Here's the question of the day: What would constitute a successful and satisfying season for you as a Patriots fan? With all that's happened this season, would it be disappointing if the Patriots bowed out early in the playoffs? Would they have to get to the AFC Championship game? Would they have to win it? Would they have to get to the Super Bowl? Would they have to win the Super Bowl?
The bar has been set pretty high after the '01 Super Bowl championship. Not making the playoffs last season was terribly disappointing to many of you. The team has overcome a potentially devastating Opening Day loss to Buffalo, has won 10 out of 11 games and eight straight. They have overcome a multitude of injuries to the point where this week's injury report was as short as it's been all season.
With most of the players back (with the exception of Rosevelt Colvin, David Patten and Mike Compton all of whom are on injured reserve) and the rookies all gaining valuable experience, it would appear, in my opinion, that the Patriots would have to at least get to the Super Bowl for the majority of fans to be fully satisfied with the season.
What do you think?
I'd love to hear your responses after the Miami game.
I must say before I go on to Miami, that the Indy-Pats game was one of the most entertaining games I've watched in a long time. I would have felt that way win or lose. The Colts are going to be tough to beat in the playoffs because of their ability to comeback from any deficit. But once again the Patriots' resiliency and calm and collectedness prevailed. I must say, the players on this team should stand up and take a bow. You can't coach what they do. They have a tremendous feel for the game and the moment.
On to Miami:
If the weather conditions are as severe as the meteorologists suggest, heavy winds (up to 30 mph), snow and frigid air, then who does that favor? You'd think New England because they live in this stuff. I've certainly come around to the notion that the Patriots don't need a running game to win out and go to the Super Bowl, but if the conditions are what they say they are, having Ricky Williams has to be a tremendous advantage. We saw the damage Williams did to Buffalo last season in blizzard-like conditions at Orchard Park. We saw what Williams did to the Patriots last year when he ran for 185 yards in the season-finale which Dave Wannstedt and Norv Turner botched for the Dolphins by not giving Williams the ball. Therefore, in those conditions, I would guess it would favor the Dolphins. But halt, right there. How about the Snow Bowl? Yes, another check to the Patriots.
What ever happens, this is going to be fun. There's nothing like the intensity of a divisional game in December, no matter what the records are. The fact that both of these teams will likely be heading to the playoffs and may even play one another somewhere along the line in the post-season, this is why the NFL is such a fun league.
Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt said of the weather factor, "That's been a topic here for 20 years as you know. You try to tweak a few things, but the reality is that last year ... the games still come down to who is blocking and tackling and who plays the best football. That's not what the fans want to hear and that's not what the media wants to hear, but it is really the truth. I think you need to look at every year and every game individually. Last year when we came up to play the Patriots, it sure as heck wasn't effort on our team's part, it sure as heck wasn't the weather on our team's part. At the end of the game a few things didn't bounce the right way. All of the things that they might want to talk about as far as our team being tired or our team being cold, that's just not true."
Wannstedt thinks changing the team's Saturday routine has helped the team go 5-1 on the road.
"We've changed a few things up with our Saturday routine and we've played better on the road," he said. "Last year on the road we were 2-6 and this year we are 5-1, so I think that has helped a little bit and we'll see. Where our team is at right now, it really doesn't make any difference where we play or who we play, we are trying to get enough wins to get into the playoffs and that is where our mind-set is at right now."
Having said all that, there is revenge on the mind of Dolphins players. They hated the way their game in Miami ended (19-13) in overtime with Tom Brady hitting Troy Brown for an 82-yard pass. There's no love between these two teams.
"I wouldn't say revenge. I just think right now, we're at the point where if we continue to keep playing well and moving forward, we have a chance to play well in the playoffs and to get in the playoffs and that's the big picture the Super Bowl. They are in our path right now and we just have to play well against them," said defensive end Adelwale Ogunleye.
Ogunleye said of Brady's final pass, "It shouldn't have even come down to that last play. We just gave up the biggest play at the end and enough credit goes out to Tom (Brady) and them. To say that their offense is one where he drops-back passes and that's their strength, it's not. He's a short thrower. He throws to those slots. They do a great job breaking tackles. As a whole front we just need to tackle better and run to the ball."
We can only wish new punter Brooks Barnard, who kicked at University of Maryland, good luck in his first NFL game. His dad, John, an American Airlines pilot, named him after the great Brooks Robinson. Does that mean he has good hands?
On to the mailbag:
Nick, What do you think the Pats will do with there stock pile of draft picks? Thanks.
Joe Wagner, Woodbridge, Va.
A: My guess is they'll trade some of them. They usually do. Maybe they figure the '07 draft is going to be awesome. Just kidding. But I think they'll wheel and deal like they always do.
Nick, I respect your opinion. Is there a better owner in the NFL than Bob Kraft? Personally, I don't care if the Patriots get the national recognition as an outstanding football team and organization. As you've stated, they seem to thrive on being "under the radar." But here are some facts that I think other Pats fans (especially us transplants) can take into any argument about who is the best franchise in the NFL since 1996: Only 5 teams (Dolphins, 49ers, Packers, Bucs, and Vikings with five) have made the playoffs more than the Pats (4 times. No one has been to more than the Pats' 2 Super Bowls (Pack, Rams, and Broncos, 2 also). Only the Broncos have more than the Pats one Super Bowl win. And since the start of the 2001 season, no AFC team has more wins. (Only the Pack and Eagles have more, 30 and 31, respectively.) So very few team can argue that their run has been better. My final comment would be to tell the "Ask Nick" readers to stop worrying, whining, and complaining. We are in the Glory Years of Patriots football. Enjoy it!
Peter Northgraves, Atlanta, GA
A: You're right. These are the glory years of the team and you have so many unhappy people.
Love the column. I have some general comments so I will probably never get posted. The thing with huge salaries like Milloy's and Law's is that you have to start thinking in terms of is Ty Law worth three Rodney Harrisons or 6 Dan Kleckos? Milloy still can play, I think he has near 60 tackles this season, but you can't tie up too many dollars in a single player because you won't be able to fill your roster with quality players. Drew Bledsoe is a good quarterback, he put his health on the line for the team and I will always appreciate the fun of watching him blast the ball all over the field. I think his demise in New England started when Martin took off for the Jets and Terry Glenn took off for parts unknown. A downfield pocket passer needs a good running back to keep the defense guessing, unlike a Brady who does the short quick pass well. (Bledsoe never could take enough juice off the ball on the short routes.) Now my question. How does the coin toss work? Who makes the call? If the Patriots just called the same side of the coin every time, they would win the toss 50 percent of the time. Thanks a bunch.
Chris Morris, Chicago, Ill.
A: The coin toss is called by the visiting captain. The winner can choose whether to receive or not receive, kickoff, or which goal he wants to defend. If he chooses to kickoff, the loser gets to chose which side to defend first. The Patriots lost 11 coin tosses before winning in Indy. I don't know if they call the same side or if they mix it up.
Hello, Nick. Inevitably, Crennel and/or Weis will be hired for a head coaching job. If that happens this offseason, how would Belichick fill those positions? Would he promote from within or would he go outside the organization? Is there someone being groomed for those spots?
Larry Pohner, Foxboro
A: I'm not completely convinced either or both will go. There will be a few coaching openings, probably less than we think, and don't forget, there are guys like Tom Coughlin and Dennis Green, and, who knows, Jimmy Johnson, out there who are proven commodities that teams would have to consider. But let's say it happened, I would guess that Eric Mangini would be a candidate for defensive coordinator and offensively, maybe a Dante Scarnecchia unless Belichick could find a coach in another organization he could pry loose or if a deposed coaching staff (like the Giants) became available he could pluck somebody from a staff.
Nick, A quick question on the owners in the city. I don't know where else to go to get the question answered -- how much are each of the principal owners (Kraft, Jacobs, Henry, and Grousbeck) worth and how did they make their fortunes? Does Henry have the money to spend Steinbrenner like dollars? If you can't put this in the mailbag, could you e-mail me back and let me know who I could ask to find out this info? Thanks.
Larry Pohner, Foxboro
A: They're all very wealthy is the short answer. Kraft inherited a fortune from his wife's family and turned that into more wealth with his paper company. Jacobs has made a mint with Delaware North and concessions, and Henry, from what I've told, doesn't need the partners, he's so rich as a result of his hedge fund investing.
The question of whether Ty Law (or Lawyer Milloy before him) should consider accepting less money seems to split people into two camps: "They are entitled to whatever they can get" and "It's a business and the owners won't pay more than they feel is market value or less." Isn't there another point that's being missed? When a player insists on the highest end of the pay scale for his position, isn't he, in effect, saying, "I know I'm taking money that could be used to build a stronger ball club, but it's more important for me to take what I can get?" How can such a player ever again say "Winning is the most important thing to me?" NFL teams have a salary cap. Owners have a set amount of money to distribute to their players. If one player takes a disproportionate amount, there is less that can go to others. How can the Patriots attract good free agents or pay to keep other important players on the club if the money needed to pay them is going to one player? I'm not talking about subsistence wages here. Surely even if Law took a cut, he would be financially secure for life, still among the higher-paid corners, and the money freed up could well contribute to getting another ring. When I read last year that Law and Milloy were chanting "No cuts! No cuts!", it seemed that the good of the team was of little interest to them. Am I missing something here?
Michael Martorano, Tewksbury
A: No, your points are well taken and it's easy for us to say take a cut for the good of the team. I would agree with that in every other sport except football. The careers are short. They have no guarantees. Some of the stronger agents in the game, like Carl Poston, say if a contract was agreed upon and signed it should be honored unless it's reconfigured positively for the player. If a player's talents are dwindling, then he should consider a cut, but in Law's case where he's still on top of his game, should he take a pay cut? If anything, he should get a raise. Maybe I'm just too pro-player, but in baseball I'm not as much because those salaries are completely out of whack and players should take less for the good of the team.
Nick, I personally have no problem with your responses to all of the crybabies who write in to complain about your take on the Patriots. They, unfortunately, have the opportunity to write in and say what they want. You are gracious enough to respond. I know you try to include everyone's opinions, but I don't read your column to listen to these chumps complain about your predictions, thoughts, etc. I say don't give them the time of day. Your "true" readers who appreciate your opinion, whether or not it is the same as theirs, will appreciate it. Thanks for your unbiased opinion.
Joe Sawhill, Des Moines, Iowa
A: Thanks, Joe. It's fun to get those sometimes. I think it's fun to run them because they're so outrageous and people like yourself understand how crazy some of them are that it makes for good entertainment. I've received a lot of letters saying just stop running them because they're getting a bit predictable and the act is old. I mean, the team is 10-2 and we still have people writing in about how I thought trading Bledsoe to Buffalo was a bad idea.
Nick, great column. As a transplanted New Englander, I look forward to your column every week. Do you know why Steve Grogan has never been offered an offensive coordinator's job in the NFL? I thought as a QB that he did a outstanding job calling the plays. I just loved his penchant to gamble on third and 1.
Mark Nooth, Meridian, Idaho
A: I don't think so. I was always a big advocate of Steve getting a shot as a QB coach, but as time passed nobody ever gave him the chance. He's a great guy with great values and I know he's doing very well in the sporting goods business. A few of those ex-Patriots either would have or are doing well. Steve Nelson has built quite a power house at Curry College, and I'm kind of hoping Holy Cross recruits him for their vacant job.
Hey, Nick, great column. I will be in town to watch the great game with Miami next weekend. We are staying at the Boston Plaza Hotel and was wondering if there is a hot sports bar around there to watch the Monday Night game. Please let me know.
Derek Taylor, DesMoines, Iowa
A: A few blocks away you have Champions at the Marriott Hotel.
I can't believe how tough football is. In most sports it seems a small drop of in physical ability brings a small drop off in production. With Milloy in mind, although there are plenty of other examples, don't you find it striking how such a small drop off in physical ability can propel a player from elite status to middle of the pack or lower? The margin of error is so small. Am I reading this right or is there more involved? Also, what are people in the NFL community saying about the chances of Mr. Colvin coming back at 100 percent? Thanks, Nick.
Mark Flanagan, Worcester
A: I think it has to be more than just a small drop off. Because a small drop off, if the player has been in the league for a while, is hidden by a players knowledge and wisdom. Jerry Rice is a great example. Troy Brown is another example. As for Colvin, nobody hears anything. You can talk to him and interview him, but he won't tell you a thing about his injury.
Hi, Nick. I hope I'm not being rude but in the same mailbag you supported Kraft in the Kraft-Parcells break up and said that Chuck Fairbanks was a great coach -- which I find extremely inconsistent. Fairbanks was fired but under the circumstances what could old Sully do? Fairbanks' Colorado announcement during what should have been a title run for one of the most talented Pats teams of all time overshadows any goodness that he had as a New England coach! Parcells was far nobler still giving the Pats a chance versus the Pack. I can't let you get away with taking Kraft's side versus Parcells and your apparent ignoring of what Fairbanks did. Can you please not do that again? It hurts when you guys forget what Chuck did to us!
Brian A. Carey, Erie, Penn.
A: I remember that stuff very well. I felt just as you did -- Fairbanks walked out on us. But I can't deny he was a great coach and talent evaluator. You can't either, Brian. Try to separate what he did from what he was. He was a great coach. Anyone who played for him will tell you that.
If, for some reason, the Bills cut Milloy after the season and, for some reason, the Pats signed him, would his new salary count against the salary cap in addition to his cap number for next year?
Carl Thompson, Providence, R.I.
A: If he was cut and signed by NE, he'd have to renegotiate a new deal. The pro-rated signing bonus and his new salary would count on NE's salary cap. If the Bills cut him, his pro-rated SB on his Bill contract would count against the Bills cap.
Sir, The guys seem to have found a way to win this season much different then the unusual way the last Super Bowl drive went. No overturned calls, tucked footballs (yet), or unconscious receivers in or out of bounds. They score enough to win and stop enough to fight another day. The rookie wall hasn't hit yet. The best thing is that they flown under the national spotlight since the Milloy mess in weak one.
Cpt. Jim Bono, Columbus, Ohio
A: That's right, Captain. And that's the way they like it. Patriots fans hoot and holler about a lack of respect for their team. I'm telling you, the team doesn't want the attention. I wish fans would realize that.
Nick, Thanks for answering all the questions. I confess I grow tired of those who write in and want to settle scores. My question is how do the Patriots' defensive coaches get the various defensive packages on to the field so seamlessly?
