Holiday grab bag
Fans praise Maroney, wonder whether Brady and Moss were forcing the issue
FOXBOROUGH -- Happy holidays to all. We'll have an abbreviated version of the Patriots' mailbag today.
The rise of Laurence Maroney is one of the hot topics as Maroney ripped off two impressive long runs against the Dolphins. Other fans have questions as to the team's second-half performance, while wondering if Tom Brady was trying too hard to get Randy Moss the ball.
We'll tackle those topics and more as we get on to the questions. ...
Hi Mike, hopefully this puts to rest the Maroney doubters out there. This kid runs hard and he runs fast and he's tough as nails. But I am still concerned with the bad habits Brady might be developing in locking in on Moss. While you really shed some great perspective on this in your "Win Wasn't showy," column in the Boston Globe, I'm wondering do you have any concerns about the Pats coming out too relaxed or flat against that first round foe after the bye week, especially after the emotional toll that the whole perfect season thing must be taking on them? I know I'm grabbing at straws, but I am really afraid of a charged up Jags or Chargers team coming in here and running wild and upsetting the Pats. Your thoughts?
A: I'm not going to alter my stance on Maroney, as I don't think Sunday's performance was anything different than what we've seen over the last 5-6 weeks, except for the yardage that catches the eye. He has been running with a purpose over that span. Even in the Steelers game, when he had 18 yards on eight carries, I thought that was a solid effort. You don't always need the big yardage to have a successful day, and in that game, he had a few early runs that set up play-action for the rest of the game. As for the idea that the Patriots might come out relaxed or flat in the playoffs, I don't see it as even a remote possibility. From my experience being around the team in recent years, there is a switch that gets turned on each postseason that you forget about until it happens, and then you're reminded that the Patriots have a lot of prideful veterans who know what it's all about. I wouldn't worry about this at all.
Hi Mike, any major injury issues from the Dolphins game? It looked like Rodney Harrison got dinged? Are Benjamin Watson, Kyle Brady, and Stephen Neal going to be available for the playoffs? Thanks.
Jim C., Seminole, Fla.
A: The most significant injury was to running back Kyle Eckel, who had become one of the club's core special teams players. He sustained a rib injury in the second quarter and didn't return. I saw him in the locker room after the game and he appeared to be OK, but you never know with those things. So we'll have to keep an eye on if they bring in another running back, specifically a back who could help on special teams. I expect Watson, Brady and Neal to be ready for the playoffs. My hunch is that Watson and Neal could be playing now, but they're being preserved for the postseason.
Hi Mike. Why won't they put Maroney in and give him 25 carries a game and let him gain his confidence? Yes, they did give him carries against the Jets, but why not yesterday against the Dolphins? I don't think chefs get any better if they're not cooking, and running backs don't get any better if they're not playing. I bet I sound spoiled, but 16-0 doesn't mean a thing if they get knocked off in January if the weather is bad. Having global warming in our corner might help, right Mike? Happy New Year!
Rich Valentay, New Bedford
A: I think this is a fair question, as I would have liked to have seen more running in the second half. At the same time, the Patriots were down to three running backs (Maroney, Kevin Faulk, Heath Evans) as Eckel was out with a rib injury, so I can't fault the approach.
Greetings from down here in Louisiana where good football and good food have nothing in common. We were at my neighbor's house Sunday for the game. On Randy Moss's two touchdowns one of my friends noticed that Randy Moss just handed the ball to the ref. There was a feeling that they were witnessing something incredible. It wasn't 15 and 0 it was the transformation of a superstar individual to a superstar team player, do you agree?
P.J. Neal, Louisiana
A: No doubt, Moss has bought into the Patriots' Way. Bill Belichick was asked about Moss on Monday and this is what he said, which I would agree sums it all up: "I think all you've got to do is look at the one play -- look at [Laurence] Maroney's run, go watch Moss block on that play. That's not about getting any record; that's about blocking a guy, trying to help your teammate make a big play and score. That's what Randy Moss has been for us since day one. I don't see a player other than one that's trying to do his job and help this team win and Randy's done a real good job of it."
