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Monday, December 17, 2012
Lessons from a roller-coaster loss

By Tedy Bruschi
ESPNBoston.com

Welcome to our weekly Q&A, with fans reflecting on the Patriots' loss to the 49ers on Sunday. Join my weekly chat every Monday to have your question considered. Here we go ...

Q. Hi Tedy, always have loved your game and a big fan of what you bring as an analyst of the game. I can imagine Bill has a lot of things to review today and it won't be fun as a player to watch a lot of these self-inflicted wounds. The game was sloppy from both teams but I found that Tom Brady got rattled early, which threw him off this game. Did the 49ers just give all other teams a working blueprint on how to beat us or at least how to get into Tom's head? How does Bill motivate our RBs to not get discouraged about losing the ball the next time around? I have to believe that this was a "good" loss for us as it showed a lot of fight in us, but also showed us where we need to clean up our game for any serious playoff run. -- Ash (Toronto)

Stevan Ridley
Stevan Ridley's costly fumble Sunday after being hit by 49ers safety Donte Whitner could affect his playing time going forward.

A. There is a lot in this question, Ash. I'll start with the blueprint. The 49ers gave the Patriots a dose of their own medicine, in terms of matchup problems that the defense had to deal with. It's very similar to what Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski do to put defenses in difficult situations; Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis do the same. The Patriots have to match up vs. multiple TE sets with regular defense. The run game must be respected, so multiple LBs have to be on the field. With Walker and Davis, those are two TEs that can also stretch the field. This type of TE talent is something that not all teams have. So the plan is one thing, but having the talent to execute is another. The 49ers have the talent.

Q. So the Pats tie the game. Was there a reason you could see why Stephen Gostkowski would not kick the ball deep into the endzone for a touch back? What did the Pats do wrong on kickoff coverage to allow such good field position? -- Charlie B. (Murray, Utah)

A. The kickoff was 1 yard deep into the end zone. On a night like last night in wet conditions, you can't expect a kickoff to go through the end zone every time. That's asking too much of your kicker. On the kickoff, what did the Patriots do wrong? They got blocked.

Q. Would you give the rock to Brandon Bolden since there's no fumble film (e.g., Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen)? -- Tim (Ithaca)

A. I don't know if you put Bolden in, but there is one thing this coaching staff won't do, and that is put those players back out there without addressing the problem. A lot of times addressing the problem to Bill Belichick is just eliminating the player from the equation.

Q. Tedy, usually I am Chicken Little when the Patriots lose -- seeing weaknesses at every turn -- but after last night's game I felt the defense played solidly on all three levels, and give Josh McDaniels four quarters and he'll figure out a way to score serious points. If anything, I'm more confident in this team. Or should I worry that the sky is falling? -- Dean (New Mexico)

A. I see what you are saying, Dean. The sky is definitely not falling. But last night, some problems that I thought were solved showed up again. Fumbling by Ridley and Vereen. Big plays being given up in the passing game. Multiple penalties on special teams were a major problem. I do like the adjustments Josh McDaniels made offensively, but there comes a time when you can't just hope for adjustments to solve your problems. Players have to make the plays.

Q. My concern is that Vince Wilfork and Wes Welker will have nothing left in the tank come playoff time. Would you cut back their reps in the last two games? -- Mike (Montreal)

A. You play Jacksonville and Miami in the next two weeks. If the games get out of hand, I definitely agree with you, Mike. Win the game and give your players a little bit of rest, if you can.

Tom Brady
Tom Brady and his offense will spend the next two weeks fixing problems and regaining their edge.

Q. Tedy, I love these chats, I grew up watching you play and you're easily one of my all-time favorites. Were you surprised that the 49ers adjusted to the slick field conditions and were able to execute quicker than the Patriots? -- David (Ft. Hood, Texas)

A. David, if that was grass out there, I might feel that way. If you're playing on natural grass and it gets wet, that's when you have to adjust. On that FieldTurf surface, although it can be wet, you can still have good footing. On a saturated grass field, you have to keep your base more narrow. But this FieldTurf stuff really gives you good footing in the rain.

Q. Tedy, knowing Coach B, do you expect Ridley to take a lesser role moving forward and see more Danny Woodhead? -- Adam (Newport Beach, Calif.)