David Grimes, Bedford, N.H.
A: Romeo Crennel is on the sidelines and he has a good system of getting the play called to Ted Johnson or Tedy Bruschi pretty quickly. I must admit that it was tougher with the Colts in the no huddle. I think that's one way to foil the Patriots defense because they don't have time to get into their blitz coverages.
Hi, Nick, Love the mailbag. Question about Sunday's game: Why did the Colts get four timeouts in the second half? If you go back and watch the tape, you'll see what I mean. They took their first time out when they were down 31-10, on a fourth and 9 (or something like that); they went for it and scored a TD. Then, when they took their second time-out, the announcers said, "well they still have two more time-outs," which was completely false. And then when they took a third time-out, they were still listed as having 1 more TO. I think the Refs are getting worse and worse at managing football games. Was I the only one who noticed this egregious error? Luckily it didn't end up costing the Pats!
Kurt Gundersen, Berkeley, Calif.
A: Kurt, one of them was an injury timeout because Willie McGinest allegedly hurt his knee. The officials have to call timeout if a player is on the field in pain even if the team is out of timeouts. If it was an act, then McGinest and Patriots got away with one.
Hi, Nick. As a Patriot fan going back to the old AFL days, when Butch Songin was the quarterback and they were playing at old BU field, these last few years have made those early days seem even further in the past. Thank God! Your mailbag keeps me plugged into Patriot news, and I thank you for that. Great job. Now why I have written: not really a question, an observation, which I hope can find its way to Deion Branch. Enough with the celebratory posturing and shenanigans after you make a catch or score a touchdown. I believe he received a penalty a couple of weeks ago for taunting or some foolishness, and it will happen again if he doesn't cool it. Just play the game, and act like a professional.
Jon Henderson, Coos Bay Ore.
A: Got a lot of these this week. The kid has to watch himself.
Hi, Nick. I enjoy your articles an commentaries on NESN. My question is about Charlie Weis. Why can't this guy manage a game clock with the lead? Up 31-10 and you get a turnover at the Colts 33-yard line and he doesn't even run the ball! Get the ball back with a little over 3 minutes left in the game and passes, taking a few seconds off the clock! He almost cost us the game! How do you feel about his clock management?
Thomas Denny, Florence, MA
A: I think he's just going with what he feels he can win with. Against that team, he didn't feel he could sit on the lead by running out the clock. I'm not sure you can disagree with him.
The Colts game was one of the few I have been able to watch this season (don't have cable). A question about the running game, which was weak again: it seems that the best running teams consistently run the ball and wear down the defense. Yet it seems that the Patriots do not really give their running game a chance to get established. Do they give up on the run too early or do the Colts just have an unusually strong run defense? Their lack of confidence in the run demonstrated by their last possession of the game is worrisome for the playoffs.
David H., South Bend, Ind.
A: I hear this over and over again. Logic tells you if you can't run down the stretch, you're not going to win tough games. But with this team, throw out all the logic. They find a way to win. Until it bites them, it's hard to say they can't win without a running game.
Hi, Nick. If you compare and analyze the Pats season to the Bills at this juncture, both teams are very similar in all respects except one, the coach. Both teams have an All-Pro at QB, tough defenses, and have been hit with injuries to their offenses, but one is 10-2 and the other 5-7. If you break it down by common opponents played so far by each team, the Bills are 3-6 and the Pats are 7-2. The other teams not in common the Bills are 2-1 (only loss to KC) and Pats are 3-0. To further break it down, the swing games were Dallas, Houston and Indy. All three games were decided in the final minute for both the Pats and Bills, but the Bills came up on the short end 0-3 and the Pats won each 3-0. Each of the Bills losses in these games came down to the Bills inability to hold the opponent in the fourth quarter. If the Bills had won two of those three and the Patriots lost to, the Pats would be 8-4 and the Bills would be 7-5. I have been a life long Pats fan and never have been a Belichick fan, but I grudgingly have to give him credit. If for some reason Kraft was insane and had Gregg Williams as coach, the Pats would be looking for a new coach again. By my estimation, Belichick is a plus-3 in wins each year where Williams is a negative-3. If Buffalo had hired either John Fox or Marvin Lewis, Buffalo might be 8-4 right now. My question is this, will the Red Sox ever realize this and hire a manager who can win the games we should have lost? With the exception of Dick Williams, have the Red Sox ever had a manager that could manage a game correctly? P.S. If Brady's backup in 2001's Pittsburgh game was Zolak instead of Drew, we still be looking for our first Super Bowl win. People forget about the year we had to play Zolak in the playoffs when Drew's finger was mangled.
John McDonald, Fort Myers, Fla.
A: Great points. Unfortunately, people forget a lot of things about Patriots history. I chose to remember it.
