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Standing Pat

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No Brady, no Gronk, no line consistency—no problem. Coordinator JOSH MCDANIELS has stewarded the Patriots to 27 points per game, a surprise 3--0 start and this reality: Come 2017, there may well be no McDaniels in New England

IF SOME coach out there struggles to get the most out of his offensive talent this year—uh, hello, Gus Bradley, Jim Caldwell, Mike Mularkey, Rex Ryan, Mike McCoy, Chuck Pagano, Jay Gruden and John Fox—he'd better right the ship quickly, because it won't take long for any owner to look longingly at the most attractive coaching candidate for 2017: Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. And, unlike previous years, when McDaniels stayed out of the interview dance because of timing or family concerns, sources close to the 40-year-old say that this time he's likely to enter the fray.

Considering what McDaniels has done since returning in 2012 to his former job as Bill Belichick's chief offensive assistant, he should have no shortage of suitors. In his second stint with the Pats, the team hasn't finished worse than fourth in points scored. Of course when you have weapons like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, you aren't exactly swimming upstream. That's why McDaniels's accomplishments this season mean he'll be in demand come January.

Despite missing Brady for three games (Deflategate) and Gronk for two (left hamstring), and despite introducing three new O-line starters, the Patriots have opened the season 3--0. At first McDaniels deployed Jimmy Garoppolo (previous experience: 31 attempts), slightly tailoring the offense to him. In the opener at Arizona quick and short passes to the boundary got the first-time starter comfortable. Against the Dolphins, McDaniels took the reins off and Garoppolo responded with three TDs and a 135.4 rating before spraining his right shoulder in the second quarter. McDaniels then turned to rookie third-round pick Jacoby Brissett to start against the Texans' third-ranked defense, and the Pats shellacked Houston 27--0. Knowing the limits of his QB, McDaniels confounded the Texans with short passes and a controlled running game that produced a 27-yard TD from Brissett on a designed naked bootleg.

McDaniels has hit the trifecta, showing he can get the best from a Hall of Famer (Brady), develop a future franchise passer (Garoppolo) and crash-prep a rookie with just three days of practice. "The job he's done has been exceptional—and not really surprising to people that know him," says Texans coach Bill O'Brien. "His ability to teach, his knowledge of defense combined with his knowledge of [New England's] system and the players' skill sets—there's probably no better offensive coordinator in this league. He's going to get another shot [as a head coach], and he deserves it."

Another shot. Remember, after helping guide the Pats to an 11--5 record in 2008 with backup Matt Cassel subbing for an injured Brady, McDaniels was lured away to coach the Broncos. He missed the playoffs in his first season; he clashed with players and staff; and he endured a videotaping scandal that resulted in a $50,000 fine. After a 3--9 start in '10, he was fired.

McDaniels says he's learned from those mistakes—specifically, he improved his listening skills—and some Patriots have noticed a warmer, gentler coach. Tackle Nate Solder says McDaniels has gone "above and beyond" in his support of Solder's son, Hudson, who has been treated for kidney cancer.

Suitors will come knocking. They could include former Patriots front office personnel Jon Robinson (in Tennessee) and Bob Quinn (Detroit), and they'll be looking for McDaniels to emulate another coach—a man close to them all—who was fired and then earned a redemptive second shot.

Papi's Notes:

No doubt, the Patriots are my team—and I'm lucky that I can drop in on them any time I want. (Thanks, Mr. Kraft. That coin flip two weeks ago was fun.) But I'm a fan, and I'm as amazed as everyone else at what they've done so far this season. Let's find out how they're doing it.