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The better team won

It's been a great Patriots run, even though the team fell short of its ultimate goal. Let's dive into our final chat of the season.

Q.
So if Wes Welker isn't perfect OR Tom Brady is just average OR they don't get turnovers, the Pats lose? I remember during the Super Bowl years the defense played well enough to overcome some of that. The Pats had no swagger, no spunk. Searching for a foxhole? I am not blaming the defense, as they played well enough to win, but they didn't dominate. How do we get that swagger back? Is it free agency, draft, coaching? My thought is, except for the O-line, just draft defense? Yours? -- Doug (Arizona)

A.
Doug, that's a losing formula for any team -- if two of your best players don't play well, and a defense doesn't make any big plays, most teams will lose. The defense did not create any turnovers. It's still the unit that won the AFC championship against the Ravens when Brady didn't play well. There are still problems with this defense. The secondary is my main concern.

Q.
Tedy, this loss blindsided me. I didn't see it coming. Even if we say that the loss of Aqib Talib was to blame for the D's problems, what happened to the most prolific offense in the league? Just 13 points total and 0 in the second half? At home?? -- Michael (NYC)

A.
Michael, not enough is said about what Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees did in this game. He took away the inside passing game and made Brady beat him outside the numbers and deep. Deep throws to Welker outside the numbers. Brandon Lloyd -- outside passing game. He used his linebackers to take away inside breaking routes. Bernard Pollard was also a part of that. When they tried to implement the hurry-up running game, he threw double-edge pressure on them. Dean Pees was the former Patriots defensive coordinator and he knew what to do against his former team. He had the players to implement the game plan.

Q.
Tedy: (Cheap Shot) Pollard's head shot on Stevan Ridley is legal under the current rules. If the NFL is truly interested in players' long-term health and safety, don't you think they should also outlaw these types of intentional barbaric hits? Is there any movement afoot to consider banning these types of hits in addition to hits on "defenseless receivers" and QBs? -- Dan (Rhode Island)

A. Dan, there has been a lot done to protect defenseless receivers, but understand "defenseless" is the key word. Stevan Ridley was not "defenseless" in that situation. That hit is what football is all about. Defensive players in the NFL have to be able to feel that they can still deliver crushing blows to players who aren't "defenseless." It was a great, clean hit by Pollard. Recognize that this was the AFC championship. In today's NFL, especially when your season is on the line, as a defensive player when you finally get an opportunity to deliver a game-changing hit, you do it.

Q.
Hey Tedy, what a disappointing loss. To be honest, the way the team lost hurts me more than the fact that they lost. The players looked lost out there and seemed like they weren't prepared for the game against a fully prepared Ravens team that knew what they were doing. After the 49ers game, I thought this team had fight in it no matter what, but now I think I was wrong. We were outcoached and outplayed. What do you think are the reasons for this? Thanks, love your work. -- Memo (Istanbul)

A. I agree, this team was outcoached and outplayed. They also made some good in-game adjustments. On third-and-2 in the first quarter, at about the 7-minute mark, they tried the hurry-up run game to get the first down. Ridley was stopped by Corey Graham. Pees sent double-edge pressure -- Dannell Ellerbe and Graham blitzed off the edge and they got the stop, forcing a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. Later, in the second quarter, at the 6-minute mark on a second-and-2 down near the goal line, it was a similar situation and the Patriots made an adjustment and completed a backside slant to Aaron Hernandez for the first down. Pees sent the double pressure again, but this time the Patriots' offense made the play. That's the type of chess match that went on during this game.

Q. Hi Tedy, hope you and your family are well. This loss was tough to swallow, but the better team did win. The Pats simply did not play football for 60 minutes. There were some clock-management issues and then the inability to prevent Joe Flacco from throwing (and connecting) the deep ball. Seems like our issues that we've been battling all year came back to bite us when we least wanted them to. If you could choose three player positions to address via draft, what would they be? -- Ash (Toronto)

A.
Defensive back is one. Defensive back is two. Defensive back is three. It's unacceptable that this secondary hasn't had any type of stability in the last two years. The fact that Aqib Talib had to be acquired on Nov. 1 tells you all you need to know. The fact that Devin McCourty had switched from CB to S, and then back to CB and S again tells you all you need to know. The fact that the Patriots drafted Ras-I Dowling with the 33rd overall pick tells you all you need to know. Something has to be done.

Q.
Tedy, much has been written about the Brady and BB era maybe being over. What is your feeling on this? -- DTIB (Walpole)

A.
I don't think the Brady/Belichick era is over, but if it continues to be "just" the Brady/Belichick era, they will come up short year after year. Other names need to start to be associated when talking about this team. Too many just mention Brady and Belichick. It takes so much more than a quarterback and a head coach to win championships.

Q. Tedy, what will it take to get yourself and Rodney Harrison on the sideline coaching the defense? -- Disappointed (Greenville, S.C.)

