McDaniels’ return to Patriots sparks intrigue

FOXBOROUGH, MASS. (AP) - On the chilly practice field, Josh McDaniels tucked his hands into the pockets of his new _ or previously used _ dark blue Patriots hoodie and smiled broadly at Bill Belichick.

His new boss, same as the old boss, grinned right back while bundled in a blue parka and knit cap with a pom-pom on top.

Were the reunited duo just happy to be working together again on Tuesday, a combo that had New England just one minute away from an unbeaten season four years ago?

Or were they chuckling over having pulled off a fast one _ allowed though it is by the NFL _ that could help the Patriots in Saturday night’s divisional playoff game against the Denver Broncos and beyond?

McDaniels did coach the Broncos in all of 2009 and the first 12 games of 2010 before being fired with a 3-9 record.

And as offensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams this season, he coached against all four NFC teams left in the playoffs, as well as the second-seeded Baltimore Ravens in the AFC.

Now, after the Rams released him from the final year of his contract as coordinator of an anemic offense, McDaniels is an offensive assistant on a team that could be headed for the Super Bowl, the same team he served as offensive coordinator from 2006-08.

One day after saying McDaniels has “some inside information” on the Broncos because he coached them, quarterback Tom Brady was asked about having him back in the meeting room.

“It’s the same preparation for me,” a subdued Brady said Tuesday. “We have some familiarity with what they do, obviously, playing them four weeks ago.”

Brady threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns in that 41-23 win on Dec. 18 in Denver. He saw up close how linemen rush and cornerbacks cover. That’s knowledge he can take into Saturday’s game, something McDaniels didn’t see.

And Brady, not McDaniels, has to make the game plan work.

In 2007, he threw for an NFL record 50 touchdowns and the Patriots were 18-0 before losing the Super Bowl to the New York Giants 17-14 on a last-minute touchdown. This season, they were 13-3 without McDaniels, while Brady threw for 5,235 yards, second most in NFL history.

In this digital football age of detailed computer and video analyses, one new coach may not add substantially to a team’s knowledge of an opponent.

“Occasionally, people are hired off a staff that has been broken up because the head coach has been fired,” said Gil Brandt, an NFL consultant and former general manager of the Dallas Cowboys. “But I don’t think in today’s NFL atmosphere it makes for any advantage. Maybe in the old days it did, but now we have tape and we can pull up any situation we want on any player or team. So the effect is minimal at best, I think.”

Besides, McDaniels has been away from Denver for more than a year. John Fox, the current coach, has changed systems and players and doesn’t seem worried.

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