Digesting the loss
The last few days have highlighted the suddenness of change in the NFL. One day you're playing the Broncos in the AFC Divisional Playoffs, and the next day you're about to lose your defensive coordinator (Eric Mangini to the Jets as head coach). One minute you're on the field playing in the game, and not long after, a player declares it's business season as he is a free agent.
So it goes in the NFL.
Those two contrasting worlds were reflected in questions landing in the Patriots' mailbag over the last 48-72 hours. Some wanted to reflect on the game. Others are already looking ahead to free agency.
Most of the questions answered today are specific to the Patriots-Broncos game, with some personnel and Eric Mangini questions sprinkled into the mix. The personnel-related questions will be saved for our next mailbag.
A few quick-hit items:
Let's roll into the mailbag ...
Do you know what happened between Willie McGinest and Larry Izzo on the sideline in the Denver game? I've been curious about what could have sparked that encounter between them and Mike Vrabel having to separate them.
Alexander Simpson, Eugene, Ore.
I didn't see the whole exchange, and due to working on a tight deadline on an unrelated story after the game, wasn't able to follow up on this. Watching parts of it unfold, it looked as if McGinest was upset that Izzo lost containment on Mike Anderson's 1-yard touchdown run with 43 seconds left in the third quarter. It appeared as if Izzo's main responsibility was to not let Anderson get to the outside -- to set the edge, so to speak -- and he didn't make the play. McGinest, perhaps feeling as if the game was slipping away, let his frustrations show -- both to coordinator Eric Mangini and Izzo. But the way I saw it, Izzo had to get back on the field for the ensuing kickoff return, so it wasn't an extended argument.
What happened on the sidelines between Willie McGinest and Larry Izzo?
Thomas M. Bond, Hopkinton
Richard Seymour, speaking on "Patriots Monday" programming on sports radio WEEI in Boston, explained the incident was like a family fight: "When you look at brothers and sisters, they have fights and arguments, but that doesn't mean we don't love each other. We're going to continue to go out and play. It isn't a perfect world. It isn't a perfect team in that sense. But I think we have the ability to understand that and continue to take care of our job and responsibilities. Even on the plane on the way back, Willie and Izzo were talking and kind of hashed out their differences. I'm really not sure the situation of what happened, but I think it was just in the heat of the moment. I think they got past that. There are some times on the field where I've gotten into it with a couple players. Not get into it, but you're in the intense heat of the battle. Sometimes the emotions of the game can get to you."
With all the uncharacteristic turnovers, do you think the Pats just lost their composure after that awful pass interference call and the quick turnover to follow?
Rob Soler, Tucson, Ariz.
Didn't think all the Patriots played with great composure even before that play, although the outcome of the game ultimately came down to a lack of execution (5 turnovers), not a lack of composure.
Should have been a shutout for the defense. This is the worse this offense has looked since I don't know when. Faulk/Hobbs/Brady/Brown = critical turnovers. Alright, let's have the list of restricted and unrestricted free agents. Any chance we can get an injury prevention coach for 2006?
Brian Burke, Ashland
The team doesn't have any restricted free agents. The following are the unrestricted free agents:
Offensive tackle Tom Ashworth
Receiver Troy Brown
Linebacker Matt Chatham
Receiver Andre Davis
Linebacker/safety Don Davis
Receiver Tim Dwight
Running back Heath Evans
Tight end Christian Fauria
Quarterback Doug Flutie
Receiver David Givens
Safety Artrell Hawkins
Offensive guard Stephen Neal
Cornerback Hank Poteat
Cornerback Chad Scott
Safety Michael Stone
Offensive lineman Ross Tucker
Kicker Adam Vinatieri
Mike, I think Ben Watson made a play earlier this year that was very similar to his catching of Champ Bailey on Saturday. Do you recall during which game he caught a defender from behind after a turnover? Also, has anyone mentioned this other play, this wasn't the first time we saw speed like this out of Watson?
