Patriots cowboy up
In New York for the baseball playoffs this week, but I was able to watch the Patriots-Titans game on tape and came away extremely impressed with the team toughness showed by the Patriots. This game shows beyond a reasonable doubt that we shouldn't factor injuries in whether the Patriots win or lose a game. Until they show me otherwise, they're a team worthy of picking to win every week from here on out.
The game reminded me so much of the their win in '01 against New Orleans which propelled them to a long winning streak and the Super Bowl. The Saints were the most physical team in the league at the time and the Patriots just smacked them around. I think they did the same thing to the Titans last week. I wrote a couple of weeks back that I felt all of the injuries might have a positive effect on this team because players who normally wouldn't play, namely the rookies and younger veterans, have begun to step up and gain valuable playing experience.
Ty Warren got his first start in the 4-3 defense and he played a very physical game. Watching him closely, he won a lot of his one-on-one battles which shows the kid has some grit to him.
Two shocking things: Adam Vinatieri missing gimme field goals and Ty Law playing to the level he's playing with that ankle sprain. Vinatieri's misses are reminiscent of the 1999 season, the final one for Pete Carroll, when he missed a couple of gimme's that led to losses. Carroll probably should have been 10-6 that season. I suppose every few years it happens, and nobody feels worse about it than Vinatieri, who has consistently been one of the best kickers in the game. Law's 65-yard interception for touchdown was painful to watch because you knew his ankle was killing him, but this guy has proven himself over and over again. Hopefully, the Patriots can reach some sort of an agreement on his contract.
Pick: Patriots over the Giants.
For those of you who missed it, the seven lead changes in the Patriots-Titans game were the most in any game, regular or postseason, since 1999. In'99, Oakland beat KC 41-38 in OT in a game with seven lead changes. Three weeks earlier, Carolina trimmed Green Bay 33-31 in a game with eight lead changes. No other game had more than six lead changes in that time span.
The Patriots, Home Depot, and KaBoom as well as town organizations are getting together to build a playground at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 14th. Hope the old hammer doesn't come down on one of the Patriots' players -- oh, say, Tom Brady. He's got enough wrong with him physically, but this is a great project at Payson Road in Foxborough.
Robert Edwards got a tryout in Carolina this week. Nobody deserves a chance to play in the NFL more than Edwards.
Celebrity restaurant review
Mark Witkin, hockey agent, attorney: Part of the greatest Boston sports talk show in history - the Sports Huddle - Mark handles contracts and affairs for about a dozen NHL players out of his downtown Boston office. Mark gives us a very unique food choice here, "Pie-in-theSky," a bakery in Cape Neddick, Maine, where he salivates over Bumbleberry pie.
Nick, Would it be possible for the Pats to restructure some contracts (e.g., Brady's or Seymour's) in order to use up the $4 million of extra cap space they have left for 2003? Wouldn't it happen automatically if they converted part of a signing bonus into a roster bonus or is it too late for that? Secondly, what changed with Antowain Smith? Why was he an effective rusher in 2001 but an ineffective one in 2002 and 2003? Did he grow old and lose a step or did he just get lazy after signing a contract? Do you think he is as well conditioned today as he was in 2001? Ciao, TC p.s. You do a great job answering such a broad range of e-mails.
-- Taha Champsi "TC"
A: Yes, the team will likely, in the weeks to come begin work on some pressing business. They are trying to get Damien Woody a long-term deal, but on their terms which, for the moment is being rejected. The organization is 50-50 on whether it should devote some of the money toward a long term deal for Kevin Faulk, especially with Mike Cloud bursting on the scene last week vs. Tennessee. So I think you'll see some of those deals re-worked. As for Smith, he played well against both the Redskins and the Titans. He appears to be coming on. Smith just needs the carries. I think he's just as fast or slow now as he was in '01.
Hi Nick: I've read that the Pats saved 4 million on this year's cap by cutting Milloy & that they will need to eat the bulk of his salary cap hit next year. Has their been any thought given to using this year's cap savings to increase Ty Law's salary this year & extend his contract by a year or two. By doing this, they could make Ty's future cap hits bearable. I don't have any issue with the team cutting a $5 safety. Cutting what might be the best CB in the league, for cap reasons, could be a franchise killer.
-- Matt Fitzpatrick
A: I think the Ty Law issue is similar to Lawyer Milloy. You have a team that has to get salary cap relief on Law's deal, and a player and an agent who believe the current contract is fine and that Law is playing up to it. Hard to pick a side on that one. Anything is possible, but I'd be surprised if there was anything done with Law during the season.
