching in my 70s, I know that." Why not? Belichick seems to be enjoying having his sons, Steve and Brian, on staff, and one of the books he recently read was "Younger Next Year." It wouldn't shock me if Belichick looks at things differently now than he did in '09.