Josh McDaniels needs to let his players play

Tom Brady and the offense looked in the flow when Julian Edelman scored before the half.
Tom Brady and the offense looked in the flow when Julian Edelman scored before the half.

BALTIMORE — Maybe Josh McDaniels will get it now.

Maybe he’ll realize he’s not directing the talent-deprived Broncos or the Rams anymore.

McDaniels is back leading the Patriots. He has Tom Brady as his quarterback, not Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow, or Sam Bradford.


You don’t need a lot of trick plays in New England. You don’t need to get cute.

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The Patriots offense is good. It is more talented than most of, if not all, the defenses they will play.

You just have to let the players play.

McDaniels did that the majority of the time Sunday night against the Ravens, but ultimately what we were left with was another lesson learned for the Patriots in their 31-30 loss.

“We left some plays out there on the field,” said receiver Deion Branch. “They have a great team, great defense. We just have to correct some of the mistakes that we’ve been making.”


McDaniels devised a very smart game plan. Go fast. Go small. Let Brady be Brady. And run the older, slower Ravens all over the turf.

Give McDaniels credit. His game plan was a big reason why the Patriots held a 30-21 lead that looked like it would hold up.

But for the second straight week, McDaniels got in his own way and helped contribute to a second straight loss.

Maybe now he’ll put it all together.

Patriots fans can only hope McDaniels builds on the good — and there was a lot of it — that we saw against the Ravens.


With star tight end Aaron Hernandez out for at least a month with an ankle sprain, McDaniels decided to move away from the preferred “12” personnel (one running back, two tight ends, and two receivers). The “11” personnel (one back, one tight end, and three receivers) did the bulk of the work against the Ravens.

The reasoning was sound and smart. By going with smaller, quicker, and better-conditioned players, the Patriots could wear the bigger and older Ravens down with the no-huddle offense.

Baltimore didn’t know what hit it as the Patriots raced to a 13-0 lead by scoring on first three of their first four possessions with 137 total yards.

On the fifth possession, the Patriots picked up two more first downs and were rolling.

The Ravens looked old, tired, and didn’t have many answers.

“We thought we had a good plan of attack against the Ravens,” coach Bill Belichick said. “We did a number of different things in the game. We did what we thought was best. Obviously it didn’t work out quite as good as we thought it would. But there were some good things.”

And then McDaniels overthought things for the second straight week.

In the loss to the Cardinals, he called for a halfback throwback to the quarterback that lost 9 yards on third and 6.

On Sunday night, McDaniels decided a second-and-6 play at the Baltimore 49-yard line with 7:48 left in the second quarter was the perfect time to call a direct snap to Danny Woodhead, who tossed a reverse to receiver/McDaniels obsession Julian Edelman.

The play didn’t fool anyone, and the 13-yard loss led to a Patriots punt.

The Ravens scored on the ensuing possession to take a 14-13 lead.

“Well, we thought we had an opportunity,” a dejected Brady said in the tunnel after the game. “They made a good play. We ran another reverse that was pretty good. Tried to take a shot on another one and we really didn’t execute very well.”

After that, though, McDaniels and the Patriots got back to what was working.

Nine plays (three without a huddle), 81 yards, touchdown.

Twelve plays (10 without a huddle), 80 yards, touchdown.

Thirteen plays (six no-huddle), 78 yards, field goal.

That gave the Patriots a 30-21 with 14:10 remaining.

After every season, Belichick instructs all of his assistants to do an extensive study, using video, statistics, and anything else they need to come up with suggestions to improve their unit.

Maybe McDaniels got a little too ambitious when he returned after Bill O’Brien left for Penn State.

It’s one thing to want to run the ball more. The Patriots at times last season didn’t run the ball enough. New England could stand to do more of “winning to run” — going to the ground with the lead — than “running to win.”

You could also understand the desire to use more tight ends in the offense, especially after addressing depth there in the offseason.

And, sure, Edelman, because of his ability in the open field with the ball in his hands, and to block in the running game, certainly proved worthy of more playing time.

Tinkering is always welcome. The Patriots can always get better by finding ways to be more efficient.

But there’s a difference between tweaking what has worked terrifically in recent years, and change for the sake of change. Too much Edelman. Too many tight formations when Hernandez isn’t one of the options. Not enough of Stevan Ridley running the ball. Woodhead serves a purpose, but a little of him goes a long ways, too. And Wes Welker’s diminished role reeks of overthinking.

After a second straight defeat, it’s time for McDaniels to go back to just improving on what has worked in the past — Brady directing a wide-open, fast-paced attack on his terms — and not reshaping the Patriots in his own image.

But there’s a method to the Patriots’ early season madness on offense. McDaniels should have a chance to do his thing. He just needs to rein in the change. Too much too soon.

Let the players play.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard.