FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Giants are about as far away from this year’s playoffs as you can imagine, but there was still plenty on the line for them in Saturday night’s Patriots-Titans AFC divisional round matchup.
In fact, they might have been watching their future on the Patriots’ sideline.
With both Patriots coordinators — Josh McDaniels on offense and Matt Patricia on defense — considered finalists in the Giants’ coach search, Big Blue’s brain trust was certainly paying close attention in this one. McDaniels and Patricia were interviewed last week by Giants president and co-owner John Mara, newly named general manager Dave Gettleman and assistant GM Kevin Abrams, and both Patriots assistants have made it to the final cut, along with Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. Newsday also reported that there is a potential fourth candidate lurking, just in case the Giants are left out in the cold as the hiring cycle continues.
The Giants, Cardinals, Colts and Lions are still in the market for new head coaches, and McDaniels, Patricia and Shurmur are under consideration by all those teams. Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel is also a candidate in Detroit and Indianapolis.
The timing of the hires is directly impacted by the outcome of Saturday night’s game. A Patriots win, and the waiting game continues, because assistant coaches of teams still in the playoffs can’t be hired elsewhere until their playoffs are done. The longer the Patriots last, the longer the wait.
A Titans win, and Patricia and McDaniels are likely to be hired quickly. Recent speculation has McDaniels ticketed for Indianapolis and Patricia being courted by the Lions and Giants.
It’s been a whirlwind for both Patriots assistants, who were interviewed during New England’s bye week, but they’ve done their best to concentrate on the immediate task: dealing with a Titans team coming off a 22-21 comeback win over the Chiefs last week in the AFC wild-card round. Marcus Mariota brought the Titans back from a 21-3 halftime deficit in his first career playoff game.
“You have the opportunity to learn about some other franchise and get a chance to talk about how they do things, and real ly just kind of broaden your whole overall education of what the NFL and the different organizations are,” Patricia said. “So it’s always an informative process. It’s interesting when you go through it. The good part about it is when it’s done, then you really just kind of flip your focus back to the task at hand.”
McDaniels, who had an unsuccessful run as the Broncos’ head coach in 2009-10 (he was fired after 12 games in 2010), has done fine work with the Patriots’ offense since returning to New England. But he appears ready to get another shot as a head coach.
He was low-key during the week about a potential departure from the Patriots, choosing instead to focus on preparing for the Titans’ defense.
“Just obviously did what was allowed and then have kind of refocused on moving into this week and getting ready for Tennessee,” McDaniels said of the interview process. “That’s about where it stands right now.”
The coordinators are coaching at an eventful time for the Patriots, who spent much of the week trying to tamp down controversy that bubbled up after last week’s ESPN.com report that suggested infighting on the team involving head coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and team owner Robert Kraft. But as the Patriots have learned to do so often during controversial times — see: Spygate, Deflategate — they have become expert at tuning out the chaos.
McDaniels is particularly impressed with Brady’s ability to ignore the outside noise.
“His job as the quarterback is always difficult in terms of the preparation for the opponent, and he knows how much time and effort that takes to be ready to play against a really good team,” McDaniels said. “I have no doubt that his focus will be on what it needs to be on this week, like it always is, and he’ll have a great week of preparation and practice and be ready to go on Saturday night.”
Patricia likes the way his players deal with adversity, too.
“I think our players do a great job every week of coming in and just preparing for the task at hand,” he said. “That’s really our main focus, week-in, week-out. I think they do a really good job understanding how competitive the teams are we play each week . . . I think when you get in those sort of routines, then that’s what we’re trying to do to build toward the end of the week to play to the best of our ability here, which will be Saturday night for us this week.”