- Tedy Bruschi, Columnist, ESPN.com
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Join my weekly chat every Monday to have your question considered for the weekly Bruschi on Tap Q&A. Here we go with some thoughts on the Patriots' stunning Week 2 loss to the Cardinals ...
Q. As a player, did you ever blame the kicker if he missed a game-winning FG only to lose? Stephen Gostkowski and Tom Brady said all the right things, accepting blame, etc., but how does the locker room react to a player being unable to win it? I don't fully blame Gostkowski -- he should have made it, but that game was lost at the line of scrimage. -- Eric (Massachusetts)
You never blame anyone for a loss, unless it's Josh Morgan and you throw the ball at Cortland Finnegan in the Redskins-Rams game and put your team out of field goal range with a dumb decision. That's different. You don't blame a guy for going out there and doing his best and basically missing. You still support your kicker because you know there is going to be another game down the road when he will be needed.
Tedy, thanks for your insights! Was the Cardinal D that good or did the Patriots seem to lose their "fire" after the Aaron Hernandez injury? It seems that we took a docile approach vs. attack. This did not look like the Belichick/McDaniels aggressive nature from the 2007 season or even Game 1 of this year. Lastly, did you see a hold by Rob Gronkowski on the Danny Woodhead TD run? -- Paul C. (San Antonio, Texas)
A. Aaron Hernandez is the best overall player on that offense. He can do so many things. When he was lost, you could tell it did impact the team. Not only was it a downer for the Patriots, it was a boost for the Cardinals because matching up to that offense with Aaron Hernandez is impossible at times. A guy that can play WR one down and the next down line up at RB, you will have mismatches everywhere. Without that type of weapon, Ray Horton's job as Cardinals defensive coordinator just got a lot easier.
And to answer the second part of your question: Yes, Gronk was holding.
Q. Hey Bru, I know yesterday was a downer but I want to know what you thought of the defense? To me they seem tenacious and physical and are a very tough team to play against. -- Jesse (Cape Cod)
A. The defense played well yesterday. But in a game like that, when you're down 13-9 and it's second-and-18 ... Todd Heap catches the ball, there is a missed tackle on a 28-yard play, and you get a personal foul on top of that ... that down ruins your entire effort. That turned into seven points and all of a sudden you're down 20-9 and you're fighting for your life late in the third quarter. The ball was at the Arizona 28 when the play was run. It ended up at the New England 29. That's a huge play.
Q. Tedy, are you as surprised as I am that with all the weapons the Patriots have, I don't see a lot of separation from their receivers or the backs out of the backfield? A perfect example was the two-point conversation attempt. The Pats should have a play that is unstoppable even if the "D" knows it is coming. -- Brian (Chicago)
A. When it comes down to it, in the passing game, you're going to have to beat man-to-man coverage. Tom Brady is an accurate passer and these receivers are good route-runners. Let's credit the Arizona Cardinals for playing tight coverage all day. Coach Belichick always tells receivers, "Your job is to get open and catch the ball." They could have done that better yesterday.
Hey Tedy, thanks for the chat. What do you make of the Wes Welker situation? I'm just surprised he didn't start and then there was the lack of targets in Week 1. Thoughts? -- Rick (Massachusetts)
A. The Welker situation is going to take a different turn this week now that Aaron Hernandez is out. I'm sure Welker will be utilized even more. But let's realize also, Welker was targeted 11 times yesterday.
Q. Hey Tedy, I am not a huge X's and O's guy, but can you explain the three times we ran the ball with Woodhead on third-and-5-7? I know we have used him on the screen in the past, but it seems like when you have someone like TB12, passing the ball might have been a better option?? -- T.J. (Melbourne, Fla.)
Woodhead is taking over the Kevin Faulk role, asked to be Mr. Reliable in crucial situations. A third-down run. A screen play. When the game is on the line, a two-point conversion possibly. I will say this, every run to Woodhead or Stevan Ridley is one less pass attempt from Tom Brady to Wes Welker or Rob Gronkowski. And defenses will take that all day long.
Q. Seems the Pats over-engineered the kick at the end and willingly put Gostowski in a tough spot. With a full minute on the clock at the end, why did McDaniels and/or BB elect to explicitly play for a FG to win? Sitting in the 100 level, I was really upset by that call. -- Mike (Shirley, Mass.)
A. I've got to say it was borderline miraculous what Brandon Spikes was able to do. That was incredible to force that turnover. You get the ball offensively after that and it seems like if you run another play, you might go backwards even more -- after a holding penalty and false-start penalty. Your kicker has had a great day so far, and it was in his range. I'm going to bottom-line this for all of you -- he missed the kick. You know it and he knows it, and when that opportunity comes again, he'll make it.
Q. Two questions: In the Ravens game next week, do you think the Patriots will stay with a 3-WR set, or go back to 2 tight ends? Also, do you feel this is a better team than last year? -- AJ (Las Vegas)
A. It's way too early to compare this team with last year's team, although I do see this defense moving in the right direction. On offense, whatever grouping they decide to go with, it just won't have the same effect as if Hernandez was back there, especially with Ravens coordinator Dean Pees (former Pats coordinator). Without Hernandez, it eliminates defensive uncertainty in terms of how the offense will attack you.
