Do Pats have Jagged edge?
FOXBOROUGH No one topic stands out in this weeks Patriots mailbag.
Doug Fluties drop kick drew some response, with some wondering if that might be the last play of his career. There was also some chatter about playing starters on special teams, with a focus on Tedy Bruschi.
Some fans were curious about whether the Patriots, with a win over the Jaguars, would automatically play the Colts in the next round. Thats not the case. If the No. 6 Steelers beat the No. 3 Bengals, the Steelers would travel to No. 1 Indianapolis and the winner of the Patriots-Jaguars game would visit No. 2 Denver.
Surprisingly, there wasnt much talk about the Jaguars. This is a solid team. They dont turn the ball over (6 interceptions, fewest in the league), can get after the quarterback (47 sacks; tied for 3rd in the NFL) and are solid on third downs defensively (holding opponents to 32.7 percent conversions; No. 3 in NFL). My sense is that this team is being underestimated by some fans in New England, a result of Jacksonville not playing many national games and having few known stars.
Prediction: The Patriots will limit the Jaguars running game, forcing Byron Leftwich or David Garrard to beat them in the air. Final score: Patriots 21, Jaguars 16.
Saturday nights game will feature three of the biggest running backs in the NFL. The Patriots Corey Dillon, at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, is tough to bring down. The Jaguars counter with Fred Taylor (6-1, 234) and Greg Jones (6-1, 250).
Well lead off this weeks mailbag with a focus on Dillon.
I'm concerned with the health of Dillon. He appeared to have re-injured his calf on that second TD run against New York and did not return, and also didnt play against the Dolphins. With the running game starting to show some positive signs this would be a big blow if he's not healthy going into the playoffs. Can you provide some quick insight?
Jason Powell, East Greenwich, RI
A: Dillon walked through the locker room last week and stretched and jogged with the team at Fridays practice, so I dont think its anything too severe. I would expect him to be out there Saturday against Jacksonville.
Bill Belichick often talks about how the offense and defense compliment each other in terms of how each one performs. With that in mind, I would be interested to see the numbers for the defense in the games where Corey Dillon had 15 carries or more. It would be interesting to see what impact having a decent running game and being able to convert third downs has on the numbers for the defense.
Bob G., Merrimack NH
A: Not including the Miami game on Nov. 13 in which he was in for one play, Dillon played in 11 of the teams 16 contests this season. Of those 11 games, Dillon had more than 15 carries in eight of them. The team was 8-0. Dillon had less than 15 carries in three games -- against Carolina, San Diego and Indianapolis. The team lost each of those games.
For a good percentage of the year Corey Dillon has been nicked and has not looked like the back of last year. However, since his return he still appears tentative, and not running with the determination that he did last year. Could it be that he is not the same back as last year, or is it that the offensive line is not dominating enough in the running game? A different outlook could also be that, now that he has his ring and a hefty contract there is not the need to "bring the pain" anymore?
Wayne A. Derby, Bethlehem NH
A: Looking at Dillons contract, he received a $3 million signing bonus and a $1 million salary in 2005. He is due another $3 million bonus, in addition to a base salary of $3 million, in 2006. So the idea of getting a hefty contract and shutting it down doesnt fly. I can think of 6 million reasons for him to bring the pain. I believe Dillon is banged up physically and that the offensive line has struggled to consistently open up holes in the running game. Add it together and thats why Dillon has produced the second lowest rushing output of his nine-year career (209 carries for 733 yards).
In your opinion, who are the offensive and defensive MVP's of the Patriots during the regular season? Who do you think has been the most valuable rookie during the regular season? Do you feel that the Patriots would have a better chance in the AFC Championship game if it were in Denver or Indy? Finally, how big an underdog do you think we will be in Indy? In Denver?
Bradley Fuller, Birdsboro, PA
A: Offensive MVP should be unanimous: Tom Brady. Terrific season. The defensive MVP could spark some debate, but the choice here is all-everything linebacker Mike Vrabel. The most valuable rookie award would be the tightest race, because Logan Mankins started all 16 games at left guard, Nick Kaczur filled in admirably at left tackle (11 starts) and Ellis Hobbs emerged at cornerback. Id have to go with Hobbs in a close one. I think the Patriots would have a better chance if the AFC Championship Game was in Denver than Indianapolis. I see the Patriots as 10-point underdogs in Indianapolis and 7-point dogs in Denver.
