A .500 Bill due in Foxborough
Last week in this space we paid tribute to the players. This week our focus returns to Bill Belichick. As I wrote in a column earlier this week, Belichick and Bill Parcells, in my opinion, have done the best job of coaching in the league this year. But here's an interesting side note to this week's game against the Browns. Belichick could get over the .500 hump in his coaching career with a win over the Cleveland Browns, ironically the team he coached for five years that dug him into a hole (a 36-44 record). Belichick enters the game with a 70-70 record (including playoffs and Super Bowl) as a head coach. He's still a tad under .500, 66-69, in the regular season. The last time he was dead even at .500 was early in the 1995 season with the Browns, when he went out to a 3-1 record and was 35-35 (including two playoff games) after a 35-17 win over the Kansas Chiefs. From '94 through the first four games of '95, Belichick had an outstanding stretch where he went 15-7, including an 11-5 1994, 1-1 in the playoffs and 3-1 to start '95. Then the roof caved in. He went 2-10 the rest of '95 and then started his Patriots career 5-11 in '00 and 1-3 in '01. That's 8-24 before his fortunes changed for the best. Since Game 5 of the '01 season, Belichick is 27-11 (.710) with a Super Bowl win.
While the team he left behind was really the team that became the Baltimore Ravens, Belichick said he's put his past with the Browns in the proper place.
"It has been a while," Belichick said at his Wednesday press conference. "It has been almost 10 years. It was five years there. It was a significant part of my life and in my career but that was a long time ago. No more than the Giants or the Jets or anybody else. Plus the franchise has moved so there are very few people there that were even there when I was there."
Often the subject of booing and fan discontent, a complete turnaround of his current plight in New England, Belichick said of the fans, "They have enthusiastic fans. They are knowledgeable fans. That is the cradle of football, that is where it started. That is where the Hall of Fame is. High school football is big. There are, I don't know how many colleges in Ohio play football. It must be 40 or 50, whatever it is. There is a lot of football there and there are a lot of fans. The people know the game and they know it well. They are knowledgeable and they are passionate for it.
"To me it is good that there is a franchise there. I think there should be one there and this is a very strong one. The fans support them with a lot of enthusiasm and vigor."
Interesting to see what the Gillette Stadium surface looks like Sunday because it hasn't looked great recently. The Patriots took a major hit when Dennis Brolin quit this summer in a dispute with Belichick. Brolin might be the Michael Vick of groundskeepers. You realize how good he is when he's gone.
The Patriots had a good run of staying out of the police blotter until right tackle Kenyatta Jones showed up there late Tuesday night. Jones, who had been scheduled to return to practice this week, finds himself answering assault and battery and mayhem charges stemming from an incident in his Walpole home where he allegedly threw scalding water at an associate. Jones has pleaded innocent. He's retained Joseph Cataldo as his attorney. The name rings a bell because Cataldo represented Terry Glenn in his legal woes a couple of years ago.
Received a few questions about Larry Centers this week. He can return to the Patriots in Week 15. Centers took a two-week injury settlement and was waived. He can sign with another team. But if he doesn't, because he was waived in Week 7, you add two weeks of settlement to the standard six-week waiting period after a settlement and that brings us to Dec. 20 vs. the Jets at the Meadowlands.
Richard Seymour, one of the most polished young players I've ever seen, was asked this week whether the '03 Patriots are looking like the '01 team. Response: "It's some of that mentality that's here at this point, the run that we made in '01. Definitely don't want to say that we're going to the Super Bowl just because we have that mindset right now. The run that we made in '01 was a tremendous one, but this one presents different challenges and we have to understand that. There's different guys here at this point, but still there are guys that are hungry that haven't been to mountaintop. Like I say, the higher you go up the mountaintop, the harder the wind blows and the more everybody's trying to knock you off."
Asked about the dimension Rodney Harrison brings, Seymour said, "I think the level of play has been even higher than we've ever had back there. I think with the way they've been able to gel together, with the two young guys (Samuel and Wilson), Rodney and also (Tyrone) Poole. You know, he's having an All-Pro season, as well. He's been stepping his game up and doing some good things for us. They've been hung out to dry. They've been one-on-one and it's tough to be out there on the island back there with some of the top receivers, like Chambers, who are playing in this league."
The Patriots are second in the league in takeaways. It's been stressed big time this season. "We always watch film on the opposing team. Who's the guy we can kind of get the ball off?" Seymour said. "(Inside linebacker coach) Pepper Johnson is the guy that's in charge of ball disruption. We watch ball disruption on Saturday nights before we get ready to play on Sunday so it's kind of fresh in our minds. Who can we get the ball off of? How the quarterback holds the ball when he's running and scrambling around. We're conscious of our surroundings. There's definitely a conscious effort on trying to get the ball away."
Celebrity restaurant review: Grady Little, Red Sox manager: Capital Grille. Loves the steak.
