Commentary

Accepting the Gronkless Pats

Should he have played? Are the Patriots doomed? It's football, people!

Updated: January 15, 2013, 5:13 PM ET
By Tedy Bruschi | ESPNBoston.com

Join my weekly chat every Monday at 11 a.m. ET to have your question considered for the weekly Bruschi on Tap Q&A. Here we go ...

Q. Tedy, are the refs less apt to call holding in the playoffs? Chandler Jones and Vince Wilfork cannot catch a break. Makes me nervous, I picture 2007 Super Bowl where the Giants have Richard Seymour in a choke hold as he is running in place allowing Eli Manning to hit David Tyree. -- Chris (Springfield, Mass.)

A. Chris, you know the tendencies of the officiating crews before the game. The longer you play in the league, the more you know how certain officials will call the game. In the playoffs, officials will let the players play more aggressively. That is one big difference from the regular season.

Q. Tedy, have you ever seen anyone like Colin Kaepernick? Can this style of play lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl? -- Ricky (San Francisco)

A. That type of production he had against the Packers was unprecedented. He is a unique talent. I did not anticipate that type of performance from him on the playoff stage. These young quarterbacks this year are a different breed. Andrew Luck. Robert Griffin III. Russell Wilson. And also Colin Kaepernick (even though he's in his second year, it's his first year of significant playing time). He can give any defense problems.

Q. Tedy, loved you as a player, as well as the Patriots' defenses of the early 2000s. Does this defense compare to those? I didn't like the late-game yardage and points allowed to the Texans. And Flacco looks hot recently, especially on deep passes, which were a huge concern early this year. Our secondary has settled down a bit since then, but can this defense tough it out against a dynamic Ravens' offense (and potentially an even more dynamic 49ers' offense)? -- Jay (Florida)

A. This defense is championship caliber. In all levels of play -- regular season, divisional playoffs, and even last year in the championship game -- they've done what it takes to win. This defense and this team really has one step left to complete their progression. That's to put it all together when the Super Bowl is on the line.

Q. Good morning Tedy! What an awesome game last night. Please give me your assessment of the Patriots' performance. In my humble opinion, I believe that this Patriots team is just as talented as the '01 version. Do you believe that Tom will finally get that elusive fourth ring in a couple of weeks? Keep up the great work. -- Cesar, Houston)

A. Let's not get ahead of ourselves ... even though I did in the last question! This Ravens team coming in is nothing like the Houston Texans. Once again, Matt Schaub looked like he didn't belong. The stage was too big for that team. If I'm a Texans fan, it was a huge disappointment to watch.

[+] EnlargeRob Gronkowski
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesRob Gronkowski, who re-injured his forearm on this play against the Texans, was medically cleared to play -- which is all the Patriots coaches need to know before putting him on the field.

Q. Tedy, I'm disheartened and worried that the loss of Rob Gronkowski dooms the Pats' SB run -- again. He is responsible for the mismatches on offense. Those three TE power sets? Not so powerful now. Those seam routes? Gone. TE blocking like a tackle? Gone. Red Zone Beast? Gone. Now double-teams await the WRs. It's a cryin' shame. Please give me reason for hope that his injury this postseason won't doom them like it did last postseason.

A. We can talk about the production that the offense had in the regular season without Gronkowski. They averaged 34.2 points per game without Gronk, but let me bottom-line this for you: This offense is 10 times more dangerous with Gronkowski. But it's with a healthy Gronkowski. He hasn't been right with that forearm the last two games. He's been trying to tough it out. I understand that. Some injuries can't get better quick enough for you to help your team again.

Q. Hi Tedy! I do not get this Gronk business. He looked to be protecting his arm throughout the Miami game (literally blocking with only the other), then two weeks later he ends up re-injuring it on his first fall. I did not expect him to pull a Mike Vrabel, but almost two months have passed since the injury ... how could the coaches and doctors let this happen? -- BB (Hungary)

A. Coaches and doctors can't control how quickly an injury heals. Players will do everything they can to play. If a coach is told a player is ready to go, then he will play. Doctors have to make the final assessment. There is always a step-by-step process coming back from an injury. You bring the player back during a walkthrough practice. Then you let the player participate in non-padded practices. Then you let the player participate in contact practices. After all those requirements have been met, and there hasn't been a setback, you put the player out there. I've been through that process many times. Gronkowski was out there trying to help the team. He was ready to play. This is the game of football. Not only can you get hurt, but you can re-injure things you hurt before.

Q. In all honesty, what do the players in the Patriots locker room think about Brendon Ayanbadejo's comments on Twitter? I know they are all going to say the right thing and that if you need motivation at this point you shouldn't be here. But what are they actually going to say about it amongst themselves? -- Ryan (Ohio)

A. It's not worth their time and it's not worth mine.

Q. Tedy, do you think the performance on Shane Vereen on Sunday will have an impact on the likelihood of re-signing Danny Woodhead for 2013 and beyond, since Woodhead should be a free agent after the season is over? (Thinking of salary-cap considerations, etc.) -- Bob B. (Mont Vernon, N.H.)

A. Playing running back in the NFL is one of the most injury-prone positions there is. Good depth is always a plus. Woodhead is special in my mind. They should do everything they can to keep him on the roster.

Q. Tedy, just curious as to your thoughts on Aqib Talib's after yesterday's performance. Him and Arian Foster were going back and forth late, and his coverage was "shut down corner-esque" on Andre Johnson. I like his swagger and feel he was a huge pick-up. Could he be the "X" factor? -- Patrick (Phoenix)

A. The main reason for me that Talib is the X-factor is that Devin McCourty gets to stay at safety. McCourty at safety solidifies things.

