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Monday, November 25, 2013
Pats were both good and lucky

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. Did the Pats win the game, or did the Broncos give it to them? -- Jake (New York)

A. A game of that magnitude you hate to see end that way. You want to see both teams performing at a high level and one of them making a play to win. The Broncos were the ones making the mistake, a special-teams error. It was a little bit of both. That was a huge mistake. But the Patriots played fantastic to get back into the game and take the lead. That's the way the ball bounces, I guess.

Q. Tedy, what makes Tom Brady such a great cold-weather QB, considering he is a West Coast kid. Manning definitely isn't the same in the cold climate. I like the Pats' chances of getting to the Super Bowl with Brady's cold-weather skills. -- Butch M. (Columbia, Mo.)

A. Some quarterbacks just throw a ball that cuts through the wind and cuts through the weather. Tom has always thrown that kind of ball. I think what you saw last night, Broncos fans have a legitimate reason to be worried. Peyton Manning's arm obviously isn't as strong as it used to be. His passes fluttered in the air. There was no velocity. Not only that, but when the football was on the path to the receiver, it looked like a knuckleball. When you're a receiver and there is wind and the ball is knuckling toward you, that's a tough ball to catch. Playing in Denver, or having to come back in NE, or if KC squeaks out the top seed, Manning is going to have to go outdoors. With the Super Bowl in New York, with Brady being the cold-weather QB that he is, the Patriots would definitely have an advantage.

Tom Brady
Tom Brady throws a ball with such velocity that it cuts through the wind, which was a huge advantage for the Pats on Sunday night.

Q. Hi Tedy, the best game of the season ... loved it. I think the players would need to settle down quick. After what the Pats did to the Texans last year, this could be a revenge match for the Texans in their own stadium. I wanted to ask you about your interview with Wes Welker. Outside of what we saw in the video, did you feel Wes had a chip on his shoulder coming in to Foxborough? Can you tell us one fascinating incident or observation from your session with Wes that we didn't see in the interview? -- Ayush (Boston)

A. The one thing I know about Wes, having a friendship with him, his chip never goes away -- no matter who he is playing. Yes, you know he wanted to do well last night, but his mind was in the right place. The one question I asked him that wasn't in the interview they showed on "NFL Countdown" was: "How does this stat line sound for the game: seven catches, 95 yards and a touchdown?" His immediate response, before I got the numbers out of my mouth, he shook his head and said, "W, Tedy." All Wes wants to do is win a championship. He produced at a historic level for this team but didn't win a championship. He wants one badly.

Q. Tedy, do you think we see more of Jamie Collins going forward? I feel we saw a level of athleticism we have not seen from a Patriot linebacker in a while. He had some eye-raising plays, like when he blew up Moreno and caused Manning to fumble. Dont'a Hightower, although good, seems to be too big to keep up in coverage and has been beaten repeatedly. What are your thoughts on the LBs? -- Will (Austin, Texas)

A. Collins was productive last night and you saw a lot of positive things -- 10 total tackles. He had some positive plays in coverage. But your playing time on this defense will depend on the game plan of the week. If this was a team that had a different offensive philosophy, maybe you'd see a little bit less of Collins. The Patriots were mostly in sub defense last night. So do they now consider him the sub LB? In a game when you might play more regular personnel, we might not see him as much. But you can call this a big step in his development. Biggest game of the year, against a top-ranked team, and he played and produced. He can use this momentum toward earning more playing time.

Q. Tedy, did I see BB take a timeout just to give his D a blow? What do you think of this tactic? -- Peter (Houston)

A. Peter, I'm not sure what timeout you are referencing here, but it is a strategy to use TOs at certain places to give the defense a rest or time to gather information. One technique that is used is called the "Kodak" timeout. This is when the offense comes out and lines up in a formation and the defense will call timeout due to the magnitude of the situation. You want that mental picture (formation, motion, grouping), and you go to the coaches on the sideline and talk about what you saw and the possibility of plays you can get from that set. Then you go back out there and have some type of information on play possibilities.

Q. Hello! I am new following the NFL, so it is hard for me to understand how a hit to the head like LeGarrette Blount took is allowed. That caused the fumble, not something else. In Stevan Ridley's case, his last play before the fumble was a good run and he did a celebration that made me think: "Oh man, please keep yourself humble!" And then, that big fumble! He is good, but seems to me any little success gets fast to his head! How do you see it? I am a big fan of you guys! -- Rodrigo (San Paulo, Brazil)

A. This is a good observation. First, regarding the hit to the head, you can only prevent so much. It's football and I understand the emphasis on protecting players. But when it comes down to it, there will still be head-to-head collisions. I was thinking the same thing on the play previous to the fumble, as he motioned to the crowd to try to get them pumped up. It reminds me of every time he scores and he has his choreographed celebration -- making a door and kicking it in. I agree with you. Until he shows more consistency holding on to the ball, he should think less about choreographed celebrations.

Q. Tedy, I'm curious what your thoughts are on Ridley's fumbles from a locker room perspective. I know that BB and Brady will keep a "need" mentality moving forward, because Ridley has played well otherwise. But at what point do guys start to look at a guy whose issue has turned somewhat habitual and view him as a detriment? The same offensive lineman getting called for holding in three games in a row is not nearly as game-changing as a guy coughing the ball up three games in a row. -- Steve (Florida)

A. You always have your teammate's back in the locker room and you give them support as much as you can. But when you have a constant error repeater (which is the term Coach Belichick uses himself), there comes a point where you start losing the faith of your teammate as well. I think Ridley is a good player, but when you carry the ball, you carry the fate of the organization.