Mike Goldstein, New York, NY
Bill Belichick mentioned this on "Patriots Monday" programming on sports radio WEEI, speaking of Watson's competitive speed. He explained that competitive speed is different than pure speed, using Lawrence Taylor as an example. If I heard Belichick correctly, competitive speed is turning on the jets when you're chasing someone in a game situation, which is different than lining up and running a 40-yard dash.
Comments on the Denver game: That was not pass interference by Asante Samuel on Ashley Lelie that led to a Denver score. Also, it did appear that Benjamin Watson knocked the ball from Champ Bailey through the end zone. That would pretty much erase the 14-point margin. The Pats deserve a lot of credit. They lost both their top assistant coaches and overcame injuries. They played better than Denver, except the giveaways. Thanks for a great forum on the Pats this year.
Chris W., Portland, Maine
Lelie seemed to hint he was fortunate to get a flag on that play, saying afterward: "We kind of got tangled up. Sometimes the refs don't call that, but they called it today. I was a little surprised because I didn't see [a flag] down there [at first]. I didn't think I was going to get one. But I guess as soon as I started complaining he threw the flag out there. I mean, there was a lot of contact. It could have gone either way." On the Watson play, I didn't see enough evidence to overturn the call, although found it interesting that Bill Belichick -- speaking on "Patriots Monday" programming on sports radio WEEI -- said he was disappointed the NFL hasn't taken steps to put instant replay cameras on the goal-line, like tennis. I am in agreement that the Patriots deserve credit for the year they put together.
In planning to rebuild I hope that Patriots management can see the need for taking better care of their talented veteran players on the offensive line, where it takes time and talent to develop a good player. They should not be so willing to let quality slip away. I recall you mentioning Tom Ashworth as possibly leaving this year. The Pats seem deep at receiver and would do well to keep more depth in front of Tom Brady.
Don't think you'll get too many complaints from veteran offensive lineman Matt Light ($6.5 million signing bonus, plus incentives, on a 6-year deal) on how the Patriots have treated him, so I'm not quite sure what you're getting at with the question. The Patriots have one of the NFL's younger offensive lines and with Logan Mankins and Nick Kaczur turning in solid rookie seasons, I view the position as a bright spot for the long term. Also, the Patriots have only two receivers with NFL experience signed for next season -- Deion Branch and Bethel Johnson, the latter of whom didn't see the field coming down the stretch.
What are the rules of officials over-ruling each other? The back judge made a pass interference call on Asante Samuel even though a closer side judge made a different call. Then there was the play in which Benjamin Watson ran down Champ Bailey. Two officials in the area were talking after that play as well.
Ultimately, it's up to the referee to make the final call. In my opinion, it's just like a head coach. You have all your assistants and ultimately it comes down to the head coach having the final say. While I think the Patriots' lack of execution (5 turnovers) cost them the game, I can empathize with the team's perceived frustration that, with the season on the line and all the preparation they had put into it, they didn't get a playoff-caliber game from Jeff Triplette's crew. I happen to be a big fan of referees, and think they have a tremendously difficult job keeping up with a game that seems to get faster each year, but this wasn't their banner weekend across the board. Belichick felt there were some questionable calls and, while still planning to review a few others that I had questions on, two stood out in my mind: Samuel's pass interference (especially after Deion Branch was ruled to not be interfered with earlier in the game) and missing an obvious false start on a Jason Elam 50-yard field goal. While they were only two plays of 115 in the game, they directly led to 10 points. That's a major impact.
The Asante Samuel PI call was clearly garbage and it would probably be quite a challenge finding anyone outside of Colorado that would argue otherwise. My question is will anyone review that call and will the ref that called it be held accountable in anyway for it?
