Momentum is building toward a Bill O’Brien reunion in New England next season.
O’Brien is emerging as a “strong option” to rejoin the Patriots as offensive coordinator in 2023, according to a report Saturday from NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport.
Currently the OC at Alabama, O’Brien was viewed as a natural replacement for Josh McDaniels when the latter left New England last offseason. But head coach Bill Belichick opted to instead transition McDaniels’ duties to Matt Patricia (offensive play-caller) and Joe Judge (quarterbacks coach), neither of whom had any prior experience in their new roles. O’Brien remained in Tuscaloosa to work another season under Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban, a longtime friend of Belichick’s.
Belichick’s controversial succession choice predictably backfired. Patricia, who also was tabbed to coach New England’s offensive line, has looked out of his depth, and both the Patriots’ offense and quarterback Mac Jones have regressed this season.
A borderline top-10 unit under McDaniels in 2021, the Patriots now rank near the bottom of the NFL in most offensive categories. They’ve especially struggled in gotta-have-it situations, ranking 29th on third down and 32nd in the red zone, and have scored just seven offensive touchdowns over their last six games.
Jones, a Pro Bowl alternate and Offensive Rookie of the Year runner-up a year ago, enters Saturday’s Week 16 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals with the NFL’s second-worst QBR and fifth-worst passer rating. He’s coming off the worst game of his pro career and has not hidden his frustration with the Patriots’ flawed offense.
Unlike Patricia and Judge, O’Brien has experience both directing successful, high-scoring offenses and coaching QBs. He did both in New England during the prime of the Tom Brady era, serving as the Patriots’ quarterbacks coach and offensive play-caller for three seasons beginning in 2009. He received the official OC title in 2011.
The 53-year-old Andover, Mass., native then spent two seasons as head coach at Penn State before taking over the Houston Texans, whom he coached from 2014 to 2020. Upon taking the Alabama OC job, he briefly overlapped with Jones, who helped O’Brien learn Saban’s preferred offense while he trained for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Multiple recent reports have indicated O’Brien is eyeing a potential return to the NFL.
“When O’Brien joined Saban’s staff at Alabama in 2021, he gave Saban a commitment to finish out his two-year contract,” Rapoport wrote. “That time is coming up, and sources say there has been no extension and that a return to the NFL is a real thought for O’Brien.”
The 7-7 Patriots have three games remaining on their 2022 regular-season schedule: home against Cincinnati and Miami and at Buffalo. They’ll need to win at least two to have any chance of securing a playoff spot. A sweep would guarantee them a postseason berth but would be difficult to achieve, as the Bengals, Dolphins and Bills are three of the AFC’s top teams.