Perspective on respect
Patriots getting plenty of it around the league
Often times, the mailbag is ready to look ahead to the next game, but this week is a bit different. After the Patriots' riveting win in San Diego, many e-mailers are still interested in dissecting what went down in the upset of the Chargers.
A big topic of discussion has been LaDainian Tomlinson's comments about the Patriots' postgame celebration. We'll touch on that, as well as look ahead to the AFC Championship Game against the Colts (click here to go directly to Pats-Colts questions).
On to the questions ...
My question is simple. Why don't the Patriots get the respect they deserve? After all the "experts" picked San Diego, all I'm hearing is that San Diego choked, the Patriots were handed the game. It was gift wrapped, etc. I'm so sick of this. The Patriots may very well prove to be the greatest football TEAM of all time. Your thoughts?
Dan Antocicco, Webster, NY
A: When it comes to respect, I think the Patriots have an abundance of it from around the league. Assistant coaches and coordinators rave about the Patriots' system and the way the players execute the plan consistently. The coaches I speak with often remind me of how hard it is to win in the NFL, and that the Patriots have bucked the trend. So the "experts" I have had the chance to speak with have spoken with the highest respect regarding the Patriots. What I find interesting is how the Patriots seem to feed off the perceived or real "disrespect" from other teams.
LT showed he's the one with "no class" with his comments about the Patriots' postgame antics. If he doesn't like the Patriots mocking the behavior of Shawne Merriman then he should talk to Shawn Merriman about improving his behavior. Also, Merriman should take his own advice, once he's made a sack he should go back to his own side of the field and act like he's had a sack before. I expect more out of someone that had 17 sacks during the regular season. He's been there before and done that! I think the Chargers are the ones with "no class". What do you think?
A: Im a bit tired of the no-respect and no-class storylines. Id rather talk about what happened on the field, with the Xs and Os. But to answer the question, I thought the Patriots on-field celebration was a bit excessive because it crossed the line from celebrating to taunting, and I also thought Tomlinson took a cheap shot at Bill Belichick with his comments. Like a lot of things Ive experienced this year in the NFL whether it be with contract negotiations or something else -- both sides probably share some of the responsibility on this one.
Did you see the supposed "disrespect" the Pats showed the Chargers at the end of the game? Everyone in the national media is jumping on the Patriots when I haven't seen one piece of footage.
Scott Morgan, Rochester, NY
A: I was at the game, so I didn't see any footage either. But I did see at least one player gesture to the Chargers bench in the form of Shawne Merriman's "Lights Out" dance and a choke sign toward kicker Nate Kaeding after missing the final field goal. I also saw at least one Patriots player stand at midfield and gesture toward the crowd.
Is the whole postgame celebration being blown out of proportion (it's a featured story on the SignOnSanDiego website)? Second, is Todd Sauerbrun a keeper? I thought he did a phenomenal job, field-position-wise -- especially in the first quarter where we were constantly backed up and weathering the storm. Is there a plan for him next season or is Josh Miller's job secure? Thx.
Peter Mihan, Southport, Conn.
A: Yes, I do think it's being blown out of proportion, but I also understand why. When the NFL's most valuable player, LaDainian Tomlinson, says something like that, people listen. He's earned that respect. As for Todd Sauerbrun, his contract expires after the season. I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots bring him back should Josh Miller's shoulder rehabilitation encounter a snag. Otherwise, I don't see both Sauerbrun and Miller back. I think it would be one over the other.
In the stats, Tully Banta-Cain had no tackles, Colvin 1 and Seymour 1, and Wilfork 3 stops. Is the San Diego offensive line that good? This area has been the Pats' strength. Also, Stephen Gostkowski's performance was a welcome relief. Your thoughts?
A: I thought Banta-Cain had a tough time shedding blocks and I felt like the Chargers were going right at him. While the Chargers' offensive line is solid, I also wouldn't overlook that defensive lineman Ty Warren had seven tackles. Overall, I'd say the Chargers' offensive line won the battle of the trenches. As for Gostkowski, he answered the challenge in a big way. The only negative I saw was a kickoff that went out of bounds, giving the Chargers the ball at the 40.
