Commentary

Growing pains are part of process

Mistake-filled win over the Bills may be just what this young Pats team needed

Updated: September 9, 2013, 5:39 PM ET
By Tedy Bruschi | ESPNBoston.com

Join my weekly chat every Monday to have your question considered for the weekly Bruschi on Tap Q&A. I know you're all excited to have some questions answered on Sunday's tight game against the Buffalo Bills, so let's get started.

Q. Tedy, good start for the team. I expect the start of the season to be a work in progress and for the team to yield much better results in November and December. The two issues that concern me today are these: In the past two games that mattered (AFC Championship and yesterday), Stevan Ridley has fumbled. In those same two games, and this is what really worries me, the offense has not scored a second-half TD. Should we as Patriots fans be concerned with the lack of adjustments made on offense those two games? Is Josh McDaniels or anyone partially to blame? Thanks and a belated congratulations on getting into the Patriots Hall of Fame. -- Jay (North End)

A. OK, Jay, I like what you're saying here. This is the same attitude I've had about this team. As young as some of the guys are at certain positions, expect growing pains in September and October. Think about this: We're all talking about a game and the problems this team has, but they still won. That is a credit to the adjustments these coaches were making yesterday. I know they didn't score a touchdown, but they got the points they needed to win. I hear what you're saying about the offensive adjustments in the second half, but adjustments are tough to make when there are big mistakes to overcome. When you fumble the ball on the 1-yard line, you're not worried about adjustments, you're worried about damage control.

[+] Enlarge
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesKenbrell Thompkins, who caught just four of the 14 passes that came his way, is one of the Pats rookies that hopefully will learn from his mistakes.

Q. Tedy, what would you do right away to boost the confidence of rookies who had a bad debut yesterday? Hope Kenbrell Thompkins, Zach Sudfeld, Ryan Allen, and Josh Boyce can turn it around fast because we need them. Was it jitters or a case where they reflected their low draft status? -- Nissim (Bogota, Colombia)

A. I'm not concerned with what caused their problems. You're right, Nissim, you should be concerned about how they respond. These kids will come to learn that they're not playing in a market like Jacksonville. The criticism and pressure will come from all angles and it's crucial that the coaching staff has the right feel of what type of mentality each player has. I've seen examples of young players with this team fold under the pressure that the Boston media, combined with the Belichick hard-driving approach, produce. What I'm saying is that veterans can be part of this -- know when to get in their face and know when to pat them on the backside.

Q. Tedy, thanks for coming by to chat with the Pats fans! As a Stevan Ridley owner, please tell me Bill Belichick will give him a chance to redeem himself in Week 2! -- Adam (Broomfield)

A. Stevan Ridley is a young player and although he now has a reputation across the NFL as a fumbler, I still believe it's something he can overcome. But as of right now, he cannot be counted on as an every-down back. You have to slowly work him back in to regain his confidence.

Q. Hi, Tedy, what do you think of the WR situation? Thompkins missed a lot of relatively easy catches. Do you think the lack of plays from the TE influences the WR? -- Alexis (Montreal)

A. Thompkins is another young player who has something to learn from this game. You need to get two feet down in the NFL. Before you start your movement to catch the ball, you need to be thinking about when you're coming down. A perfect example is in the back of the end zone when he was pushed out of bounds. You must anticipate that contact if the defender is close, jumping into the defender, anticipating a push. Little tricks like that, which veteran WRs have told me they use over the years, is something he'll have to learn.

Q. Please give me your prediction -- by Week 17, who are the Patriots' receivers in a 3-WR set? -- David (Boston)

A. That's very difficult to predict, David, especially when this is a game-plan team. In Week 17, Rob Gronkowski might be 100 percent healthy and they may be majoring in 2-TE sets. Right now, the prediction is for Week 2 and can anyone guarantee an appearance for Danny Amendola? After an obvious groin injury and coming back into the game, today is the day when you have to hope there wasn't too much damage done to the groin. Maybe with the short week, he needs a little more time to heal.

Q. I thought Blount looked slow on the field against the Bills. I didn't see much upside there -- will he really find a way to contribute to this team? In what role? -- Steve (Southie)

A. At the beginning of every game, Blount might look slow. He's the type of runner you have to get going. Do you start him to get this process moving along? We'll see in Week 2. Blount hasn't had some ball-security issues in the past, either. Right now, the Patriots' running back job is up for grabs. Who wants it?

Shane Vereen is also part of the discussion. I see Vereen as being similar to Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson on those old Detroit Pistons teams. Johnson came off the bench and it didn't take him long to warm up; he was hot right when he got the ball. But coach Chuck Daly rarely seemed to start Johnson. That's who I think Vereen can be. When someone is performing in a high level in a certain role, you don't want to change that. So it's either Blount or Ridley. Who do you want out there?