Nick, a few questions 1. Of all the off-season acquisitions this year, no one is really talking about the contribution Tyrone Poole has made. He always seems wrapped around opposing receivers and has been rock solid thus far. How long has he been signed for, and what is his long-term commitment to the game still viewed as an issue with the team? (He always seems to be contemplating retirement.) Losing him would hurt in my opinion. 2. Is Daniel Graham really this injury prone? Or is the team listing him injured much like the Red Sox left reliever Kim off the ALCS roster for "injuries?" He seemed ready to have a breakout year, but will he ever be healthy or is he just not climbing the depth chart? Is this a major team concern? 3. I know everyone complains about the running game, but the Pats proved that controlling the line of scrimmage and staying with the run will always give you a good running game. We'll never get Priest Holmes stats, but enough to keep drives going and keep a defense on the field. Do you think that having Faulk, Smith, and Cloud poses great difficulty in planning against the Pats offense since an opponent cannot really be sure what they will get come game time? No single back is a superstar, but the combination does seem to cause mismatches. If Cloud does emerge as a reliable back, do you think they will keep him and elect not to draft a RB in 2004?
-- Chris Moore, Providence, R.I.
A: 1. I've been writing for a long time that Poole might be the most consistent player on the team (other than Seymour). Poole has been terrific in one-on one coverage. He has committed some penalties, but he's also made plays from one of the toughest positions on the field. I think his status will always go year to year because he's a devoted father and husband and it pains him to be away from his family. Poole's deal runs through the '06 season. He averages about $2.005 million per year and he does have six-figure roster bonuses due him in March of the next three seasons. 2. Daniel Graham is the mystery man. Wrote here in camp that he was on his way to a great season, so I don't get it, other than injuries have kept him from realizing his potential. 3. What this team needs from its running game is precisely what they've gotten: they get tough yards when they need them. They're able to extend drives. They're able to kill some clock.
To this point, who would you say is having the better year, Milloy or Harrison? I think Harrison has been better especially in defending the run and has been better than advertised in pass coverage, and at a fraction of the cost.
-- Scott Cooley, Centerport, N.Y.
A: No question, Harrison. Lawyer has become a leader in Buffalo. That part hasn't changed, but he's not the effective hard-hitting player he was two years ago.
Can any player on the Patriots hit a baseball with runners in scoring position? If so, the Sox look like they could use a little help about now.
-- Danny Griffin, North Pole, Ark.
A: Patrick Pass played in the Marlins system as an outfielder. If anyone could, it would be him.
It seems as though the organization's strategy is to be solid and deep at every position and not to base the team around one or two stars. It has worked out OK -- considering they won a Super Bowl with that type of team -- yet I can't help but wonder why the Pats never felt it important to acquire a dominant running back. With all the picks they've had the last few years they could have drafted LaDanlian Tomlimson, William Green or others, or maybe made a play for someone like Ricky Williams, Stephen Davis, or even Priest Holmes a few years back. One would think that a defensive-minded coach like Bill Belichick would consider a powerful running game a priority, if not a necessity; particularly in a cold-weather town like Foxborough. Why do you think this has been overlooked in the past and do you see the strategy changing any time in the future? As a Pats fan in New York, I can't tell you how much I appreciate this column -- it keeps me up on the pulse of the Pats, not just the stats.
-- Alexander Labowitz, Brooklyn, N.Y.
A: Great question and I'm not sure I have the answer. There's some school of thought you try to build a powerful offensive line that's proven it can run block before you add the running back you want. Maybe to this point, the coaches felt that expending a high pick on a guy wouldn't be wise because he didn't have the line to support him. I think that's changed now. At least so far this season. The Patriots offensive line has really done an excellent job.
Nick, Just noticed your column and like the format. Count me amongst your newest readers. My question is about broadcasts of Patriots games over the Internet. It was only a few years ago that these games could be heard by those of us overseas for free via the Internet. Just find a station and tune in. A year or two ago, the NFL started putting more constraints on its content ownership and this service became available only via www.nfl.com (but still free). This year there's a fee to be paid. Is the motivation simply from the NFL's desire to generate more revenue? Seems to me that if a radio station wants to open up its content and wear the cost, that's their problem. Very disappointing for those of us who have little or no alternative. With the NFL busting a gut to market itself overseas, the policy is a bit boggling. More so as the subscription fee does not guarantee your game of choice will be available (read: Patriots).
-- Art, Sydney Australia
A: Great to have a fan from down under. There are a few of you who write now and then. Is there a Patriots fan club in Australia that you know of? As for the Internet and broadcasting end of it, I've said many times that it's not my area of expertise so I don't even handle questions on the subject. We do get a few of them, however. Our TV/radio writer Bill Griffith might be a better person to ask. But keep writing.
Hi, Nick, Just when we thought the RB picture might finally clear up, Mike Cloud goes out and lays a duck and Faulk plays his best game ever. Do you think Cloud blew his one chance, or will he get another shot to prove he can be a primary back?
-- Dan Ela, Arvin, Calif.
A: I get the feeling, and I don't know this for sure, but the Patriots will use which ever of the three backs they think with have the best success against the particular defense they're playing. Cloud will have to fight for time now, no question because Faulk, I think, sensing the threat Cloud has posed, has stepped up his game.
My question pertains to Antowain Smith's salary and how it affects the team's cap if they decide to cut him loose after this season. If, and I hope, Kevin Faulk and Mike Cloud continue to show great promise as the team's top rushers, would it make sense to get rid of Antowain Smith? If the Pats were able to get a running back of the future in the draft, I can't see them holding onto 4 RB's, nor would it make sense to hang onto Smith as a very expensive bench warmer, but I know that they would take a sizeable salary cap hit if they released him. Do you know how Smith's salary is structured? I thought that they had it set up for three years, with an option for two more, but I could be wrong.