Jacksonvilles Deon Grant says: "We can go up there and shut a lot of people's mouths. We go up there and be focused and play our game, we'll come out and take care of them boys." Not that the Pats need it, but isn't this just the type of statement that will motivate New England even more? Also, I'm sure the Pats will show Jacksonville the type of respect they deserve.
Jim Curley, Seminole Fl.
A: From afar, my feeling is that Jacksonville probably feels a bit disrespected because of some of the media reports from this area. Playoff talk has been a hot topic for a few weeks here and it seemed many in the media (me included) felt the Patriots were better off facing Jacksonville due to their unsettled quarterback situation in the first round. So I think Grants comments were directed more at the media than the Patriots.
Do you think the Jags are a little too confident? I saw an article where Jimmy Smith predicted a victory over the Pats, saying, "When we beat New England, that says it all." Do you think the Patriots see these quotes and use them not only as extra motivation, but also to understand their opponent's mindset going into the game?
Laura Wareck, Somerville, MA
A: Im not around the Jaguars so its hard for me to say, but it appears they feel disrespected. In an Associated Press article from Monday, Jaguars running back Fred Taylor said: We dont get the type of credit we deserve. Everybody wanted us [as an opponent in the playoffs]. Regardless of who is saying what, Im not a big believer that this stuff leads to top-notch performance on the field.
How much do you think weather conditions will play a factor in this game, since Jacksonville is a warm weather team?
Mark Ingerson, Salem, Virginia
A: The Jaguars might play in warm weather Jacksonville, but they do play a physical style often associated with cold weather teams. Also, Jacksonville has won in cold environments before they earned a 28-25 victory over Green Bay on Dec. 19, 2004 at Lambeau Field (temperature 12 degrees, minus-3 wind chill at kickoff). If they were a dome team that relies more on passing, maybe the weather might be more of a factor. The long-range forecast calls for highs in the low 30s and lows in the lows 20s.
Any insider information on the health status of the following players? I read the injury reports daily, just hoping you have a little more. Graham. Bruschi. Dillon. Wright
Marty Cormier, Chatham, Ontario
A: Grahams shoulder has been nagging him for much of the year and I believe the Patriots sat him out as a precaution the last two weeks. My expectation is that hell play. Also think Bruschi and Dillon, both of whom jogged and stretched with the team on Friday, will play. Not so sure on Wright, who injured his leg on Sunday against the Dolphins.
What are the playoff win-loss statistics on playoff-bound teams winning or losing in the final week of the regular season? I'm of the opinion that it helps to go into the playoffs with momentum and that it's better to win that last week of the regular season, but do the stats back this up?
Scott McCandless, Alexandria, VA
A: There are a lot of ways to measure this. Due to a time restrictions, I took the last 10 Super Bowl champions -- Patriots (3 times 2003-04, 2001), Buccaneers (2002), Ravens (2000), Rams (1999), Broncos (2 times 1997-98), Packers (1996) and Cowboys (1995) to see how they fared in their final regular-season game. The teams were 9-1, with the Rams the only champ to lose their regular-season finale, against the Eagles. So using that stat, it sounds like you might have something here.
Is Steve Grogan still affiliated with the team, and if so in what role?
James Jarvis, West Point, Utah
A: Grogan, 52, was present for Sundays ceremony that honored the Patriots 1985 AFC Championship team. He still lives in the area and is the longtime owner of a sporting goods store in nearby Mansfield, Mass. He doesnt hold an official position in the Patriots organization.
I really enjoyed your blog entry on the complete list of the '85 Pats players that came back for the reunion on 1/1/06. However, there were three important players from that team that weren't there: RB Craig James (#32), RB Tony Collins (#33) and LB Don Blackmon (#55). Do you know why they weren't in attendance?
Mark Miller, Waltham, MA
A: Blackmon is the linebackers coach of the Buffalo Bills and the team had its season finale that day against the Jets. According to Patriots Executive Director of Media Relations Stacey James, the team couldnt get in touch with Tony Collins. He is a player with whom members of the team have lost touch. Craig James, meanwhile, had a work commitment.
With almost 50 former players and coaches making the effort to return for honoring the 1985 Patriots AFC Championship team, Tony Eason was conspicuous by his absence this Sunday. That was a special time in Patriots history and Tony was a big part of it. Do you know why he did not show up and what he is doing these days?
