Commentary

It won't get any easier

From now on, these Patriots will have to grind out their victories

Updated: October 21, 2013, 7:27 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.

Q. Tedy, what is your opinion of Steve Gregory's play? He seems to take poor angles, miss a lot of tackles, hurts our own guys (e.g. Mayo) ... looked like a good play at the end of the Jets game, but one of the few I recall. Is it more -- we just see the mistakes, not all of the good plays -- or is he terrible and we don't have anyone else that's better? -- Mike (West Roxbury, Mass.)

A. First of all, Mike, he's not terrible. Is he playing at a Pro Bowl level? No. Is he ever going to be Rodney Harrison? No. In terms of safeties hurting LBs, believe me, there were so many times Harrison hit me in the back and it was much harder than any time I was hit by the offense. It's just the way you play, sometimes you're a victim of friendly fire.

[+] EnlargeBilal Powell
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaIs safety Steve Gregory a weak link for the Patriots' defense? Here he gets beat by Jets running back Bilal Powell, who scored on the play.

Q. Tedy, when is some of the accountability of the offensive failures this season going to fall at Josh McDaniels' feet? He doesn't seem to be good at making adjustments in adverse situations compared with Bill O'Brien. Your thoughts? -- Jeff A. (Spring Hill, Fla.)

A. You have to think like an offensive coordinator. If you want to make adjustments, what players are going to carry those adjustments out? How much confidence would you have in your rookie WRs? If you're involving your RBs in adjustments, how complex can you be because they struggle catching the ball? I think that creativity will come out more when Shane Vereen and Danny Amendola are on the field.

Q. Hi Tedy! Thanks for answering questions and for the way you played. Patriots history question here: With Bill Parcells entering the Hall of Fame this year, can you describe how his influence stayed with the team after he left and perhaps provided a foundation for the championship years? Many thanks! -- Jason (Burlington, Vt.)

A. Jason, I absolutely think Bill Parcells contributed to the championship years here in New England. I was fortunate to have him as my coach my rookie year. I felt like he laid the foundation for me on how to be successful in the NFL. He did that with many others.

Q. Tedy, is the Pats O-Line underperforming? I expected them to be a force this season, but the Bengals and Jets (two excellent D-Lines, mind you) have thrashed them. Also, lots of people blaming the rookie WRs for drops, and deservedly so, but hasn't TB-12 missed one wide open, long bomb a week? Aaron Dobson this week, Danny Amendola last week. -- Bill (Spokane, Wash.)

A. They have gone up against some very good defensive lines with the Bengals and Jets. I, too, would have liked them to make more of a commitment to run the ball. Twenty rushing attempts in a game like that isn't enough. But this offense is at a point right now where there is little margin for error. They don't have enough playmakers to make up for some of the mistakes they are making. It seems like Tom Brady sometimes has to play perfect for them to get a win. That's almost impossible for him to do on a week-to-week basis.

Q. Tedy, the last two minutes of close or OT NFL games. I believe the refs need to let the players decide the outcome of the games on the field and keep the yellow flag in their pocket (unless there's an egregious personal foul committed). Your thoughts? -- Chris (Huntersville, N.C.)

A. Chris, usually if officials want to make a point regarding a call, or send a message throughout the league, they'll make these calls in preseason or even early parts of the regular season. It was surprising to see a flag, on a penalty that has never been called before, on a play to decide the game.

Q. Teddy, what percentage of NFL linebackers can cover tight ends and running backs for an appreciable length of time? My guess is it is pretty low. If that is the case, what is the best way to defend against the Darren Sproles and Jimmy Grahams of the world.? And should we, as fans, not be so harsh on the Donta Hightowers who are trying to cover them? -- Munchkin (Glenwood Springs, Colo.)

A. Linebackers have to be able to cover. It's part of their job description. Are you armed with calls that can help you do that job? Yes. You can get help from your defensive line by chipping TEs or RBs, or you can possibly get help from your fellow LBs and play bracket coverage. Either way, when your number is called, you just have to get the job done because you can't double everyone. There are a handful of downs, through the course of every game, where you are going to be man-to-man with no help.

Q. Hey Tedy. Tough loss yesterday. It looked to me like Tom Brady was consistently under-throwing his receivers -- especially Rob Gronkowski. I'm sure there are a lot of factors at work, but I wonder if you were seeing the same thing. Or, if not, what do you make of the inconsistent passing game? -- Gooby (The Attic)

A. I absolutely agree that Tom Brady could have played better. I think there are a lot of players on the team who fall into that category. But even watching Peyton Manning last night, there are throws in every game where your receivers have to help out the QB. That's been hard this year for the Patriots. One thing I knew that would happen yesterday was that Geno Smith would make a major mistake to alter the game. I just didn't expect Tom Brady to give the Jets the equalizer.