-- Dave, Minneapolis, Minn.
A: It was a five-year deal with a $3 million bonus up front. There's a $2 million option bonus due in March which picks up the final three years. So let's say they cut him prior to receiving the $2 million bonus, they would be on the hook for the final three years of the pro-rated bonus or about $1.8 million on the cap.
Nick, For the record, I was joking with my question last week about the Pats skipping the Denver trip this year. I am a 10-year season ticket holding, die-hard fan and believe every game on the schedule is winnable. Nuff said. Now, on to my next question. Just how badly do you think Tom Brady's shoulder is hurting him? I read Boomer Esiason saying he had a similar injury and it took him well over a year to fully recover.
-- Bob Donahue, Stoneham
A: We saw him make a what, 55-60-yard throw in the air to Troy Brown for the game-winner Sunday? I think it's hurting him, but it's not hurting him enough so he can't do his job. He doesn't have that great loft on his throws, but as long as it gets there...
Nick, Great column. Please forward this to your editor: Please have the Brady-meter removed. It has no place in such an esteemed sports section (unless the Globe is now a subsidiary of FOX Sports). It's a detriment to the fine journalistic integrity your writing staff provides. In addition, it is needlessly insulting to athletes and fans alike.
-- Chris Moore, Providence, R.I.
A: Chris, I'm sure your concern will be taken under advisement.
Nick, Koppen was the seventh center picked in the 2003 draft. How would you rate his performance thus far relative to Faine, Nelson, and the other centers drafted before him? Do you sense some of those teams wish they could take a mulligan and pick Koppen given the chance to draft again?
-- John Drilling, Jacksonville, Fla.
A: John, the scouts and personnel people I've talked to the last few weeks say Koppen might be the best of them. He reminds many of them of a young Tom Nalen. That's high praise.
Hi, Nick. I will be making the 8 hour trip up to Denver to watch the Patriots on November 3, and I'm so excited I can hardly wait. I was wondering if you know how difficult it is to meet players after the game for pictures and autographs? I would just die if I could meet Tom Brady.
-- Lourdes Valdez, Albuquerque, N.M.
A: Security is always very tight, especially in this day and age. The players are really protected from the fans on the road. Very difficult to get to them.
Nick, Thank you for responding to my previous, somewhat critical query. I appreciate the time you take to do a good job responding to everyone's questions. This mailbag is very informative. A couple of comments. I wish everyone would stop complaining about how we let Greg Spires go to Tampa. I would hope he could put up halfway decent numbers playing with Sapp, Booger Macfarland (who is just as good as Sapp), and Simeon Rice. They are some of the best pass rushers in the league, not to mention Ronde Barber, one of the best blitzers I have ever seen. With all those people tying up blockers he is bound to get through once in a while. Second, I am wondering you take on Damien Woody's contract situation. He has the same agents as Milloy and Law, if I am not mistaken? Will this factor in to negotiations? If there is one player the Pats can't afford to lose, it is him. It would throw the line in to total disarray. Will they just franchise him if they can't come to an agreement? Would he hold out? I would hate to see a young, rising star like him go. The silence on this does not give me a good feeling.
-- Jerome, Hull
A: Jerome, Woody has a different agent than Ty and Lawyer. Woody's agent is Ben Dogra. As of right now, I don't think there's much going on. Usually teams begin looking toward the following year, as least contract-wise by about Week 12 or 13. I would guess at that point they would revisit it. Woody is now a guard, which may or may not change things. I think he's having a monster season and he might be best served to test the waters.
Hi, Nick. Love your Pats mailbag, but I have to ask: If Grady goes, would the Sox consider Remy? Hey, it worked for Bremley in Arizona! Go Pats!
-- John Kelley, Westminster
A: John, I've pondered that one myself. I just don't think Jerry would want to deal with some of the baby-sitting required of the '03 manager.
As a New England Patriots fan, I just realized how lucky we all are to know the head football coach has a brain. He may not have all the personality in the world, but he sure knows how to manage his players!
-- Rob Manning, Norwell
A: No question. As I wrote in Wednesday's paper, with all due respect to Mike Tice and Dick Vermeil, who are coaching undefeated teams in Minnesota and Kansas City, I'd say Belichick and Parcells are the top two coaches in the league right now.
Nick, Looking back to the 2001 season you had the tragic death of Dick Rebein in training camp, Bledsoe goes down in Week 2, the whole Terry Glenn thing, and they win the Super Bowl. This year they get riddled with devastating injuries right out of the gate, and yet there playing great football. I know the players deserve a lot of credit, but it seems to me that I would not take any coach in the NFL over Bill Belichick when it comes to dealing with adversity. It's like he turns it around and uses it as a positive. This is a guy who a lot people have said does not relate well with his players in terms of his personality. Yet it seems this would be critical for being successful in the face of adversity in the NFL. What do you think it is about him that makes him so good at it? Also, I have a real concern about Rosevelt Colvin's injury. Hip injuries are usually the worst kind in any sport. (Look what happened to Bo Jackson.) I don't know what kind of info you have on it, but it would be great if you could tell me don't worry, it's definitely not career threatening.
