The majority of e-mails to the Patriots mailbag this week were about Tom Brady. They started coming in during Sunday's AFC Championship game. Here is the text of one, sent during the action, from Chris in New Hampshire:
Is there any chance Tom Brady is under the weather? He looks physically sick out there -- drained, almost emotionless -- and not like his normal self. I know the flu had hit Light and O'Callaghan recently ... any chance Tom picked it up during meetings or practice? So some fans were sensing something regarding Brady during the action, or even as early as warm-ups. Right after the game, this e-mail came in from Tris. At times when the camera was pointed in Brady's direction while he was on the sideline, there were players blocking the view. Seemed intentional as I'd not seen this before. Noticed Brady spitting at times. So, was he affected by the flu or something similar?Even the day after the game, fans still had questions about Brady.
I guess we're spoiled as Pats fans, but I have to ask you if anything is physically or mentally off with Tom Brady. He's been outstanding all year and has earned our gratitude, but San Diego's defense is not that good and Tom looked almost clueless for a good part of Sunday's game. That is not the Brady we're used to seeing at all. Honestly, is there something wrong, or did the whole Moss fiasco have more impact than anyone thought?
Some more e-mails:
At this point, we know he was hobbled due to his right foot, and perhaps he was battling through a painful injury that not only affected his demeanor, but also his technique that led to some high throws. Right now, it's all guesswork.
Credit to the Patriots fans for being an observant bunch in picking up on something different about Brady.
Now on to the questions.
We were worried about Tom's lack of emotion during the AFC Championship. Any reasons why? We usually see him rallying with his positive energy. We saw him hanging his head low and just not playing like himself.
A: Right now, it's a little bit of a game of connect the dots, but my hunch - and it's only a hunch - is that Brady was playing in some pain due to his right foot, and he might have been conserving energy throughout the game. We've seen the photos of him walking in New York on Monday with a protective brace over the foot, so that's one tip off that something wasn't right healthwise. I agree, usually Brady sprints up to a player who scores a touchdown or at least jumps into the arms of his linemen. We didn't see that Sunday.
Why do people think that Randy Moss is on the "down" list because his numbers are down? If you look at what he did the past two games, it is so much more than numbers. Plus, Moss was open plenty of times, and Brady never got the ball to him. Do you agree with the assessment?
A: I thought Moss was a huge factor against the Jaguars, as his mere presence dictated the defensive game-plan and opened opportunities for others, mainly on underneath routes. But I didn't sense that was as much of the case against the Chargers. I thought he had a bit of an off day, dropping a pass on the sideline. I also thought the weather conditions made it a day in which passing the ball down the field wasn't that easy, which might have played a factor in his limited production.
I noticed a lack of Randy Moss in the post-game celebration. Anything up with that?
A: Good question, David. A few other fans e-mailed and noted that they saw Moss walking to the locker room before the AFC Championship presentation on the field. He never appeared to come back out. I don't know the answer why.
Mike, that game against SD was a real nail-biter. I thought I was going to chew off the tips of my fingers. My whole family was on the verge of having nervous breakdowns. Now on to the Super Bowl. Yeah, baby! This time against the Giants, will you please tell BB to blitz Manning like they did at the end of the game the last time they played them? That worked well for our defense, which, by the way, seems to be playing better as a unit. Tell me, how do you see the Patriots matching up with the Giants this time around?
Will Harton, Bourne
A: Mike Vrabel made the point last week that the Patriots had an off day with their four-man rush against the Giants in the season finale. One thing to keep in mind is that whenever a team blitzes, they are potentially leaving themselves vulnerable in areas down the field in pass coverage. So if you bring five rushers, now you only have six to cover, which creates more opportunities for the offense to potentially hit a big play if the rush doesn't get there. There is more risk involved with the blitz, and it's weighing that risk against the potential reward. Naturally, a big key is early down success. When you can set up third-and-long situations, it makes it easier to dial up a blitz, because you know it's most likely going to be a passing situation. I expect the Patriots to see what they can generate with a four-man rush on early downs, hoping they generate some pressure, before turning to the blitz.
Why are the Pats having such a hard time getting pressure on the QB on a consistent basis? I see Mike Vrabel getting close to the QB on just about every down, and with Rosie Colvin being out, that really changes the positions around, but with all the talent on the D-line in Wilfork, Warren, and Seymour, I would think we should be able to generate more pressure when we rush four players. It seems like in order for us to collapse the pocket, we need to bring five or six rushers, which puts more pressure on our secondary.
Peter Condon, Tampa, Fla.