Q. I will give you the answer and you can come up with the question: "It's not like we have Aaron Rodgers waiting in the wings." -- Jason (Los Angeles)

A. Question: What is a Patriots fan who has lost perspective thinking right now?

Q. The Jets and Pats split the series, with each team winning by 3 at home. It's unfortunate that the penalty played such a major role in the game, but the bottom line is that each game could have gone either way. Fair to call these two teams even? -- Jeremy (New Jersey)

A. After watching yesterday's game, I'd say yes. Each quarterback made a crucial error.

Q. Tedy, we are approaching the midpoint of the season, so we should start to get a sense of what the 2013 Patriots are about. So, what do you think? In my view, if Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Aqib Talib had stayed healthy, I think this team could have gone all the way. But, without them, I just don't think this team has championship-level talent. (Yes, Talib will probably come back, but he's had a history of hip issues, and I'm guessing he'll be in and out of the lineup.) The offense will be better with Gronk, but I just don't see the rookie WRs improving that much over the rest of the season. What we see now is probably what we are going to get from them. And, we'll be lucky if Amendola plays half of the remaining games. -- Jeff (Arlington, Va.)

A. Jeff, these are interesting observations, and through seven weeks and looking at the remainder of the schedule, the last two games we've seen are the way it's going to be. Nothing is going to come easy for the Patriots from here on out. There comes a time when you've just lost too much. Mayo on IR. Wilfork on IR. Amendola can't stay healthy. This team will have to grind out victories for the rest of the season. This team will be in games where one play in the fourth quarter will decide everything.

Q. Tedy, I know BB fell on his sword, but what about the instructional video that focused on guys taking a running start to push the line? Also, what's the world coming to when a professional football player can be penalized for pushing? -- Peter (Houston)

A. Peter, I think the NFL does a good job of explaining what will be a penalty and what won't be a penalty. Coach Belichick usually has his players overly prepared. But eliminating the pushing on the FG block is smart. When I got behind Richard Seymour and put both of my hands on him and pushed at the snap, we would absolutely obliterate offensive linemen. It would get to the point when I couldn't push anymore and I would take my right shoulder and fire into the middle of Seymour's back. Nine times out of 10, there was a mass of humanity on the ground. I thought it was cool. I was always the one still standing getting to witness it. But I can just imagine what those offensive linemen felt each time. We used to crush those guys.

Q. Hi Tedy! How much, if any, of the Patriots' offensive woes this year do you think we can attribute to Brady's potential decline as an aging QB? Do you anticipate the Patriots potentially looking for their QB of the future next April if the entire year plays out like this? -- Justin (Cambridge)

A. Let me ask you this, Justin. Did you have these questions after last week's game versus the Saints? Did anyone think Brady was declining after last week's win over the Saints? This is the way it goes week to week. I understand you have such passion that when you follow these teams, you want immediate answers. But the answer for Brady's performance is this: He didn't play well against the Jets on Oct. 20, 2013. But one week ago, on Oct. 13, 2013, Brady led a magical comeback that had everyone saying "This guy has a lot left in the tank." This is the NFL. This is how it goes. And this is why you say it over and over again, but sometimes it's not believed -- FOOTBALL IS A TEAM SPORT. When the offense doesn't play well, you hope the defense does. Or vice versa. Or special teams forces a turnover. Logan Ryan made a great play on that INT return for a TD. Gronkowski's return, I felt, was extremely positive. I was nervous after that first play when he got a helmet right to that forearm. For him to come back and play like he did, you have to feel good about where he is going to be when the season progresses. Tom Brady didn't play well yesterday. He can play better. What you need to ask yourself is this: Do you think he will play better? I do.

Q. How do you feel the level of Gronk's play was? Do you think he jumped right in and is firing on all cylinders or do you think Brady had timing issues? -- Micah (Connecticut)

A. I thought Gronk played well. I thought he played very well for being gone for so long. Maybe this was a benefit of not being on PUP so he could get so much practice time in. One thing I noticed was this: On the seam route when he ended up at the 1-yard line, usually he would keep his feet and get it into the end zone. That was a sign of his first game back. A couple more games under his belt, I think he catches that ball and doesn't fall down. As the season goes on, and that same play arises, you can anticipate him catching that ball, not falling down, and getting 10-20-30 yards after the catch, or running into the end zone.

Q. I thought Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan manned the outside pretty well, but the Patriots had problems covering the slot and TE. What can they do to improve next week? Will we see different personnel? Can you give us a few downs? -- Steve (Southbury, Conn.)

A. Steve, I thought Dennard and Ryan played very well at times. Ryan made a nice play on that pick-six, although I'd like to see him celebrate with a little more class.

Q. I second the thought about celebrating with a little more class ... West (Connecticut)

Q, Gronk had a good game, but I feel like his return hurt Brady a bit. Tom seemed to focus all his attention on Gronk and forced a lot of balls his way. Does Brady still lack trust that much in his rookie WRs that he would rather throw to a double-coverage Gronk than a single-covered rookie? -- EJ -- Hollywood Pats Fan

A. One thing you have to remember is that these rookie WRs are mostly outside WRs. I wouldn't consider the young WRs in the Danny Amendola/Wes Welker mold. These young WRs should have complementary roles. When you get the slot presence back, and Shane Vereen back, that's the triangle you need -- receiving TE, dependable slot WRs and a receiving running back out of the backfield who can be a threat in the screen game, etc. These young outside WRs need to have a complementary role. I would rather Brady overly rely on Gronkowski and so would my son, who has him on his fantasy team.

I'll just wrap it up with this thought: This is the way it's going to have to be for the Patriots. They will have to play great situational football, make plays in the fourth quarter, and they're going to have to play clean (minimizing the turnovers and the penalties). The day of the blowout victory is over.

Thanks to everyone for chatting. We'll do it again next week.

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.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.


EDITORS' PICKS

MORE NFL HEADLINES