FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots' success has created opportunities for assistants to become head coaches elsewhere in recent years, and now it's stretched into the scouting department.
The team's director of college scouting, Thomas Dimitroff, reached an agreement yesterday to become general manager of the Atlanta Falcons.
Dimitroff had reported directly to vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli. In addition to scouting players himself - a role in which he is widely regarded around the NFL - Dimitroff also oversaw a staff of area scouts responsible for evaluating college prospects.
The 40-year-old Dimitroff impressed Falcons officials with a strong interview last week. The interview did not take place in person, but instead through a video hookup.
Dimitroff, who felt strongly about the value of working under Pioli and coach Bill Belichick, was torn about leaving the team during the playoffs. But timing was crucial for the Falcons, who would like to hire a coach as quickly as possible. Although Falcons owner Arthur Blank has interviewed coaching candidates in recent weeks, Dimitroff figures to have significant input in the decision as the franchise looks to transition from Bobby Petrino's failed 13-game tenure.
The short-term impact on the Patriots figures to be minimal, as much of Dimitroff's work had been completed.
Each April following the draft, the Patriots start their college scouting with close to 4,000 names. Dimitroff played a key role in helping to weed through the list, charting everything from medical reports, character issues, and intelligence to football skills.
Dimitroff was finishing his sixth season with the Patriots and 18th in the NFL. He joined the team in 2002 as a national scout before his promotion to director of college scouting the following year. A native of Barberton, Ohio, Dimitroff's father, Tom, was a longtime scout for the Browns and was a member of the original Boston Patriots in 1960.
Gay gets start
Randall Gay got the start at right cornerback last night in place of Ellis Hobbs, who was listed as having a groin injury on Friday. But Hobbs's absence from the starting lineup may have been strategic, with the Patriots looking ahead to the AFC Championship game. At least that was what Hobbs said after the game.
"It was more strategy than anything, trying to rest, trying to get ready," he said. "It worked out in our favor."
Belichick seemed to back that up. "Ellis is our starting cornerback," he said. "It was a combination of things."
Hobbs, who blamed himself for one of the Jaguars' scores, entered the game when the Patriots went to their sub defense. The affable cornerback said the Patriots have confidence in any defensive player they put out there, including Troy Brown.
"It doesn't make a difference. We find ways to win," said Hobbs. "The personnel and the staff find ways. If I wasn't ready, Troy was right there ready to play. Randall, he's been playing inside all year and he goes outside and he's been called to duty. We don't miss a beat. It's almost a thing of beauty to watch."
Moss second to Ellis
The Patriots, who have the league MVP in quarterback Tom Brady and Coach of the Year in Belichick, narrowly missed out on another major award yesterday, when Cowboys outside linebacker Greg Ellis edged Randy Moss for Associated Press NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
Ellis, who got 12 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members to Moss's 10, returned from a torn Achilles' tendon to make the Pro Bowl for the first time in his 10-year career, registering 12 1/2 sacks (tied for sixth in the NFL) despite missing the first three games of the season.
That was enough to beat out Moss, who in his first season with the Patriots set the NFL record for touchdown receptions in a season with 23 and a franchise mark with 1,493 receiving yards. Moss silenced critics who said his best years were behind him after he had the worst season of his career with the Raiders in 2006.
Jackson gets chance
With Hobbs limited, the Patriots employed second-year wide receiver Chad Jackson as a kickoff returner. It was the third time Jackson was active for a game this season and the first time since he returned four kickoffs for 70 yards, including a 39-yarder that set up the Patriots' first score and two punts for 7 yards in a 34-13 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers Dec. 9. "It was good to be out there. I just have to be patient," said Jackson, who had four kickoff returns for 78 yards . . . Brady's 92.9 percent completion rate (26 of 28) set an NFL record for a game (minimum 20 attempts), regular season or playoffs . . . Right guard Stephen Neal was activated for the first time since Dec. 3, when he started at Baltimore. Neal missed eight games during the regular season, including the final four, with a shoulder injury. He had to leave the Baltimore game, and his replacement, Russ Hochstein, committed a fourth-quarter false start that ended up benefiting the Patriots in their come-from-behind win. Right tackle Nick Kaczur was also active after sitting out the regular-season finale with a foot injury . . . Brown was active for only the second time all season. He was activated off the physically unable to perform list Nov. 27, and made his season debut in a 28-7 win over the Miami Dolphins Dec. 23, returning six punts for 55 yards but having one bounce off his facemask . . . The Patriots' inactives were safety Eugene Wilson, cornerback Antwain Spann, safety Ray Ventrone, defensive lineman Rashad Moore, and offensive linemen Wesley Britt and Billy Yates. Matt Gutierrez was designated as the third quarterback . . . Each player competing in last night's game earned a $20,000 playoff share, according to the collective bargaining agreement. The share increases to $37,500 per player for the conference championship. Players on the Super Bowl-losing team will earn $40,000, the winning team $78,000.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report