A: Fair point, Peter. I think one thing to examine a bit more closely is the technique that the defensive linemen are asked to play. This was the subject of a story in T he Boston Globe last week, as their first responsibility is to diagnose whether the play is a run or a pass as part of a two-gap style. So unlike other teams, which might have their linemen immediately shoot a gap that leads to more immediate pressure, the Patriots' linemen aren't a pass-rush-first group. They are programmed to play the run, as Ty Warren explained. I think that helps add some context to the situation. Other times, though, they are simply getting blocked.
Why did the Chargers punt when they were trailing 21-12 and had the ball on the NE 36 with 9 minutes or so left in the game? It was a two-possession game, and given the way Maroney was running and eating up the clock, they probably wouldn't get many more possessions. The other two alternatives would have been to go for it on fourth down or try the long field goal. The field goal would have probably been a bad idea, since the kicker would have been kicking into the wind. Would it have made sense to try going for it at this point?
A: It was a key decision in the game, ACG, and Chargers coach Norv Turner explained his reasoning by saying he felt the defense had been playing well and he felt they could get another stop. He also noted that it was fourth-and-10, so the odds of picking it up weren't great. The idea was to get a punt similar to what the Patriots had in the second quarter, pinning the opposition in deep and getting the ball back on the short field. In retrospect, it was the wrong decision. A field goal wasn't an option from what would have been 51 yards. The ball wasn't traveling that far in that open end of the stadium.
Why was no one from the NFL at the trophy presentation? Seemed weird to see Andre Tippett present the trophy?
A: I think the NFL thought it was a nice way to honor some of the past stars of the game. In the NFC, Harry Carson (Giants) and Bart Starr (Packers) were chosen to be the presenters if their teams won the game. In the AFC, it was Tippett or Stan Humphries (Chargers). From the Patriots' point of view, it was a nice way to get Tippett front and center to potentially support his Hall of Fame candidacy.
Mike, Wow! What a gutsy win! Even though Brady struggled, our defense stepped up big time. Unbelievable! The Chargers scored just 12 points. Can we ever say enough about this team, that no matter what happens they find a way to win? I mean, the national media has said repeatedly that our defense is too old and vulnerable, that our offense can't run the ball. It makes me wonder if the analysts even know what they're talking about. Don't you feel like nobody really understands how good this team truly is?
Bob Sellers, Providence, RI
A: I thought Tom Brady probably said it best on his weekly radio interview with WEEI this week. "It was nice that our defense played probably their best game of the season, just when they needed to. That's what team games are all about. Sometimes the offense and quarterback doesn't play the way I'd expect us to play, but thank God the defense was there to pick us up."
Mike, that was an ugly win, but we'll take it. Super Bowl-bound baby! Hey, how big has Kevin Faulk been? One-handed, diving catches! First downs in crucial situations! His play down the stretch has been tremendous. Don't you think we should coronate him as the team's MVP?
Ken Jasper, Franklin, MA
A: I don't know if I would say MVP, but I think Faulk's contributions this season shouldn't be overlooked. He's been on the field more than any other running back, and his pass protecting and pass receiving have been immense. Calling him a third-down back is a disservice. Bill Belichick was asked about Faulk on Monday and said: "We've talked about it time and again. Kevin, he's an awesome football player, and he's one of the most unselfish players I've ever coached. He's a great team player that not only does his job but helps everybody else do theirs. And he's a very versatile player, in the kicking game, running the ball, catching the ball, blitz pickup, making adjustments. He's a smart, instinctive guy, and he's been a very valuable player since the day I got here. He's been used in a lot of different roles, but nobody works harder than Kevin, nobody's more conscientious, and nobody has a better attitude than Kevin Faulk."
Are the Patriots the home or away team for the upcoming Super Bowl?
Kent Pandolf, Hudson
A: The Patriots will be the home team. On Monday, Bill Belichick cracked that it's unfortunate, because the Giants are 10-1 on the road this season.
Why isn't anyone talking about what Kyle Brady has contributed to this team in the post season? His presence changes the way defenses have to play these guys. I don't think it's a mistake that Maroney has been able to have the postseason run he has at the same time Brady comes back from injury. Faulk has been given a lot of credit for his contributions (all of which is due), but I haven't heard a single one of the "experts" mention what Kyle Brady brings to the table as a blocker and even a receiving option. Am I wrong?
Jon Fox, Assonet
A: Brady is an exceptional blocker at tight end. He played in 48 percent of the team's offensive snaps during the regular season, so that indicates how valuable he's been to the team's attack. In addition to Brady, fellow tight end Benjamin Watson earned some praise from Bill Belichick for his blocking performance Sunday. "I thought Ben really did a great job blocking for us all day today and especially picked up short yardage goal line runs."
During our last game with the Giants, we did not have all of our starting line protecting Brady. Do you think having all of our line present and healthy will make a difference slowing down the Giants pass rush vs. the regular season game?
