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Sunday Patriots Notes: Is Jerod Mayo New England’s head coach in waiting?

Notes and thoughts on the Patriots and the rest of the NFL.

New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The NFL playoffs are underway, but the New England Patriots are not among the participating teams. Finishing the regular season with an 8-9 record, they were eliminated from the tournament with a Week 18 loss in Buffalo.

While our focus might be shifting into offseason mode now, some things still stay the same. Welcome to this week’s edition of our Sunday Patriots Notes.

Is Jerod Mayo New England’s head coach in waiting? The Patriots under head coach Bill Belichick have never been a team to publicly announce its intentions, but that changed on Thursday. An unprecedented press release informed the public that the team would not just be looking for a new offensive coordinator, but also be in contact negotiations with linebackers coach Jerod Mayo.

When they were announced, those negotiations were seen as the organization trying to keep the stability on the defensive side of the ball and not lose Mayo to a potential coordinator vacancy elsewhere. The Cleveland Browns, after all, had required an interview with him to fill just that role — one he effectively filled in New England alongside Steve Belichick but was never given the title of.

The belief at the time was that Mayo would still be a candidate to leave for head-coaching opportunities. He had one interview on the table from the Carolina Panthers; one he appeared to be ready to take.

However, Saturday’s report that he declined the chance to talk to the Panthers added another layer to the whole story — and raised questions about what New England might be offering him, besides more pay. One possibility: making him assistant head coach alongside Belichick, and possibly grooming him to take over the lead of the organization further down the line.

While we are entering a speculative area, the Patriots keeping Mayo as a head coach in waiting would make some sense. He is well-respected both in the building and across the NFL, and definitely a young coach on the rise whose head-coaching aspirations are justified.

Belichick, meanwhile, will turn 71 in April and will have to think about a potential successor at one point. The belief was that his son Steve would be the frontrunner to fill that role, but there is a chance he will simply continue to build his résumé as a defensive coordinator — either of sorts or officially — before being allowed to pursue other jobs outside of New England. Mayo, meanwhile, would be handed the keys to the kingdom at one point.

When might that point be? Belichick is only 18 combined regular season and playoff wins behind all-time leader Don Shula, so a transition within the next three years might make sense.

Of course, as noted above, all of that is just speculation at this point. However, the Patriots’ announcement this week paired with Mayo declining two interview opportunities — including one for a head coach job — have created an exciting dynamic that could go in every possible direction.

The one outlined above, is just one of them even if it may or may not be realistic.

How will the Patriots satisfy the ‘Rooney Rule’? New England searching for an offensive coordinator means that they will meet the NFL’s hiring requirements for a position like that. This means that at least one external minority candidate has to be interviewed in the process. Who might fit the bill from a Patriots point of view, especially given that most of the speculation centered around coaches like Bill O’Brien, Kliff Kingsbury and Zac Robinson?

Houston Texans offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, Minnesota Vikings wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell, Arizona Cardinals associate head coach/wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson, or Detroit Lions assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley are among the team’s possible targets. All of them have considerable coaching experience on the offensive side of the ball and are deserving of a chance to coordinate an offense.

The hope, of course, is that the Patriots see any and all minority coaches as legitimate candidates to earn the job. Unfortunately, however, sham interviews to satisfy the “Rooney Rule” appeared to have happened repeatedly in the past.

Zac Robinson’s status with the Rams might be worth watching: One of the most prominent potential targets to land the Patriots’ offensive coordinator gig is Zac Robinson. A former seventh-round draft choice by the team in 2010, he carved out a nice career for himself under Sean McVay with the Los Angeles Rams.

With McVay returning for another season, there has been speculation that Robinson might take over as his offensive coordinator in light of the club losing Liam Coen to Kentucky. However, it appears that L.A. might instead go after ex-New York Jets OC Mike LaFleur — a move that might free up Robinson, the Rams’ pass game coordinator and quarterbacks coach, to pursue other opportunities.

Visualizing Mac Jones’ decline in 2022: The Patriots’ desire to bring in an offensive coordinator for 2023 was sparked by the fact that the unit struggled mightily last season. The first year under long-time coordinator Josh McDaniels saw Matt Patricia and Joe Judge take over — two coaches who will likely be reassigned to other positions in the organization this offseason.

The reason for that is not just the offense’s struggles, but also the decline of sophomore quarterback Mac Jones — a decline that was recently visualized by The Ringer’s Austin Gayle:

Austin Gayle

While Jones was clearly the best quarterback to come out of the 2021 NFL Draft following his rookie season, his expected points added per dropback took a sharp turn for the worse under Patricia and Judge. Meanwhile, Trevor Lawrence soared under offensive-minded first-year Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Pedersen.

If anything, that graphic clearly shows the need for a QB to have a solid support system around him. While Lawrence did enter the league as a generational talent and with a much higher ceiling than Jones, who was drafted 14 selections after the No. 1 overall pick, Pedersen’s work with him cannot be understated.

The Patriots need to find something similar in 2023 and beyond.

The Patriots’ inability to play complementary football ultimately cost them their season: New England’s 2022 season died as it lived: with the club failing to play the all-important complementary football. While the offense was oftentimes the weak link throughout the year, this time it was special teams: the unit surrendered two kickoff return touchdowns in Week 18 against the Buffalo Bills. The game was lost by 12 points.

“The key is just to keep fighting, try not to look at the scoreboard. Just move the ball on offense, play well on defense, and really just have to do it all together. I feel like if we did that it would have been a better result,” said Mac Jones during his postgame press conference. “Just too up and down at times.”

Deatrich Wise. Jr. thinks New England’s defense has accomplished ‘wonderful things’ in 2023: The Patriots’ inability to play consistently successful football on offense and in the kicking game cost them in the end, and it meant that they would waste a strong effort from their defense. The unit, after all, was one of the NFL’s best in 2022 and it would have done enough to carry the team to the playoffs.

Ultimately, the end result was not what anyone imagined it would be. Nonetheless, one of the unit’s captains did not hang his head on the day after the season-ending loss to the Bills.

“We did a wonderful job this year,” said defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. “A lot of great plays had been made, a lot of firsts with Marcus Jones, [Kyle Dugger], myself, [Josh] Uche, [Matthew] Judon. We all did phenomenal work.

“And then, collectively, we did great things — nine sacks in a game, three defensive touchdowns for one person. There’s a lot of accolades, you could go down the whole list. If I name one, I’ll miss one. But we did a lot of wonderful things.”

Those wonderful things included New England scoring a league-high seven defensive touchdowns — including three via safety Kyle Dugger alone. Those seven scores are the highest such number in the NFL over the last decade, tying the 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars and 2013 Kansas City Chiefs.

Super Bowl LI drops one spot on the list of biggest playoff comebacks: The first day of the NFL playoffs saw one of the biggest comeback performances in league annals. The Jaguars fell into a 27-0 hole in the second quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers, but eventually went on an improbable run in the second half. They ended up winning 31-30 on a last-second field goal — the third-largest comeback in postseason history.

As a result, arguably the most famous comeback the league has ever seen was bumped down one spot to No. 4 in the rankings: the Patriots’ win in Super Bowl LI over the Atlanta Falcons saw them come back from a 28-3 deficit in the late third quarter. New England ended up scoring 31 unanswered points to win 34-28 in overtime.