I really don't understand it - you endlessly criticize the Patriots for getting rid of Bledsoe (he never could win a Super Bowl here, so why will Buffalo be any different) and Milloy, yet you never call out Mr. Kraft for the police state that is Gillette Stadium or the fact that Daniel Graham has been a complete bust. The Patriots did not trade up in the 1st round to get a player who is only an adequate blocker (see his miss on Jesse Armstead that ruined the draw play at the end of the Redskins game for proof, Graham makes his block, Centers has a first down and things are much different). He can't even unseat journeyman Christian Fauria as the number 1 TE. Not to knock Fauria, but that's what he is, a journeyman. He is a good target in the end zone, and a solid blocker (better than Graham in fact) but he is not the down field, run after the catch threat that Graham was supposed to be. Yet that is what he is being used as because Graham is a bust. Randy McMichael of Miami has better numbers and for a real laugh compare him with fellow first rounder Shockey (who Graham won the Mackey award for best TE in college over). The Patriots don't exactly have Jerry Rice and John Taylor as receivers, a lot more should be expected out of him, especially in the pass happy offense the Pats run. It is also about time you at least acknowledge that the fans at Gillette live in fear of having their season tickets revoked. This is a big reason for the lack of noise and home field advantage. I understand Mr. Kraft wants a "family" atmosphere, but the hypocritical and ridiculous reasons (the list is endless) people have gotten their tickets pulled for, has the fans scared.
A: First of all, I do not endlessly criticise the Patriots about dealing Bledsoe. I respond to questions, just as I am to yours right now. I am the only writer covering the Patriots who has even addressed this issue of season ticket holders having tickets removed. I have written several items on this issue, including in this mailbag and in the Boston Globe, so I don't understand where you're coming from on that issue. If you can offer me proof that fans "are scared" about having their tickets removed I would certainly take your point more seriously. I think the bottom line is if you attend the games and behave yourself, you're OK. The problem is, people don't behave themselves and put themselves in peril of having their tickets revoked. Believe me, fans acting poorly is not a widespread problem. It may be one percent, but you notice it and that 1 percent can make your experience at the stadium a bad one. That's what the Krafts are trying to stamp out. A recent ruling by Judge Mitchell Sikora in Suffolk Superior court may open the floodgates for the whole issue of revocable license, which is basically what your season ticket is, or contract, which Sikora believes you could argue that is what it is becoming because of the outlay of big money. If it does become a contract than the team would have a tougher time breeching it based on one incident of rowdy behavior.
If TB tanks the rest of the year will BB consider Kurt Warner?
-- Paul Sadowski
A: Don't worry about that. He showed you some things against Tennessee, didn't he? He made a beautiful long throw to Troy Brown.
I'd like to ask what you know about Tully Banta-Cain. Some people thought he was a great draft pick. Presumably it was his lack of size that meant that he did not go as early as expected. What position did the Patriots draft him for? What are his prospects? Is he gone for the season or might he help out later?
-- Michael Rosen
A: Banta-Cain should begin practicing after the Giants game. He's on the PUP list. When he returns he'll be a pass-rushing linebacker, similar to Willie McGinest.
Hi Nick, I think your column is a great way to provide content that the fans really want. My question is; what has Brady really done to earn his sterling reputation? He was the quarter back on the Super Bowl team, but so were a lot of other guys who've been tossed out since. A lot of his high QB rating comes from completing countless passes for little or no yards. All you sports writers adamantly defend his deep passing ability, even though he seldom completes throws of 15 yards during an actual game. The offense under Brady has had difficulty scoring TD's consistently since the playoffs 2001- 2002 season. Not to reopen the Brady - Bledsoe debate, (I think they both have there strengths and weaknesses), but when Bledsoe was here and the team was down by 14 or more points in the 4th quarter, there was still hope. How many 4th quarter comebacks did he engineer? I'm not saying Brady is bad, just that he shouldn't be untouchable. Why didn't Belichick play Huard when Brady was injured? I don't care how tough he is, i want to win the game. Also on the last drive of the in Washington, why count on and injured QB with a poor record on long passes to complete a long pass rather than bet on Vinatieri who usually comes through in these situations? It seems as if Belichick is unwilling to allow anyone to succeed where Brady doesn't.
-- Jim Doucette
A: Believe me when I say this, if Tom Brady was stinking out the joint on a regular basis, Belichick wouldn't think twice about yanking him. The coach has no commitment like that to any player if he's not doing the job. I think Belichick watched the film of some of Brady's poor moments and he decided it wasn't that bad. maybe it was the receiver running the wrong route. Maybe it was a defensive back making a great play. I haven't heard too much criticism of Brady from the coach even when he's going bad, which leads me to believe he doesn't think it's all Brady's fault.