Rob Grasso, Walpole, MA
A: According to executive director of media relations Stacey James, when the Patriots contacted Eason, he said he would be available to attend. But he later cancelled, leading the team to believe he had a conflict in his schedule.
It is quite apparent that Flutie and Bill Belichick have a special relationship. Do you think that Belichick would have given anyone but his good friend Doug (Flutie) a chance to have some fun in a real game situation? And in '41, wasn't the ball much rounder making Flutie's drop kick in this day of the aerodynamic ball an almost impossible achievement? Also, what's up with Belichick smiling in a game and giving a very hard working kid (Bam Childress) a shot at playing in a real game? Is he mellowing and actually showing fans he does have a human side?
Otis, Boston, MA
A: Belichick has a great appreciation for the history of football and he is respectful of Fluties contributions to the game. This was part of his comments after the game: I think Doug deserves it. He is a guy that adds a lot to this game of football, has added a lot through his great career, running, passing and now kicking. I am happy for him. Belichick also said exactly what you mentioned, that the shape of the ball makes it harder to execute the drop kick today. As for Belichick mellowing by playing Bam Childress, I think thats stretching things. The Patriots were thin on defensive backs (Hank Poteat and Ellis Hobbs were the only cornerbacks) and Childress could at least line up there and be somewhat competitive.
I understand that Bill Belichick is a football historian and that the whole team got a big kick (bad pun) out of Doug Flutie's drop kick on Sunday. But, as I'm watching it happen, I'm thinking "what's the point - it's only 1 point - we really could have used two". It was nice to see Bill Belichick smiling wide (he usually reserves that for Super Bowl wins), but I found it a little disconcerting and hard to take that Belichick had obviously decided that winning the game was either unimportant or undesired. I agree that Jacksonville was probably the better matchup for the Pats, and that resting the starters was the smart thing to do, but once the Pats still had a chance to win the game, it appeared to me that Belichick did what he could to lose it. I'm not even sure that it was the wrong thing to do, it just felt wrong and was disappointing. I love Belichick as a coach and a leader, but as a student of the game, I feel a little bit let down.
Scott Fine, Framingham, MA
A: Belichick has been portrayed as an emotion-less coach in many circles, but allowing Flutie to attempt the drop kick and thus giving him the chance to potentially close out his career like no other player in the history of the game was a moment in which he showed a different side of his personality. The play rubbed some folks the wrong way, but I took it more as a tribute to Flutie, a way to send him off in style after a long and distinguished career in the game Belichick in which has devoted much of his life.
I was under the impression that a rule existed in the NFL that required a team to classify their backup QB and emergency QB prior to each game, and once the emergency QB entered the game the starter and backup could not return to action. Obviously I must be mistaken, because once Flutie entered the game to kick the extra point to make the score 25-20, Cassel returned to action on the next offensive series. Could you clarify this for me?
Jim Maloney, Lynnfield, MA
A: The emergency/third quarterback can enter the game in the fourth quarter (as Flutie did), and that doesnt have an impact on the other quarterbacks. If an emergency/third quarterback enters the game in the first, second or third quarter, the first- or second-string quarterbacks cant re-enter the game at any time.
Did Troy Brown get to play against the Dolphins? I didn't see him and thought he should have had a chance of breaking the 6,000-yard mark for his career. Also, do you think that Bill Belichick should have gone for the win by playing his starters longer, or that it was better to have a well rested team for the long playoff road ahead. Under the right circumstances, the Pats could have had at least one, if not two more playoff games at home, but he chose the "safe" route. Again playing not to lose rather than to win which in my book, like the "prevent defense" is a very bad strategy.
Otis, Boston, MA
A: Brown played sparingly but didnt finish with a catch. He is stuck on 5,982 career yards. As for the Patriots strategy with personnel in the season finale, the team will be playing three games in 13 days (Dec. 26, Jan. 1, Jan. 7), and given the physical nature of the game, I dont think thats an ideal setup for a team hoping to make a Super Bowl run. For the Patriots to advance to the Bowl, they will have to win three games (likely 2 on the road) so I think pulling back in the finale was the right decision. The Jaguars essentially did the same thing.
During the first quarter of the Miami game, Ricky Williams ran around the right side and was pushed out of bounds. A face mask was called on one of the Patriots on the play. Why did the clock continue to run? Williams was out of bounds.