Hi, Nick. What play do you think was Willie McGinest's best play? Was it the last play of the game where he was able to contain James or was it the "injury" which allowed the defense to re-compose themselves? BTW, I say keep up the ribbing of the mailbag writers attempting to bash you. I usually find your responses hilarious! Also WBZ transmits HD over normal airwaves, it comes in great on my HD receiver.
Dave Cole, Middlleboro
A: As Pete Carroll told me this week, the stop on James was as good as it gets.
Nick, I am not sure you can answer this but I would love to know any info you can provide. Why isn't Michael Holly's book on the 2001-02 Patriots being published? I did email him but got no reply.
Jack Sheehan, Boston
A: Jack, I've asked Mike once or twice about it. I don't believe he has a publisher at the moment. I think it would be very interesting. Maybe if the Patriots get to or win the Super Bowl again, it might resurface.
(Editor's note: Michael is waiting to see how the season plays out before his book hits the shelves.)
Nick, It seems every week after a big Patriots win there are people who are looking to re-watch the game. If you get any such e-mails, you can provide them with my e-mail address as I was able to tape the complete game and would be more than willing to provide a copy for any fan in need. Thanks.
Patrick Flynn, Hadley
A: Thanks, Patrick.
Nick, Did anyone mention how Mike Vrabel took his helmet off celebrating the last goal line stand? With time still left on the clock that could have been disastrous.
Brian Z., Arlington
A: Right, Brian. Should have been called a penalty, but as the head of officials pointed out, the Patriots would still have had possession and the penalty would have been half-the-distance, so it didn't matter.
I have always felt that Willie McGinest would have been a perennial All-Pro if left at outside linebacker. Instead, a succession of coaches have wasted his potential by using him as an undersized defensive end. I offer as evidence his resurgence this year and the big plays he has contributed the last couple of weeks from the OLB position. What do you think?
David Wight, Poland Spring, Maine
A: I really think Willie would have been an All-Pro if he had not had so many injuries. Don't forget that he also plays defensive end in this defense and outside linebacker. I thought his best role was in Pete Carroll's defense when he was the "elephant" where he could roam and make plays. But he wound up getting hurt.
Does Belichick have the title of General manager? I think Scott Pioli is VP of player personnel and they operate in conjunction. What is the ultimate difference in their roles and who has final say on the draft, contracts, cap management, etc.?
Scott Cooley, Centerport, N.Y.
A: Scott, he doesn't have the title, but that's what he is. Belichick has final say in everything on personnel. Cap management is Andy Wasynczuk's area, and Andy is probably the most powerful person in the organization because he controls the money and he makes money for the Krafts.
Hi, Nick. Any inside scoop on the three downs after the interception in the third quarter, where they aired the ball three times and forced all those last-minute heroics. What if McGinest or Law were forced out due to a real injury, for the game or for the season? I found Belichick's explanation in the Fifth Quarter pretty dumb - that Indy offense is explosive enough to score two touchdowns in three minutes of game time. Burning the clock and adding maybe three more points on the board is anyway better than three downs in 30 seconds. Was it some display of overconfident machismo out there?
Ram Krishnan, Nashua, N.H.
A: Ram, I think it just comes down to the fact they don't think they can run the ball effectively, or couldn't against the Colts.
Hi, Nick. This week's game against Indy was a classic, and it makes you proud to be a Patriot fan. They never quit. My question for you is this: I was a little surprised that Indy went for the field goal instead of going for the touchdown with about three minutes left in the fourth quarter; I realize the game is far from over (especially with their offense), but I looked at this way: if they attempt the touchdown and make it, they are tied (with the extra point given). If they attempt the touchdown and miss, then they still have three minutes left. Instead, they took the three points and ended up still needing to score a touchdown at the end of the game (exactly where they were if they had tried previously and failed). Did you think this was a good call? Usually coaching dictates to "take the points," but doesn't coaching also say "at home, go for the tie?" I think Dungy made a bad move on this call, and it hurt their chances of pulling out the win. I believe Phil Simms implied that they should have gone for the touchdown as well. Your thoughts? Thanks, and have a great week!
Todd Harrison, Boston
A: I've gone back and forth on this, but I think in hindsight they made the right call. Their offense was moving at will. There was no reason to believe they couldn't kick the three and then march right back down the field, which they did. A few of my colleagues, Michael Smith and Ron Borges, were commenting on this as it happened, and I feel on the side of kick the field goal.
The CFL season is over. Why can't the Pats get a punter from the great white north who is ready to go (having just played a season) and better than Walter?
Steve Schillinger, Seattle, Wash.
A: I believe there are rules in place that prevent it, especially if the player has a multi-year contract in the CFL.
Nick, How could the Colts have such success against the Patriots in the second half? In analysis of the films, what conclusion will the Patriots coaching staff come up with in your opinion: offensive line adjustments by Indy, pass route adjustments by Indy, or the Patriots putting more players in coverage and fewer pressuring the QB? Or something else? It was pretty out of control there for a stretch.
