FROM GLENDALE TO NEW ENGLAND Naturally, Patriots fans are devastated by the turn of events in Super Bowl XLII. It wasn't the storybook ending they hoped for.
The e-mails touched on all aspects of the Patriots performance. How come the offense couldn't handle the Giants' pressure? Why couldn't the defense come up with the key plays down the stretch? Did the coaching staff make the right decisions and adjust quickly enough?
The mailbag also includes some questions on the future, with an eye on free agency.
On to the questions...
Mike, I've seen a lot of sportswriters and heard a lot of fans calling the Pats chokers who lost to an inferior team. I believe this is unfair and a result of a lack of perspective. I think that if the Patriots and Giants played 10 times, the Pats would probably win 7 or 8 of those times. But on Sunday, the Giants just outplayed the Pats (and got some breaks). It's bitterly disappointing to me as a fan that the Pats lost, but I believe that any fan who felt assured (rather than confident) of victory was simply overconfident. I don't see it as the greatest upset in the history of sports, as some have suggested. What is your view on this?
A: I'd sum it up this way, Lebo: I never thought the Patriots would play their worst game of the season in the Super Bowl. The breakdowns were across the board offense, defense, special teams, coaching. When they needed to come up with one play, or make the one critical decision, no one rose up to make it when the season-long, ultimate goal was in sight. Knowing how hard the team's coaches and players work, I can only imagine how hurt they are at the way things unfolded. As for whether it's the biggest upset in the history of sports, I don't believe it is even close to being so.
What an exciting but frustrating game to watch. Mike, part of the frustration was watching Brady getting hurried and sacked numerous times. It seemed like the coaching staff (which had been stellar in making adjustment in the regular season and playoffs) did not make ANY for the constant blitzing. What happened to the screen pass? It seemed like Brady was taking too much time in a game where the defensive line that was clearly overpowering the Pats O line. Thoughts?
A: The way I see it is that there are really two layers to making adjustments one is diagnosing the problem and making the correct change, the other is the players being able to execute the change on the fly. The Patriots have been excellent at that all year, but they weren't in Super Bowl XLII. The coaching staff did adjust slightly in the second half, calling on more two-tight-end packages to aid in protection. The Patriots had five two-tight-end packages in the first half and 15 in the second half. Yet the adjustment didn't pay dividends, because the Giants still rushed through the overmatched protection. Whether this was the right adjustment, I can't say with authority. But I can say with certainty there was an adjustment, because the team's personnel usage changed in the second half. I do wonder if the Patriots did enough to get the ball out of Brady's hands quicker to combat the pressure there seemed to be too much of a focus on vertical routes and if they made a mistake not having Donte' Stallworth on the field more. I think those adjustments would have helped considerably, and I didn't see as much of those.
Concerning the 4th and 13 did Belichick lack confidence in Gostkowski or was he worried that the defense could fail if it had to defend a shorter field?
A: I thought this was a puzzling decision, Dave. Teams that went for it on fourth-and-13 or more this season were 4 of 22 (18.2 percent). Teams that kicked a field goal from approximately 47 yards or more were 88 of 158 for a 55.7 percent success rate. The numbers dictate you kick the field goal, especially when you're playing inside a dome. Surely, it could be viewed as a lack of confidence in Gostkowski. Maybe Gostkowski was hurt. Maybe Belichick didn't like the way Gostkowski struck a second-quarter kickoff out of bounds. Maybe Belichick lost track of the situation. There are a lot of possibilities, and I wish I had the answer for you. Belichick explained that he felt the field goal was too long, but didn't say why. Maybe the fact Gostkowski had a season-long of 45 factored into his thinking. I'd wrap it up by saying it was a decision that hurt the Patriots, but one we'd probably not be talking about if the team held on to win.
Mike, I can acknowledge that the Giants defense played superbly in the Super Bowl, but how much of the Patriots' poor offensive performance has to do with their simply being gassed by the time the playoffs arrived? It seems they had a bull's-eye on their backs every week and in hindsight, I almost think the Patriots would have fared better losing a game midseason I could feel the media scrutiny and emotional burden of being perfect, and I'm not even the one playing. Your thoughts?