Scott Tracey, Sandwich
A: The play was a 7-yard run by Williams and a 5-yard facemask penalty on Hank Poteat. A similar question was printed in Sundays Boston Globe, in the Ask the Reporter feature. The NFL changed its rules in 1990. With the exception of the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half, the game clock restarts on the referees signal after a player goes out of bounds. In college, the clock doesnt start until the next play starts.
Did you ever notice how wide open Troy Brown's eyes are when he is on the field? I think by doing this, a player can take in more of the field, and increases his peripheral vision. Mike Singletary of the Bears was the same way. I think that this has greatly enhanced Brown's career, which is just one more reason that I hope he becomes a Patriots coach when his playing days are over.
Ray Gondola, Tewksbury MA
A: Troy was asked about this aspect of his game in the locker room last week: Its been like that since Ive been in high school. I dont even realize it. I think I see the field pretty good, and maybe thats why. But I never really noticed my eyes until I see pictures. When Im out there playing, Im not really trying to do that.
What has happened to Dan Klecko? I'm not looking to replace Tom Ashworth at fullback, but Klecko being on the inactive list doesn't tell a fan much.
Steve Torbett, Quincy, MA
A: Klecko, a fourth-round draft choice in 2003, has played in 10 games this season. All of his action has come in a reserve role and he was inactive as a healthy scratch for five of the teams final nine games. At 5-foot-11, 275 pounds, Klecko isnt built to be an every-down lineman in the teams 3-4 scheme. The team has used him as a third-down rusher in the past, but that role has fallen to Jarvis Green this season. Klecko also was a short-yardage fullback, a spot currently being filled by Tom Ashworth. So in a lot of ways, Klecko is still searching for the right fit here. He is signed through the 2006 season, although hell face tough competition to make the roster.
My question has to do with signal calling. Of course the quarterback calls signals to get the play started. But when Russ Hochstein was put in to replace Dan Koppen, we were told that the center has to make some calls also. How does that happen? Does one come before the other? They can't both be making calls at the same time. Also, some of the defensive players have to make calls too. A noisy stadium can disrupt the offense's ability to hear the signals; doesn't it disrupt the defense too?
Ken Utting, Jacksonville, FL
A: Quarterback Tom Brady spoke about signal calling in the locker room last week: Its a chain of command. I start something [with a call], and then he follows it up. I identify someone and [Russ] lets everyone else know. [Russ] is the closest guy to me, so he really coordinates whats going on up front. I try to say something and then hell follow it up. Usually he directs his calls to the offensive linemen; my job is to coordinate it with the backfield and receivers. You identify a [defensive] player and everything sorts off around that person. [Depending on who that player is] the protections are different and the runs are different.
I'm curious what is the Colts record at home in playoff games? Of all the AFC teams, they are definitely the one I would least like to play on the road. Based on home playoff records should I be most afraid of them?
Josh Adelson, New York, NY
A: Since their first playoff game in 1958, the Colts are 6-3 in home contests played in the postseason. My suggestion would be to look less at what a teams all-time record is at home, and more at what challenges their current team presents to any visitor. I would agree that the Colts present the greatest challenge to the Patriots on the road, although the Broncos also look to be formidable and are especially tough at home (8-0 this year; outscoring the opposition 209-100).
It seems nobody has mentioned the possibility of the Patriots hosting an AFC Championship game at Gillette if the Patriots do take the third seed. I know it's a long-shot, but what scenario would bring the Pats home for the AFC championship?
John Monuori, Lynn
A: The No. 6 seed (Steelers) would have to win two games (at Cincinnati, at Indianapolis) and the Patriots would have to win two games (vs. Jacksonville, at Denver) for that to happen.
Patriot Nation must cringe every time one of our key starters gets hurt, especially when playing in a different position (blocking fullback, special teams etc). While Bill Belichick says he will use all his players to win games, losing a starter on a play away from their main area of expertise is going to kill you at this time of the year. Surely Monty Beisel or Chad Brown could be out there instead of Tedy Bruschi on a punt. Especially when you want to keep key guys \fresh for the playoff drive. How many other teams are using Pro Bowl defensive players regularly on special teams? Is Belichicks strategy different? Did Parcells do this?
