MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Belichick’s edge: In the week leading up to Sunday’s season-opening game between the Patriots and Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, CBS), first-year Miami coach Mike McDaniel was asked about matching wits with Bill Belichick and said in self-depreciating fashion, “Can there be a larger disparity in career win-loss total?”
It highlights one area in which the Patriots have a decisive statistical edge: Sunday marks Belichick’s 434th regular-season game as a head coach, while it’s the first for McDaniel.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 433-game difference in head-coaching experience is the largest ever in a game featuring a head coach making his NFL debut.
The previous largest gap was 399 games, between the Chicago Bears’ George Halas and rookie Minnesota Vikings coach Norm Van Brocklin — in 1961.
The next largest gap was 394 games between Miami’s Don Shula and rookie New England coach Rod Rust in 1990.
An edge in coaching experience doesn’t guarantee on-field success, but quarterback Mac Jones said when the 70-year-old Belichick references his past, it often resonates with him.
“It happens all the time,” Jones said this week from Palm Beach Atlantic University, where the Patriots practiced Wednesday through Friday. “I mean, he’ll show it in squad [meetings] and be like ‘This play’s been around forever.’ It’s always good to learn from experience and seeing it on film. That’s one of the things I like.”
The 433-game difference between Belichick and 39-year-old McDaniel is the largest differential in any game since Shula (490th game) faced the St. Louis Rams’ Rich Brooks (16th game) on Christmas Eve, 1995.
How Belichick shares lessons from his vast experience with Jones, in his second season as Patriots quarterback, is an evolving partnership. The Patriots are undergoing a significant transition on offense without coordinator Josh McDaniels (now head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders), as Belichick, playcaller Matt Patricia and quarterbacks coach Joe Judge have worked closest with Jones.
Of Belichick, Jones said: “He’s seen a lot of football, whether that be a certain route, defense or run. He’s very good about understanding how to see it through my eyes, but also how I see it. We both can come together and come to a conclusion that this is why we want to [run] this play. So I’ve been really comfortable with that.”
2. Mac’s edge: Jones elevating to captain was a natural progression in his second season, as he joins center David Andrews, linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, safety Devin McCourty, defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr., and special teamer Matthew Slater in that role. As for the next step, here’s a question some close to Jones have brought up: How comfortable will he be getting on teammates when warranted? That’s not always easy for a second-year player, especially one like Jones who seems to go out of his way to be respectful to all.
3. Bourne’s status: Patriots receiver Kendrick Bourne hasn’t conducted an interview with reporters since mid-August when he didn’t play in the team’s second preseason game after a rocky week in which he was kicked out of practice for fighting and removed from a practice drill by a referee for something related to his equipment/pads not being worn properly. Receivers coach Troy Brown shot it straight last week when he said: “Kendrick obviously hasn’t had the type of offseason he had last year.” But I don’t sense the team has lost hope that Bourne can be a key contributor and much-needed emotional spark; it’s just a matter of him tidying up some of the smaller details.
4. Home of the Sailfish: Did Belichick make the right decision having the Patriots travel to Florida five days early to practice at Division II Palm Beach Atlantic University? The Sailfish don’t have their own football program, which meant the Patriots had to bring their own goal posts in a throwback type setting that had some players say it reminded them Pee Wee football. Ultimately, how the Patriots play in Sunday’s opener will provide a more decisive answer, but by the end of the week, safety Devin McCourty was one of several players saying how beneficial he believed the trip was for players to acclimate to the weather that is often a shock to him in pregame warmups. It was hot.
5. Lightning delay?: The Patriots moved their Thursday practice up an hour to avoid projected thundershowers and lightning, and then raced off the field Friday shortly before practice was scheduled to end due to more storms. This was more than just a passing note. Before Friday’s practice, tight end Hunter Henry told me he believes the Patriots are a mentally tough team that has handled changes like that in stride. It’s also something players have been told to possibly be prepared for Sunday when considering recent history. On Sept. 20, 2020, the Bills visited the Dolphins and had about a 30-minute lightning delay in the second half. On Sept. 9, 2018, the Titans visited the Dolphins and endured nearly four hours of delays.
6. Bowden’s scout look: One thing that might have been overlooked when the Patriots signed former Dolphins receiver/returner Lynn Bowden Jr. to their practice squad last week was how he could help New England as part of the scout team. Bowden might not be able to duplicate the speed of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, but he knows them well after spending all offseason and training camp with them. “He’s been in the room with them. He kind of has a little insight on how they run, what they like to do, what they don’t like. It’s been good insight,” said cornerback Jonathan Jones, whom McCourty singled out as an unsung contributor in past game plans against Hill.
7. Wise an early riser: Wise Jr. is a first-time captain, and linebacker Matthew Judon said one reason why is how he carries himself “off the field and in the meeting room.” Judon said part of that is Wise often being the first player to arrive at the facility each day. Wise said that arrival time is usually between 5:30 and 6.
8. Throwback games: The Patriots made it official last week, confirming they will wear their red throwback jerseys for their Oct. 9 home game against the Detroit Lions and their Dec. 1 Thursday night home game against the Buffalo Bills. Second-year defensive back Myles Bryant said he has fond memories of watching Tom Brady wearing the old jerseys, adding: “I think it will be a pretty cool experience.”
9. Bradley’s visit: PGA golfer Keegan Bradley, who was born in Woodstock, Vermont and later attended Hopkinton (Mass.) High School, visited Patriots practice last week at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Bradley is a big Patriots fan and the team’s decision to spend the week in Florida, not far from his residence in Jupiter, made it a chip shot for him to come visit.
10 Did You Know: In total, Belichick is 8-0 in games in which he has at least a 400-game advantage in head coaching experience over his opponent, according to ESPN Stats & Info.