Mike, after the 2nd half of the Miami game, it seems to me if you want to stop the Pats just cover Randy Moss well. It seems Tom is trying to pass to him, which resulted in a couple of interceptions yesterday. Shouldn't they both realize that although records are good and probably give them more contract money, a bowl is worth more? Any comments?
A: I think they do realize the Super Bowl is worth more, and privately, I do think Brady would acknowledge he was probably trying too hard to get Moss the single-season touchdown record. I broke down the throws here and saw 3-4 of them that were "questionable".
Let's suppose the Patriots get past the Giants and then lose by one in the first game of the playoffs. Won't everyone like yourself go back to this Miami game and observe that the Patriots were outplayed in the second half by the 'worst' team in the NFL. All the weaknesses of the Patriots were available to see but it is all being downplayed because of the records they are setting. Everyone assumes they will get to the Super Bowl but their play lately suggests that losing along the way is a real possibility. Your thoughts?
John L. Richardson
A: I don't see it that way, John. I thought it was a bad half of football, but I don't think it necessarily means there are more bad halves to come in the future. If I took that line of thinking, I guess I'd be ruling Green Bay, which lost to Chicago Sunday, out of the playoffs. Or if I thought this way, I would have ruled Dallas out because they lost to the Eagles in Week 15. That same week, the Colts barely squeaked by the Raiders, 21-14. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think the Patriots' performance needs to be looked at in the context of the entire NFL. I just don't think there is a team that plays perfect, or has played perfect over the last two weeks, and I believe that's a key point to consider here. In some ways, I also think it was a vanilla game-plan because they're gearing up for the games that count. So while there are signs that could lead to concern in some areas -- and I acknowledge those -- I would also point out that 31 other teams have similar, if not greater, concerns.
Hi Mike, a great game hosting the Dolphins. What makes this run so special for me is that the Pats are facing opponents who are bringing their A game each week and still winning. The Dolphins have had a disappointing season, but they came and gave a great game, just as the Jets, Ravens, and Eagles did. The Pats have had a tough schedule and still managed to keep a clean sheet. My question, with the excellent blocking game Heath Evans had against Miami, do you think he'll be prominent against the Giants, who are thinner at LB with Kiwanuka out for the season?
A: Evans was utilized as a lead blocker on 19 plays Sunday, and the results were impressive. I haven't gotten to the point of looking ahead to the Giants' game to have a feeling if we'll see more of the same. My initial thought is that the Giants have a strong up-field pass rush and that could lead to more draws/screens with Kevin Faulk.
Brandon Meriweather seemed to show up this week. Has to be a positive for next year. Your thoughts?
A: Up and down day for Meriweather, but most of all I see a player whose confidence is rising. He dropped a would-be interception and also might have bit in coverage on the Dolphins' lone touchdown. I liked one hit he had, and just in general, he seemed to move around the field well. He played in the dime package (six defensive backs) and also had some limited time in the base defense in the second half. It was the first time I've seen him in which I thought to myself "Looks like a player."
How did Matt Gutierrez come in during the 4th quarter when he was on the inactive list? Did his coming in mean that Kyle Eckel was placed on IR or made inactive?
Alex Lanstein, Cupertino, Calif.
A: Gutierrez was the third quarterback for the game, which means he doesn't count on the 45-man game-day roster. A third quarterback can enter the game at any time, but if that comes in the first, second, or third quarters, that means the first and second quarterbacks cannot return to action. But if a third quarterback comes in during the fourth quarter, the first and second quarterbacks can come back into the game. Eckel has not been placed on IR and was not made inactive during the game.
Would like your opinion on Troy Brown in light of Sunday's muff and the last two playoff losses. The muff in Denver, killing the Pats chances of winning on the final drive and last year breaking the wrong way on 3rd down on the second to last drive. I understand what he his done in his career but is he now becoming a liability?
A: I don't think Troy Brown is a liability. At the same time, I don't expect to see him in the playoffs, so that very well could be his last game with the club.