-- Matt, Springfield
A: Belichick is one of the best coaches at coming out of a firestorm or an adverse situation. I think it's a challenge for him. I actually think he coaches his best in that situation because he can create that "They're all against us" mentality in his players. I've never seen a team so motivated in proving people wrong. But that's what they did in '01 as well. That's why Parcells is so great. He loves taking bad teams and making them better. As for Colvin, I wouldn't be able to tell you not to worry. To this day, none of us know the extent of the fracture.
Why are so many NFL coaches overweight and unhealthy looking? It doesn't seem like coaches in other sports are as prone to this.
-- Tiffany, Newport Beach, Calif.
A: My take on it is that they spend so many hours working -- I mean these guys work 10, 12, 14 hours a day and get very little time off in the off-season, that I'm sure they're eating horribly and not taking care of themselves. I don't know what my excuse is.
Do you have any idea how taxi squad players are paid?
-- Nelson Ryan, Salem
A: Practice squad players earn a minimum $4,350 per week, and they can earn that through the post-season. A team can pay a practice squad player what ever it wants. Last season, offensive lineman Brandon Gorin was paid about $300,000.
Nick, first let me say you were right when you said repeatedly that Brady can throw down field. I witnessed it with my own eyes. I have two questions. Tedy Bruschi is extremely underrated. Why doesn't he get more recognition? Do you see him as Pro Bowl material? Also, who did we end up getting for Terry Glenn now that she is tearing it up in Dallas? Was it Koppen? Was it anybody?
-- Chris Watson, Portland, Maine
A: Chris, I think Patriots fans understand the extent of Bruschi's contributions. Does the rest of the country appreciate it? Probably not. He gets good publicity; he's a good spokesman. I think he's fine with it. The Glenn deal was to Green Bay for a fourth rounder (Jarvis Green) and a conditional pick, which was the 128th pick in the fourth round. That pick and their own fifth round pick was traded to Denver for the 120th pick in the fourth round, which was Asante Samuel.
Nick: Great column! That comes not only from your insights but also from the incredibly intelligent questions from the fans. I'm a diehard Patriots fan, but my comments and questions today are about the Red Sox. First, a comment: the day after the Sox lost Game 7 the headlines read "Wait until next year...again". Sure, its frustrating that we didn't beat the damn Yankees, but this Red Sox team was much different than all the others. They never gave up. Teams in years past would toss in the towel in August or September when the road got rough. Not this group. They played their tails off every night; they left it all out there. They played as a team and gave their fans a thrill until the very end. My hat is off to them for that. Here's the question: which players will have their contract be up this year? Who will we be losing to free agency? With another starting pitcher or two, if the offence can stay reasonably intact, it really could be next year.
-- Barry Cohen, Novato, Calif.
A: The big free agents are Todd Walker, Mike Timlin, and Scott Williamson. I doubt you can keep everyone. I would think Sox management would want to go for it one more time considering their big guys are up after next year. But the manager situation is up in the air. The current players love Grady Little. Would they respond the same to another manager? That's the chance you have to take if you fire him.
Looking ahead to Week 9, it's obvious that The Tuna has completely turned the moribund 'Boys around. While I don't doubt his ability to get more out his players than Campo could, is their record reflective of a really good team or an above average team with an easy schedule thus far? Also, how do you compare the talent Parcells has with Dallas to that he inherited at New England and the Jets? Thanks!
-- Mike Worden, Millersville, Md.
A: Mike, sometimes a great coach can bring out the best in a team that has average talent. That's what he's doing. Do I think they'll come back down to earth at some point? Probably. I think teams that overachieve too early usually don't hit a wall later in the season. Now the '01 Pats did their overachieving down the home stretch. The timing was perfect. As for talent, I think Dallas had more talent than the '93 Patriots, and even though the '00 Jets were coming off a 1-15 record, Parcells felt he had some guys with ability.
Hi, Nick. Great mailbag last week as always, and I really agree with your feelings on the Red Sox. Regarding the Dolphins game, don't you think this "Brady can't throw the deep ball" stuff can end? He has been hurt because of the lack of height we have at the WR position, which limits the ability to out-jump the DB for the deep passes. His pass in OT was a thing of beauty, and if they ever get a truly skilled taller receiver, I think, he will hit more and more deep passes. Also, how bout the offensive line play against Miami? Jason Taylor was held in check for most of the game, and Brady had time to throw just about the whole game. Plus, the offensive line has been opening good holes for the running backs all year, with the exception of the Miami game, which could have to do with the overall speed of the Miami defense. What do you think?
-- Bill Wilkinson, Colchester, Vt.
A: I think Brady can throw it deep. Can he throw it as well as a Bledsoe or a Culpepper or a Trent Green? Of course not. But now that he's done it, teams have to watch for it. The O-line might be the biggest story going. We all thought losing Mike Compton would be a major blow, but it's turned out for the best with Dan Koppen emerging.
What's the deal with releasing Larry Centers? I thought he has looked pretty good so far, and has actually looked good running the ball, not just receiving. Could this be a one week thing, a la Fred McCrary two weeks ago?
-- Bill Wilkinson, Colchester, Vt.
A: Knee injury. They can't afford to keep players at the end of the roster who can't perform for a few weeks. Centers struck a two-week settlement. He's eligible to return to the Pats in Week 15, or he can re-sign with another team.
Will the Patriots ever get a running back like every team in the NFL seems to have?
-- Norm, Flagler, Fla.