Hey Nick, has Mike Cloud done anything in the "National Football League" to suggest he has a chance to be the #1 back either this year or next. I know he had a pretty good career at BC. I also have an ulterior motive, (Fantasy). PS: If you are in the Portsmouth, NH area and looking for seafood, I suggest "Jumpin Jay's Fish Cafe". It's on the upscale side, and the different fish choices are outstanding.
-- Gary Picard
A: As you saw against the Titans, he was pretty impressive. The o-line was unbelievable opening holes for the backs, but Cloud ran with very good instinct. Maybe as he says, he just needs a break and a chance to show what he can do as a starter. I'm sure the Patriots will ride him until he's solved.
Nick, Will Andre Tippett get into Canton, or does he lack the numbers? I think he's deserving.
-- Allen Davidson
A: I think he's deserving, too. I know our Boston voter for the Hall, Ron Borges, feels the same way, too. Andre was overshadowed by Lawrence Taylor at the time, but he was a tremendous and intimidating player.
With the lack of a "big receiver" do you think the Pats will seriously consider Johnny Morant from Syracuse next year? He's having a break out year (receiving, returning kickoffs and some punts) at around 6'5" he would seem to fit the bill. Any comments?
-- Dan Worthmann
A: There are a few tall receivers potentially in the draft this year. I'd love to see them go after Roy Williams, but I'm guessing that would be a need they could address with one of their No. 1 picks, if they keep them both.
Nick, I'd appreciate it you could tell me a little about Troy Brown. They don't seem to be looking his way as much these days.....Is he fully recovered from last year? Is he constantly double-teamed? Also, what do you think about T.O. in a Pats uni next year? I realize he's difficult, but we need a big target who can get open downfield.
-- Matt Abate
A: I heard in the off season that Deion Branch was going to be given every opportunity to be the featured receiver. I think this is going according to plan. They're not looking for him as much because I think they're trying to get the two or three younger guys the ball more. I think Troy will fight this with everything he has in him. This is a player with a lot of pride, and you can bet he's going to make some plays. He caught that long ball from Brady against Tennessee and he had an 89 yard punt return called back. So he's still capable of making plays. TO isn't their type of player.
With Terrell Owens riding out his welcome in San Francisco, what do you suppose the possibilities are of the Patsies making some kind of play for him, say Branch with a number one and number two pick? I know he's a head case but what a huge talent. And what did you mean about wishing the Oct 14th trading deadline meant something?
-- Ken Harrington
A: Don't think Owens is the Patriots type of personality in the locker room. The Patriots don't seem to gravitate toward the super star player. They'd rather build their team with good players who fit the system. What I mean by the trading deadline meaning something, is you don't see significant trades by that date in the NFL because salary cap issues squash any major trade.
Hey Nick, I read your piece on Ty Law and I have to say I agree with you fully. People complain about him not taking a pay cut, but the kid is a real trooper who is worth the money. He never complains and PLAYS HURT which is more than I can say for a lot of players. (in the NFL not the Pats) While I love Lawyer, Law was the one to keep. It would be a shame to cut him.
-- Jamie Volpicelli
A: The guy wants to play. He could have sat out the past couple of weeks, but he knows if he does, that gives Samuel more of a chance to show they can live without Law.
Nick, Help, I'm a season ticket holder and the Patriots keep spamming me with some graphics laden e-mail. I've asked to be removed from the list at least 6 times but more than likely closer to 10 or 12 times. I've considered calling the stadium but I'm worried that if I complain too much the gestapo will take my tickets away. Why are they so unresponsive to the fans? Between taking away peoples tickets last year, understaffed gates that lead to long waits to enter the stadium, rude and discourteous staff, high ticket prices and now spam it seems that they could care less about a fans opinion. Am I wrong? Do you have anyone's ear down in Foxboro that could work to change any of this? The whole process in dealing with them between the parking, entering the stadium, and ticketing has become akin to going to the RMV.
-- Lazlo Toth
A: The Patriots have a very aggressive marketing department. You can call them and ask them not to send you those things in a professional manner. I doubt they would pull your tickets over that. I know the Patriots brass reads this mailbag so perhaps they can respond to the rude and discourteous part. I haven't received too many E-mails suggesting this. I do get a few once in a while, but if they start to build up obviously it's a problem.
How good do you think Mike Cloud is and is he the answer?
-- Randy Trudelle
A: I know he's hungry. I know he feels he's never had a chance to prove himself. He's older, has experience, knows his way around the league, so maybe he can use that knowledge and wisdom and become a good player. He was terrific last Sunday. A lot of scouts believe he doesn't have the blazing speed to be an effective NFL starter, but maybe he'll finally get the chance to prove them wrong.
