Josh McDaniels is a polarizing figure, even within the generally homerific world of Patriot Nation.
That reality is more obvious outside of New England, where McDaniels is one of the most despised men in the history of Denver professional sports thanks to his short, tumultuous tenure as Broncos head coach and not exactly a sit-down-and-take-a-load-off candidate in Indiana after his so-short-it-never-happened stint as Colts coach.
But it’s in New England, home to McDaniel’s greatest professional successes as Patriots offensive coordinator from 2006-08 and 2012-20, where the affable coach’s methods and means might be most debated.
To some, McDaniels is the former boy-genius coach who rode Tom Brady’s coattails to offensive output and career advancement. To these oftentimes overly vocal critics, his playcalls are somehow both predictable at times and too creative, too show-offish at others.
Simply put, for whatever reason, nothing McDaniels can do will be enough to impress and appease a certain portion of the Patriots fanbase.
This was proven last Sunday night in Seattle when Cam Newton and the Patriots came up a yard short of what would have been a sensational early-season upset of the Seahawks.
Despite putting together a game plan and an offense that proved the post-Tom Brady Patriots are still very much capable of throwing the ball all over the field in an aerial shootout on the road with a potential Super Bowl contender, the only reaction to McDaniels’ work for some seemed to be criticism of the Newton power run that saw the QB get upended short of the goal line as time ran out on the losing effort.
Despite of having found success with the same jumbo package formation previously – or, according to critics, maybe because of prior use of the formation and play – putting the ball in the Patriots’ best player’s hands with the game on the line didn’t lead to victory.
Newton, a team captain, immediately took the blame, saying he should have or could have bounced the play outside and done more to score. That’s what great players and experienced winners do.
McDaniels similarly took responsibility, “I’m accountable for the fact that we didn’t score there.”
Both the coach and quarterback showed great shared leadership in their comments taking responsibility for coming up short in Seattle.
But the pair should also be taking just as much shared responsibility for the fact that the new-look Patriots offense has more than done its job through two weeks of the new season.
Despite having a new QB and more questions than answers everywhere on the offensive depth chart other than the offensive line, New England’s attack has proven it could run the ball 40-plus times in dominant fashion to beat the Dolphins one week and turn around to throw it 40-plus times a week later to put up 30-plus points on the road in Seattle.
You can’t ask for much more than that.
It’s proven, as has been well-hyped, that Newton is healthy and still quite capable of being the kind of player, at least for a short stint, that was once the centerpiece of the Carolina offense in 2015 when he led that team to the Super Bowl while winning the NFL MVP.
It’s also proven, quite definitively and with far less fanfare that as an offensive coordinator McDaniels can find a way to get the job done, regardless of quarterback, weapons, scheme or opponent.
Run first? Pass first? Balance? Brady rewriting the record books with guys like Randy Moss? Brady suspended? Brady gone for good?
It doesn’t matter to McDaniels. As he’s done for more than a decade running Belichick’s offense – and make no mistake, McDaniels runs the offense in New England – he simply finds a way to move the ball, score and get the job done.
As the Patriots prepare to come up with yet another unique game plan for Sunday’s battle with the undefeated Raiders at Gillette Stadium, maybe a more balanced approach after two extreme air and ground attacks in the first two weeks, Las Vegas coach Jon Gruden certainly has taken note of what both Newton and McDaniels are doing these days in New England.
“It's a tough operation. It always is when you play against Cam Newton and the New England Patriots, and now that they've joined forces, it's double trouble for every defensive staff, every coach and every team that comes in there,” Gruden raved.
He’s right. Newton deserves much credit for proving he’s healthy and still the unique dual-threat weapon that earned him the Superman moniker and superstar fame.
But McDaniels deserves just as much credit for the work he’s putting forth behind the scenes and behind the playcalling face covering on the sideline to put Newton in position to succeed with limited talent around him less than three months after arriving in New England.
Love him or hate him, you have to respect McDaniels and his coaching abilities. And enjoy it while you can, Patriots fans. Much like Newton is rebuilding his career and resume after floundering as an unwanted free agent for three months this offseason, McDaniels is buffing up his own resume after somewhat surprisingly failing to land a head-coaching job last winter.
His personal professional loss was certainly New England’s gain as McDaniels proves once again the perfect guy to draw up winning offensive game plans for the Patriots. The more he does that, the more likely it is that he’ll get his coveted chance at another head-coaching after the season, even with his polarizing history.
Like him or not, McDaniels is once again proving he’s one of the best offensive minds in the NFL today. And if you can’t see that, you’re either not watching or not paying attention closely enough.