Mark Hanslin, Ridgewood NJ
A: Bill Belichick was asked about this on his weekly radio segment on WEEI last week and said: I think most teams do [use starters]. We certainly see that every week, some of their best players, and theyre hard for us to deal with to block, to tackle or whatever the case might be. Weve seen a lot of impact players in recent weeks involved in plays like that -- [Pro Bowl defensive end Julius] Peppers on the field goal block against Dallas [in Week 16], that was a great play that he just barely missed making or that would have put Carolina into the playoffs. When you have players that are good in certain aspects of the kicking game, you want to utilize their skills on those teams. I think thats pretty much what every team in the league does.
I can completely understand the Patriots philosophy on playing starters on special teams. Field position is paramount in this league and special teams play is a big factor in determining field position. However, you have to draw the line when it comes to certain players especially when the teams depth at their regular position is thin. Tedy Bruschi does not belong on special teams. Richard Seymour does not belong on special teams. These are two examples of players who you have to protect as much as possible because the ramifications of losing them far outweighs the benefits of special teams. Again, I do not disagree with putting the best players in position to make plays but you can't be foolish about it.
KC, New Jersey
A: Your opinion has been echoed by others in this mailbag, KC. My response would be how do you then explain to a player like Mike Vrabel that he needs to play on punt coverage, but Tedy Bruschi doesnt have to? I think Belichick makes those decisions because he doesnt want to create any class divides within the roster that elite players dont play special teams, but the non-elite do.
My question is on playing starters on special teams. I know Belichick says that football players play football, and special teams is a part of that, and that's fine with me. I'd understand that a lot better, though, if the Pats had terrific coverage teams, yet, despite playing starters, the Pats are in the bottom half of the league in both kickoff and punt coverage. So it seems as though playing starters doesn't give any kind of advantage, but you have the downside of a very real danger of injuries (Bruschi's leg, and Eugene Wilson's broken arm in the Super Bowl come to mind). So since playing the starters doesn't seem to help anyways, why not just play the backups like everyone else?
Craig Benson, Silver Spring, MD
A: According to Belichick, the notion that other teams play backups on special teams isnt accurate. The point is a good one, though. One would assume that since starters are playing special teams, those units would be strengthened. But the coverage teams havent been producing at a consistently high level this year. Belichick often says every decision he makes is guided by what is best for the team, so my thought is that he thinks replacing the Bruschis and Vrabels would lead to a further dip with the coverage units.
Mike - Doug Flutie is an unrestricted free agent after this season ends. What do you think will happen with him in the off season?
Lendale Bush, Ashland, MA
A: My sense is that Flutie would play another year if the Patriots want him around. So when the Patriots season ends, hell probably ask Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli about their plans and whether he fits here. If the team says it is going in another direction, I believe Flutie will decide his long, distinguished playing career is over. His final play might be the drop kick.
Do you think that Doug Flutie's reduced role in this past game (named No. 3 QB) and his chance at doing something special (dropkick) signals his last game for the Patriots? Might this signal a "retirement" for him? And if so, what is your feeling that he might contribute in some type of "coaching" role in the future for the Pats?
W.L. Howland, Plaistow, NH
A: In a Patriots mailbag here on Aug. 31, Flutie was asked about possibly joining any NFL coaching staff: Ive seen the job and I dont want it. I know the hours involved, and when Im done playing I want to relax and enjoy myself. Will I coach? I might help out at the high school level somewhere and have fun with kids. I dont know that I want to be in the office 16 hours a day (like an NFL coach). I know I would enjoy parts of it, but I think I would enjoy being around the kids more.
The collective bargaining agreement is kind of slipping through the cracks. Are we going to have a strike? Is there hope that the NFL does not have a MLB disaster? What's the forecast?
Jameson MacDonnell, Elon, NC
A: This is a crucial year for the NFL to resolve this issue. As of earlier this season, NFL owners were divided on a revenue sharing plan, and that was holding up any possible agreement with the NFL Players Association. Until the owners are aligned, things cant move forward. In the end, I think a strike will be avoided, but it might take the legitimate threat of a work stoppage to spark the sides to an agreement.
Peyton Manning has used the quick snap to gain a first down by penalty when a defense has a 12th player slow to get to the sidelines. It seems like an easy, albeit sleazy, way to get a first down. Is it in the Patriots' playbook?