Nick - Love the mailbag. About how much do the Patriots, or any other NFL team, spend on a typical road game. I mean on air fare, hotel, food etc.. The reason I ask is I'm thinking the Pats could skip the annual Denver trip this year, which looks like a Monday night blow-out, and use the money on a free agent. Plus, there'd be no injuries, bad coaching decisions to second guess or staying up past midnight on a work night.
-- Bob Donahue
A: Don't think the league would go for that. I've heard a few other people suggest this. Some of them were serious.
Do you think that the Pats would be in need of depth at Guard, or Offensive tackle? In the upcoming draft, I know that the Pats will select a good RB that should be their future, but there always seems to be o-line question marks. I like Woody, I like Light (even though he has problems with some speed rushers) and I like what limited action I have seen of Koppen and Neal. But those guys, to be honest, would be better served as backups. The Pats are one quality guard and tackle short of a good offensive line. This will need to be addressed next year because we are going to say goodbye to Andruzzi and Compton after this year. Everyone screams for getting a top flight WR (6'2" or above), but I think if we got a good tackle and guard added in, we could really run the ball if we wanted to, and that is exactly what this offense and especially Tom Brady needs. Klemm just isn't the answer, and I can't really say that Kenyatta Jones is either.
A: They're always on the lookout for a big man on offense, but their philosophy is to not expend a first-rounder unless it's a pressing need. They spent a second-rounder on Light and Klemm because at the time, they felt they didn't have a suitable replacement at that spot.
In your opinion with all the draft picks that the Patriots have for 2004 what do you think is the No. 1 need at this point. Also what position have you heard is the deepest in the draft. This is my fourth email since you started your mailbag hopefully this one will reach you.
-- Nathaniel Broadway
A: I'd go for a RB first unless Cloud becomes the fulltime answer. I'd like to see them devote early picks to the offensive side of the ball, though I would think they'd have to address taking another corner or safety if they decide Ty Law is out of here.
Nick, thanks for responding to my last question. Here's another observation, it appears that football commentators this year have jumped on the scouting term "second level of blocking" as a way to elaborate on run blocking. Case in point, even Madden stammered on about this during a Monday night game. Prior to this year, I've never heard that term used by play by play guys or analysts and now everybody's dropping it. It's kind of like how Gammon's made "arm angle" the vogue in baseball this year. My question: is there some kind of updated cliff notes like handbook which the tv guys get at the beginning of each year or does the "copycat league" transcend the playing field?
-- johnny mongoose
A: Hard to keep up with, isn't it? Every year a head coach or an assistant will coin a new phrase and it sticks. It's the same in baseball. A prominent national guy like Peter will begin to use it ands then everyone uses it. Interesting point.
Nick, would you please weigh in on the McNabb/Limbaugh thing? I think people miss the point, which is not whether we want black QBs to do well or if he's overrated. The point is that even if McNabb IS overrated, it could be for the same reasons many white QBs or black position players are. Do Bledsoe bashers think he's overrated for racial reasons? And if not, why can't McNabb be overrated for the same reasons as Bledsoe? Also, Steve McNair is often considered UNDERrated; is it a right-wing bias in the press? The point is that there are a million reasons a guy might be overrated, but Limbaugh only sees one, which says more about Limbaugh than it does about McNabb.
-- Erik McGunnigle
A: What Limbaugh said was ridiculous. If he had said McNabb was overrated and end it there. That would be fine.
In your 10/3 column on Fred McCrary, you mentioned Sam Gash. He seems to be a team leader, an unselfish player. He's been available via free agency a few times since he left the Pats. Why do you think the Pats haven't brought him back?
-- Joe Curtis
A: There's been bad blood between Gash and the organization for some time. Sam didn't like the way he was cut by the Pete Carroll-Bobby Grier regime and he's held a vendetta ever since.
Nick, When McCrary comes back and we have a true full back; can the Pats start running it down others team's throats?
-- Michael Welke
A: That's what he's hoping.
What is the deal with Ken Walter?! Isn't the coaching staff fed up with all of his 20 yard punts. I realize that he is the holder for Adam V., but really, we need someone who can boom the ball down the field. Do you know if the Patriots are entertaining getting a new kicker?
-- Jonny Maybach
A: I don't think they're entertaining a new punter. They've had some chances to go get one, but they haven't even had one in for a tryout, so they must be content with Walter or they feel there's nobody here to take his place.
Hi Nick, I've really only begun watching football over the last few years and I love the game, but don't know a lot of the technical rules. I'm wondering how the wildcard works--I know we've gotten in the playoffs the last few times on the wildcard. How is it determined what team is the wildcard? Thanks for the mailbag-I read it every week! Carrie
-- Carrie Laewe
A: Carrie, the wild card teams are the ones who have the best records after the divisional winners. Sometimes there are teams tied with the same record and then there are a bunch of tie-breakers which determine which of the teams get in as the wild cards.