Let's fire this up in one minute, a playoff edition chat.
I'll lead off with this. After being here for Bill Belichick's news conference today, I would have a little higher level of comfort based on the team at this point. Belichick said he thinks the team is well prepared. He seemed relaxed. Who knows how that will translate to the field? But it was notable to me.
Today's lead-in question: Who could be the Patriots' unsung contributor?
As far as unheralded players go it depends on the health of the offensive line. If Vollmer and Mankins are held out of this game then I suppose their replacements would have to be considered. Solder has seen enough playing time this year to be left off the list but either Wendell, Cannon or Thomas, if that's who Scharnecchia chooses to put in there, would have to be considered. Keeping Brady upright is the imperative for any of these playoff games. We can't be sure about the defense; we have to have confidence in the offense.Mike, I have a hunch the Pats will be facing the Texans if they win this weekend. IMHO they have a better O-Line; a well coached quick, physical defense; Andre Johnson and a running game that compares to what Baltimore puts on the field. Flacco has big game experience but he isn't an overly impressive QB. If Yates can keep his composure that could be a heck of a game. This is a big test for Kubiac. The coach has been maligned in many circles. He needs to have a transcendent "Shanahan" moment.Enjoy the weekend games.
Appreciate the insight, munchkin.
Hi Mike! Thanks for the chat. I think my pick for unsung hero is a bit odd - it's Devin McCourty. I think we're really going to see him take to that safety spot on Saturday, and I won't be at all surprised to see him generate a turnover. With the up-and-down (but mostly down) year that he's had, I think a great performance from him will qualify as "unsung". Question for you - assume Mankins has a setback and can't go Saturday. Do you see BB swapping the whole line around again, as he did when Light missed time, or do you think it's more of a conservative LG-for-LG swap? That whole change-up thing was a nightmare in my opinion.
Interesting thought, Chris. I had previously thought that might be the case, but I'm guessing McCourty is back at corner. This looks like a game where an Ihedogbo/Chung combination at safety is solid, because you're probably bringing Ihedigbo into the box a bit. As for the o-line, I think it would be a LG for LG swap. In retrospect, the wholesale changes vs. the Dolphins wasn't the way to go, but I'm sure BB felt based on the info he had at the time, it was the right decision.
Mike, what do you think the Broncos will try to counter the Patriots offense with all its options? Hernandez said it best, Pick your poison.
Sami, I think their best chance is to generate pressure and play physical with the WRs.
How much do you look into Brandon Llyods comments that he wants his future to be tied to Josh McDaniels; and more importantly do see any reason why The Patriots wouldn't give Ocho the opportunity to play out the remainder of his contract? As much as I don't like stunting the growth of young players, I still have a tremendous amount of faith in Ocho producing next year; especially now that he knows what the expectation is at BB's football academy.
Mike, I look at Lloyd's comments and come away with this conclusion, "This is a player to keep on the radar for free agency next year." It makes sense to think the Patriots would at least explore it. As for Ochocinco, I look at it from the value perspective the Patriots have drilled home in recent years. Ochocinco is due to make $3 million in 2012. He had 15 catches this year. That's not good value. Now, if they thought another year would make a difference, perhaps they would keep him as is suggested here. My opinion is that there is nothing we've seen this year to indicate 2012 would be any different. Ochocinco tried. The Patriots tried. It just hasn't produced the fruit many thought it would.
I think the unsung contributor could be Shane Vereen. He isn't on the injury report anymore, so he's healthy. Also, with so much emphasis on Hernandez, Gronk, and Welker, who would think to pay much attention to a rookie thats only run the ball in one game this season. Vereen could pick up some key first downs on catches out of the backfield. Your thoughts?
Tommy, I'd be happy if that happened, mainly for Vereen, who seems like a class kid. But my sense is that the Patriots are more inclined to go with experience (Faulk) over youth (Vereen) in a critical playoff environment, assuming it's a choice of one over the other.
Who do you think will play in Super Bowl XLVI?
Chris, at the start of the year, I picked the Patriots vs. Giants. I'm sticking with it because both teams are still alive.
My unsung contributor is Sterling Moore. He had two picks against the Bills and I think he's a quickly improving under-the-radar player.
Sterling Moore an interesting choice and could be in the mix more at CB if they do keep McCourty at safety. Quick aside: BruceMount, like many of you, are regular commenters on our blogs and stories. I appreciate that you've helped us create this community. Neat stuff.
Is this the final season for Kevin Faulk? How about Chad Ochocinco?
MarkJ, we covered Ochocinco a few questions ago. As for Faulk, I think it is the final season. He's the longest tenured Patriot (since 1999) and to see him get another SB ring would be a nice part of this story.
Hello Mike. Big weekend for Spikes and the middle of the offensive line. Spikes has to play big in stopping the run and those short throws, and the middle of the offensive line has to hold what I'm calling Denver's only hope of containing Brady. He is very susceptible to up the gut pressure, and I think Denver is going to move the ends around to come that way. Thanks.
I agree, Jim. Teams that can generate that inside pressure have had some success against Brady and the Patriots. Puts a little bit of the spotlight on that Mankins injury and if he can play. Belichick seemed to hint today that Mankins could be a game-time decision. Mankins meets with reporters this afternoon, so that could be promising. As for Spikes, he didn't play in that Dec. 18 game. His return should help.
In today's current NFL playoff format, has any team held a #1 seed two consecutive seasons and failed to make the SB either time?
