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The silver-lining crowd has been well accounted for. As disappointing as the Patriots' loss to the 49ers was on Sunday night, the spirited second-half charge had many citing the team's resolve as a reason to believe there are better things ahead.But as is the case with any loss, it has sparked some concern from others. Big plays given up by the defense, another fumble by running back Stevan Ridley and cornerback Kyle Arrington's play have come under some fire.
The Patriots have two regular-season games remaining -- at Jacksonville (Dec. 23) and home against Miami (Dec. 30) -- but the events of the past weekend have many looking ahead. That's where we start this week.Q. Hi Mike, it is quite conceivable the Texans could lose to the charged-up playoff-hunting Vikings and then visiting a tough-spirited divisional rival Colts team and losing there. Your thoughts? -- Jake M. (Vancouver, BC)
A. Sure, Jake, that is possible. But one thing I'd say is that whenever you are relying on something else to happen to help your cause, it's probably best to brace for the worst-case scenario. One additional thought on that Vikings-Texans game: We've seen the NFC flex its muscle this season (e.g. Patriots were 1-3 against the NFC West), so I'm interested to see how the game plays out from that perspective. How does an 8-6 team from the NFC stack up, on the road, against a 12-2 team from the AFC?
|Brandon Lloyd played his best game as a Patriot on Sunday and is clearly starting to click with Tom Brady.|
Q. Mike, brutal game, great comeback, yet my confidence remains high. I think this team can win it all, should have last year, but I can't help but think they're a year away from being unstoppable. The rookies and second-year guys will get better and gel, we may get a deep threat and some safety help. They still seem like they're "seasoning" as a team. Thoughts? Second, I know we demand perfection, but when you think about what has happened over the past three-four years it is beyond remarkable. Do people realize that with only Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, Belichick has completely turned over a defensive roster and not just skipped the "rebuilding" losing season pattern but has gone 10-6, 14-2, 13-3 and likely 12-4 and made it to a Super Bowl? I mean, I'm as demanding as the next Pats fan, but how spoiled are we? -- grandjordanian (San Diego, Calif.)A. No disagreement from here; it's been incomparable success over the past decade. Just look around the rest of the NFL, and see how teams fall off on a year-to-year basis, and the consistency of the always-in-the-hunt Patriots is to be lauded. At some point in time, I am sure we will all be looking back on this Belichick/Brady era and wondering if it was appreciated enough as it was unfolding.
Q. Hey Mike, I just wanted to pass on an observation as a non-Boston resident. I know that it was a tough Pats loss and it relegated them to a likely trip to Denver. However, I think as Pats fans we are too conditioned to think Super Bowl or bust. Down 31-3, I didn't expect the Pats to win but I remember thinking if "Brady only needs four touchdown drives." I don't know how many other QB's this year or in NFL history would have the talent, belief, and mental toughness to make any lead seem insurmountable. So many franchises (the Chicago one I am located near ) would have absolutely no chance. I know Brady is not perfect, but Patriots fans are so lucky to be in every game and have a chance every season because of him. -- Aakash B. (Hoffman Estates, Il.)A. Aakash, usually after a loss, it brings out some spirited emails to the mailbag, but this week has been different. It strikes me as the mildest reaction to a disappointing loss in recent memory. I think a big part of that is appreciation for the fight the Patriots showed. We all have bad days and that first half was as bad as we've seen the Patriots' offense this year (credit to the 49ers, too). It's how you respond to them, and this team, led by Brady, will give you everything it has; can't ask for much more than that. As for Super Bowl or bust, the bar has been raised high here, and in one respect I think it's unfortunate because it's easier to lose sight of the journey that it takes to reach that goal. Then again, as Belichick and Brady have pointed out, the reason they're playing is for the championship and only one team ends the year happy. Q. Mike, with Alfonzo Dennard hurt (right knee) and Kyle Arrington not playing well on the outside, we have some secondary issues to address before Jacksonville, which has deep threats in its receiving corps. Assuming Dennard doesn't play, do we move Devin McCourty back to corner and let Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory man the safety positions, or keep McCourty at safety and have Arrington or, say, Marquice Cole take the outside spot? -- Matt (Bristol, Conn.) A. Matt, this is a tough call, but I'd stay the course. Arrington made the costly mistake with the poor tackling technique on Michael Crabtree's 38-yard catch-and-run touchdown, and I could see the coaching staff holding him accountable and making a change there. Cole is more of an inside corner in sub packages, so my feeling is