A.
Matt Patricia is doing a great job. They don't need us.

Q.
Do you see Jeff Demps fulfilling a third-down role out of the backfield, or was being placed on the IR beneficial for transforming the speedy Olympian into a downfield threat? I imagine he could be such out of the backfield like Shane Vereen, but it will be interesting to see how he's used other than kick returns. -- Hambone (Lewiston, Maine)

A.
In the case of Jeff Demps, I wouldn't call it IR. I'd call it a redshirt year, which is the way we addressed it in the locker room sometimes when you knew the organization had a player with potential but needed to be developed. Once the player got healthy, he could start preparing for next year through film work and weight training. Demps can be a very unique addition to the team. Let's see how they use him.

Q. Hey Tedy, first off I would just like to say that the AFC championship was a huge disappointment and an opportunity really did slip through the Patriots' hands. My question is, do you think that this year's Patriots team is better than last year's Super Bowl team? And moving forward (and yes, I know it's too early, but . . . ), do you see the Patriots next year being even better than this year? Thanks for your time Tedy! -- Steve B. (St. Catharines, Canada)

A.
This team has made some progress from last year. Would I call it better? I don't know. Last year's team, especially defensively, played much better in the AFC Championship Game. The necessary plays were made to propel the Patriots to the Super Bowl. You can't say that about this year's team. That's how I judge teams when it's all said and done. Talent and potential are the worst ways to describe a team. It's either players made the plays when they had to or they didn't.

Q. Hi Tedy, I have listened to a whole lot of talk about how we handled the end of the first half. We always talk about coaching and you mentioned earlier in the week about not to overcoach, it went all the way back to the Seahawks game. In that game we had an intentional-grounding penalty at the end of the half that resulted in a 10-second runoff with no points. This being said, our game plan, as it was said all week, "it's going to be a close game." This play stands out to the degree that we anticipated a close game. It became evident we coached this way also. -- Morrius J. (Houston)

A.
This is a great question, and bringing up that Seattle game is a great example. This was bad coaching and bad situational football. When Tom Brady slid, if a timeout was immediately called, there could have been 18 seconds left. It would have then been second down, so you could have had two other plays before a field-goal attempt. When you have bad situational football in the biggest game of the year, that's how you wind up planning vacations.

Q. Tedy, what kind of move can be made, be it internal, free agency or trade, to add that last extra layer of "tough" back to the Pats that they've lacked the last few years? -- Nick S. (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

A. Nick, I think they've added that layer of toughness. Along the OL, there is Logan Mankins. Defensively in the front seven, you have Vince Wilfork and Brandon Spikes. That's just the tip of the iceberg. You have Jerod Mayo in there, too. I don't think it's toughness that they lack. What they lack is skill, especially in the defensive backfield. An old problem resurfaced and it's simple fundamentals -- playing the ball when it's in the air. You can be in position, but there is something called "the moment of truth." When the ball is in the air, a player like Anquan Boldin is going to get it. You need someone who is going to stop him from getting it.

Q.
Hello Tedy, clearly this is an unexpected and disappointing loss, considering the team did lay in last year's SB, yet there remains a lot of faith and confidence in this team, with such young tremendous talent. No question this team is bound to win SBs in the future. The question is: Brady's chances to win a fourth ring now are ticking down, do you agree? -- Lars (Sweden)

A.
I absolutely agree that they are ticking down. But the one positive that I think Patriots fans can take is that they will always be in the race. This team plays in a division that they've dominated the last deacde. They'll be in the tournament next year again.

Q.
Hi Tedy, how do you feel about the Aqib Talib situation? Do you think the Patriots should sign him at all costs? -- patsprobst (Las Vegas)

A. That's an attitude the Pats have never had with any player. Talib is an unrestricted free agent and if he wants to continue to be in these types of games every single year, he'll stay and take less money than he might get in other places.

Q.
This is going to come across as sacrilege, but I hope Danny Woodhead is not signed for next season. I love him as a player but I think Shane Vereen is more explosive and has a higher upside as a RB, and their position is pretty much duplicated (I know Woodhead excels in pass protection). Vereen has had his injury problems but the Pats will have Ridley, Vereen, Brandon Bolden and probably Demps (KR/PR) next season, so is Woodhead worth the roster spot? -- Eric (Massachusetts)

A.
I'm going to disagree with you, Eric. Woodhead is worth a roster spot. He does so many things well that if he wasn't playing RB on a consistent basis, he'd still provide depth and special-teams value. RB is a high-impact position. RBs get hurt. You need solid depth at the position and Woodhead provides that.

Q. Tedy, painfully turning the page and looking forward to 2013, I would like to see the Pats come out of the gates with a physical, aggressive and smart defensive unit -- dominating teams from Game 1. We started three rookies (Dont'a Hightower, Chandler Jones, Alfonzo Dennard) and have a solid front seven overall. Sign Talib, and get after Jairus Byrd (UFA) -- a big, physical safety -- and move back to a 3-4, with [Dane] Fletcher coming back playing the weakside LB. In other words, back to the old formula. Thoughts? -- Sam (Shanghai)

A. That's interesting, Sam, but this is only the second year playing this 4-3 scheme for this defense. You have to anticipate they will get better at it. I agree with you -- the front seven is going to be very solid next year. Additions to the secondary are critical for their success in 2013.

