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Monday, November 14, 2011
Updated: November 22, 8:52 AM ET
Pats pass mental-toughness test

By Tedy Bruschi

Instead of the traditional five observations in Bruschi On Tap, we've switched things up to a weekly Q-and-A, with fans reflecting on the Patriots' huge win over the Jets on Sunday night. Join my weekly chat every Monday at 11 a.m. to have your question considered. Here we go...

Q. The secondary still scares me going forward but they played well in this game. The Patriots had their best pass-rush game of the season. How big was the pass rush last night and how big is it going forward? -- Davidj (North Attleboro, Mass.)

A. If the pass rush can produce the way it did last night, there are going to be good results. But you're right to still feel nervous about the secondary. Against Mark Sanchez, they're going to look good. He isn't the caliber of quarterback of an Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger. But still, you have to give props to this defense for stepping up the way it did.

Q. Tedy, could this performance be a turning point in the season for the defense (and the team)? Obviously the secondary is hurting and the Pats will face some talented QBs over the next seven weeks, but it really looked like everyone who stepped on the field answered the call. -- Eliott (Massachuetts)

A. Looking down the line of quarterbacks, I don't know who would be in that category. Matt Cassel is banged up. Michael Vick is playing poorly. Are you scared of Curtis Painter? I don't know if this is a turning point, but this is a huge confidence boost to a lot of unproven players who got more playing time than they have all season. A defense can come together after a performance like last night.

Q. Hey Tedy, much more than last week, today is a really GOOD day to be a Pats fan in NYC. Though the defense had some spotty moments, I think that these guys should be proud of the heart and the grit they showed in this victory. They had a lot of doubters, but they pulled off a big win in dramatic fashion. Here's the question, though: This defense is still nerve-racking week to week; what's it going to take to get to the next level? Consistency in the personnel? A big win (like last night?) -- CB (NYC)

Andre Carter and Mark Anderson
The Patriots will need Andre Carter and Mark Anderson to continue to make big plays on defense.

A. Big plays have to continue, CB. This is New England, so we're not talking about winning the division, right? We're talking about raising another banner. For that to happen, big plays like the ones made by Andre Carter and Rob Ninkovich last night have to be made on a regular basis, especially late in the year.

Q. Tedy, in what has been described by various "experts"/talking heads as one of the softest schedules left, what is the toughest (obvious) test -- and the toughest that might not stand out, at first glance. -- George (Warwick)

A. I think the toughest test now is the possibility of dealing with success. I think they showed incredible mental toughness to go into the Meadowlands and win. But now are they satisfied? This team has shown in the past that it's often tougher to deal with success than adversity. Are they looking ahead at their schedule and thinking they've made it to the playoffs? They have to approach every game from here on out like they approached last night, even though it's the softest schedule in the NFL remaining.

Q. Is it worrisome how often Tom Brady looks for Rob Gronkowski? I mean, I know he is all sorts of a large man and a great target, but he took some big hits and Tom has forced the ball to him. -- Charles (Rhode Island)

A. With Wes Welker being shadowed by Darrelle Revis the way he was last night, Brady had to go to Gronkowski.

Q. Tedy, what's wrong with the Pats' running offense? They looked promising in the preseason, but in the last few games there was no sign of gaining any meaningful yards. -- MarkJ (Japan)

A. I think injuries are starting to take their toll along the offensive line. Even though they've struggled the last few weeks, it can't be abandoned. As the weather starts to turn, this team still has to have balance.

Q. Did the Pats' D actually play well or did Sanchize make them look good? -- Chris (Cape Cod)

A. Both. Mark Sanchez didn't have a good night. He isn't that type of spread-out-the-offense quarterback that can attack a struggling secondary. He has to work off play-action. However, the Patriots did a great job of taking away Dustin Keller. He was targeted four times (two catches), and what that means is that Sanchez had to make tougher throws outside the numbers to his receivers. He couldn't keep doing that on a consistent basis.

Q. I may have missed a few draft picks (Meriweather, Jackson, Butler, etc.) but when I hit, I hit (Gronk, Hernandez, Wilfork, Mayo, etc.). I think people need to back off my "personnel decisions." -- B. Belichick (Foxborough)

A. No one is doubting that, Coach. You have picked some winners. You know I was high on Gronkowski, my University of Arizona brother. I know you've been looking for the next Mark Bavaro for years, and Gronk fit the mold. You're still not batting 1,000, though!

Q. Why do you think the Pats were able to put so much pressure on Sanchez? Do you think the Pats will focus on improving the pass rush given the injuries to the secondary? -- Aaron (NYC)

A. Sanchez was indecisive last night. He held on to the ball too long at times, and he looked confused in the pocket, a little frenetic. When a quarterback doesn't make quick decisions, it allows the rush more time to get there. Taking away Keller was huge, because once you get Sanchez off his first read, that's when he starts to become indecisive.

Andre Carter
Were the Patriots really that good on Sunday night or was Mark Sanchez that bad?