Q. Do you think Rob Ninkovich has the ability to continue to step up and be a great player like you were, especially in the big games? -- Joe (New Hampshire)

A. I don't know what more he has to show. Ninkovich has that uncanny ability to make a play when it's most needed. Just when other teams think they may be getting some momentum, he stops that momentum with a game-changing play.

[+] EnlargeBill Belichick
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesBill Belichick's intensity and focus on the sideline was captured by the TV cameras on Sunday -- when he showed no reaction to a gorgeous Patriots' TD reception.

Q. Tedy, when Foster ripped off a few long runs in the second half, what happened? Was there a scheme problem or just poor linebacker play on that drive? Is there any need to worry about this going forward? -- Richie R. (Washington, D.C.)

A. On the first big running play, it was a "dummy" play, as we call it in the defensive meeting room. You have run action, but a fake reverse action to fool the end-of-the-line-of-scrimmage player. It's called a "dummy" play because if your eyes are in the backfield watching the reverse, and you don't focus on the handoff first, you're a "dummy." On that play, Dont'a Hightower was a "dummy." His eyes weren't on the handoff. They were on the fake reverse action. Typical rookie mistake.

On the next play, it was vintage Foster -- he saw the hole, burst through it with his speed, and ended up with a big gain.

Q. The defense and offense looked impressive yesterday. However, is the kickoff coverage something we need to worry about? Danieal Manning isn't nearly as explosive as Jacoby Jones on the Ravens. -- Butch (Columbia, MO.)

A. Jacoby Jones was the best kickoff returner in the NFL this year. He averaged 30.7 yards per kickoff return. He also had a punt return for a touchdown. We'll see if the Patriots even kick it to him.

This is where the strength of your kicker can come into play. Can Stephen Gostkowski kick it through the end zone?

Q. Hi Tedy. As a former player, what is your opinion on the injuries to RG III and now Gronk? I know they are a little different in circumstances, but aren't the coaches damned if they do and damned if they don't? I mean, can you imagine if BB rested Gronk the past game and they lost? He would never have heard the end of it. -- Tron (Waltham, Mass.)

A. The only problem I have with the RG III situation is this: When he injured his knee in the first quarter on the incomplete pass in the end zone, he went to the ground and there was a subtle look to the sideline and he was thinking something just happened. I know he went out there after that play and threw for a touchdown, but if I'm a trainer, doctor or coach watching that game, I have to think there was something wrong after that play. Was there an examination on the sideline after that? If there was, and doctors felt the knee was stable -- and RG III felt he could go, then you play. It's very similar with Gronkowski. If he goes through the usual process of coming back from an injury (see above), and if he can deal with the pain, then you put him out there. It's unfortunate he re-broke his forearm. Once again, this is football, people.

Q. Tedy, do you believe that the absence of Gronk for the remainder of the playoffs it's a blessing in disguise? I mean he is a terrific TE, but that gives NE a chance to figure out other ways to put the ball in the end zone. I believe that not only will it be good this playoffs but in the future because they are going to see other ways to score besides him. -- MSGA (USA)

A. The best player on that offense, after Brady, is Rob Gronkowski. It is in no way a blessing in disguise.

Q. It is amazing to see the focus of Belichick yesterday when Brady throws the dagger TD pass following the Ninkovich INT and he offers absolutely no emotion when looking at the video screen. He didn't even nod his head! Can you offer some insight into that focus? During the week of preparation, how does he balance the hyper-focus with keeping the team loose? Last year I felt like I saw a tight team in the AFC championship, and especially the SB.

A. You're right, James. I thought the cameras picked up a great shot of Belichick and how his mind works quickly to focus on what's next. The minute that TD is scored, it's not about celebrating that TD, it's about what that TD meant to the game situation, how much time was left on the clock, and what type of situation it will be for the defensive unit. It's that exact process that he tries to teach his players -- not to focus on what has happened in the past or even what just happened at that moment. The only control you have is thinking about how it changes things that are coming up.

Q. I hate hearing about how the hurry-up offense is gimmicky. It's not at all. Gimmicks are trick plays that well-coached teams do not fall for. The hurry-up tests defense conditioning and communication. If you (Ayanbadejo) have a problem with it, then stop it. You know it's coming. -- Eric (Massachusetts)

A. Eric, if a defense isn't prepared enough to get lined up properly, they should lose.

Q. I'm concerned about the pass-rush. Even before Jones hurt his ankle, it didn't look like the Pats were able to generate much pressure. Trevor Scott and Justin Francis generated a little pressure, but I'm worried about no pressure against the Ravens. Joe Flacco is better than Schaub. Better arm, better composure, etc. If Jones is hobbled, I'm worried that they won't be able to stop Flacco throwing to Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta -- all good receivers. -- Eric (Maine)

A. Flacco threw for 382 yards in the first matchup. The Ravens had 503 yards of total offense. This team won't feel the pressure of coming into Gillette Stadium like the Texans did.

Q. Hello Tedy, tell me the difference between Wes Welker's two head-bashing hits for no penalties and the flagrant the Pats got? It happens all the time to Welker, but you rarely see it called. -- Jim (N.H.)

A. Officials watch film too. One thing they see about Welker is that he takes a lot of unnecessary hits. How many of those are you going to call? This is the playoffs and the officials will let these players play a little more than they do in the regular season.

Tedy Bruschi

Columnist, ESPN.com
Tedy Bruschi spent his entire 13-year career with the New England Patriots after being drafted in the third round out of Arizona. He played in five Super Bowls, winning three. He retired prior to the 2009 season.

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