A: Well, if the "committee" keeps playing like this, why bother?
Thank you for offering the mailbag, Nick. It allows us out-of-towners to feel like we are still home in New England during the football season. After 7 games now, what type of grades are Tebucky Jones and Lawyer Milloy getting on their respective teams? Also, I don't know about you, but I feel our receiving corps has unusual depth and is nationally under-rated.
-- John Aliapoulios, Palm Desert, Calif.
A: The Saints are happy with Tebucky. It's the rest of the guys they have a problem with. Tebucky has given them good leadership and good performance. He's been hurt the last couple of weeks. Lawyer, as I said, has been a good leader, but just isn't making the big plays or getting off the big hit like he used to. The receiving corp does OK. It would be nice to see Givens emerge because he's bigger and little tougher than the rest of them.
Nick, There are still days when I stop myself and say, "Holy cow, the Patriots actually won the Super Bowl!" Unfortunately, I think for years to come, I'll also be saying, "Holy cow, Little actually kept Pedro in the game after the seventh inning!" Anyway, I wanted to ask you about the special teams corps. (Great job picking the upset, by the way.) The special teams play was excellent all game long; Vinatieri even had some nice, long kickoffs. I know there was some concern earlier in the season with all the injuries to starters that some people would be taken off special teams duty for fear of losing them to injury. So is this a rag-tag group that's beginning to gel, or are we throwing caution to the wind and playing the A-list special teams guys? Aside from the kickers and the returners, they don't usually announce who's on the field so I don't have a good sense of the players who comprise the special teams units these days. Hats off to 'em, whoever they are!
-- Jason Rubin, Melrose
A: I think they're still using a lot of regulars, though the regulars these days are the backups. Guys are playing all out. I'm surprised the injury list isn't longer. They're getting some All Pro performances out there. Woody, Light, Seymour, Poole, Harrison, and Bruschi, in my mind have been as good at their positions as any player in the league.
Ciao, Nick Great column and nice decision to put replies on Thursday's. Nick: we have to be proud to be fans of this team! Who, honestly, thought to be 5-2 after week 7 with so many key injured players? And we could have been easily 6-1. Everybody is playing with heart and it is difficult to mention particularly a player as all team is performing. I think that the biggest surprise is coming from the rookies. There is not only one single impact player but, more or less, all of them are helping a lot! Do you think that with this year draft and, hopefully, with so many next year draft picks, will we able to create, in this difficult NFL salary cap era, a dynasty? Too early to predict playoffs but this team looks really promising. Will we play this year with throwback uniforms? Any news? I really loved them. Thanks in advance for your kind comments.
-- Enrico, Como, Italy
A: Enrico, the Patriots are the envy of the league because their draft class is performing the best of any draft class in the NFL. That's why these grades writers give out at the time of the draft are useless. Judge them once they start playing. You'd have to give this draft class an "A" right now. Nice job by another one of our countrymen Scott Pioli.
Nick, Is there anyone in the NFL playing at a higher level than Richard Seymour? This guy is just dominating in every game. I could go on forever about what he's doing for this team. Nobody wanted to see Milloy go, he was a great player here. A guy with a lot of character, but this team has not lost a step with Harrison. Harrison is out there making non-stop plays. He's out there giving his all on every play. Am I wrong or would you have to agree?
-- Eric Dolan, New Bedford
A: Seymour might wind up going to the Hall of Fame if his career keeps going the way it is. He's outstanding. Constantly double-teamed, he finds a way to be disruptive and that's a sign of a great player. I agree on Harrison. I don't know what the Chargers were thinking, but I guess that's why they've won one game.
Nick: After seeing fourth round pick Randy McMichael light it up for 8 catches and 102 yards, can we finally call Daniel Graham a first round bust? McMichael definitely benefited from the coverage scheme, but he also looked more aware on the field. Graham shows flashes of great athletic talent and head's up play, but just can't seem to put it together consistently.
-- Mark V. Lonergan, Waltham
A: It's frustrating. Graham has more talent than McMichael. It's just one injury after another. There are some players who go through this and then are OK. Remember Paul Molitor? Always hurt in his first few years with the Brewers and then he settled into a Hall of Fame career.
Incredible Miami game! Quick question: What does the NFL do with the money they get from player fines? Do they donate it to charity?
-- Brian Loughlin, Watertown
Did David Patten play against the fish or is he still injured? I didn't see him in the game. Also, with the release of FB Larry Centers, do you think we'll finally see more of my underused favorite, Patrick Pass? With the current edition of the Pats playing so well, do you think that any of the eligible players (Gessner, Neal, Jones, Mruczkowski) will now come off the PUP list, or will they be moved to the IR?
-- Steve Alpert, Norwell
A: Patten was dressed but didn't see much action. Still nicked up. As for Pass, I think you'll see him on special teams only now because McCrary will be the primary fullback.
Hi, Nick, Great column! That Pats' win in Miami was clutch, with the D-line really shining. Can you tell me, though, what the heck they were doing on offense at the end of regulation? Brady starts the drive with a bullet for 20 yards or so and then they huddle up, waste lots of time, and run twice? With no timeouts left? What a wasted opportunity. Luckily it didn't come back to haunt them.
-- Don Buck, Hyannis
A: Well, Charlie Weis' offense, in part, has the component of running the play the defense least expects. Except now the defenses are watching for those draw plays and sweeps. They did it with Larry Centers, and the defense caught up to it. I know the element of surprise was a big factor, but nobody was fooled.