Q.
Tedy, do you agree that the Pats don't have the same fire in the belly come playoff time that the teams you played on did, especially on D? The level of intensity that winning teams ratchet up in each successive round of the playoffs has been been missing for the Pats for the past several years. No one could have watched Sunday's game and not noticed the Ravens were bringing it and the Pats were all balled up. -- Mike (Boston)

A.
I like this defensive unit, especially the front seven. I do see championship-caliber players. They were close to winning it all a year ago. Chandler Jones is going to be better. Dont'a Hightower. Dane Fletcher is going to be back, like Sam from Shanghai said. I still haven't given up on Ras-I Dowling. What does he have left in the tank? That's what I want to know, because he can help.


Q.
Hello Tedy, a common theme with all of these tough losses since 2006 seems to be defensive breakdowns. Is it time to change the middle-of-the-field strategy, and do you think our prevent scheme inhibits the natural aggressive instincts of our talented players? -- Jim (New Hampshire)

A.
When you say defensive breakdowns, I think of defensive schemes. The breakdowns I see are in players not making the plays. No one in the secondary could handle Anquan Boldin in one-on-one situations. Dennis Pitta beat Steve Gregory one-on-one for a touchdown. The two Boldin TDs, the Pitta TD, those are one-on-one situations. If you want to go back to the Ray Rice TD, that was a missed tackle. They are in position, but unlike last year in the AFC Championship Game, they didn't make the plays this year.

Q. Tedy, I'm devastated by the loss on Sunday and amazed both that the Pats lost and by the margin of defeat -- 15 points at home! What happened and can this team still win a SB during Brady's career, or was the window slammed shut with this loss? -- Michael (NYC)

A.
Michael, I think we all know that when it comes to the 2013 version of the Patriots, they'll have another opportunity to make a run in the playoffs. The window isn't slammed shut with this team or with this loss. Yes, it hurt, but this team is built for the long haul. Just as Bill Belichick said, he'll be back next year.

Tron (Waltham, MA)

Q.
Hey Tedi, today I just want to look forward and move on from the game. So here's my question: What one position both on the offense and defense would improve each side of the ball, and would you address that position via the draft or free agency knowing how well the Patriots draft and sign free agents at said position? -- Tron (Waltham, Mass.)

A.
Tron, I appreciate all the questions you send in every week. You're one of the most dedicated followers of the chat ... but you spell my name Tedy. Until you spell my name right, I'm not answering the questions. Moving on!

Q.
Tedy, at what point do these similar losses say something more about the team? Big points in regular season, tons of defensive turnover, then it all changes in the biggest games. What can be done to fix that? -- Dan (Virginia)

A.
Dan, you can look at high-powered offenses across the NFL and one thing is certain: As the season goes on, they start to slow down. Even in 2007, when the Patriots set a record for points scored, defenses buckle down and are able to slow down high-powered offenses. The Rob Gronkowski injury hurt this team tremendously, especially in a game with a defense like the Ravens'. This is two years in a row now that Gronkowski has missed the biggest game because of injury. It's not his fault. He plays the game at such a speed, and at such a rate, that high-impact collisions are the norm. Sometimes a player falls on your ankle, or a bone happens to snap in your forearm, and that's bad timing.

Q. Tedy, what's your take on "the slide"? -- Mitch (N.C.)

A.
Mitch, I know Tom Brady very well and I know how "bad" of an athlete he is. But he still knows how to slide. Being a former defensive player, when he put that leg up right into Ed Reed's knee area, there was potential for a serious injury to Reed. Just as defensive players know once a QB goes feet first, the play is over, QBs also have to know to keep those legs down. Reed was clearly trying to avoid Brady and I would not be surprised if Brady got fined for that. That's how defensive players get hurt.

Q.
Do you think Bernard Pollard should be fined for the "head-hunting" hit on Stevan Ridley? -- Nick (Bristol, Conn.)

A.
Nick, no, I do not. That's a big part of the game. Stevan Ridley was not a "defenseless" player.


Q. How did you feel about the Patriots not playing in the Super Bowl? -- Chris F. (Latham, N.Y.)

A.
I think this should be a reminder to all Patriots fans how tough it is to get there. You can be a 16-0 team and still get to the playoffs and eventually get beat. Believe me, I know.

So much has to go right. And so many different elements factor into it. The bottom line from Sunday's game was that the Ravens outplayed and outcoached the Patriots. Let's give the Ravens a lot of credit, especially players like Anquan Boldin. These guys made plays in critical times in the game. That's what it takes to be a champion. Congratulations, Baltimore.

It was a great year of chats. Thanks for all the participation and outstanding questions.