A: I would agree that the first thing to do is credit the Giants on a job well done. They played with more passion, especially on defense. I also go back to something owner Robert Kraft said in the days leading up to the Super Bowl: "In a way, they're sort of like we usually are they play very well at the end of the season, you peak, and you get that confidence and chemistry. We haven't been playing as strongly as we were the first half of the season. Part of it is people have figured things out a little better and they have more experience and more time, and of course, everyone gets up to play us and we get everyone's best game." I do think the physical state of the club was not at its peak, mainly due to the long grind of the season and taking every team's best shot. That's probably why the Patriots were rotating players liberally, especially on defense, early in the game. But most of all, let's credit the Giants for what they did.
Mike, do you think Brady should have had more roll out or moving pocket pass plays to nullify the Giants pass rush? Why do you think NE didn't go to hurry up mode whenever they ran their spread offense? To me this is when they are most effective (see last drive) because the defense doesn't have time to rest or substitute. This would have given the OL the edge (which they sorely needed) on the NY's DL.
A: I am convinced that, despite what Brady said after the game, his ankle was not right and that limited the team's ability to roll him out. You can see it on some of the highlights when players are falling down near Brady, he seems especially concerned about his condition. So while it would have been nice to roll him out, I don't think he was capable of it consistently in the game. As for the hurry-up, I believe the team was concerned about pacing in the game and didn't want to get in a track meet. The defense spent the first 10 minutes of the game on the field and that might have dictated the offense taking a slow-it-down approach to complement the defense.
The offense did its job. It was the defense that lost that game. They had a championship moment and they failed. I think blaming the offense is misplaced. One has to look at the type of game that was taking place and realize it was a defensive struggle. Despite that, Brady engineered a great drive at the end and had put his team up with 2.40 to go. At the end it came down to the Pats defense and they couldn't match the end of game clutch play of the Pats offense. The defense had four opportunities on that last Giant drive to stop them (apart from Burress's schooling of Hobbs), and they couldn't come up with the championship winning stop (the near sack, the 4th and 1, the Asante Samuel failure, and the 3d and 11 in which the Pats all but allowed Smith 12 yards). In a defensive struggle, the Pats defense could not meet the challenge plain and simple.
A: I see the point, Tony, but I respectfully disagree that this game could be solely pinned on the defense. My feeling is that you hold an opponent to 17 points and you should win, especially with the offense the Patriots have. But the Patriots scored a season-low 14 points on offense. Overall, I don't think you can put it on just one unit. This was an across-the-board breakdown from the players to the coaches. From my perspective, the stunning part about it is that it happened in the biggest game of the season, which I just wouldn't have expected from such a talented, impressive group of players and coaches.
Mike, one part of the Pats game leaves me wondering. With the Pats at about the NY 20 yard line well within field goal range in the fourth quarter, the Pats didn't try to take time of the clock. They could either score a TD which they ended up doing or take a field goal to tie NY and leave little time on the clock for NY to come back. It seems instead they were trying to score quickly to leave time on the clock so they could score again if they had to. Was this a good strategy in hindsight? Thanks
A: I think you have to play for the touchdown there, but you want to play smart for the touchdown. By going pass-pass-pass, the Patriots ate up just 13 seconds of clock and allowed the Giants to keep all three timeouts. It's easy to say now given the results, but I would have endorsed a running play on first down to at least force the Giants to make one decision, then thrown two passes. To me, that is the situational-type football that the Patriots have seemingly mastered over the years but they didn't follow through on it Sunday night.
Mike, great job all year. My question is: could the Pats have challenged the fact that the Patriots did indeed recover the fumble lost when Eli handed the ball off to the running back, Ahmad Bradshaw? It sure looked to me like the defensive player was down by contact since the Giant was lying on top of him.
A: I talked with linebacker Pierre Woods after the game, and he indicated that he never had possession. "I was on top of the ball, and they just jumped on me. I couldn't get my arms under it, and they got the ball back," he said. "It was a missed opportunity, something we talk about, and you can't make those mistakes. I had one. That was mine, and I'll try to make up for it." So based on what Woods said, I don't think a challenge would have been effective, because he never had possessed the ball.