A. Adam, do we also want to bench Aaron Hernandez? He also short-armed a screen pass that resulted in an Aldon Smith interception. Do we want to bench Tom Brady for overthrowing Wes Welker on an INT to Carlos Rogers. At this time of year, you have to go with what you got.

Q. Tedy, I always thought that accusations against the Patriots of "running up the score" were unfounded, as I think it makes sense to play all four quarters. However, even I thought the fake punt by the Seahawks was a bit excessive. Are plays like this just part of normal football, or was this a cheap trick? Thoughts? Thanks! -- Sharon (Fairfax, Va.)

A. Pete Carroll actually addressed that after the game and said it shouldn't have been run. I don't know how he couldn't have stopped it before it was called. A head coach should have knowledge and control of every play called out there. I feel it was excessive and in a situation like that, it was not good sportsmanship. It was good to see Carroll acknowledge that.

Q. How much impact did the weather play in the Patriots' inability to protect the ball? -- Charlie B. (Murray, Utah)

A. Charlie, this is New England. Bad weather is a part of life. Let's not get into this "blame the weather" thing, people.

Q. Hello Tedy, I thought we were going to have an epic comeback last night... looks like a wild-card game now. How hard is this route to the Super Bowl for this team Tedy? -- Corky (Destin, Fla.)

A. It's definitely tougher when you have to play that first round, because it's an extra game in which you have a realistic opportunity to be eliminated. It's an extra game where injuries can occur, and in the divisional round you're guaranteed to go on the road. As things fall right now, you'd go to Denver or Houston. I think this team has shown resilience this year and it's not like no one has won a Super Bowl taking that route before.

Q. Tedy, if you had to pick an area behind the lost yesterday, what would it be? And do you think the Pats are going to be able to fix it in time for the playoff run? -- Jason (Boston)

A. Jason, my one area defensively would be the inability to stop the formation variations out of the multiple TE sets. Offensively, inexperienced players having poor ball security. And special teams, multiple penalties. Absolutely, these problems can be fixed in time.

One follow-up: They can be fixed, but these problems must be fixed by both coaches and players. Coaches must find ways to better scheme against those formations, and the players must take it upon themselves to have better ball security and make better decisions.

Q. Hi Tedy, the Pats once again showed us how they don't match up against NFC speed rush teams -- 1-3 this year, lots of holes to fill. -- Tore (New Zealand)

A. I agree, Tore. What a transformation the NFC West has gone through -- from a laughingstock division to having teams like the 49ers and Seahawks, as well as the Rams and Cardinals. These are all tough, physical defenses.

Q. Hey Tedy! It was unfortunate that we lost yesterday, especially after Brady pulled it back to 31-31 after being down 28 points. However, a part of me feels like the Patriots needed the loss. All week long, you hear the media discussing how the Patriots became Super Bowl favorites and the "Best team in the NFL" after the win against Houston. This game essentially served as a reality check for the Pats and should give them a good idea of what they should expect to face in the playoffs. I personally believe that this game will only make the Patriots stronger and bring them back down to earth a little. -- Alay Patel (New Jersey)

A. I see what you are saying, Alay. It's always interesting to see how a team deals with success. Sometimes it can be tougher than dealing with failure. I still don't like this type of wake-up call this late in the season, but with the Jaguars and Dolphins the next two weeks, the Patriots have more than enough opportunity to work on what they need to improve and re-gain some momentum going into the playoffs.

Q. Tedy, is there any reason the Pats can't march into Mile High (or Houston) in the playoffs and come out with a win? Seems like too much is being made of home field. If the Pats are the better team, they should win regardless of where the game is played. -- Michael (NYC)

A. Michael, I've been on teams before that have gone into a division round on the road and came out with a victory. It's a very tough thing to do, but you're right, it's possible. Last year, the Patriots didn't have to do that. If they have to do that this year, then we'll learn even more about the character of some of these players.

Q. What does BB teach the team from last night's game? Does he just focus on the first half and try to improve the team based off all of the mistakes? Is Ridley benched next game? -- Adam (Cranston)

A. This is definitely not the time of year to burn the game film and not recognize your mistakes. I remember one year when we lost early in the season and we lost badly, Coach Belichick took us to the practice field and dug a hole and buried a football. The message was that it was so bad that we needed to move on and forget about it. I don't think now is the time to do that, especially defensively with all the multiple formations you saw from the 49ers. I think this is a valuable teaching tape that the coaching staff can use.