Jason Sierra, Turners Falls
The NFL grades each official for their performance in each game, so there is accountability in that regard. To reiterate, I don't think the Patriots deserved to win the game, a result of their five turnovers. But on that particular play, if I'm an official, I better be sure that I saw interference because the flag gives the team the ball at the 1. That's where I thought referee Jeff Triplette erred. I felt he should have stepped in and accounted for the fact the side judge was closest to the play (albeit behind it) and didn't throw his flag, while the back judge was about 15 yards away and threw his flag. Then you watch the end of the Steelers-Colts game and see an almost identical play in the end zone with Pittsburgh's Bryant McFadden and Indianapolis's Reggie Wayne -- and there is no flag. It's that type of inconsistency that must drive coaches batty.
Great year of the mailbag -- not sure how many more weeks you'll be doing this, but I've enjoyed it. I've heard that the league officials review questionable calls after the games, I was wondering if any of the results are ever made public? If so, I would be interested in knowing if in the Pats game the pass interference call on Asante Samuel in the end zone or the fumble (touchback?) by Bailey would have been seen differently or not. (Not that the officials were the reason that the Pats lost, but they certainly didn't help the matter) In addition, the non-interception call in the Pit/Indy game I thought looked like a clear interception. Can you explain the rule around calling that an incomplete pass? I watched all four games this past weekend and can honestly say that some of the calls by the officials were awful -- the league needs to re-look at how the crews for playoff games are selected.
Wendy, Wells, Maine
Thanks for the compliments on the mailbag, Wendy. By my count, this is the 22nd edition of the season, and it's been enjoyable to interact with Patriots fans. Those reviews of plays seldom become public, although I'm sure you're aware that on Monday the league acknowledged an error in the Steelers-Colts game. Haven't heard anything on the Samuel pass interference call or the Bailey-Watson play, and wouldn't expect to hear much moving forward.
What is the ruling on clock running. In the second half of the Denver game, Patriots wide receivers ran out of bounds and the clock would stop but then start again, and also on penalties. If you can go back and look at the tape it appeared the second half that strange things were happening with the clock. Just curious if you saw anything.
John J. Stevens, Sherwood, Wisc.
The NFL's clock rules changed in 1990. With the exception of the final 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. This is different than college, where the clock wouldn't start after a player went out of bounds until the next play was snapped.
Why am I the only person on the face of the earth who has noticed Kevin Faulk's propensity to put the ball on the ground in playoff games? Clearly, Faulk's latest episode was not the only reason the Patriots are watching the rest of the playoffs, but he did get the ball rolling downhill when the Pats had a chance to begin to take control of the game. Faulk does bring some talent and versatility to the game, but I myself would take a less talented back who can actually hold onto the football in close games.
Steven Levine, Reston, Va.
Just last week, there were some folks who wanted to see more of Faulk and less of Corey Dillon in the Patriots' offensive backfield. Goes to show the varying opinions and how quickly some change, as Faulk -- one of the Patriots' most productive players on a per-play basis -- had put together a solid performance in the wild-card round against the Jaguars. One of the knocks on Faulk over the years is holding on to the ball. He didn't get the job done on Saturday night, but I don't think the Patriots will replace him in 2006 because of that.
I have read a few articles and heard a few radio shows this morning talking about how the "dynasty" is over. Do you agree with that? I don't. We all knew this would be a difficult season when training camp started based on the fact that no team had ever won three in a row, plus the tough early season schedule, the Bruschi stroke, the coordinator turnover and the Ted Johnson retirement. Then when you add the unexpected injuries in the first few weeks, I think it was a great accomplishment for them to make the playoffs. What do you think the top offseason questions are for this team? I would assume it would be dealing with Givens and Vinateri as free agents, locking up Seymour long term, getting younger at linebacker, whether Harrison can come back and whether they can finally stay relatively healthy, especially in the secondary. The Patriots' offseason questions are not huge issues and given what looks like a successful draft last year (Mankins, Kazcur, Hobbs) and the improvement of other younger players like Watson, Neal and Samuel, I think it was still a year with a lot of positives. The offense is young and pretty much intact for next year and Belichick and Brady are still the best in the league.