Myron Wolfe, Toronto Ontario
A: Dont know for sure, but I would imagine it is in every NFLs team two-minute or no-huddle packages. One of the ideas of going no-huddle is to not allow the defense to substitute, so the quarterback is supposed to have the ball snapped if he sees a change being made, thus catching the defense unprepared.
My question had more to do with this answer in your last mailbag: "Bill Belichick said the team didnt envision playing Hawkins at safety, but depth concerns, plus Hawkins ability to quickly pick up the defense, led to the switch. He seemed pretty flexible to systematic changes and that seemed to come pretty easy to him." Does the same thing apply to such things as Brady punting the ball on a few occasions, Tom Ashworth at FB/TE, Vrabel at TE, Seymour at FB, Klecko at FB, and so on? It seems like there should be an interesting article there about how the Patriots select and train players for multiple roles.
David Tai, Herndon, VA
A: Belichick has spoken quite a bit about this in the past, how the team is always looking to build flexibility within its roster. Because only 45 players can be active on game day, a player who can perform multiple tasks well is sometimes more valuable than a player who does one thing very well. Bam Childress echoed those thoughts after the season finale against the Dolphins in which he played receiver, defensive back and on special teams. Just like Coach says the more you can do, the better. If I can go out there and play defense or offense or special teams or whatever it is, [anything] just to help this team win.
Heard an old, old recording of an NFL game (Championship, '58) in which the player with the second best all-time name played: Buzz Nutter, center, old Baltimore Colts. But where's Numero Uno? Where oh where did Earthwind Moreland go after doing his best Duane Starks imitation last year?
Pete Clark, York, England
A: Earthwind Moreland has resurfaced with the Georgia Force of the Arena Football League. His agent, Jack Reale, said Moreland has been signed as a defensive specialist. According to the Forces official web site, there are a few familiar names on the teams roster Harvards Carl Morris and former Patriots training camp invitee Jamin Elliot, both of whom are receivers.
Do you agree that the Patriots first-round pick in the 2006 NFL draft should be either Vernon Davis or Mercedes Lewis if the Pats follow their even year tradition of drafting tight ends, like Daniel Graham in 2002 and Benjamin Watson in 2004! Seriously, don't you see the need for high draft picks to be used mainly on offense, with free agent signings concentrated on defense?
Jerie O'Connor, Walkersville MD
A: Id be stunned if the Patriots draft another tight end in the first round of the draft. Its early, but if I had to guess I think theyll lean toward a defensive back or linebacker.
I have a hard time seeing how Bethel Johnson is going to get any reps as a receiver and I haven't been impressed with his work as a kickoff return specialist. Is there any chance he can be converted to corner, a la Troy Brown. He does have good speed and getting beaten deep has been an occasional problem this year?
Paul Lynn, Missoula, MT
A: Johnson has been a disappointment this year no long returns and no breakthrough as a receiver. This being his third year, it makes you wonder if its going to happen for him. As for turning him into a cornerback, there is more to the equation that speed, such as instincts, body control and physicality in tackling. Doesnt seem like Johnson could make that transition to me.
Hello from Tennessee. I have been a Pats fan for over 30 years. My question: All the individual positions on a football team have stats to measure their effective play -- except the offensive line. Why don't the NFL and/or the individual teams come up with a weekly grading system that could be released on the individual o-Line players performance?
A: The coaches have a grading system for offensive linemen, which puts a value on the percentage of properly executed blocks. As a media member, it would be outstanding to have that information available. Evaluating offensive linemen is one of the more difficult aspects of the job.
I'm a Pats fan and I think Brady is a great MVP candidate. I think Manning is a good candidate, but I don't know how anyone can seriously take Manning over Brady. The fact is if any other QB for the Patriots this season they probably would not have made the playoffs. Brady has kept the team together and carried them into the playoffs with leadership and performance. Him leading in passing yards shows this. Are the Patriot players going to be continually ignored by media because they don't worry about personal stats over Ws?
Ken O'Hara, Boston, MA
A: Ive seen quite a few in the media tout Brady as their MVP choice, so I dont think hes being ignored. In the end, I think the award will go to Seattle running back Shaun Alexander, but Brady has been remarkable this year and is a deserving candidate. I do believe hes a more clear cut choice than Manning this year.