A: After that season finale, I remember writing on the offensive line and how they hung in against the Giants' pressure and ultimately wore them down. I thought it was the game within that game. The Giants did get some pressure. The Patriots did protect well enough to set up plays that led to the win. It was a competitive battle. Considering the Patriots had backup right guard Russ Hochstein and backup right tackle Ryan O'Callaghan playing in that game - and should have Stephen Neal (right guard) and Nick Kaczur (right tackle) back for Super Bowl XLII - that is obviously an upgrade. Neal has been really solid the last two weeks. I also noticed Kaczur with a couple of big blocks in the running game last week.
How come Josh McDaniels isn't getting any love from the media outside Boston for not only having the guts to take the ball out of the hands of the NFL MVP, Tom Brady, but having his unit so well prepared that they bludgeoned a totally healthy Chargers defense with a dominating running game beginning in the late third quarter?
Vince Chase, Winchester, N.H.
A: McDaniels certainly deserves credit, but I wouldn't limit it to just him. I think it's all the coaches, really. I do think you nailed it, because the Patriots' in-game adjustments and calls were fantastic on both sides of the ball. The Patriots had 29 plays in the first half, and nine of them had multiple tight ends on the field (31 percent). The offense had 36 plays in the second half, and 22 included multiple tight ends (61 percent). The change to heavier personnel groupings and a focus on the running game was a solid move. When analysts talk about in-game adjustments, this is a prime example. Patriots coaches are some of the best in the business at this aspect of the game. And, as always, it helps to have top players to carry out the plan.
What are the rules regarding players on injured reserve traveling with the team for games? Can Rosevelt Colvin and Sammy Morris travel with the team for the Super Bowl?
A: It is my understanding that there is no limitation on those players traveling. I remember seeing injured players on the sidelines at past Super Bowls.
Where do the Patriots rank in terms of most Super Bowl appearances? Also how does their current record of 3 and .-2 compare to other teams?
A: The Patriots' six Super Bowl appearances rank in a tie for second. Here is the list:
Dallas - 8
New England - 6
Denver - 6
Pittsburgh - 6
Miami - 5
Oakland/L.A. - 5
San Francisco - 5
Washington - 5
As for where the 3-2 record ranks, here is a link to all Super Bowl results.
Just curious on your insight to the QB communication system. Can the coaches only talk to the QB before the play, or can a coach point out something as the play is unfolding? I don't know if a QB would want that distraction, but another set of eyes looking for an open receiver sure would be interesting.
A: Hi, Jim. The coach-to-quarterback communication system shuts off with 15 seconds left on the play clock, so the coach cannot point out something as the play is unfolding.
Nice win against the Chargers. Patriots are Super Bowl bound again! Wooohooo! Hey, I have a question for you: When a player runs out of bounds, doesn't the clock stop until the ball is snapped on the next play? I saw offensive players running out of bounds during the game, and after a brief stoppage, they started the clock again. What's up with that? I think it was Kevin Faulk who ran out of bounds at the 2:11 mark before halftime, and after a brief stoppage they kept the time running. I recall that this used to be utilized as a time-saving strategy. So, what's the deal?
Dave Phillips, Stoneham
A: Unless it is the last two minutes of the first half or the last five minutes of the game, the clock does not stop. We saw that toward the end of the second quarter, when Kevin Faulk caught a pass for 8 yards and was pushed out of bounds. The clock kept rolling right into the two-minute warning.
During the Pats-Chargers game, it looked like Vrabel tried to disrupt one of Rivers's passes (one which ultimately led to an interception) with a leg sweep. He seemed to stop short of actually sweeping Rivers's legs out from under him, but may have tripped him while throwing. Is this just a noncall that went in favor of the Pats? Or were Vrabel's actions not actually against the NFL rules?
David Montminy, Brooklyn, N.Y.
A: Vrabel should have been called for either a trip or a leg whip. The Patriots got away with one there.
How come the CBS pregame, halftime and postgame show wasn't live at Foxborough? In GB the whole show was live in Green Bay!
Kerri Burke, Milford
A: LeslieAnne Wade, a top-notch official in CBS' communications department, passes along the following: "We have hosted the show from the studio for the past couple of years. Logistically, it is smoother, as that is how it works all year long. In addition, the color on site is often more of a distraction to viewers than a real sense of the atmosphere."
Now that it's Pats-Giants, has there ever been a time before this that two teams have met in the Super Bowl after playing each other in week 17 or the final weekend of the regular season?
Mike Powers, San Francisco, Calif.
A: This is the second time that has happened. In 1977, the Cowboys and Broncos met in the final week of the regular season, then played each other in Super Bowl XII. The Cowboys won both contests - 14-6 in the season finale and 27-10 in the Super Bowl. The regular season was 14 weeks that year.
(Final note: As part of our Super Bowl coverage, we'll be filing some additional mailbags leading up to kickoff.)