Mike, you've said in the past that top 5 draft picks are difficult to trade and that teams have to pay these players a certain amount of money. Can you elaborate on this? With San Francisco's two wins the last two weeks, the Patriots may not get a top 5 pick. Is this a good thing? Is a number 6 pick better than a number 2 for the Patriots?
A: From a fiscal standpoint, I do believe the No. 6-12 picks would be better for the Patriots than the 1-5 picks. The reason is because top five picks will receive anywhere from $20 million to $35 million in bonus/guarantee money. On the low end, that is similar to what the Patriots paid Adalius Thomas in free agency. I just feel that the system is out of whack and that you're paying for potential, not for performance, and that is quite risky. My personal feeling is that the Patriots are quietly pleased that the pick has slid down the board a bit over the last two weeks.
We know that you believe strongly that a late first-round draft pick is more valuable than an early first-round draft pick because of the exorbitant guaranteed money thrown at the players early in the round. With this in mind, if you were in charge and the Pats had the No. 5 pick they couldn't trade, would you pull a Minnesota Vikings move and "accidentally" be late with the pick a few times? Would you recommend the Pats do this with their San Fran pick?
Jim Clark, Denver
A: Earlier this year, I had suggested this to a Patriots official, and they told me that you'd still have to pay the player in the original "slot" in which the team was drafting.
Donte Stallworth is supposed to get approximately $11 million next season (when you factor in his salary and all of his bonuses). Do you see the Patriots paying him that kind of money, especially since Randy Moss is going to be a free agent next season?
A: I do not see the Patriots paying Stallworth that money. I'm sure the Patriots would like to have Stallworth back, and I assume they will let him know that, but it would have to be as part of a different type of deal. So then the question becomes whether Stallworth has enjoyed this season, and specifically having the chance to play with a quarterback as skilled as Brady. If he has, perhaps he would be willing to accept a different contract. I could see it going either way at this point.
With all of the team MVPs over the past six years-plus, what numbers do you think the Patriots will retire? Brady's is a lock. Have to assume Troy Brown's and Tedy Bruschi's will be as well. What do you think?
A: Brady, for sure. I'd say no on Brown and Bruschi and here is why: The NFL is actually encouraging teams not to retire numbers, because there simply aren't enough numbers to go around. So I think what we'll see going forward is very few numbers retired and instead players honored as part of a Ring/Wall of Fame at the stadium. It's a tough sell to the fans, because the idea of retiring numbers has long been associated with some of the all-time greats of the game, but I do believe it's a necessity. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots, and other teams, wish they could un-retire some numbers based on this.
I noticed on the field at Gillette Stadium that around the 50 yard line there are some kind of markings that look like arrowheads. What are those?
Lou Thompson, Somers, Mont.
A: That is a bridge and lighthouse, which is the logo for Gillette Stadium.
Will Sammy Morris be eligible for the playoffs, and if so, do you know if he'd be healthy enough to play? Thanks.
Stephanie Greenfield, Swampscott
A: Morris will not be eligible for the playoffs. Once a player is placed on injured reserve, he is lost for the regular season and postseason.
I saw that Denver let Sam Adams go a couple of weeks ago. Do you think he has anything left in the tank? Belichick used to compliment him all the time. Would he be worth a look? We are a little short on the defensive line. He knows how to plug up the middle.
Martin Keane, Boston
A: The Patriots took a look at Adams on film but decided Rashad Moore, who was with them in training camp, was the better option at this point.
Why would the Oakland Raiders claim Rashad Baker off waivers? He can't possibly learn their system and contribute at this point in the season? Is this a shot at the Patriots (Belichick) knowing how he likes to bring in players specific to game needs and now he loses a player who may provide value later? I have always suspected the Jets of doing this.
A: The Raiders might have been thinking toward 2008 as they inherit Baker's contract, which extends through next season. I don't think it was a shot at the Patriots. But I do think teams are smart to pluck the Patriots' castoffs, as they can be assured they've received top-notch coaching. We've seen that a lot this year.