Stevan Ridley
They may have his back in the locker room, but at what point do Stevan Ridley's teammate lose faith in him?

Q. Hey Tedy. On Stevan Ridley, I know there has been some bad luck with opponents putting a helmet on the ball, but last night it looked more like Ridley got sloppy with some razzle-dazzle (spin move). What do the coaches do at this point? And should he be coached to just lower his shoulder in that situation? -- Gooby (The road)

A. I've never been a fan of a running back that relied heavily on the spin move. Playing against that type of RB, I always enjoyed that. There was the possibility of a point when a RB had his back to the pursuing defense, you felt like you might get a good shot. Once a RB starts a spin, he has to eventually come around. As a defender, you can make up about 3 yards while an offensive player spins if you're pursuing full speed. There is a point where when you complete your spin, your body has to regroup. And there is a possibility that the pressure on the ball has lessened. Defenders know this and that's when you can get a big hit that might force a fumble. Referencing the play last night, I felt Ridley had more than enough time to see LB Danny Trevathan. The thought process for a RB, what it should trigger, is "Hold on to the ball as this free runner is coming toward me."

Q. Hey Tedy, is it to harsh to not want Ridley on the team? I wish no ill will to the young man, I just don't trust him not to fumble. -- Patrick (Keene, N.H.)

A. After all that I have just criticized him, Stevan Ridley is a good player and can help this team win. Let's not forget, LeGarrette Blount came in and spit the seed too. We mentioned this last week, referencing the defensive index, that if you keep the Broncos from the big play, there are chances for big production. This is what that defense is -- big plays like Danny Trevathan's, big hitters like Duke Ihenacho. So let me put this plainly: As poorly as Ridley has been protecting the football, they will need him to win a championship.

Q. Hey Tedy, it seems like they are always rushing at the same spot on the defensive line (left tackle). Denver did it last night with Knowshon Moreno and Carolina did it last week DeAngelo Williams. What do the Pats need to do to stop this? I thought Isaac Sopoaga was supposed to help up front, yet Chandler Jones and Joe Vellano are getting most of the snaps. Your thoughts? -- Phil (Braintree, Mass.)

A. Manny Ramirez, the center for the Broncos, is a very strong player. At times, he was manhandling the interior DL of the Patriots. If a team wants to attack the Patriots in the middle and run the ball, they will have success, but it's hard to have success against this defense through four quarters because of the intelligence of the coaching staff. If you recognized the adjustment last night, it was sending Jones and Rob Ninkovich and crashing them down from their defensive end positions to stop that inside run. They could do that because Peyton Manning himself was not a running threat. That stopped the bleeding a little bit as they held on the best they could to force the Broncos into some tough third-down situations.

Q. Tedy, what do u think the atmosphere was in the locker room at halftime -- a lot of harsh words or just focus on adjustments for the 2nd half??? -- John (New Jersey)

A. Very rarely do I remember Coach Belichick losing control. I remember assistant defensive coaches throwing things against the wall, but Bill always focused on what needed to be done. I'm sure offensively they talked about what they needed to get done because they were getting the ball first. And defensively I'm sure they talked about adjustments in trying to stop Knowshon Moreno.

Q. Do you think that the Patriots can still get the No. 1 seed in the playoffs at this point? -- Michael (Easton, Mass.)

A. Yes I do. I think the Patriots can get the No. 1 seed. There are a handful of teams I see as still being possibilities -- Broncos, Chiefs, and the Colts and Bengals can put together a run also. This season has just begun.

Q. Should Wes have tried to catch the punt in OT? -- Tim (Durham, N.H.)

A.  So many things went wrong on that play for the Broncos. First of all, I think a poor coaching decision was made. They decided to double vice the punt team corners late from a stack alignment. A double vice is when you use two players to double team the gunners on the punt team. The double team came from the players aligned in the box from a stack alignment. A stack alignment being basically lined up as linebackers. When you do that, and the gunners are able to get downfield, it causes a traffic problem. There are special-teams coaches in the NFL that don't believe in the double vice, aligned or late from the stack alignment, when it's a punt from midfield. Because the odds of the punt having to be caught inside the 20 yard line are great, and if you bring traffic problems into that situation, the chances of ball-handling errors are higher.

Usually, the vice players are coached that once you get to the 20-yard line you must start to abort. I've been on every single special-teams unit -- throughout college and every year in my NFL career. I've never played gunner, but when you play the inside positions, you learn the rules of every position. Once those vice players reach the 20-yard line, especially the 15-yard line, you must veer off to the sideline. You just don't know where the ball is being fielded, especially when in a double vice situation because you're focused on the man more than the ball. If the gunners were single-teamed, that gives the vice player more space to get his head around and see where the returner is (because you're not worried about double-teaming or working with another player). This is also why some special-teams coaches around the league would rather rush at midfield. Then you would have single vice players on the edges and you would definitely take the option of returning the punt away because the front players wouldn't be blocked as well (especially with the wind to your back). The Patriots punted from the 43 and with the wind at their back, so it was definitely a punt that was going to be fielded around the 15 or so.

So back to your question, could Wes have fielded the ball? It was possible, but with that wind, it would have made it a difficult catch. Should Tony Carter have been there in the first place? In my opinion, no. Once he reached the 20, he should have veered off, away from the returner. These decisions have to be made very quickly. If you're a Broncos follower, it's a tough way to lose. But this isn't the first time it's happened to a team. This is why you see special-teams coaches often decide to rush in that situation, when the opponent is punting near midfield. The idea is to eliminate as much traffic as possible when the punt is fielded around the 10-yard line.