I have 2 questions. 1. The Pats continue to lose starters to special teams. As poor as the special teams are playing, why are the Pats holding on to players such as Matt Chatham, Dan Klecko, and Tully Banta-Cain? None have seem to carve out a strong role. 2. What happened with cornerback Lenny Walls and will Pats sign CB Wille Middlebrooks? I think one or both of these guys would be an upgrade -- other than Ellis Hobbs, who is turning out nicely?
Onald Pullen, Dayton, Ohio
A: When the Patriots are going to release a player, its generally done because they feel there is another player who can help them more. That can be applied to any player on the roster, whether its a special teams player on a backup quarterback. As for Lenny Walls, I dont think the Patriots were ever truly interested. His agent did a nice job connecting Walls name to the Patriots when asked about it, creating the perception that the Patriots were interested. As for Middlebrooks, who was in for a workout last week, he might be a candidate to come to training camp next season. The team currently has all of its 53 roster spots filled.
How does one get Super Bowl tickets from the NFL. Not this year, but like next year.
Bill Fennell, Acton, MA
A: A lot of prayer, Bill. Its good that youre getting a head start.
I think the offense is the key to winning the playoffs for the Pats. It will keep the "D" fresh, and give the secondary extra time to prep for the quarterback. Do you agree?
Russell Baker, Chester, VA
A: Maybe Ive listened to one too many Bill Belichick press conferences, because my answer is probably on Page 1 of the oft-repeated Belichick phrases. I dont think its the offense, but a combination of the offense, defense and special teams playing a complementary game. When those three areas are working in concert, the Patriots are a tough team to beat. In the end, though, if forced to pick one area, I would agree its the offense. That unit will need to control the clock.
Now that Coach Belichick has spent time with the media during the past two weeks breaking down film. Do you find that it will make you (and the others present) a better reporter? Will these sessions help you to more accurately report on what is actually taking place on the field?
Gregg Green, Chesterfield, VA
A: There were a few interesting things that I took from the session. On one clip of Lawrence Taylor, it appeared he was being blocked by one man. A reporter asked Belichick why anyone in their right mind would single block Taylor. Belichick reviewed the play and showed how each offensive lineman was blocking his man toward Taylor, so while it appeared to be single-blocking, the whole scheme was geared toward blocking in Taylors direction. The other aspect was how even the greats, like Joe Montana, have weaknesses in their game (i.e. ball security). Now I can see why Tom Brady sometimes gets angry with himself even when he appears to play well, because hes focusing on some of the finer points of the position.
Now the important question. What is the song that is played before the Patriots come out, prior to Crazy Train?
A: The song is "O Fortuna" which is a selection from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff.
Two inquiries: 1. Last week a reader credited Patrick Pass with clutch pass catching on the last drive of New England's first Super Bowl win. It was J.R. Redmond, not Pass, who made those catches. Redmond went to the Raiders, but was cut. Where is he now? 2. Since coming in for Drew Bledsoe in the Jets game in the 2001 season, Tom Brady has not taken a snap for a Pats team that was not in contention for a playoff spot. Even in 2002, the Pats beat the Dolphins in the last game of the regular season and would have won the AFC East had the Jets not defeated the Packers in the late game that afternoon. Did Brady play in any of the 2000 season games after the 5-11 Pats were eliminated from the playoffs?
Bryant Hopkins, Framingham MA
A: Appreciate the heads up on Pass-Redmond. Another reader pointed it out last week he went to Redmonds alma mater, Arizona State and we fixed it later in the day. Redmond was with the Arizona Cardinals in training camp this year and was lost for the season (injured reserve) due to a shoulder injury in late August. On the second part of the question, Brady is listed on the teams stats page for 2000 as being 1-of-3 for 6 yards.
I know we need to continually upgrade for talent and youth-wise for the future. And the linebackers and secondary are in need because of injury. But don't we need to help keep Brady safe with another gifted tackle? This could also help Dillon in the running game, while solidifying the franchise for the future.
Reginald Mendes, Woonsocket RI
A: I believe the Patriots are in excellent shape at this position. Matt Light is signed through 2010, surprising rookie Nick Kaczur through 2009 and Brandon Gorin through 2007. The team could lose Tom Ashworth, who becomes an unrestricted free agent after the season. All told, I dont think this will be a priority area for the Patriots this offseason.
How do the TV stations and the NFL decide who plays when for the wild card weekend. It seems a bit unfair that the Pats will have to play back-to-back short weeks.
A: Those decisions are made with input from the NFL and networks, while also taking into account venue availability.