Q. Tedy, how tough is Tom Brady? If any other 30+-year-old QB is at the bottom of a pile fighting for a fumble for a couple minutes with D linemen, what are the chances they come out with it? I thought that was the most telling play, even though he was off a bit in the first half, I knew we were getting the "will not be denied" version of Tom after that play. -- Mike (DC)

A. Great point, Mike. How Muhammad Wilkerson doesn't get that ball is beyond me. For Brady to go in there and fight for that ball was a great sign of how tough that guy is. I know what goes on in those piles. It's a dark place. A lot of things are done I can not speak of. Kudos to Brady.

Q. Hi Tedy. The team with the worst defense in the league is winning our division. Do you think the team with the the worst defense in the league could win a Super Bowl? -- Dennis (Winnipeg, Canada)

A. Mark Sanchez still threw for 306 yards, and he's not an elite quarterback. Down the line, if they make it this far, there will be quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger again -- possibly Aaron Rodgers if they make it to the Super Bowl -- and improvements have to be made for them to get that far. In addition to Roethlisberger and Rodgers, QBs like Matt Schaub and Drew Brees to deal with.

Q. I think opposing defenses will need to double cover Welker and Gronk on a regular basis. Both are deadly weapons. If this offensive line can find a way to open holes for BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Stevan Ridley, this Pats team will be perfectly fine the rest of the season. Thoughts? -- Eric (Massachusetts)

A. I agree. It is possible to disrupt the timing of Gronkowski and Welker. The running game would be a plus, but also looking to Aaron Hernandez, Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco, production must come from one of those three players if Gronk or Welker are taken away.

Q. Hey Tedy. I've been thinking about this one all night: The Patriots played a tremendous game last night, but doesn't Andre Carter's performance solidify the notion that a great pass rush can do more for a stumbling secondary than the reverse? I thought the trickle-down effect of his play was significant and highlights the importance of gaining consistent pressure to help take some pressure off the secondary. I'd love your thoughts. -- Jim (Illinois)

A. I agree, so how consistent can that production be from Andre Carter? This was a prime-time game. He's no secret anymore after 4.5 sacks. What if teams game-plan to make sure he doesn't have success? Another pass rusher is going to have to step up. Who do you think it's going to be?

Q. Tedy, the Bills are done, right? I've been conditioned to expect them to falter as the season goes on, and it seems like it has happened. Any chance they eek a playoff spot out of this division? -- Zack (Somerville, Mass.)

A. Zack, I wouldn't count them out. They're one game back. A lot of football to be played. That Week 17 matchup against New England can still have meaning, but Ryan Fitzpatrick has to start playing better. They are in a similar place to where the Patriots were last week. Their mental toughness is being tested.

Q. Why have the Pats gotten away from the no-huddle offense after the first few games? Especially against the Giants last week, who had to fake injury earlier in the season to stop the St. Louis no-huddle. They seemed to be able to move the ball at will in the second half last night once they started going no-huddle. Why not do that from the start of the game? -- Mike (Philadelphia)

A. I don't think New England wants to major in the no-huddle offense. They still have the goal to run the ball every game. I like the way they spring it on teams unexpectedly. It catches defenses off guard and some players can't adjust quickly (i.e. Kyle Wilson).

Q. Hey Tedy, longtime Pats fan. Didn't that look familiar last night? -- DL (Newton)

A. It did. It reminded me of the victory we had in the Meadowlands after Tom Brady went down. As players, you can tell the Jets thought they'd win because there was no Tom Brady. I sensed last night that the Jets felt the same way with the Patriots having a depleted defense. For the winning team, when you win shorthanded, it can do wonders for your confidence.

Q. The interception by Rob Nickovich looked an awful lot like and interception you made on Peyton Manning. Would you say Rob is one of the more improved players on the Patriots defense? If so, why? -- J. Collins (Virginia Beach, Va.)

A. I would definitely say so on Ninkovich. This guy has done nothing but work to get better his entire career. On the play, it was a great read of the quarterback. He combined with Tracy White on jamming Keller at the line, then after the jam, read Sanchez' eyes, which took him to the middle of the field before he made a great play.

Q. Hey Tedy, just looking at Belichick's reaction at the end of the game shows how big of a win it was. Grinding through injuries, extreme inconsistencies, not to mention a two-game losing streak, and going on the road with a who's-who defense, beating a tough rival. Is this one of the best regular-season wins in the Belichick era (and maybe franchise history)? -- Tim (Newton, Mass.)

A. I don't know if it's the best, but as you mentioned, it was very satisfying. When you get a bunch of mixed pieces to play together and win a game, it's one of the best feelings you can have as a coach. Now comes the tough part -- getting these players to forget about such a satisfying win. If McCourty is down, the mix-and-match puzzle on defense will continue. Can Coach Belichick and his staff continue to put together game plans, and have players execute those game plans to beat the Chiefs and ultimately win the AFC East? That's yet to be seen.

Tedy Bruschi played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots and is a member of the franchise's 50th anniversary team.