Hi, Nick. A very special win against Miami, but if Mare had made the field goal in OT wouldn't we be talking about the play calling by Charlie Weis? Specifically the two running plays on the pats last possesion at the end of the fourth quarter? I would have felt better if we had at least made an effort to throw the ball (re: get out of bounds and stop the clock) and failed.
-- Ken D., West Boylston
A: Ken, we just addressed it. You're right, Weis would have been Grady Littled.
Is a coin toss reviewable? Thanks.
-- John Aliapoulios, Palm Desert, Calif.
First, what a game. Second, did you hear the CBS postgame show after the Miami game? If you listened to Marino, you would have thought that the Marlins had beaten the Dolphins. He and Sanders refused to give the Patriots any credit for the victory, preferring to complain about the baseball dirt. At one point Esiason implored them: "You have to give Belichick and New England some credit." Esiason is the most unbiased national sportscaster that I know, not because he plugs the Pats, but because he seems to call it like it is. What the Pats have done in the past 3 weeks is pretty incredible, and he simply acknowledged it. And the Fox show is an even bigger joke. It's clear that those guys don't even watch the games.
-- Chris Brown, Chicago, Ill.
A: Fox has had a rough go of it, baseball and football.
Nick, Would you please give us an update on the following players and some kind of return date. Johnson, Washington, Vrabel, Jones, Neal, Law, and I know he's out for the year but, is there any update on Colvin. Thanks.
-- Dan Eckman, Winthrop
A: The only thing we see is that Johnson and Washington have their casts off. Vrabel got in there last week for a few plays, Neal needs more time, and Law is in a cast. I think Law is next week, maybe. Johnson and Washington after the bye. No word on Colvin. Keeping that one real quiet.
Nick, Here's part of your response from last week's episode of "Ask Nick" regarding Eugene Wilson replacing Lawyer Milloy: "And it has worked out OK after six games, but don't forget that first Bills game. If they don't win their division by a game or make the wild-card by a game, or don't get home field advantage, you can blame that game." So you feel the blowout Week 1 loss to Buffalo was a more winnable game than the Week 4 loss at Washington? I didn't think so. Nick, if the Patriots miss out on the playoffs by one game the only people whining about the loss at Buffalo will be people with an unhealthy anti-Belichick fixation.
-- Patrick, North Andover
A: Why? The Patriots were completely healthy for Buffalo. They had an All-Star team out there and got beat 31-0. "Unhealthy anti-Belichick fixation?" I just named the guy the coach of the year for the first half. You've got to do a better job reading, Patrick. Are you still reading my stuff from the 5-11 season?
Do you think that the offensive coordinating skill of the New England Patriots takes away from Tom Brady's potential offensive ability or is offense coordinated around his limited offensive ability? With that would you rank Tom Brady as one of the top QB's in the league.
-- Ernest DuBose, Boston
A: Weis discovered Brady, so I'm sure he calls plays that improve Tom's chances of making a play. And yes, he is one of the top QB's in the league.
What in the world happened with that coin toss in the Miami game? When the referee flipped it, the Pats started saying they'd receive and the Dolphins started saying which goal they'd defend. About the only person who thought the Dolphins won the toss was that genius of a referee. Any word on his excuse as to what happened?
-- Stephen Higgs, The Bahamas
A: Brady said the ref inadvertently turned his wrist over when he showed it to the players.
Hi, Nick. Since you have spent much of the past month covering the Sox, I thought I could use this forum to ask you about the events of Game 3. While I in no way support the actions of Pedro and Manny, I am amazed that Zimmer gets away with only a $5,000 fine. If any other coach comes off the bench, crosses the entire field and attacks the other team's star player, he would be suspended for a year, minimum. I don't agree with the thought that since he's a 72 year old guy, it's OK -- a coach is a coach and they all should be treated the same. Tim McCarver suggested that Zimmer reacted that way because he was beaned as a young player and he dislikes that aspect of baseball. Well, it sure didn't bother Zimmer too much when Clemens hit Mike Piazza a few years back. Additionally, what would have happened if Zim had poked Pedro in the eye, or rolled over his knee and Pedro had to leave Game 3 (and maybe miss Game 7)? Would this be treated differently? What is your take on the punishment doled out to Zimmer? Was his apology enough to stop any further action? (Although he wasn't "embarrassed" about losing a 14 game lead in '78, was he?) By the way, it was a thrill to meet you in the hotel lobby in DC prior to the Pats game. All of us are big "Ask Nick" fans.
-- M. Forni, Wibraham
A: What we don't know is how Zim really felt about Clemens throwing at Piazza. He might have been outraged by that, too, but he's not going to charge Roger in the dugout. I think the punishment was fine. He's a coach, not a player, and what he did was bizarre. The guys who throw the baseball and try to hit it are the ones the league chose to focus on and rightly so. It was a pleasure meeting you as well.
Nick, Regarding the disputed outcome of the coin toss in Miami, wouldn't it just make sense for the referee to leave the coin on the ground until both sides have looked at it? Then pick it up. Just a thought.
-- Jake, Guilford
A: Sure does Jake.
