PHOENIX -- After arriving in Arizona on Sunday night, the Patriots are holding their first practice Monday afternoon. The team's work will come at Arizona State University.
The big question of the day remains Tom Brady. It will be interesting to see how well his ankle responds to the practice. Brady's demeanor leads off today's mini-mailbag, but the questions are wide-ranging, from Giants quarterback Eli Manning, to which Patriots players might retire after the season, to Bill Belichick's opening press conference.
On to the questions. ...
Mike -- I was at the big sendoff rally @ Gillette on Sunday. Overall, a great experience. Once-in-a-lifetime. However, I came away with the distinct impression that all the press, all the coverage, and all the attention is really getting to Brady. He seems to be entering the William Shatner-zone. I'm sure he is grateful for the support, and I'm sure he appreciates the fans, but I fully expected him to grab the mike on Sunday and tell the thousands of people who had been sitting for hours in the cold and snow to "get a life." Just my opinion. But if you watch the rally, I think you'll see what I'm talking about. He just didn't seem into it. Still, it was a great time.
A: I only saw pictures of the rally, Dan, but I saw the same old Brady when the team arrived here in Arizona. He was composed and seemed smooth and engaging. Do I think the intense attention bothered him last week? Yes, but I don't see it getting to him to the point where he is outwardly annoyed.
Why does everyone think Eli Manning is now a top-notch, consistent quarterback? He's had a good run, but so did Tony Eason with the Patriots in 1985, until he faced the Bears in the Super Bowl. I don't get it. Being around N.Y., I see the hope and pride the Giants fans have for their team, and the Giants have done something great to get to the Super Bowl (as did the Redskins to get to the playoffs this year) ... but the will and desire of the Patriots to win seems totally underestimated. Eli has been running a much more simplified offense and has had success with it, but it should be easier to defend as well. Your thoughts?
M. Bear, Greenwich, Conn.
A: My initial thought is that Manning has played extremely well in the playoffs. So if you look at it through that narrow lens, you have to tip your cap to him. But when you consider the entire body of work, the whole season, it's been uneven. It's one of the top questions of the Super Bowl -- which Eli will show up?
Hi, Mike Besides the obvious candidates, Seau, Bruschi, etc., do you see any other players possibly retiring this year? Izzo and Faulk are a few guys who have a bunch of rings already and I wouldn't be surprised to see them walk away if the Pats go 19-0.
T. Mahan, Phoenix
A: I don't see Faulk retiring, not at the level in which he's playing. Now in his ninth season, I believe this has been the best year of his career. He was in on 44 percent of the offensive snaps, more than any other running back, and he continues to be a leader in a production-per-play basis. I also see Seau and Bruschi as still being effective, so I see no reason they can't play another year -- if they want to. While their roles might slightly change next year, and be reduced, it's not as though productive inside linebackers are easily found. Izzo is an interesting one, as it's a bit harder to gauge his play on special teams and if he still has the speed necessary to get the job done. Elsewhere, I think Kyle Brady will come back for another year, his 14th, while I'd predict retirement for Troy Brown.
I watched the full press conference Sunday night. I have to tell you, I was impressed with the way Bill Belichick treated the press. He was respectful, comfortable, and seemed helpful. Of course he won't give out any info that might help the opponents. Was last night different from usual? How do you find Bill? Does he get unfairly criticized? He certainly doesn't have the charm of Brady but he didn't come across as belligerent.
Dave McGregor, Berlin, N.H.
A: I thought Belichick's press conference was terrific. It was a bit different from the norm, but I also think Belichick's press conferences are better than advertised. As I've said before, I think Belichick has to protect competitive advantage and I understand that. That's why he doesn't always answer some questions. I think if you want to talk about history, Xs and Os, pure football stuff, etcâ¦, you won't find many coaches better.
A question about the Super Bowl home/away uniforms. Because the Pats are the "home" team, do they have to wear the blues or can they choose? I'd see Belichick going with the road whites to psych out N.Y.'s supposed road advantage and to give the Pats a bit more of that 'underdog' feeling he's so good at. Thoughts?
Dan Liska, Seattle
A: Interesting thought, Dan. I like it. I have not been able to confirm this, but I asked a Giants beat reporter today and he told me the Patriots will be in their blue and the Giants in white.
In the Ravens-Pats game, there was an overload blitz by the Ravens and Corey Ivey sacked Brady. What was curious to me was that Brady simply dropped straight back in the middle of the pocket and took the sack. I was surprised that Brady did not recognize the overload presnap and audible to a rollout to buy a few more seconds. I expect the Giants to try the overload blitz, but what are the weak-side offensive linemen supposed to do if there is nobody in front of them to block?
A: I remember the play, Vincent, as it came over the right side of the Patriots' line. It was out of a 4-wide personnel grouping and the Patriots never went back to that grouping again. From Brady's perspective, the challenging part of that defense was determining whether Ivy was coming or dropping back -- and Ivy had a super rush on the play by hiding behind a teammate and getting there quick. I think that play is a great example of what the Giants sometimes do, so I'm glad you brought it up.
Hey Mike, thanks for giving us a forum to talk Pats. Question, given that all of the players have a role in preparing the team for the SB, is there any chance the league extends the number of active players to 53 for the SB? It must hurt to be one of the guys inactive for such a big day.
A: I think we'll see all the players, including those on injured reserve, on the sidelines for this game. But I don't think the league would consider expanding the game-day roster to 53. My thinking is that the NFL wouldn't want to change a rule that was enforced one way for the regular season and playoffs, and then alter it for the Super Bowl.
Nothing gives me more comfort as a Pats fan than seeing Rodney Harrison make a presnap shift in alignment that eventually snuffs out a big play. The Patriots prepare better than anyone. I believe there is only one way to beat the Patriots. The opposing coaching staff has to come up with a game plan that renders the Patriots' preparation meaningless AND the opposing players have to be able to pull it off -- i.e., the opponent has to be able to show them something completely different and be able to execute it with better-than-reasonable efficiency. I think that Coughlin may be that good, but I don't think the Giants players can pull it off. Do you agree?
Mike in Southie
A: I would agree with this. It reminds me of the Patriots' approach in the Super Bowl against the Eagles, when the Patriots totally switched their defensive plan and surprised the Eagles. I don't see the Giants going that far off the board. But I would point out that the Giants have made some nice in-game changes in recent weeks, so they shouldn't be pigeonholed as a team that simply "does what it does."
I expect the Pats to keep Kyle Brady in a lot to help block the Giants' pass rushers on the outside. If Touchdown Tommy has 5 or 6 seconds, he will find receivers open, and if they are not open, they will eventually uncover. Sacrifice one offensive weapon to get max protection. What do you think?
A: I can envision some two tight end sets, and that would mean Brady gets plenty of playing time. But in the end, I expect the receivers to be the biggest part of the plan, trying to attack what I see as a vulnerable secondary. So I'm thinking it's a 3-receiver type of day, with Benjamin Watson/Kyle Brady teaming up as the lone tight end in those sets.