Ronald Byrne, Jericho, Vt.
A: As Brady explained, the Colts were undercutting their pass routes. Basically they'd step in where there weren't stepping in the first half. The Colts coaching staff made some nice adjustments, which is rare against the Patriots.
Long time no contact my friend. I hope you and your's are well. I haven't been "sacked" as you wondered to a writer from the good state of Ohio in last week's mailbag, but when I saw him refer to me as the "Drewfardo guy" I felt kinda bad about my name-calling. That is until I saw your license plate the other day (DRWFRDO) and I realized I was on target. All kidding aside, Nick, I'm sitting here the day after the Patriots' huge win over the Colts and I'm praying we face them in the playoffs. Talk about having another team's number? There's just one major chink in the Pats' armor though and it's not their running game. I'm convinced that Brady has one of those subconscious, mental problems that is keeping him from being the best QB in the league. He doesn't just throw INTs, he gives the ball to the other team. Weird. He wasn't even under tremendous pressure on two of those picks (one that should have been picked but was dropped). The throws are so bad I wonder out loud sometimes if he might be betting against his own team. Those throws yesterday, and others he's made in the past, are downright high-schoolish. Still, he's a level above cement-shoes Bledsoe and that band of hapless Bills. As bad as I felt after the Bills crushed the Pats on opening day, I take solace in knowing that they and their fans are feeling even worse about their whole stinking, miserable season. My question is this, Nick: Do you sometimes wonder if Brady is only a short four- or five-years away from being discussed as a Hall of Fame candidate? I mean, assuming no scandal breaks regarding him and gamblers in Las Vegas of course?
Paul DeSalvo, Derry, N.H.
A: Paul, I have no idea. He's an excellent clutch QB. He's won one Super Bowl. I suppose if he goes down this path he has a chance. When I look at the Patriots team, the one guy I see as a future Hall of Famer is Richard Seymour. The others, like Brady, are a little fuzzy for me. How about Ty Law? There's another guy who before it's over might have a chance. So much of the Hall of Fame voting is based on stats for offensive players. So let's see where Brady ranks with the best when his time has come. He will likely have intangible things going for him.
Hi, Nick, Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving. I have a question and a comment. Since the offensive coordinator can talk to the QB, cant he shout "throw" when a defender is perilously close to stripping the ball? Now to my comment. The 2001-2002 season Super Bowl venue: New Orleans. Regular season: Pats win at New Orleans Pats win Super Bowl. 2002-2003 Season Super Bowl Venue: San Diego. Regular season: Pats lose at San Diego and fail to make playoffs. 2003-2004 season Super Bowl venue: Houston. Regular season: Pats win at Houston. Fill in the blanks, Nick. Thanks.
A: Pretty good alignment there. Super Bowl is a possibility, no doubt about it. Sure, the OC can shout that out, but everybody else is shouting things, too. Hard to pick that up in the heat of the moment.
Nick, I am really concerned about our RB situation going into the playoffs. Antowain Smith was deactivated for the Colts game, Faulk has shown flashes of brilliance but also for big fumbles, and I haven't seen enough of Mike Cloud to see him as the solution to our problems. A running game is essential in playoff football. What do you see Belichick/Weiss doing to address this problem right now?
Alvin Lin, Cambridge
A: Well, again, conventional wisdom is they need a running game in the final month and into the playoffs. But is that really true? They can with defense, their short passing game and if Bethel Johnson gives them that kind of field position. I hear what you're saying, but they're 10-2 with limited help from the backs.
Nick: I'm not sure why readers give you so much grief. It seems to me that you are safeguarding everyone's first amendment rights (which, if you consider yourself a blogger, is rare). I'm always reading critics, and now people are on your back for a little sarcasm and pushing back on Patrick, who criticized you for not being omniscient with your preseason predictions. I guess you take the Patriot Nation, with all our hangups, for what we are, and it doesn't seem like you censor opposing or demeaning posts. Pretty classy. Maybe you'll help make up for the results of declining education standards. My questions are related to the injury outlook: 1. Where are we most vulnerable? Is it at WR, QB, or some other spot? There seems to be depth on both sides of the line and the rest of defense, especially with the huge contribution by the rookie class. I know Vinatieri is a key part of the package, but injury risk to kicker is usually low enough to discount. 2. How has playing through team injuries enhanced the team's confidence, with the playoffs just around the corner?
Timothy Tien, New York, N.Y.
A: I'd say the Pats are vulnerable at RB, and while the rookie class has done a fine job overall, we're beginning to see some cracks in the games of eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel. Obviously, punter. Even with the new guy, Brooks Bernard, the guy has never kicked in the NFL. He may be the next Ray Guy, but for now you'd have to consider that a question mark. As for your second question, I believe the team confidence went sky high when they knew as a team, that they could overcome big injuries that would have done in most teams.
Did or did not J.J. Stokes have that touchdown against the Colts, and will he eventually get credit for it?