Tully Banta-Cain looked completely overmatched against the run on Sunday. Didn't matter whether it was the fullback or a lineman on him, he couldn't seal the edge. How can the Pats shore up that side since the Colts will most likely follow the Chargers' example? Also, why the heck was Larry Izzo on the goal-line defense? LT made him look like he had lead feet.
Mike Worden, Colorado Springs, Colo.
A: We took note in the press box early in the game that the Chargers seemed to be going at Banta-Cain. I didn't see it as much of an issue of setting the edge as it was shedding blocks. The first play of the game was one example of this, as Banta-Cain locked in with tight end Brandon Manumaleuna and his leverage forced Tomlinson to the right, or back toward the line. Had Banta-Cain or Richard Seymour been able to shed blocks on that play -- or a linebacker come in and fill that gap -- the gain wouldn't have gone for 11 yards. I never really saw Tomlinson get to the edge as much as I saw him speed through gaps that weren't filled by the Patriots, because of the lack of shedding blocks or being late to fill. Tomlinson is obviously a big part of that as well. He's special, better than advertised, and that's saying something. As for Izzo, if I recall, he was also on the goal-line defense in last year's playoff loss to the Broncos. Tomlinson will make a lot of people look like they have lead feet.
What made Marty Schottenheimer make such a foolish challenge on the obvious interception by Marlon McCree?
A: I think Schottenheimer was influenced by quarterback Philip Rivers, who raced to the sideline and seemed to tell Schottenheimer to throw the challenge flag. Here was what Schottenheimer said after the game: "The magnitude of that particular play was such that I felt that challenge was worth it. And you know, I think both teams ended up with -- we were both low on timeouts at the end. We had none and they had none. As a matter of fact, they used theirs as it turned out. I don't think they were material to the outcome."
While I don't remember thinking it in the game, in hindsight it almost seemed like San Diego was more concerned with trying to run New England out of the building and put up an impressive game than just winning and moving on. As a result, as good as they are (and they seemed pretty good to me), they didn't seem to play very smart or disciplined throughout the game. Curious about your take on that. Do you think maybe they lost the forest through the trees on this one?
Rick Delello, Lansdale, Pa.
A: Absolutely agree that they didn't play very smart (e.g. burning timeouts) or disciplined (e.g. costly personal fouls). I also thought the Patriots won in more key situations, relying on their trademark situational football. While the Chargers might have had the more impressive individual players at a majority of positions, I thought the Patriots ultimately played the better team game because of their ability to create turnovers (4), keep their cool, and come through in key situations.
Sure, the final two minutes of the first half and the final seven minutes of the game provided great Brady-led offense, accounting for 18 of the 24 Patriot points, but it seems way too little attention is given to the defense. I haven't seen time of possession, but it sure looked like the Chargers had far, far too many opportunities on the field. What's your take on that being the real key to the game through playing a bend, not break, game that made it possible to win.
Jack, Bangor, Maine
A: The time of possession was 30:54 for the Chargers, and 29:06 for the Patriots. As for how the Patriots pulled it out, I think it comes back to coming through in those key situations and taking advantage of those four turnovers. Sometimes that can be enough.
What is the injury situation from Sunday? Did anyone look like they might not be able to go against Indy?
Jim Curley, Seminole, Fla.
A: As is often the case, a few players were banged up (e.g. Ellis Hobbs) and continue to play in pain (e.g. Mike Vrabel), but I didn't see anything that would stop a player from playing on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.
On the first San Diego drive, it appeared the San Diego receiver (Eric Parker) caught the ball, came down with both feet, started to turn, and then the ball came loose. Looked like a fumble to all of us watching, a huge early momentum change. It was ruled an incomplete pass. What did you think? Why weren't there more replays? Why no challenge by the Pats?
Steve L., Portland, Maine
A: Watching the game live, I thought it was a fumble. In watching the game a second time on TV, I saw one replay and CBS play by play man Jim Nantz explained that Parker didn't make a football move, which would be necessary for him to have possession. The refereeing crew ruled it incomplete and that can't be challenged.
I know Chad Jackson has been plagued by injuries in the first part of the season, but I thought he would contribute more this year. I'm surprised he didn't even play one snap against the Chargers. Do you feel he'll bounce back next year?
Bobby Braun, Orlando, Fla.