Tom Mooney, Philadelphia
My feeling is that as long as Belichick, vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli and quarterback Tom Brady are here, the Patriots have the foundation to remain one of the NFL's most successful teams. As for some of the personnel issues moving forward, I plan to dive into that in some future mailbags. I think you nailed most of them, and would also add outside linebacker Willie McGinest, who carries a high 2006 salary cap number, into the mix. More on that to come in the ensuing weeks, Tom.
While I'm as disappointed as the next Pats fan about this year's playoff exit, I'd like to applaud the organization for another exciting year. The team fought through a ton of adversity all season, but just "dropped the ball" a few times too many against the Broncos. I'm sure the outcome would have been different if the Pats had played their "A" game (and not getting completely jobbed by the refs on that comedic phantom pass interference call would have also helped). Before optimistically looking ahead to next year, I'm curious as to how the Pats' won-loss records over the last 5 seasons compare to the best 5-season spans of other teams in the league during the 40-year Super Bowl era. If I'm not mistaken, the Pats were 58-22 in the regular seasons and 68-23 when you include postseason games.
Your numbers are correct, Steve. As for how that stacks up against other teams over a five-year span, that answer would take some research. Sounds like a good offseason project.
Do you think Al Groh would be a candidate for defensive coordinator if Mangini leaves? Do you think Norv Turner would be a candidate for offensive coordinator? Although, I do not think offense was a problem this year. Also, I would like to see that Pats trade up this year and get an impact defensive player. I don't think they need a lot of help, I just think they need to add a couple of good players.
Adam Wolf, Portland, Maine
It would have to be a pretty intriguing offer for Groh to leave his post as University of Virginia head coach. Don't see that happening, as Groh essentially decided he liked the environment in the college game more than the NFL six years ago. Turner is going to join the 49ers as their offensive coordinator. The Patriots have some solid in-house candidates in Pepper Johnson (defensive line) and Dean Pees (linebacker) and I wouldn't be surprised if Bill Belichick was already on the line with one of his former Browns assistants, Jim Bates, whom he has raved about in the past. As for offensive coordinator, I wouldn't be surprised if Belichick officially gives quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels the title for 2006. By the end of the year, it became clear to me that McDaniels was handling the bulk of what many would consider coordinator duties. Finally, my No. 1 focus for the Patriots this offseason would be the defensive backfield. Whether that means trading up or trading down, that would be the area I would expect them to focus.
Is Mangini under contract to the Patriots for next year? If he is and then accepts the Jets head coaching position, what compensation would the Patriots receive?
Rick Tunstall, Las Vegas
The Patriots don't receive any compensation for Mangini, as he is making a move from coordinator to head coach. Most often, when you see compensation change hands, it is a result of a team allowing a head coach to get out of his contract to go to another team as head coach.
I'm disappointed like all Patriots fans at the way we lost Saturday night. I give Denver credit, but can't help but feel we had more to do with losing than Denver's play did. My one consolation is our team blew one playoff game in the '00s -- how many has Peyton and Indy blown? As bad as I feel for our Patriots, I can't imagine being an Indy fan right now, knowing that our QB and team can't win a big game in the playoffs. Almost seems like Peyton is following the Dan Marino road to the Hall -- and I'd much rather follow Brady's road.
Frank Judge, Haverhill
Hard for me to believe Indianapolis is out of it. The big thing seemed to be that if they could get home-field advantage, they'd be in the Super Bowl. I thought that myself.
Tough way to end the season and the Steelers win rubs salt in the wound as the AFC Championship game would have been at Gillette. I think the nature of the loss will serve as a motivator as I'm sure it's leaving a bad taste in everyone's mouth. In a prior mailbag, I questioned the execution on offense, too many negative plays happening and that appeared to be the case Saturday night. What changes do you see happening in the offseason, particularly offensively? What adjustments in coaching, system or personnel do you see taking place?
Gregg Stephens, Manchester, NH
For starters, I could envision the Patriots naming Josh McDaniels their official coordinator, while also adding one more older offensive coach to the mix. A lot of the personnel questions will be centered on the free-agent status of receiver David Givens and offensive linemen Stephen Neal and Tom Ashworth. Schematically, the focus will be on the running game and getting more production in that area. The passing offense was excellent for the most part.