Does Bethel Johnson read the mailbag? In the pre-season(?) he said we hadn't seen his "A-speed" yet. Have we seen it yet? Are we going to see it against Cleveland? All us fans really, really appreciate the way you guys have been playing this year. It inspires us to do our own stuff better.
-- Es, N.J.
A: I think we saw it on one of those sideline patterns early in the season. Why not just let him go and heave it down field so he can go it. I haven't seen that. And I'd like to.
Hey, Nick, I really, really like Mike Cloud. But the Pats are acting like Kevin Faulk is the running back of the future. Mike Cloud has the power of Jerome Bettis in his prime and the speed of Emmit Smith in his prime, and I think he is the future of the Pats running game. Why won't the Pats play him more when he does start?
-- Jeremy Koss, Comstock, Mich.
A: I think they're trying to be fair to Faulk. He hasn't done anything to lose playing time.
nfl.com (the words "field goal blocked" just aren't the same as seeing it play out on TV), I saw Ty Warren's name pop up as being involved in a number of plays. How's he gelling with the team? In your opinion, was he worth top pick and is he going to be a long-term impact player? Love the column! I miss the Red Sox already. Did we have a great team or what?
-- John Kraska, New York, N.Y.
A: Warren is really coming on. Not as good as a rookie Seymour yet, but he was in on some plays against the Fish.
Do you know how the Patriots won last Sunday? You can thank the Cubs fan who caught the foul ball. If the Cubs were playing in the World Series Pro Player stadium would be an all grass field. Easy field goal for Mare.
-- Les Wilker, Deerfied Beach, Fla.
A: Can't believe Mare missed that. Can't believe he had it blocked. Even when Seymour isn't blocking the kick, he's in a field goal kickers head.
Hey, Nick to bad Bill couldn't manage the Red Sox! How much longer can we keep this great play up with all the injuries?
-- Andy Falvey, Scottsdale, Ariz.
A: Great question. You almost feel its unfortunate they have a bye coming up in two weeks. You just hope they're not peaking too soon.
Nick, I love your q/a weekly; it makes the l-train ride home faster every week. I think that the owner, coaches, and players on the present team (you can even throw in the waterboys and girls and fans for that matter) are simply incredible and deserve a ton of credit when you consider that they have been able to go 5-2 (we really should be 6-1) given the injuries, distractions (i.e. Milloy release and the incredibly wrong Tom Jackson comment) and the brutal schedule the first half of the season. Heck, Belichick even looks like he is having fun and our season looks even brighter when you look at today's modern athlete such as Terrell Owens in San Francisco and can only think someone has to give T.O. a time out just to curb his selfishness in a team sport. Just watching Owens is sufficient proof for me that the Pats should keep on spending the high draft picks on the less glamorous - albeit critical -- positions on defense (i.e. the Seymour's of the world) - and not on the media enhanced and more glamorous positions such as quarterback, wide receiver, and running back. My question is when Ricky Williams was traded to Miami, did New England attempt to get him? In addition, if you are the Pats general manager, who do sign as a free agent running back or draft to solidify the running back position? (Maybe the bills will give us a gift and trade us Travis Henry). With the winter months fast approaching, I just cannot see us advancing deep into the playoffs or making the playoffs without the running game vastly improving which would require a healthy and hungry Antowain Smith). I apologize for the long e-mail and would like to know your thoughts.
-- Bart F. Higgins, Chicago, Ill.
A: I think you're right about the star syndrome. Don't get me wrong, it's not that Belichick wouldn't mind coaching Lawrence Taylor again, but with that team and with so many stars around LT, those guys kept him in line as did the iron fist of Parcells. But times have changed. Belichick doesn't like one guy being bigger than anyone else. If you think about it, he's the star. He makes more money than anyone with the exception of Ty Law and Brady. And Law will likely be gone. I would guess in the off-season, they part with Smith and draft a kid.
Two things: Denver's losing Plummer and Buerlein seems to me that the Pats will be able to overload the line and focus on Portis in two weeks. Since Denver has a great, but small offensive line, will the Pats let Ted Washington have the extra time to heal even if the leg seems to be in good shape at the time? Also, I liked when you included the cities that people are writing from. It gives us an idea of how widespread the fans in the Patriots Nation are.
-- Will Thimes, Chicago, Ill.
A: Washington will likely have some time. They're doing fine without him.
Seeing that only the officials in the booth can request a replay with under two minutes to go or in overtime, how do you explain them allowing the Dolphins to run a play so quickly after the 'so-called' catch in overtime against the Pats when he was clearly out of bounds? Don't you think that on plays like that the booth should request a replay before the next play is run? It looks so silly seeing a team rush up to the line of scrimmage to run a play before the officials call for a replay when we all know why they are doing it. They were lucky that the Patriots won the game. One more thing, it doesn't make sense to me that the coach can not request a replay in those circumstances if he still has an available time out. What's your thoughts?
-- Jeff Carter, Boston
A: Obviously the refs didn't see it, and the guy in the booth didn't see it. I'm wondering if the Patriots saw it because you'd think Belichick would be yelling for the play to be looked at. I'm not sure that happened either.
Hello, Nick. I was just looking at our schedule for the rest of the season and can only come up with two more losses -- at Denver and at the Colts. Do you think 12-4 is within reach this season?
-- Todd Zaino, New Britain, Conn.