A: Assuming Jackson is in good health, I would expect more from him next season. But the truth is, I don't know how committed he is to want to be good. If I knew him better, I'd feel better about predicting a bounce back year, but I really don't. There is no denying his physical gifts, so if that is coupled with a strong work ethic, he should be in line for improvement.
The Ravens played their safeties 15-20 yards deep against the Colts and eliminated the deep pass. Of course that also opened up the Colts running game. But I'd be happy to limit the Colts to 15 points since the Pats DBs seem to have trouble defending Marvin Harrison and friends. Do you think the Patriots will try some variation of that defense?
Pat, Palmyra, NY
A: Because speed isn't a calling card of the current safeties, I do expect the Patriots to drop their safeties deep into coverage, keeping things in front of them. From what I've seen of the Colts' three-wide offense, the key is spacing. They really space things out well, which can tax a defense, especially the safeties and linebackers dropping into coverage. Third down and red zone will be crucial areas in this game, as they are in most games, because I think the Colts will have some success moving the ball between the 20s.
Great win by the Pats, not a dominant game but shows the team can still do what it needs to win. Moving ahead to the Colts, and I'm not as sure what to do as I was a couple weeks ago. Manning struggling and that defense making big plays. So which team do you think will show up Sunday? The historically bad rush D and an almost unstoppable Manning, or the flustered Manning and a stingy D? I think we're going to see more proof of the versatility of the Pats offense this week, after virtually no rushing game yesterday I have a feeling we're going to see a big impact from the triple threat this week. Thoughts?
Chris Cenotti, Concord, Calif.
A: The Colts have been really solid of late against the run, but I think the Patriots will attempt to challenge them in that area more than they did in the first meeting between the teams. My opinion is that the Patriots won't win if they can't establish more of a ground game than they did against the Chargers. That will be important to control tempo of the game against the Colts. The Colts are playing very well right now after a late-season dip, so it won't be easy.
In our last two matchups versus Indy, the Colts really controlled each game -- on both sides of the ball no less. We're a different team now but so are they. And, of course, we're deep into the playoffs now so everything is heightened. Aside from the obvious emphasis on turnovers, field position and special teams, what do you see as the keys to victory (or defeat)? And what will we do to slow down Harrison and/or Reggie Wayne? In these two most recent games they seemed open more often than not. Harrison has proven to be a very difficult matchup for Asante Samuel and Wayne is a pretty clear mismatch for Hobbs. Without Rodney Harrison, I must admit this is of great concern. Please settle my fears.
Johnny Boston, Washington, DC
A: In addition to turnovers, field position and special teams, at this early stage I'd put establishing a running game and short passing game as the top key. I always see a game against the Colts as one of tempo, and I just don't see the Patriots winning for the second straight week with such an imbalance between the run (21) and pass (51), as we saw against the Chargers. So I believe it will come back to playing a complementary game, where the offense helps control tempo, thus aiding the defense, while the special teams wins the field position game.
Were you surprised that Laurence Maroney wasn't more involved in the game plan against San Diego? I understand that the runs and the screen passes were not working but I would have thought they would find some way to get the ball in his hands, with swing passes etc. Secondly, what about the future of Tully Banta-Cain? He seemed to be easily blocked out on the runs, even Seymour got hooked in on that side. Scary.
Edward Boyce, Lancaster
A: Yes, I was surprised about Maroney only getting 13 snaps, although I figured a big part of that was blitz pickup and how Kevin Faulk is so much more adept at that skill. In a game where the Chargers were really bringing it, and the Patriots were throwing it more often than not, having an experienced running back in blitz pickup trumped all. I saw one play in which Faulk crossed over from his left to right to pick up a blitzing linebacker, and thought to myself "that's a blitz pickup not a lot of running backs can make." As for Banta-Cain, I wouldn't base his future off one performance. He's been a solid top-35 player on the roster this season and I'd expect the Patriots and Banta-Cain to reach an agreement to extend his time with the club.
As a transplanted Patriots fan in San Diego, I experienced firsthand how the whole city, along with the entire media, was looking way beyond this game. I believe this Brady Bunch, led by Bill Belichick, is a group of destiny and we are seeing history in the making. Do you think the running backs were out of the game as a plan or was it an adjustment made at the very beginning of the game?