Great coverage Mike! Wow! I'm still in shock from the game! The Giants deserves all the credit in the world, but the Pats were just one play (Samuels's interception and if he had come down in bounds, Harrison knocking loose the one handed catch, The D-line being able to hold on to Manning's jersey just a second longer) away from the win. But that is history. Looking to next year who are we going to lose beside Samuel? Will Seau and Bruschi be back? Harrison? Whose contract is up? Whose needs to be restructured?
A: Here is a chart we put together for the Boston Globe's Tuesday editions that starts to set the future forecast for the Patriots:
Which is more likely Colvin renegotiates to lower the cap hit or Colvin walks? Does the draft strategy (trade down or keep it) depend on cap space? Is there enough cap space to resign Moss, keep the high draft choice, and bring back Colvin at a reduced rate?
A: I'm changing my stance on this one, Jon. I initially thought Colvin wouldn't be back. No longer. Linebackers are tough to find and develop in this system, and Colvin's value was underestimated by me. It's not ideal from a team perspective, but at the very least, I think they'd keep him at the high cap figure if need be.
Being a Mainer out here in the desert for 10 years, it is a major downer to see such a flat performance in my backyard. But, life goes on ... so I'm curious as to what we're going to do for 2008 especially defense and our linebackers. I've had season tickets to the Cardinals for 9 years and 1 LB of interest is Karlos Dasnby. Do you see him fitting Belichick's LB standards? Dansby has been a playmaker in AZ with a nose for the ball, but I don't have a good feel if he's disciplined enough for Pats. The Cards defense has been more free playing, less disciplined than what Belichick runs. Plus Dansby had some injury issues, prior to this year. Thoughts on LB options for 2008?
Mark, Tempe, Ariz.
A: Dansby and Clark Haggans were the names that jumped out to me on the linebacker free-agent list I saw. I don't enough about either of them to create an informed opinion at this time. On the restricted market, Carolina's Adam Seward caught my attention. He played in a 3-4 at UNLV and I remember being impressed with him in a preseason game. I wish I had more to offer at this time, but for now, I think we're in agreement that linebacker, along with receiver, are the positions that look to have the most uncertain forecast.
Hi Mike, thank you for responding to the mailbag, especially after this Super Bowl loss. In my opinion, one of the offensive problems in the game was their inability to get Maroney going. In particular, over the last handful of games, most of his success was running off-tackle. It looked to me that the Giants were ready for this Patriots tendency. Do you agree that it would have been beneficial to have a more solid "smash-mouth" running game up the middle a la Corey Dillon or even Sammy Morris? (I don't think Maroney nor Faulk is that type of runner, at least at this time). So I'm not sure how they Pats could have compensated for this tendency. Your thoughts?
A: I had a similar thought, that the Patriots were missing a power presence. But the more I considered the game, and I'll watch it on TV for the first time over the next few days, I felt as if Maroney was one of the few players who played with the intensity and explosion that most of the Giants had. So in the end, I'll say the Patriots had the right running back, but the wrong plays and execution.
In an article in Tuesday's Boston Globe, you mentioned that the Pats must decide whether they want to pay Paxton a minimum salary of $730,000 or go with a youngster who would cost the minimum $295,000 thus freeing up money to sign a player at another spot. However, I thought that a few years ago the NFL changed the cap rules regarding veteran players making the minimum. To reduce the chances that a veteran (like Paxton) would lose his job simply because a rookie is cheaper, any veteran playing for the minimum would only count against the cap at the rookie minimum salary. In other words, in Paxton's case, if he signed for the veteran minimum of $730K, he would only count against the cap at $295K, the rookie minimum. Thus switching to a youngster doesn't actually save the Pats any cap space (although it does save Kraft some dough). Do I understand this cap rule correctly?
A: Thanks for bringing this up, Walter. This is the veteran minimum benefit. In 2007, as long as a veteran had a signing bonus of less than $40,000, the player's salary cap charge is about half the salary. So in Paxton's case, there is still some benefit to going with a younger player, but it's not as beneficial as I made it appear in print if he's amenable to taking a veteran minimum benefit contract.