A: Within reach, but highly unlikely. They will probably win some games they aren't supposed to win, and lose some they should win. Haven't we played this schedule game before? Does it ever work out like it's supposed to in the NFL?
Nick, The Red Sox? As great as the Patriots win over the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, the Game 7 loss was the complete opposite. I am still sick over it.
-- Patrick Flynn, Chicago, Ill.
A: It's a week off from work, I say.
Nick, Good call on the Patriots upset then it got me wondering about something. Is it unethically or wrong for sports writers to gamble on the teams they cover like if you had some inside info about the Patriots because you are around the team alot and placed a bet based on that what would happen if you got caught? Please understand I am in no way saying you are betting, I am just using you as an example.
-- Adam Tyson, Leeds
A: Personally, I wouldn't do it.
This is a bit of a rhetorical question, but why can't the officials take a colored magic marker and make one side of the coin a different color, say red for heads? Next thing you know, the captains will be asking if they can do rock-paper-scissors instead of a coin flip.
-- Phil Audet, Austin, Texas
A: It shouldn't be that hard, Phil. Heads or tails? You know? How hard is that?
Nick, Are you coming back to the Pats beat? I know your first love is baseball, but as a Pats fan I miss your insight and tidbits about the Pats. Say your not moving to baseball full time.
-- Sean McLaughlin, Hazleton, Penn.
A: Sean, I'm going to be doing both. I have a great opportunity to stick my two cents in on the two major sports in the Boston area, and I'm thrilled about it. I've had always had a great job whether it was covering the Sox or the Pats, now I get to do both.
How much progress do you think Ty Warren will make by the end of the season? Also what do you think the Patriots need the most in the 2004 draft?
-- Steve Sanders, Medfield
A: Warren's heading toward being a very effective player by the end of the year. He's already holding his own as he becomes more comfortable with the volume of things he's had to learn. Seymour is such a great influence on him. He's really helped him out.
Hi, Nick! Early in the Miami game, the Pats called for a QB sneak on third and five and got three yards. They then called another one on third and four a little later, the result of that one being a Brady fumble and subsequent TD by Miami. Still later in the game, the same QB sneak was called on third and five. This one was successful, but my question is who called the third QB sneak? If Brady is calling that at the line of scrimmage, the privilege of play calling should be taken from him. If Charlie Weis is calling that, I'd have to say that perhaps we should get a new offensive coach, because that is just plain nonsense. I'm not too psyched about a lot of the play calling to begin with, but after two failed attempts and a turnover and TD for the opponent, scrap the QB sneak and make a legitimate passing attempt on third and five. If we can't confidently and successfully run a quick slant for a 5 yard gain - 8 times out of 10 - with Troy, Deion, Givens, Fauria, and Bethel, then we have a serious offensive problem.
-- Daniel Arturi, Los Angeles, Calif.
A: Again. it's that element of surprise that Weis likes to create. I get the feeling that one of them was Brady checking off and calling his own number.
Hi, Nick. It appears to me that Branch is making huge strides in the learning curve this year. Do you see him as eventually developing, possibly as early as next year, into a Hines Ward type of number one receiver?
-- Tom Lacey, Plainville
A: He's a lot different than Ward. Not nearly as physical. He's more Troy Brown; maybe even Terry Glenn. He's developing, but he too needs to stay on the field more.
Yes, his loss was overcome because Wilson has played so well and Harrison has more than filled Milloy's leadership void. But it wasn't overcome in Game 1 vs. Buffalo. That's a game the Patriots did not show up for. It was poorly coached. It was poorly played. If the distraction of Milloy hadn't occurred, would the Patriots have beaten the Bills that day? Didn't it seem obvious that they had our entire play book that day?
-- Matt Felix, New York, N.Y.
A: I agree. Hopefully it's a game that won't haunt them by the end of the season. Even the biggest Belichick supporters out there can't defend that one, at least the timing of it.
Hi, Nick. I'm curious if you're aware of the hyperbole you've applied in your recent article about the "Two Bills," to wit: "The aftermath of that game had to be the low point of Belichick's coaching tenure. Never had he been under such scrutiny and criticism. Coming from that low to 5-2 has to be one of the great psychological turnarounds any team in the NFL has made in some time." Check out the microfiche from the Cleveland newspapers when Belichick, a valedictorian of the Duquette School of Manners and Human Treatment, benched Bernie Kosar. The guy was getting death threats, and the home fans were chanting for him to be fired at games. After Game 1 this year was no doubt a low point in his career, but in no way the low point. Just a thought.
-- Bill Considine, Chelmsford
A: You're probably right, Bill. Sometimes I forget the magnitude of the anti-Belichick sentiment in Cleveland. It was nasty. That's why I always get a kick when people say I'm too hard on Belichick. Go back to those stories and those days. I get ripped apart here for writing his record. Very touchy, those Belichick fans.
Nick, I have read your column a few times and think it is pretty decent. I recently read a question regarding the "Brady-meter" in which a someone writing in said that it was condescending to Tom. I went to it and read this weeks comparison to "Mike." I did not find it condescending so to speak, but my question is this: did this Shanahan guy ever play any football in his life, and how much does the other writer know about football (Peggy something another)? Afterall, it looks like they write for the arts and entertainment section. If they are writing for this section should'nt they stick to their expertise of recipe and curtain selection?
-- Daniel W. Sawall, Topsfield
A: People are emotional about this.