The 14th Sunday of the NFL’s 2021 season has arrived, and even with them on their bye there is a lot going on around the New England Patriots and the rest of the league. Let’s use this forum right here to go through some of the stories that have emerged over the last few days: time for our Sunday Patriots Notes.
1. Josh McDaniels projects as a popular head coaching candidate next year. After struggling to a 7-9 record in their first year without Tom Brady, the Patriots are back among the NFL’s contenders. There are multiple reasons for that, but one of the biggest is the stellar play of rookie quarterback Mac Jones.
The first-round draft selection deserves plenty of praise for earning the starting role in one of the most challenging offensive systems in the game, but so does his position coach who also happens to be his offensive coordinator: Josh McDaniels has helped Jones transition to the NFL game by creating an offense around him that focuses on his strengths but also aims at taking pressure off of him.
Jones’ early-career development and the Patriots’ offensive productivity as a whole are two main reasons why McDaniels should again be a prime head coaching candidate next offseason. A short-time head coach of the Denver Broncos, McDaniels has served as a coordinator — first briefly in St. Louis and then in New England — since 2011.
He has drawn some interest over the years, most prominently from the Indianapolis Colts in 2018, but for whatever reasons has not left New England. Will 2022 be any different? His work with Mac Jones certainly will be a factor, even though a majority of Patriots fans thinks that he will stay put: according to SB Nation’s latest Reacts survey, 83 percent of participants believe that McDaniels will stay put for another year.
2. Davon Godchaux had an impressive game against Buffalo. Defensive tackle Davon Godchaux has been a big addition to the New England defense this offseason, literally and figuratively. The 6-foot-3, 311-pounder has helped the team shore up its leaky run defense, and his performance against the Buffalo Bills on Monday was a perfect example of that.
In fact, according to Zebra Technology, Godchaux posted a run tackle rate of 56 percent — the highest for a nose tackle in the last six seasons. Buffalo averaged only 3.1 yards per carry when Godchaux was on the field.
3. The Patriots wide receiver group has some of the best burst in the NFL. New England’s wide receiver group may lack the star power of other units, but it is among the league’s elite in one category: according to NFL Next Gen Stats, the group has some of the best burst off the line of scrimmage in the game; their top three wideouts — Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor — rank in the top 30 in top speed within one second:
The Patriots WR corps has some of the fastest burst off the LOS in the NFL.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 8, 2021
Kendrick Bourne (9.49 mph) averages the fastest top speed within 1 second of his routes (min. 200 routes). Jakobi Meyers (9.29 mph, 3rd) and Nelson Agholor (8.55 mph, 28th) also rank top 30.#ForeverNE pic.twitter.com/KPzwoM19fO
Kendrick Bourne’s average top speed of 9.49 mph within the first second of his routes is the best such number in the NFL. Jakobi Meyers’ 9.29 mph is ranked third. The two wideouts lead the Patriots in receiving yards and receptions, respectively, and their burst might very well be one of the reasons why.
4. Mac Jones explains how he brought his turnover rate down. Over the first six games of his NFL career, Mac Jones turned the football over a combined seven times. During the Patriots’ seven-game winning streak that started in Week 7, meanwhile, that number has gone down significantly: Jones gave the football away just three times during that stretch.
How did he manage to bring his turnover rate down? According to the man himself, his improved experience has played a role in this.
“I think just playing within the offense, understanding how to win games, what teams do badly, and exposing that,” he said earlier this week. “I’ve obviously been taught my whole football life that when you don’t turn the ball over, good things happen. The more you can do that, the more you can play within your offensive scheme, the better. I can continue to do a good job there. We’ve just been doing a better job with it. Everyone has.
“The fumbles and interceptions were my fault for the most part, obviously, because you can’t throw it to the other team. It’s an area to improve on, but you also can’t be gun-shy or anything like that. You’ve just got to go out there and try to throw it to the right guy.”
5. Kyle Van Noy was an early believer in Mac Jones. Speaking of the Patriots’ rookie quarterback, linebacker Kyle Van Noy appeared on the Green Light with Chris Long podcast earlier this week, and also spoke about Mac Jones. Asked when Jones won over his teammates, Van Noy pointed to one particular week in training camp.
“What’s been impressive I would say with Mac is — and I don’t want this to sound bad or anything — but when Cam [Newton] was out for that week, and it was the day before we went against the Giants, he was balling against us,” Van Noy said. “It was like, ‘Oh, this dude’s good.’”
Incumbent starter Cam Newton had to miss three days worth of practices due to an apparent “misunderstanding” about Covid-19 protocols. He had left New England for a team-approved medical appointment but as an unvaccinated player at that point in time had to go through an acclimation period.
As a result, Mac Jones was given increased reps with the first-team offense — including one joint practice versus the New York Giants. While Newton did start the preseason matchup between the two teams, he was eventually cut a short time later.
6. Hunter Henry will not have to miss a game down the stretch for personal reasons. Patriots tight end Hunter Henry spoke about potentially having to miss a game due to the birth of his first child. Neither he nor the team have to worry about that anymore: Henry and his wife, Parker, announced the birth of their son, Ace, on Thursday.
7. Stephon Gilmore clarifies his comments about the Patriots. Before going up against his former team earlier this week, Carolina Panthers cornerback Stephon Gilmore shed some light on his departure from the Patriots. Gilmore noted that “things just didn’t work out” and that he “just didn’t like how they handled my situation with my injury.”
Last week, Gilmore explained what he meant by that. Speaking with Joseph Person of The Athletic, he gave some insight into his statement:
When you return to play, you want to rehab back to return to play. But I felt like they were doing more workouts than rehab, more working out like someone (who) was 100 percent healthy and in the offseason program. But I was rehabbing, coming back from surgery. So that’s different. I think you should take steps to come back and play.
It was just making me do all types of running and lifting way more than I was supposed to.
Gilmore, who is on the final year of his contract, was traded from New England to Carolina in early October. The Patriots received a sixth-round selection in the 2023 NFL Draft in return for the former Defensive Player of the Year.
8. The Week 14 bye is late but not the latest in Patriots history. While New England’s current bye comes very late on the regular season calendar, it is not the latest the franchise has experienced so far. Back in 2001, the team was originally scheduled to have its bye on the final weekend of the season.
That bye eventually took place on the second-to-last week, though. With the NFL canceling its entire Week 2 following the September 11 attacks, those games were added onto the season. That meant the Patriots enjoyed a Week 16 bye, following by a game against the Panthers, followed by a first-round playoff bye and eventual Super Bowl run.
“I still think it’s pretty interesting how the NFL schedule gave us a bye the last week of the season. Like, ‘You guys will be out of it, so you can go ahead and start your vacation early. Go ahead on home,’” Belichick said about the quirky scheduling back in 2016. “Of course, we ended up having to play because the 9/11 game got postponed with Carolina in Week 2. But when the schedule came out we saw that our bye was the last week of the season.
“I think we surely, we didn’t follow along to the script that they had written for us. But that’s all right.”