Chris Baker, Harpswell, Maine
A: He definitely had it, but it was ruled incomplete and Belichick didn't challenge it. No, he'll never get credit.
Hi, Nick. One statement and one question. How great is the Internet and DirecTV in order to follow your favorite football team. I can't imagine life without either one. Now my for my question. Since you know Scott Pioli better then anyone else I know, I assume Kraft will pay him top dollar for the work he has done the last few years. I also assume several teams out there will also like him to head up their football operations and are willing to pay him accordingly. Taking the pay out of the equation, do you believe Scott would be willing to leave the organization for a new opportunity or does he feel he is part of a good thing and is willing to stay a Patriot as long as he can?
Mike, Charlotte, N.C.
A: Scott was given a new contract last year in which he's paid in the $500-$600,000 range. I don't know if Scott would leave Bill Belichick. It's not something I've ever heard. I've also never heard of another team being interested (unless he goes to Dallas to work for his father-in-law). Maybe that will change after this season, but after they won the Super Bowl there were a few GM openings and I don't believe he was contacted.
Hey, Nick. Why don't all the teams wear their throwback uniforms on Thanksgiving weekend instead of just the ones that play on Thursday?
Les Stevens, Roscoe, Ill.
A: I have no idea how that's done. I will say, I miss the Patriots throwback uniforms. That's the uniform I grew up with.
Nick, I always enjoy your rational answers to peoples emotional questions/statements. I watched the post-game wrap up last night for several hours, plus got up early to read lots of press on the Pats, a 10-2 record will do that to a person. All I heard and read was how good the Pats are. I hope we don't see any more e-mails about the Pats not getting respect. One question, do you think Poole has a shot at making the Pro Bowl? He has been great this year.
Rich Rollins, Houston, Texas
A: I just mentioned the same thing to Tyrone the other day. I think he's worthy of it, but I think Ty Law will get it over him, and I doubt they would pick both of them.
As to the Patriots needs next year, is Faulk likely to stay as the starting tailback, or is a RB a top draft priority? If so, what are the chances they'll take a good look at Kevin Jones out of Virginia Tech? He has had some huge games, and looks like he might declare for the draft.
Matt "Doc" Martin, Lebanon, N.H.
A: Faulk's contract is up. I think he's a guy they would want to keep even if he's not the starter. But I also think they will use a high pick on a RB. I can't comment on what they might be interested in because at this juncture, any of their thoughts on these guys would be way premature and they change their mind on players 10 times before the draft, anyway.
Nick, Last year, many opponents ran reverses and fake reverses against the Pats defense in order to muffle some of the defensive aggressiveness. The Pats have, obviously, eliminated this weakness. How did they do it?
Joe Clancy, Los Gatos, Calif.
A: I think overall team speed on defense is much better than it was a year ago. I think that has everything to do with it. They also have more depth and their secondary is faster.
The time is here for thinking about the Super Bowl and SB tickets. The Krafts have been outstanding in every phase of running this franchise and I applaud them for that. The only beef I have with them is there system of SB ticket distribution. I have been a season ticket holder for 21 years. Briefly here's how it works. My 21 years times two tickets equals 42 entries in the "raffle." Much more than someone who has only had two tickets for four years (8 entries). However, since there are tens of thousands of those eight entries, my 40 don't stand a chance. I go through this every year with the ticket office. They say it's a fair system, yes for the short term fan. Can you please put a plug in for us veterans? There are not many holders of 20+ years, why not do the lottery after distributing tickets to long-time holders? We are going to Houston and I would love to, and deserve to, go. Thanks Nick, great column!
Frank Horbert, Bellingham
A: This is the type of inquiry the Patriots read and take to heart. I'm sure this will be read by one of the brass and hopefully you'll get a better solution. I feel for you on this one.
Nick, Thanks for the great columns/bag and helping us transplanted Bostonians keep in touch with this exciting team. Help from your London readers: is there any place besides the Sports Cafe on Haymarket to catch these games on TV? Cannot believe they showed the Rams/Vikes on Sunday. I'm still upset we watched that drivel instead of big No. 55 driving the edge into the turf with time running out. Thanks, Nick.
Mort Bank, London, England
A: Please help Mort.
Nick, I enjoy your remarks and have two quick questions for you. First, are we ever going to see our Pro Bowl center Damien Woody play center again or has he been moved to guard permanently since Dan Koppen has been holding down the center position so well? The second question is also about the offensive line. The Pats seem to lack the push up front to generate a good running game. Do you think offensive line will be a priority for the team in the next draft or is the organization content with what they have in place? Thank you.
Brad Held, Needham
A: I think Damien will play guard unless Koppen gets hurt or is ineffective. Woody's contract is up, so let's see where that takes him. I think he's perfectly happy at guard for the time being.
Nick, Is the reason that Bethel Johnson is not returning punts a durability issue for the Pats? Is the coaching staff worried that he is not ready to take the pounding that most PR's get? I think he's a great weapon back there and would really help with field position, ala Dante Hall with the Chiefs.