that if a change is made, it would be with McCourty. Then the question becomes if you want to tinker with two spots to fill one hole. I know Bill Belichick likes the idea of continuity back there and that's why I'm thinking he'll stick with Arrington at corner. Q. Hey Mike, I have to say that Kyle Arrington missing that tackle in the fourth quarter was not an isolated incident. If there was a stat for blown coverages, I am convinced that he would rank at the top in the NFL. He covers poorly, he tackles poorly. He has given up too many big plays, week in and week out. Am I the only one who sees his jersey number next to 75 percent of these blown plays? And if not, when will he end up on the bench? -- Ryan (Watertown, Mass.) A. Ryan, it's not all bad for Arrington, who had settled into a nice role as a slot option in recent weeks. I think the issue becomes when he's asked to play outside on a consistent basis; is that the best fit for him? It seemed like he was thriving in the reduced role, but when Alfonzo Dennard left the game late in the second quarter, Arrington was thrust into the top role. Q. Hi Mike, I hope Patrick Chung has worked his way out of Bill Belichick's doghouse because Steve Gregory is not the answer at safety. Why continue to blitz a guy who is allergic to contact? He has to be the least physical safety in the league. At least Chung brings a physical presence to the game and can blitz and stop the run. While Chung's pass defense left a lot to be desired, Gregory is not bathing himself in glory either. Time to change it up. -- John F. (Walpole, Mass.) A. You might be on to something, John, because Chung played extensively in the base defense in the second half (replacing Gregory) and it was the first time we've seen that since Chung returned to action Nov. 22 from his shoulder injury. The initial thought was that there might be an injury to Gregory, but when an injury update on Gregory was requested at the game, the team informed reporters that there was no injury. Chung has been the odd man out since Devin McCourty moved to safety, but it looks like he could be working his way back into the mix. Q. Hey Mike, teams will continue to go after Stevan Ridley and try to cause the fumble after Sunday night. Do you think there will be any ramifications when it comes to playing time (beyond Jacksonville) for Ridley? He's does a lot of things well, but they can not turn it over like that in the playoffs. -- Glenn (Boston) A. Glenn, I don't think there will be ramifications because he's the best option the Patriots have. He made a mistake and some credit goes to the defense for delivering the solid hit, helmet on ball. You're right in that teams will be coming after Ridley, who's lost the football in each of the past two games, and that's a challenge he'll have to answer. That's how it works; when an opponent sees a ball-security liability on film, the idea is to attack it with force. Q. Hi Mike, it looks like Chandler Jones has hit the proverbial "rookie wall." What can be done from the coaches' point of view to help him surpass it with just two regular-season games left? -- Memo (Mexico) A. Memo, Jones' ankle injury Nov. 18 stunted the momentum he had built to that point of the season. I'm not so sure it's the rookie wall with Jones; perhaps it's regaining confidence with the ankle. Jones was replaced for a long stretch in the second half of Sunday's game (Frank Gore's 9-yard TD run sparked the change as he was easily handled up front) and my sense is that it comes down to better play against the run/defeating blocks. Let's see how the coaching staff manages Jones' playing time, as that is one way to counter the so-called "rookie wall." Q. What are your thoughts on the officiating? It took 10 minutes to figure out what to do about the punt that wasn't touched by SF. I was disappointed in general with the overall calls, especially considering that the NFL's star ref was in the spotlight. -- Adam S. (Cranston) A. That wasn't Ed Hochuli's shining moment, Adam. I didn't think the officiating was the reason for the final result, but when a game takes 3 hours and 40 minutes to complete (longest of the Patriots' season), officiating is usually the first place I look as to the reason. Q. Mike, in short, what makes for good special teams? We have been saying that the Patriots' return game has been less than mediocre. In the game against 49ers, we discovered their covering game may not be good enough. Things might change when Tracy White is back, but I am worried that fate of their playoff games depends on plays of special teams. -- MarkJ (Japan) A. MarkJ, I think a good place to start is with discipline and penalties. The Patriots had three penalties on their punt return unit on Sunday night. There is a higher likelihood of penalties on special teams based on the way those plays unfold, and that's the first area to tighten up from this view. Then it just comes down to being able to defeat blocks on the kickoff coverage unit. To put some names to the general term "special teams," here is how the Patriots' units were comprised on Sunday night.
|You can't help but wonder if things might have been different if Rob Gronkowski had played on Sunday night. The big question now: When is he coming back?|