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Monday, September 24, 2012
Moving beyond the bad calls

By Tedy Bruschi

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' Week 3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. We have a lot to talk about.

Q. What is your take on the replacement refs? -- Xavior W. (Henrico County, VA.)

A. They are struggling. It's obvious. They can't be expected to do a good job when they've never seen this level of football before. But the NFL and the owners, these guys are professional businessmen. They're not going to be pushed around by a bunch of part-time employees. It went down to the wire when they were negotiating with the players, and the players are the essence of the league. I think all the fans are starting to realize how important the regular officials are, but maybe this is something where the players have to step in and say 'We're not playing anymore until the officials come back.'

Player safety is becoming a serious issue. Defensive players are reverting back to their old ways, when they were taught to put their helmet underneath an offensive player's facemask and hit him right under the chin. Case in point: the hits Matt Schaub took in Denver.

Bill Belichick
Bill Belichick wasn't the only one frustrated by the officiating on Sunday, but to dwell on it won't help this young Patriots team.

Q. Tedy, I am curious to get your take on what happens to the morale of the team when you get a series of bogus calls that seemed to change the momentum of the game. In particular I am talking about the first quarter of last night's game. You have the "hold" called on Rob Gronkowski, followed by a offensive PA against Julian Edelman. The Pats looked to be locked in and ready to go up by 17; instead they settle for 3. The Ravens' ensuing drive you get a bogus defensive PA call against Jerrod Mayo to extend their drive. At that point there, it almost seemed like the refs were doing anything to get the Ravens back in the game and it worked. Thanks for all the great memories and championship seasons. -- Tony (Connecticut)

A. Tony, if you have a football team full of players that let the officials affect the way that they play, they are not mentally tough. No matter how bad the officials are -- and I agree with all of you out there, they are awful -- you have to move on to the next down. You can't let it affect you.

Q. Thanks for taking the time Tedy. My problem with the game last night was that it was like watching three teams playing -- Patriots, Ravens and the Refs. I am not saying that the Pats lost because of the refs. but with all the controversial calls last night I have no idea which team really should have won. Have to feel for Devin McCourty -- he got victimized on a couple bad calls. How does the NFL/Roger Goodell support such officiating when it makes the game so hard to watch? -- Jesse (Bentley University)

A. Jesse, I think the right team won last night. When it comes down to it, three touchdowns were a direct result of Patriots miscues. You can say that they weren't penalties, but if the flag is thrown, it's a penalty. That's how football players must look at it. The Jerod Mayo penalty on third-and-6 led to a TD. The McCourty penalty led to a TD. And poor tackling by Steve Gregory and McCourty led to a Dennis Pitta TD. Let's also remember Kyle Arrington falling down when Joe Flacco gift-wrapped an INT for him.

Q. Tedy, you said earlier that if you have a football team full of players that let the officials affect the way that they play, they are not mentally tough. So do you think this team is mentally tough or is the youth of the team affecting its success? -- Charlie B. (Murray, Utah)

A. I do feel this team is mentally tough. This is a situation that many of them haven't been in. I was on the team in 2003 when we lost to Buffalo 31-0 in the season opener. I know how some of those players will respond. But many of them, I do not. That's something still to be seen, because a lot of these young players have had so much success early in their careers, they've never been in a spot like this. Now you're taking a 1-2 record into Buffalo, I think this is a huge test this week, one of the biggest tests they've had in recent years.

Q. Thanks for the chat, Tedy! My question relates to the rules for kicks above the goal posts. It seems to me that if the goal posts are extended vertically to decide if a kick is good or not, then if the ball goes over the goal post it would be expected to bounce off with at best a 50-50 chance of going through. Your thoughts? -- Joseph K. (Andover)

A. Here are my thoughts on this: The kick was good.

Q. Tedy, please calm me down here, I'm freaking out! Besides the completely pathetic officiating we saw last night, the offense not being able to close out games is a concern. From 2003 to 2007, we could have all went to bed if Brady had a 9-point lead in the fourth quarter. Now it's as if they are playing not to lose rather than going for the win. They had plenty of chances to put this game away, but left it in the hands of the defense again and it all seemed inevitable. Should I be more concerned about the offense not being aggressive in these situations or the defense still not being able to make big plays at big times? -- Mr. Lucky (Boston)

A. Not only a 9-point lead in the fourth quarter, but with 4:01 remaining, you're up 30-28 and your offense has the ball. This is when the offense implements its four-minute offense. Getting first downs when keeping the clock running. It's the offense's main goal to run out the clock. You have to credit Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees for what he did. He started mixing in five-man rushes and overloading one side of the line of scrimmage with a four-man rush. Dannell Ellerbe came free on second-and-9 from the offensive left side, then Paul Kruger came free on third-and-16, putting pressure on Brady from the offensive right side. With Ellerbe, it was just a five-man rush, but Kruger came from an overloaded side. On the Kruger rush, the Patriots didn't make the right line call or slid the wrong way in protection. Dean Pees knows this offense well. Those were two crucical calls.

Q. Hey Tedy, the question relates to the previous game, but since Jerod Mayo was fined days later, I wanted to get your thoughts on it. The hit where Mayo got fined $21K, do you think it was a fair fine? I thought the hit was clean and that the NFL has overstepped their boundaries. -- Gary (Cambridge, Mass.)

A. Why the extra $1,000? Why can't it be $20,000 even. How do you decide something like that?

Kyle Arrington didn't have his best day for the Patriots. Not only was he beat by Torrey Smith, but he failed to grab an easy interception late in the game.

