Even out in Las Vegas, Duron Harmon has heard the recent Matt Patricia jokes.
The Raiders safety, like many football followers, chuckled at what Arizona defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said in the lead-up to the Patriots game with the Cardinals Monday night. Who didn’t?
Joseph’s line about the Patriots offense looking the part of “how a defensive guy would call offensive plays,” was classic.
Harmon, however, a three-time Super Bowl winner and former mainstay of Bill Belichick’s defense in New England, believes Patricia got the last laugh in that war.
“If you say something like that, you better be ready to win,” Harmon said when reached during the week. “It just shows you can win in different ways. You don’t have to throw the ball 40-50 times … they’re doing a good job.
“At the end of the day, they’re 7-6. And if the season stopped right now, they’d be in the playoffs. So they’re doing something right. We see it. We respect it. And it’s going to be a tough task to deal with these boys on Sunday.”
By the same token, while it’s been tough for Patricia to have people take him seriously as an offensive play-caller, it’s really going to come to a head with former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels sharing the same field Sunday.
Patricia’s nightmare will be lurking on the opposite sideline at Allegiant Stadium.
Even though the Raiders are 5-8, the offense has been one of the brighter spots. Statistically, McDaniels’ offense is ranked far better (8th) than Patricia’s crew (24th). No doubt the microscope will be zoomed in on how the respective offenses look, and how their run from both ends.
And all eyes will be on Patriots quarterback Mac Jones to see if throws another fit during the game, exasperated with either the play-calling, or not getting the plays in fast enough. In other words, the pressure’s squarely on Patricia and the Patriots offense to produce against the guy who used to run the show.
It’s not a fair fight, but then again, Belichick put Patricia in a tough spot making him switch to something he had never coached before.
Harmon, having watched film of the Patriots offense during the week, actually gave his former defensive coach props. He doesn’t think Patricia is doing such a bad job with the offense, considering all the injuries to the offensive line.
“What stands out to me is how they’re able to control the game with running the football, with the play selection and being calculated when they want to take shots and chunk plays,” said Harmon. “They do a very good job of managing the clock and controlling the football game.”
Full disclosure: Harmon loves Matty P. He’s a card-carrying member of the fan club.
It was Patricia who visited Harmon at Rutgers during his senior year before the Patriots made the safety their third-round pick in 2013.
“I was with him in New England five years, then in Detroit,” said Harmon. “There’s not a lot of coaches that work harder than Matty P. The time he gives to football, to the team he’s working for, the time he’s away from his family … I just have a ton of respect, man.”
And just as Harmon caught wind of Joseph’s crack last week before the Arizona game, he is also aware that Patricia isn’t winning many popularity contests in New England at the moment, not to mention being on the receiving end of Jones’ outbursts on national TV.
Harmon says that while Patricia’s conservative style understandably isn’t doing him any favors with the fans, or the quarterback, the results are what matters most.
“People can say whatever they want because it’s not sexy,” said Harmon. “They want sexy. But it’s been effective for them and they’ve been able to score points and win games.”
Well, to a degree. The Patriots are still in the playoff hunt, but the offense has largely been a passenger in the car. The defense has been the driver when it comes to most of the wins.
Still, Harmon finds it hard to believe Belichick would put anyone in a position to fail. That’s not been the way his former head coach has operated.
“You’re talking about the greatest coach who’s ever coached football. He’s not just giving anybody the job. You have to earn it,” said Harmon. “He’s not going to give you any job he doesn’t think, or know, you can’t handle. So, it’s good that Matty P’s doing a good job. I’m looking forward to competing against him on Sunday.”
It should be noted that Harmon is also a huge McDaniels fan, and believes better things lie ahead in Las Vegas.
“He’s doing a phenomenal job of leading and preparing us,” said Harmon. “The record might not reflect that, but I’ll tell you, I’ve enjoyed my time here with Josh, working with him. He’s a really good head football coach.”
Getting back to Jones and his recent outbursts, Harmon seemed like a good resource to ask how those fireworks have been viewed on the outside.
Harmon left the Patriots before Jones arrived, so he doesn’t know him. And even though Jones was calling out his friend Matty P, Harmon didn’t think it was necessarily a bad thing.
He didn’t have a problem with a second-year quarterback going postal on the coaching staff during a game.
“He’s only in his second year, but the guys voted him a captain for a reason. They obviously respect his opinion, they respect his approach to the game, they respect his leadership,” said Harmon. “So it really doesn’t matter what age you are when you have that respect, not only from the offensive side, but from the team and the entire Patriots organization. We all get emotional with this game because it’s an emotional game.
