Sports

Patriots’ Josh McDaniels faces team that fired him

New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the former head coach of the Broncos, downplayed Sunday’s matchup against Denver at Gillette Stadium, calling it simply “the next game’’ on the docket for the 2-2 Patriots.

“It’s an important game for our team,’’ said McDaniels, when asked if he had any special feelings going against the team that gave him his first head coaching opportunity in the NFL in January 2009, then fired him in December 2010 after less than two full seasons.

“I guess there’s a lot of times over the course of a season where there’s players or coaches on either team who have had experience or been a part of another organization or team, and I think that happens rather often, I would say,’’ McDaniels said.

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“It’s a big game for us because it’s the next one and we’re just trying to build on some of the things that we did well in our last game and really emphasize trying to play well at home.’’

The Broncos hired McDaniels away from New England on Jan. 11, 2009, to succeed Mike Shanahan. At 33, McDaniels was the youngest head coach in the NFL.

McDaniels had a checkered tenure with the Broncos, compiling an 11-17 overall record. Before his first season even began, McDaniels lost the trust of incumbent quarterback Jay Cutler, who wound up being traded to the Bears after being assured by McDaniels that he would not be dealt.

The Broncos won their first six games under McDaniels — including a 20-17 overtime victory against the Patriots in Week 5 — before losing four consecutive games. In their last game of the season, the Broncos squandered an opportunity for a playoff berth with a 44-24 loss to the Chiefs — Denver’s third straight home loss to a division opponent.

The loss to the Chiefs, which left the Broncos with an 8-8 record, was marked by McDaniels’s controversial benching of Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall, who wound up being traded to the Dolphins after the season.

Controversy shrouded McDaniels’s dismissal during his second season, after the Broncos fell to 3-9 with a loss to the Chiefs Dec. 5, 2010. The next day, McDaniels was fired, in part for his failure to immediately report a videotaping violation committed by the team’s director of video operations, Steve Scarnecchia, who had recorded the 49ers’ walkthrough practice at Wembley Stadium before a Week 8 game against San Francisco in London.

The NFL fined the Broncos and McDaniels $50,000 each, and Denver fired Scarnecchia.

Asked what he had learned from his time in Denver, McDaniels replied, “Any time you take on another role or another position, there’s always a lot of things that you learn.

“It’s hard to really pinpoint one thing or another, but it gave me a great opportunity. It’s a great organization and a great owner.

“You go out there and try to do the best you can with what you know and the things you’re capable of doing. I think that, ultimately, it’s really hard to pinpoint one or two things about exactly what you learn.

“You learn a lot of different things on all different levels because you’re so involved in so many aspects of the organization as a head coach.

“Hopefully all those different experiences will pay off and make me a better person and coach in the future.’’

Strong endorsement

While Peyton Manning’s (diminished) arm strength seemed to be the subject of some speculation the first month of the season, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia doesn’t see it as a lingering issue.

“I just see a guy who is making extremely good decisions and is doing a great job of getting the ball to the receivers that are open,’’ Patricia said. “I haven’t seen any issues with that whatsoever.

“He looks like he’s throwing the ball extremely well, extremely confident, and getting it into some really tight locations and I think it’s just building every week.’’

Through four games, Manning has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 1,162 yards, with 8 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.

“I think he’s just doing a tremendous job out there,’’ Patricia said.

Balance of power

The Patriots lead the league in total offense (438.3 yards per game), and much of their success in their two wins is because of their diversity on offense. Coach Bill Belichick said having a run-pass balance is the preferred way to attack an opponent.

“I mean, just to have good balance kind of keeps them from ganging up on one thing,’’ Belichick said. “If you can do that, then it opens up a lot of other things.’’

As an example, Belichick cited Tom Brady’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski in the third quarter of Sunday’s 52-28 victory at Buffalo.

“On the touchdown pass to Gronkowski, it’s so hard to get a player like that open on a dropback pass,’’ Belichick said. “The defenders see the pass, they go to match their coverage and take their guy. But when you can have a run action that draws the defenders up, then you get a guy behind them like Rob did on that play.

“A big part of that play was the play-action and the run threat that we had presented in the game that caused the linebackers to displace a little bit and we were able to get behind them.’’

Picky, picky

After a subpar effort at Baltimore in Week 3, Devin McCourty seemed to redeem himself with two interceptions against the Bills, the second time in his career he has had two picks in a game. “Every week we’re trying to go out and improve overall as a defense and improve on our weekly performance,’’ said Patricia when asked about McCourty. “It starts with all of us, from coaching, to playing, to studying the film and just kind of going through our week just trying to improve. I think Devin has tried to improve from week to week. Made some good plays in the game and we’re going to try to build on that.’’ . . . The Patriots released defensive lineman Terrell McClain, a little less than a week after he signed last Wednesday.

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