This was an all time run through the postseason by the New England Patriots. Bill Belichick was as hands-on as ever and Tom Brady brought the Patriots back from the underworld on three separate occasions (two against the Ravens and once against the Seahawks). Starters like Dont'a Hightower and Julian Edelman battled through hellacious injuries to finish the season. Depth players like Akeem Ayers and Malcolm Butler made crucial plays in the brightest moments.
And yet the person who might be most responsible for this fairy tale is the one most likely to be painted as a bridgetroll over the years.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had himself a postseason and it was one of the greatest runs by a Patriots coach, or any coach, ever.
McDaniels found a way to win against three entirely different defenses, while using three entirely different offenses.
Against the Ravens, the Patriots had to abandon the run due to the strength of the Ravens defensive front seven. As a result, McDaniels drew up plays with first reads that attacked the Ravens cornerback Rashaan Melvin with 19 targets. He dug into the playbook with a Julian Edelman touchdown pass to Danny Amendola at a crucial juncture in the game. He dug into the rulebook and called out shorthanded offensive line plays that took the league by fire and brimstone. He helped to direct two 14-point deficits and seal the opening round victory.
It was perfect.
Against the Colts, the Patriots pretty much abandoned the pass and opted to run LeGarrette Blount down the throat of Indianapolis. They had no response. For good measure and for the Seahawks headache, he even concocted a touchdown pass for offensive tackle Nate Solder. The Patriots scored 45 points and tied a franchise record for production.
It was perfect.
Against the Seahawks, the Patriots had to play the best defense of the past decade, one with only two weaknesses: deep passes and papercuts. No running the ball. No crossers. No sideline backshoulder throws. Either go big, or chip away.
So the Patriots had their game plan, and chipped away at the zone defense, and chipped away three, four, five, six yards at a time. The Patriots looked a machine on the field, churning out yards and picking up first downs and extending drives. The offense never gave up, even after falling behind by 10 points in the fourth quarter, and capped off one helluva season.
It was perfect.
If you want efficiency, the Patriots ran 33 drives on offense and averaged 3.24 points per drive (PPD), the second highest mark since 1999 (behind 2003 Peyton Manning and the Colts with 3.33 PPD). This is performance elevation against the top teams in the league; for comparison, the only team to average greater than 3.24 PPD during the regular season (since tracking in 1999) was the 2007 Patriots. That's it. No one can produce as well as the Patriots did against regular season opponents, nevermind playoff teams.
If you want output, the Patriots became the second Super Bowl champion to run through the postseason with only one field goal- the other team being the Green Bay Packers from Super Bowl I in 1966 (and they missed their lone field goal attempt). The Patriots scored touchdown after touchdown- 15 in total, to be precise- and that is a testament to the play calling by McDaniels when the Patriots needed points on the board.
If you want volume, the New England offense (so not including defensive or special teams scores) averaged 36.0 points per game. Of teams that made three games in the postseason, this is the third highest mark of all time. Only the 1994 49ers (41.3 ppg) and the 1989 49ers (39.7 ppg) had greater production in each game.
In a relevant way, those 49ers teams are a model for what Josh McDaniels wants to be as the offensive coordinators for those teams both went on to have tremendous careers.
The offensive coordinator for the 1989 49ers was Mike Holmgren, who won eight division titles as a head coach, reached three Super Bowls (two with the Packers, one with the Seahawks), and won one (against the Patriots!).
The offensive coordinator for the 1994 49ers was Mike Shanahan, Holmgren's replacement in 1992, who won back-to-back Super Bowl titles with the Denver Broncos (one against the aforementioned Holmgren!).
McDaniels is sticking with the Patriots for at least one more season. His growth and production as a coordinator should, again, elevate him as the premier candidate for next season's head coaching gigs, while his prior experience as a head coach provided a wealth of experience.
During the Super Bowl media week, McDaniels talked about what he had learned while he was the head coach of the Broncos.
"[I learned] the people that you work with and for are so important to you," McDaniels said to the crowd. "Your ability to not only to set the path, but to also be a great listener - I've said that numerous times now. That's an important part of being a leader, listening to the people that are around you.
"I think, sometimes, when you're young, you don't really understand that the same as when you go through experience like that. It was a great learning experience for me. I think I'm a better person, a better father and a better coach because of all the adversities and all the challenges that I've gone through and I hope I can continue to get better in all those roles going forward."
It seems as if you've grown a lot as a coach and as a person since you were appointed head coach at the age of 33.
Coach, after the electric performance you put on over the past month, it's undeniable that you're well deserving of another chance.