Nayab Zafar, San Diego
A: The Patriots had at least one running back on the field for every offensive snap, but it was mostly Kevin Faulk. By the end of the first half, the Patriots heavily relied on their three-receiver set, and Faulk is a staple in that set. It looked like they wanted to go with two tight ends early -- which is when Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney usually take the field -- but felt that wasn't working and scrapped the plan to try something else.
Congratulations to our Pats on a gutsy win, but there is something that bothers me and I would like to read your thoughts on it. As so often happens, all week before the game we heard from most media commentators that this would be the Chargers team with their nine Pro Bowlers against Belichick and Brady. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't trade either for any other coach and QB. But this theme disregards the rest of a very fine team. Overall, Brady wasn't the reason we won. His clutch drives at the end of each half didn't erase what was an overall mediocre performance. Brady missed badly on several big throws to open receivers, most of which he was not under extreme pressure for. We won this game because of key plays by Colvin, Vrabel, the incomparable Troy Brown and others. Our offensive line, especially Matt Light, was outstanding on pass protection. The DBs did a great job on pass coverage when the Chargers OL gave Rivers so much time to throw. Do you think it is because of the Belichick/Brady aura that the rest of this team is so disregarded?
David Elchanan, Burlington, Vt.
A: I'd say that's about par for the course in most NFL cities. The stars and big names are the ones people talk about. Let's be honest, Antwain Spann's name doesn't sizzle in a headline, but he made a very important play on Sunday's game, making sure the ball stayed loose on Eric Parker's muffed punt in the third quarter that led to three Patriots points. Also, if a player like San Diego's Scott Mruczkowski talked about the Patriots showing no class after the game -- with all due respect -- would this lack-of-class issue be such a big deal? The stars sell, but as you've pointed out, it takes 53 and sometimes 63 players over the course of the year to be a strong team.
Any news on the man, Rodney Harrison? Will he play this weekend and if not, come Super Bowl time when we make it?
Richard Schwab, Oklahoma City, Okla.
A: Harrison was making his way back to New England yesterday after being away from the team as his wife, Erika, delivered the couple's second child. He has a sprained right medial collateral ligament, according to his agent, Steve Feldman. As for if he can play on Sunday, I don't know one way or the other. My hunch would be no.
With Seattle being eliminated, it seems that the Pats' other first round pick would be 28th at worst and 25th at best. Do you know how the eliminated teams are ordered?
A: This was something I was wrong about before the playoffs, as I thought the pick would be 22 unless Seattle made it to the Super Bowl. That was wrong, as playoff advancement did factor into the pick. The NFL has confirmed that the pick is 24th overall.
What has happened to the Patriots' complaint about the Jets tampering with Deion Branch. From what I can glean from the sparse information available is that the Pats should receive a relatively high draft choice in compensation for what appears to be an obvious case of illegal action by the Jets.
Edward J. Witek, Arlington
A: The league's investigation into the matter is ongoing. Nothing has been decided at this point.
Earlier in the year, I wrote in about the poor play of the Patriots receivers. Since that time, Jabar Gaffney has stepped up in a big time way. He has looked great and really seems to understand the scheme. What is his contract status? What type of character is he? Why would the Eagles (who are thin at receiver as well) let him walk? I really hope the Patriots lock him up for a few years so he can build on this chemistry. If we could add a little more deep speed in the offseason, I like Gaffney, Chad Jackson, Caldwell, plus a speedy guy in 2007. Look out.
Matthew DiAntonio, Weymouth
A: Gaffney signed a two-year deal with the Patriots, according to NFL Players Association records. Gaffney's base salary in 2007 is $595,000, he has a $25,000 workout bonus, $125,000 worth of likely to be earned incentives and $400,000 in not likely to be earned incentives. At a projected cap figure of $745,000, he looks like a keeper. There is some mystery as to why the Eagles let Gaffney go, and I'm not sure what the reason is. Some scouts who reported on him coming out of college did have some off-field questions, but from what I've seen, he's fit in well with a strong work ethic in New England.
The Pats and Samuel are several millions apart and (the last I heard) the Pats are under the 2006 cap. May the Pats redo/extend Samuel's current contract and include some of the millions as increased 2006 salary?
Richard S. Schwarz, Albany, NY
A: No, the deadline to use 2006 salary cap space came and went. It was Dec. 30.