Q. Tedy, I was very impressed with Tom Brady and the offense. Tommy was very sharp and I don't remember a pass that was even close to being picked off. Joe Flacco threw a number of balls that should have been picks. Several were saying Flacco outplayed Brady again, but I didn't see that at all. I thought the Pats played very good in a very hostile environment, and really feel that things will be different if we meet again this year. Agree? -- Josh (Tuolumne, Calif.)

A. I agree with you, Josh, that Tom Brady looked crisp last night. I was most impressed with the offensive line. Every week, Logan Mankins seems to be getting stronger. The interior of the offensive line looks like it's going to be Ryan Wendel at center, Logan Mankins at left guard and Dan Connolly at right guard. I thought they did really well protecting Brady and controlling the beast of Baltimore's defense in Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody and Ma'ake emoeatu. In the 2-minute drive before the half, Brady could have had a picnic back there.

Q. Tedy, what are your feelings in regards to Josh McDaniels' play calling? It just seems like there has been too much emphasis on "cute" stuff rather than efficient and effective play calls. I think I might rip my hair out if I see Danny Woodhead come up 3 yards short on another third-down draw. -- Aaron (The Cube)

A. Aaron, Josh has been calling games this way even when he was the coordinator the first time around here. It's part of his formula. I like the way he can utilize the zone runs with Stevan Ridley, the sub runs with Woodhead, end-arounds with Edelman, and still implement a sugar-huddle offense with Tom Brady and the passing attack. That's a true strength of this offense. Defenses game-plan against them not knowing what they're going to get until game-day. This attack is anything but one-dimensional and I see it as a strength. When it doesn't work, Aaron, that's when you start to question it. But there have been plenty of these unorthodox playcalls that have not only been successful but set up other things down the road.

Danny Woodhead
Danny Woodhead was used often Sunday night as a complementary back when the Pats were in their spread packages, but was not especially effective.

Q. Tedy, there were some interceptions that were not made last night and Kyle Arrington could have had one as well if he had not fallen down. Is it that simple or was the lack of pass rush on Flacco equally to blame for the poor performance on defense? -- David (North Attleborough, Mass.)

A. If Arrington would have kept his feet, that would have been a huge play. But Flacco wasn't sacked and wasn't even hit, according to the official gamebook. When he was sacked, there was a penalty on the back end of the defense and it didn't count. That is very frustrating to go through for a defense. But I will give Flacco this -- he was 16 for 25 for 211 yards and 3 TDs outside the numbers (according to ESPN Stats & Information). In a Patriot-coached defense, and defensive fundamentals in general, you want to take away the easy throws; those are in between the numbers. So you're forcing the QB to make low-percentage throws and he's making them. Let's credit Flacco some on that.

Q. How important was last night's game? I have a bad feeling this loss will come back to bite us in the postseason. Baltimore holding the tie breaker, which gives them home field advantage, could be huge come playoff time. -- Mitch (Back Bay)

A, Right now, what is haunting the Patriots is 1-2. They are last in the division. I'm not saying this week is a must-win, but can you imagine the Patriots at 1-3?

Q. Tedy, I really am sad. I came out of the game thinking "same old Patriots." The defense once again faltered at the end and the offense could not close out the game. One of the few silver linings for me were the performances of Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker. Could you please offer some solace for us fans? Before the game I tried telling myself not to overreact in case of a loss, but I have the sinking feeling that we have seen this movie one too many times. -- Daniel A. (Guadalajara, Mexico)

A. That was a huge positive, Daniel, in what Welker and Lloyd were able to do. Lloyd was owning Cary Williams all night. He looked like the guy everyone was talking about, making tough catches. And Welker was beating Lardarius Webb, one of the better CBs in the NFL. This offense is only going to succeed when you beat man coverage, because good QBs like Tom Brady will slice apart zone coverage and defensive coordinators know this. So they put their best on your best and see who wins. To see Welker and Lloyd win those one-on-one battles last night was a positive thing to take toward the rest of the season.

Q. Tedy, why do Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels insist on using Woodhead to run the ball when Ridley is so much more effective? I don't know how many times Woody goes down behind the line with the slightest bit of contact that Ridley would attempt to fight off. What gives? -- Andrew (lone Pats fan in Maryland)

Devin McCourty
Despite a deadly pass-interference call against him Sunday night, Devin McCourty has improved from last season and shown promise.

A. Here is what I'm thinking about that one. The Patriots have defined roles for their RBs. When they want a physical presence with the run game, Ridley comes in. Bring in the TEs, run the zone blocking scheme, let him stretch the defense and make one cut and run downhill. He's the best they have to do that. Woodhead's role is the sub back. Runs out of shotgun. Draws. Not the workhorse back, but a complementary back when they are in their spread packages. That's what they were majoring in last night.

Q. Tedy, McCourty struggled last night despite seemingly being in position to make at least a few plays. Are his struggles due to lack of proper technique, instinct, or something else? -- Lynchy (Quincy, Mass.)

A. That pass interference penalty on McCourty was one of the first times I've seen him make a blatant error this year. You look at his stats and it's 7 tackles with 4 passes defended. Could he have made more plays? Sure, but I don't think this is a case of him reverting to his struggles of last year. He's the best cornerback the Patriots have. Let's pump the brakes a little bit on saying he's struggling.

Q. Do you think the Pats' defense will improve as the season progress? -- Ryan (Fort Bragg)

A. Ryan, like I said in our "Bruschi's Breakdown" last week -- in which both Mike Reiss and I picked the Ravens -- this team will be better after Thanksgiving than it is now. Not just defensively, but in all three phases. That's the beauty of the New England Patriots. They coach and practice and evaluate talent constantly throughout the season, with a goal to be playing their best in December. That happened last year and I anticipate it happening again. Is it automatic? No, but it's what that system is based on.