Q. With the Jets falling yesterday and the Dolphins and Bills showing some signs of life, who will be the Patriots' most formidable foe fighting for the division? -- Mitch (Back Bay)
Right now, their biggest foe is themselves. Critical mistakes in critical situations. If they don't fix some of their own problems they won't have to worry who their competition is.
Q. I'm a diehard New Orleans Saints fan. I don't think this 0-2 start is going to hurt us. We are going to be right back at it vs. Chiefs and get the win. -- Jamar W. (Indianapolis)
A. Right now, playing against the Chiefs may be just what the 0-2 Saints need.
Q. Tedy, what are your thoughts on the Bucs' D rushing Eli Manning on the game-ending kneel-down? Do the Giants have a right to be upset? -- Sean (Boston)
Unfortunately, I have been a part of those victory kneel-downs, when you have to watch an offense kneel the ball down and do nothing about it. Firing at someone's legs is something we never did, but there was still time left on the clock and you have to be ready every snap.
Q. Would you agree that it appears Brady's mobility has taken a shocking nosedive? Watching him attempt to throw on the run is painful. Does his lack of pocket mobility have more to do with O-line struggles or is Brady finally in decline? -- Matt (Western Massachusetts)
It's Tom's 13th year. He's not going to be as quick as he was five years ago. He never has been considered a mobile quarterback. I remember being on the sidelines when Tom started running and the entire defense was yelling "get down!" It's not Michael Vick out there.
Q. Hey Tedy! Let's put the brakes on all the panic talk that I'm sure is rippling throughout New England today. Yes, the offensive line needs to get better, but they're a new unit collectively and need a bit more time to gel. Sebastian Vollmer is getting back to 100 percent and as soon as he's able to anchor the right side of that line, we'll be in much better shape. Yes, Hernandez may be out for a while, but we still have massive offensive weapons in Gronk, Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Ridley. The Brady-Lloyd connection seems to be inches away from a tremendous payoff. The offense will find its footing. Dont'a Hightower, Chandler Jones and Tavon Wilson are all making tremendous plays on defense and are making me very excited to see this team come January. I'd much rather have a 20-18 loss in Week 2 than a 20-18 loss in the wild-card round. What do you think? Should we be concerned about this team? -- Justin (New York)
A. That's a great question, Justin, and I love your optimism. But that punt team needs to be fixed. Nate Ebner, on the left wing, is going to be attacked for the next month. Not only did he give up a blocked punt to Quentin Groves at the end of the second quarter, he was beat clean on an inside swim by Sam Acho. On the blocked punt, he wasn't stout enough. On the whiff of Acho, he ducked his head. This is a tough position to play. I played it for over a decade. I remember having a hard time with it my second year when Dante Scarnecchia pulled me aside and coached me up in the training room with two rolls of tape, teaching me to have proper leverage on edge rushers. Because basically you're the punt team's left tackle. When you are protecting a left-footed punter that is directionally punting up your backside, it's one of the toughest jobs in football. I remember protecting Josh Miller and constantly telling him, "Please lessen your angle!" But the Patriots are a directional punting team at times. Ebner has to get better or they have to find somebody else.
Q. Hey Tedy! I'm very disappointed in the team's performance yesterday, and I guess like others, I'm just looking for answers. What stood out to me was the awful play-calling throughout the game. Repeatedly running with Woodhead (who was awful) on third down, forgetting about Gronk and Welker until the fourth quarter and the perceived notion of forcing the ball to Lloyd. To top it all off, BB and McD arrogantly kneel the ball toward the end instead of trying to get a few more yards for Gostkowski. You have Tom Hall of Famer Brady as your QB and you can't run a couple quick out routes to move the ball closer? What happened this week, Tedy? I truly feel like the Pats deserved to lose this game. -- John (Central N.Y.)
A. It wasn't a good performance, John. Blocked kicks. Turnovers. Missed tackles and bad decisions in crucial situations by the defense. But after all of that, they still had a chance to win. Gostkowski just has to make the kick next time.
Q. Tedy, I know you love 'backers, and one play stood out to me. Brandon Spikes had one play where he flew into a hole, took on the blocker with his right shoulder, got off of the block and made a TFL -- great 'backer play. These Pats front 7 are just scary. -- Charles (Rhode Island)
That was a great play by Spikes. But the one in the second quarter, with 6:25 left, when he put a spin move on the center and got pressure on Kevin Kolb, that's what fired me up. Watching Spikes attack the line of scrimmage is one of my favorite things to watch when watching the Patriots.
Tedy, It's amazing that Logan Mankins finished last season with two torn ACL/MCLs. How do you see his progress returning to form and do you think his recovery is affecting the overall performance of the offensive line? -- Aaron (UK)
A. Let's end with this. You've got to recognize that Mankins is barely six months removed from ACL surgery. He can't be 100 percent out there yet, but he's just that tough. Couple that with the Dan Connolly injury, and the unexpected no-show of Brian Waters and retirement of Matt Light, and you have an offensive line in flux. Do you trust Dante Scarnecchia? I do. But this is going to take a little time. They just went up against Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. Those two combined for 14 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss, one batted ball and three quarterback hits. In comes Haloti Ngata of the Ravens. They have to get better, and they have to get better quick.
The loss of Aaron Hernandez is a painful blow to the Patriots' game plan.