Pats offense outplayed Broncos offense, Pats defense was stellar ... thus good plan and execution ... but five turnovers which looked to me like fatigue plays/strength and conditioning failure. You hear anything along those lines? Those are tired plays, why were they tired?
Timothy Cardozo, New York, NY
I didn't think the plays were "tired plays" as much as they were bad-execution and loss-of-focus plays. Benjamin Watson's tackle of Champ Bailey didn't look like a tired play to me. I also thought the Patriots matched the Broncos physically, especially with the front seven on defense.
I found it strange that with over three minutes left in the game that Brady threw a 50-yard pass into triple coverage. It was like he was giving up. Denver would have given up the 10-15 yard pass at that point to eat clock. Why not take those chunks and roll the dice on an onside kick with little time left?
Bob Taylor, Lansdale, Pa.
The Patriots were down 27-13 with 3:07 remaining at the time. They had just one timeout and were at their own 11. To go 89 yards with one timeout, I'm not sure there was enough time to take all the underneath routes, then have time for an ensuing onside kick.
Hi Mike. I'm still digesting the loss and I feel like the play of the game was Brady's interception. It was almost surely a 10-point swing and possibly a 14-point one. I was wondering what you saw on the play? Looks like Brady telegraphed the throw the whole way. Do you feel it was game over after that play?
Jason Charles, Manchester, Mass.
What I saw on the play was the Broncos pressuring him over the left side of the offensive line, and possibly having a missed blocking assignment allowing a runaway rusher. That forced Brady to get rid of the ball quicker than he probably wanted. Didn't think it was necessarily a telegraphed throw, but more of a rushed throw. I didn't think it was game over at that point, as the Broncos only led 17-6. I had the feeling after Troy Brown's muffed punt.
There is no silver lining to the Denver loss, but do you see the team being galvanized in 2006 by the way they lost and the mercurial nature of the team this past year? They came out after failing to defend their first title with some new personnel (Rodney Harrison, for example) and a chip on their shoulder. I see the core team coming back plus some very good talent returning from the IR. Belichick and Pioli have to look at shoring up the secondary, running backs and special teams. The AFC East should be better next year, at least in Miami, but the Pats schedule looks to be significantly easier too.
Scott Cooley, Centerport, NY
I don't really think the way the team lost will galvanize them in 2006. Teams change so much from year to year that I don't see much carry-over. Think you nailed some solid areas of focus (secondary, running back, special teams) in terms of personnel. Might add linebacker to the mix, too.
A few questions about the game: 1) How does a late flag get thrown from a distant referee when the guy on top of the play lets the play go, without a flag? And has/will the NFL have anything to say about that call? 2) Why did the Pats continue to insist on throwing the naked flip to the wideout, none of which worked? 3) Where does it say in the playbook that a successful drive has to be stalled by calling a draw play, usually going for zero, 1, or 2 yards? 4) Was Ben Watson a part of the game-plan and did they just plain forgot to use him? I'm still scratching my head over this one.
Dave Cullen, Hightstown, NJ
The only explanation I can think of regarding the back judge throwing that pass interference flag is that the side judge was shielded from the play in some regard. My feeling as to why the Patriots threw those quick passes to receivers was because Denver was bringing pressure up the middle and completing those passes would put the receiver in a one-on-one situation to make a play. On the draw play, I'm not sure how to answer that one. As for Watson, coach Bill Belichick explained on "Patriots Monday" programming on sports radio WEEI that due to the Broncos' heavy blitzing, Watson was kept in to block much of the time.