Mark Orlando, Gloucester
A: Mark, I think he'll eventually have that role. I think there's still a little bit of a thing where the coaches don't want him to bite off a little more than he can chew. There are concerns about handling the ball, too, which as time passes, he'll prove that he has good hands and he can be trusted back there.
Nick, I have two questions, one football and one baseball. The second one can be answered with a simple yes or no. The first question is a Patriot draft question. All seems to be falling into place for the Pats (except the punter) but I believe an above average RB could make this team dangerous for years to come. With so many picks in next years draft, do you think the Pats should package them up and try to take a blue chip RB prospect or take a more shotgun approach, keep all their picks and draft RBs in the first, third and fifth rounds. It seems as many RB taken in the first round fail as succeed and that many RBs drafted in the later rounds have great careers. Wouldn't using several picks on RBs be a better idea than trading multiple picks on a high first rounder you'll have to pay the big bucks to? Second question: With the Sox getting Schilling and signing him to an extension, does he still have a no-trade clause in his contract?
A: The Patriots have a lot of picks and they like to wheel and deal on draft day. My guess, and it's strictly a guess, that they'll package some of those picks to move up. Don't forget, their first-round pick will be toward the end of the first round and Baltimore's won't be that high either. They might try to package a first and one of their seconds to move up in the middle of the first round to take a running back, or the best player available. On Schilling, I don't believe a no-trade was included in the deal.
Hi, Nick. Willie McGinest certainly made a great play, but no one seems to be talking about Ted Washington on that last play. When I see it being replayed (and replayed and replayed), I see big Ted on the bottom of the pile, holding Edgerrin's legs and keeping him from bouncing to the outside. Anyone else seeing this?
John, Scarborough, Maine
A: Absolutely. Not only Ted, but Seymour as well. They got underneath James and Willie slid in untouched and finished him off.
Hey, Nick. What's the deal with coach Belichick during his press conferences after the game? Does he chug a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi in the locker room before walking to the mic stand to take questions? Every week its like the Belichick bodily function hour. It's high comedy! My other point is this (and a little more serious of course). There is still some reluctance by some "media" people to take the Patriots seriously isn't there? Am I wrong on this? Stuart Scott even recently said that his top playoff teams would be the Chiefs, Titans, Eagles, and then maybe the Bengals. What is he thinking? Is 10-2 not good enough? Now I know not all of them are going to pick the Pats, I just think it's interesting to see how the national media coverage develops around certain teams. Some people have been consistently on the Pats side while others haven't. Finally, any word on how Milloy feels right now? I am not trying to rub anything in his face at all, Lawyer was really respected and liked down here (even after his classless comments about the Pats after game). I am just curious to find out how he feels now since it looks like that $600K difference in pay got him on a team with no shot at the playoffs rather than on a team with a serious shot for the title? It's human nature to second guess decisions, I wonder if pro-players fall victim to it as well? Especially if it's true that winning (and not money) is the most important thing. As always great mailbag. Lets wrap up the division this week against Miami. Go Pats!
A: The national media is reluctantly coming around. You have to understand, if you're looking at the Patriots from a different vantage point than we are, there's nothing that strikes you as being "outstanding" about this team. They rank No. 1 in intangibles and intangibles can't be measured. The national audience doesn't see their ability to win games against all the odds. They don't see the little clock inside their heads which tells them, 'OK, it's time to make a play and win the game.' We see it, but don't blame the national audience for not knowing what we know. As for Lawyer, I doubt very much he's unhappy. He knew his time was up here. He knew the coach felt that his skills were diminishing and no longer fit the direction the Patriots were going in. Milloy has won a Super Bowl and also been in the losing end of one. He's made three Pro Bowls. He's had a very fulfilling career. So this year the Bills were lousy. How do we know they'll be lousy next year? The Bills certainly have a very good defense. This offseason, they have to address the offense and possible the coaching staff.
Hi, Nick. I believe that Antowain Smith will be a factor down the stretch here. I look for him to have a big game against Miami this week. He hasn't done much up to this point but in the cold weather and late in the year are when it seems he does his best. Do you think that Charlie plans to use him more than just short yardage situations this week?
Rich Premerlani, Boston
A: I don't think the backs, any of them, ever have a big role. I mean, there have ben games where Faulk has been excellent and a game or two when Cloud has had some big runs, but this team doesn't feature its backs. Smith may be useful on a slow field like Gillette in bad weather because he knows how to play in that stuff.
If the Pats clinch the division by beating Miami on Sunday, would you expect that Belichick will start resting the nicked up starters and playing more second and third string players to give the team a better chance in the playoffs? Or even perhaps use the remaining games to concentrate on parts of the Pats' play that isn't working well such as the running game?
Chris Smith, Worcester
A: I don't think Bill would do that, probably not the extent that you're talking about.