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AP Photo/Bill WippertThe Patriots are hoping the apparent groin injury suffered by Danny Amendola (10 catches for 104 yards on Sunday) won't keep him down Thursday night against the Jets.

Q. How do you compare this bunch of receivers with the bunch from 2006, when Reche Caldwell was the top receiver after Troy Brown? Does Brady have Super Bowl-caliber targets? -- Butch M. (Columbia, Mo.)

A. Right now, you have to love what Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman are doing. These guys are tough and reliable when healthy. They are tough and get the job done when healthy. You have to be worried about Amendola's groin. Is he going to be available on a short week for a Thursday night game? I've always been a fan of Edelman and how hard he plays and the toughness he brings -- even when they had him on the defensive side of the ball. I know they signed him to a one-year contract, but this is a guy they need to have around. Definitely a candidate for the end-of-year All Bruschi team.

Q. The defense looks like it hasn't gotten any better and lacks aggression. Are they afraid to make a mistake, or is it we just don't have the talent? I wish they'd played with more of an edge. Thanks. -- Mike (North Dakota)

A. The defense was put in some tough spots. For example, after a turnover, the Bills took over on the Patriots' 37-yard line (and quickly scored a touchdown). Overall, the defense got off the field in the fourth quarter, which gave the offense a chance to do what it needed. Right now, I think the bigger issue is that there is a lack of a Gronkowski effect on this team. I noticed a play, a simple incompletion by Tom Brady at 11:03 -- a play-action pass in which TE Michael Hoomanawanui was trying to get into his route -- and you could tell Brady was waiting for him to get open. He couldn't wait any more so he started to scramble to his right and then threw an errant pass to Josh Boyce. That's a play where Gronkowski gets down to the middle of the field and it's a 25-yard completion. Maybe more. Right now, the concern is still this offense holding on until Gronkowski gets back.

Q. Hey, Tedy, great to have you back for the chats for another year! How did you see the breakdown on Robert Woods' touchdown? Safety a little slow getting over? -- Ian B. (Ottawa)

A. I do not feel the safety was slow getting over. It appeared to me, watching the replay and the tape of the game this morning, that Steve Gregory was helping on the tight end. Before the play, Gregory communicates to Dont'a Hightower, who was covering the tight end. That's why I thought Gregory was helping Hightower over the top, and I say that because the easiest throw in the red area is to the tight end in the middle of the field. The lower-percentage throws are deep to the outside. You notice something else before the play, Aqib Talib is attempting to communicate with Kyle Arrington (the inside corner). The Bills are in a bunch formation, which means three receivers within close proximity. This can cause traffic problems and stresses proper communication. As the play develops, Stevie Johnson breaks to the flat. Both Arrington and Talib sit on it (attempting to defend it). That's where the breakdown occurred. One of them was supposed to have the 7 route to Woods, and the other was supposed to play deep to short on the flat route. You never want to have two defenders focused on a flat route when you have a receiver going deep and outside (the 7 route). Especially in the red area.

Q. Was yesterday a lackluster pass-rush performance by the Patriots or a solid pass-protection job by the Bills' O-line? -- Matthew (Syracuse)

A. You have to give credit to the Bills' offensive line and also the tempo of the offense. Add that to a quarterback who makes quick decisions and gets the ball out of his hands efficiently, and it's going to be tough to get to the quarterback.

Q. Tedy, great to have you back! I thought the defense showed mental toughness and resolve in the fourth quarter -- something I think will be critical for the team's success this season, and may have been somewhat lacking in recent years. I would love to get your thoughts on the performance of the D-line. It seemed to me as though the Pats played a fairly vanilla nickel defense most of the day, with Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones mostly asked to hold the edge, but still, I would have liked to have seen a sack or two. Your thoughts? -- Adam (Broomfield)

A. They did try some creative alignments. I noticed Chandler Jones lined up over the guard. But I'm questioning the interior defensive line rotation. It looked like yesterday it was Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly and Joe Vellano. During the series where Wilfork was out, you noticed a tremendous drop in play.

Q. Good afternoon and congratulations on your place in Patriots/NFL history. I wanted to ask you, did the heart and mental toughness showed by our Pats yesterday impress you? I thought it was a huge sign for them to fight through miscues. -- Angel (Florida)

A. I think this was exactly what they needed. There are so many young players on this team that September can be looked at like an extension of the preseason. The more positive learning experiences they can have is a positive. Usually "learning experience" means you've messed up and it's something you need to fix. But if you can win games as you go through learning experiences, it helps tremendously.

Thanks for all the great questions. Have a great day, everyone.

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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