What makes the loss on Saturday so hard is that the mistakes came from those who are usually so reliable. Tom Brady, Troy Brown, and Kevin Faulk usually just don't do that. Even Ellis Hobbs had been playing so well. Plus, our defense really played a very good game. Two questions: Do you think the NFL will consider making pass interference a reviewable play? The call on Samuel was horrible, as was the non-call in the Indy-Pitt game. Also, it seems like everyone is saying "The Dynasty is Over" but if we win next year it would be four Super Bowls in six years. Who will be returning next year, and do you think will be major players in free agency this year?
Ryan Williams, Boston
I don't think the league will make pass interference calls reviewable. The challenge every year, it seems, is just having the penalty called consistently from crew to crew. While review might help, it would also slow down the game, which I don't think the league wants. I also don't believe in the dynasty-is-over storylines. I think the Patriots are well positioned to remain one of the NFL's most competitive teams.
Wow, how disappointing. I know that all of Patriot Nation is pretty stunned by what we saw Saturday night. To make it even worse, if we'd won we'd be hosting the AFC Championship game on Sunday. Even though we lost Saturday night, I think that we owe the team a standing ovation for sticking together and persevering through a very tough season, and making it to the playoffs despite it all. I have to say, that despite the five turnovers, the team still turned in an impressive performance yardage-wise, and holding Denver to the rushing yards we did was an amazing feat. That's what kind of makes our loss tougher to bear. What do you think the areas of emphasis for the Pats will be in the draft. I'm guessing running back is one they'll want to beef up. Thanks again for a great season.
Jen Bullen, Hull
Looking ahead to the draft, I think the team will really focus on defense, particularly safety and cornerback. Linebacker is another spot where if the right player becomes available, I could see the Patriots pouncing. Offensively, running back and receivers are spots where it would seemingly make sense to inject some new talent, although receiver David Givens' free-agent status ties into that.
First, I want to thank the Patriots. I still stand proud as a die-hard fan. Truth be told I haven't felt that kind of pain since Grady Little made a walk to the mound in '03. But my pain was eased because of these Patriots. Two in a row and three out of four. The Patriots? Never would have thought that. A rare loss by our boys makes you really feel good about the victories. I don't want to become a Yankee fan and just expect the Pats to win every year. It's just not fair. Here's my question: What will the Pats do (if anything) to help some of the less wealthy fans get tickets to games? I tried like crazy but I just couldn't spend hundreds of dollars on one ticket. P.S. -- Champ Bailey you got JACKED UP!
Seth Beecher, Unionville, Conn.
I suggest you contact the Patriots on the ticket request, Seth, as I'm not fully aware of their policies.
I saw in your last mailbag Corky Deckere asking for a site where to download the Pats-Broncos game from. I am in the same situation as Corky: there is no way here in Austria to watch the game. Did any reader lend a hand?
Jean-Philippe, Graz, Austria
A few readers checked in with responses. We'll finish the mailbag with their emails.
Ending your last mailbag someone asked about down loading the games off the net. I am not sure about that but there is a web site so you can listen to the home broadcast of the game. I think it is Real NFL.
Brett Hanzel, NJ
To answer Corky's question, there are no legal downloads of NFL games. I've checked with the league office on this since I'm in the same boat. However, he should be happy to know a new pay satellite service from Fiji TV, called Sky Pacific, just added ESPN International which evidently has rights to show Sunday & Monday Night games as well as the entire playoffs, including the Super Bowl. This system is currently available only in Fiji but should be expanding to other Pacific Islands in the coming year. So tell him to look up www.fijitv.com.fj for details. Cheers ...
Grant Walker, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Corky had a question about how to get to watch games in Vanuatu. Here in the UK I get Patriots games on DVD from www.pontel.com. They post worldwide. The DVDs only play on European format (Region 2) DVD players, though, so this may be a problem. Hope this helps.
Don Church, Taunton, Somerset, UK
Regarding the poor football starved man Vanuatu, he could sign up for the NFL Field Pass at http://www.real.com/partners/nfl/fieldpass.html?brand=nfl&pcode=nfl&rsrc=nfl and listen over the 'Net to the games. That is how I am planning to hear the AFC championship when overseas on business.
Chris O'Brien, Belchertown