“When I see something like that, people are quick to be like, ‘What’s up with this guy? What’s he doing?’ But I’m looking at it, like this guy cares. He cares about winning. He cares about doing the right thing for the Patriots organization and the fans. You need guys like that on your team.”
Raiders teammate and former Patriot Brandon Bolden, who played with Jones last season, and was an integral part of the offense after James White retired, agreed with Harmon.
“Mac is always going to be that sweet kid I’ve always known,” said Bolden via phone. “But I’d say everybody has frustrations when things don’t go the way you want them to. Everyone has their way to let stuff go. Mac‘s just being Mac. That just shows you the competitor he is, and how much he cares about the game.”
Jones has talked about wanting to be coached hard. That’s how it was when he was mentored by McDaniels last season in New England as a rookie.
Asked if Patricia was a tough coach, Harmon described him in a different way.
“I would characterize him as a fair coach. He understands when he needs to be tough, and he understands at times, when he needs to pull back,” said Harmon. “The only thing that I can ask as a player is for the coach to be fair, and he was pretty fair.”
Bolden lauds Slater
Bolden still gets a kick out of watching 37-year-old Matthew Slater beat far younger players down the field to draw holding calls on special teams returns.
“I love Slate. I tell the guys here all the time that Slate was one of my vets when I was a rookie. And seeing he’s still in there, and I’m still in there, it makes my heart smile,” said Bolden. “He’s one of my favorite players to watch. I love turning on the film and seeing ‘18’ out there. He’ll always be a guy I’ll keep an eye on, and a guy I strive to be like, not only just in football, but as a man, as well.
“I was blessed to have him as a teammate, blessed to compete against him … I just love Slate to death like a big brother.”
Bolden said watching the film, he’s also noticed the Slater influence on rookie Brenden Schooler, his new protege on special teams.
“I can definitely see the teaching Schooler’s getting, and how he’s applying it on the field,” said Bolden. “I can see the similarities. We’re all from the same (Slater) school, at this point.”
Along with being a core special teamer, Bolden saw quite a bit of time at running back for the Patriots. He said he wasn’t surprised by Rhamondre Stevenson’s breakout year.
“I was there last year, so I saw what he was capable of,” said Bolden. “I’m proud of him for getting out there, and stepping into the role that he’s been given. He’s taken full advantage of his opportunity. I can honestly say I’m proud of him for the player he’s become.”
Belichick vs. assistants
For the record, Bill Belichick has an 18-19 all-time record as a head coach against his former assistant coaches and players.
McDaniels, who is 1-0 after having beaten the Patriots will he was the head coach of Denver, said it’s fun to compete against Belichick.
“That’s why we all do this. Competing against people,” McDaniels said during his presser Friday. “You don’t have a disdain for them, or that kind of stuff, but you can certainly want to beat them as bad or worse than they want to beat you. I’m sure as I’m sitting here, that’s the way they feel about us.
“It’s a football game on Sunday. It’s really not a reunion,” he went on. “That’s not really what this is about. And I think our team has had a great approach to it. There will never be a game that’ll be about me, or some other person specifically. This is about the team. It’s a big game for us. It’s a big game for them.”
Burrow on deck
The Patriots will get to square off against Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals on Christmas Eve.
This week, Burrow gets to take on Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Burrow has often been compared to Brady, along with several other greats.
The comparisons, however, make the Bengals star quarterback a bit uneasy.
“I really just think that I play the game my own way,” Burrow said Wednesday via Cleveland.com. “I kind of have a little bit of everybody. I wouldn’t say there’s one thing I do the best. But I would say that I do everything with the best of them. I wouldn’t say I really have a glaring weakness. I like to be my player, my own person. I would say that’s why.”
Former Patriot offensive lineman Ted Karras, however, who now protects Burrow, does see some similarities between the Bengals quarterback and Brady.
“Just competitive drive,” Karras said. “The great leadership skills, the QB being the pinnacle of the team, obviously the age disparity, it’s kind of a refresher to me that Joe is 25 and more of a peer, where Tom was more of a larger-than-life figure. I’m 0-1 against Tom, so I want to get this win against Tom and even it up.”
Karras also spoke highly of Brady as a person and competitor.
“I have an ultimate opinion of Tom Brady,” Karras said. “I would almost put him in the top five Americans all time. When you look back at how the lens of history is going to look at American football, he’s obviously the premier player of that. For what he’s done, for what he’s accomplished, to win seven championships in the ultimate team sport speaks not only to his individual greatness, but how he’s able to lead a team, lead men.”