Dean, you give me too much credit. I don't have that info off the top of the head. Will try to look it up. I imagine it probably hasn't happened too often that the same time was the No. 1.
Hi Mike: With a night game on Sat. it'll be cold( which won't effect Denver); I can see a ground and pound, eat the clock Denver game plan really limiting Bradys time on the field. Do you see Bill maybe just reversing this line of thought? How would you draw up a game plan to take control of this one??
Corky, I don't think this is the time to reinvent the wheel. I think this is time to do what you do, and see if they can stop it. Of course, there will be some adjustments and minor tweaks, but to me this is about not overthinking it and letting it rip. I view the Patriots as the more talented overall team.
Unsung contributor - maybe a Love / Spikes / Fletcher (sorry I know that's three) but basically someone who will help contain the Broncos run game - which is still their primary weapon.On that point Mike, what would be your thoughts on maybe Fletcher starting over Ninkovich to help set the edge on one side and do we have to be worried with Anderson on the other, as potentially weaker against the run (more of a speed rusher on third down) or do you think he has held up well enough since Carter went down?
Mark, I'd keep Ninkovich as the edge-setter, even though he struggled in that Dec. 18 game. That's tough to ask Fletcher to step in there after not doing it all over the course of the season. As for Anderson, I thought he did a nice job of it on Dec. 18 against the Broncos. They might want to add another layer of depth there and promote Markell Carter.
My vote for unsung guy is Zoltan! I could see him with a couple of big punts in the cold weather, pinning the Broncos back for a LONG field. Plus, if he holds solidly on FG/XP, it seems like that's a very good chance to slip under the radar in a win.
Can't forget the power of Zoltan. Had a great season for the Patriots. Finishing third in net punting for a non-dome/cold-weather punter -- impressive.
2 points here. First, I love where the Pats are, after all the talk of the "Big 2" Albert and Ocho, neither has worked out, and here they are, 13-3 and the #1 seed. Not to shabby.As for Ocho, if we knew then what we knew now, we'd still have Brandon Tate, and our return game would be better. This is a case of the roster spot is worth more than whatever it takes to buy out the contract.
I think there is a good lesson here for people like myself as well, mpc12pats. In the media, we love the big names. That's what we often promote. As for Ochocinco vs. Tate, I think Tate had really tailed off from about the midpoint of the 2010 season to 2011 training camp. Even on his returns, he looked different. Did the Patriots pull the trigger too soon? I could see that argument. Tough call.
How many more years do we have with Brady as our quarterback? And should we be on the market now for a QB?
Grizz, he's signed through 2014 and assuming good health, there is no reason to think he won't play up to that point and longer. He has previously said he'd like to play until he's 40. I think the Patriots' QB situation is ideal -- Brady with Hoyer and Mallett behind him -- and it's something you want to keep layering because Hoyer is eligible for unrestricted free agency after the 2012 season.
If Vollmer's healthy, do you think he or Solder will be starting?
Matt, I'd lean toward Solder, with Vollmer possibly rotating in. Tough situation to throw Vollmer right in there after such a long layoff.
Hey Mike, just a reminder: if we beat the Broncos, we still won't have beaten a team with a winning record - which will certainly affect our SOS and BCS standings.
:) Thanks Andrew. Re-dic-u-lous discussion on the strength of Patriots schedule. They won in some tough spots this year. For anyone to suggest otherwise, they must not have been watching that closely.
That re-dic-u-lous was for effect. Did you pick up on that?
What are the odds we see Edleman starting on defense?
Seedub70, if Edelman is in the game, it would most likely be as the slot corner. So that would likely mean the Broncos have three receivers on the field. I'm not sure how often they do that.
WHAT'S UP WITH KYLE LOVE?
John, he was back at practice today. In fact, every player was present for the start of practice today inside the Dana Farber Fieldhouse (rain in region).
Unsung contributor will be Nate Solder. Whether Vollmer is in or out, Solder will see plenty of snaps at Tackle and Tight End on both sides of the line. My question: Do you think the Pats cover ~14 points?
Kyle, I'm not a bettting guy, but I like the Patriots by over the 14 in this game.
hi mike I am looking forward to this weekend game I kind of nervous because of the last two playoffs early exit but at the same time BB and TB know what it is at stake I guess this team is mentally focus than last two previous season. With that said do you think early exit will tarnish BB and TB legacy because people always bring it up. Hopefully they will proof people wrong. Most time Pats are at best when they are being criticized. Your thoughts. Go Pats
Akoko, I don't believe any legacies will be tarnished if there was a loss in this game. Perspective is important. Look at how quickly things tailed off in Indy this year. To do what the Patriots do, as consistently as they do it, is remarkable. In the end, you play for the championship and only one team is happy at the end of the year, but that consistent success also is worthy fo respect in my view.
In all honesty i believe that Mark Anderson could be the difference maker assuming Wilfork and Love can help contain the run, hes had a some what quiet couple of weeks and Anderson was huge against the Broncos the first time around
Thanks Justin. Bill Belichick talked a bit about Mark Anderson today in his news conference. Said he's been a consistent performer for the team all year. Good value free-agent signing (1 year, $1.375 million).
Is Belichick retirement after this season out of the question? When he retires from coaching, any indication of whether he might remain in the front office?
Chuck, one thing I've learned since Bill Belichick arrived in 2000 is that nothing is ever out of the question. I've thought about it, in part because Josh McDaniels' return sets up a possible succession plan. That's purely speculatory stuff, as I haven't heard one thing along these lines. In the end, if you were to ask me who I think it coaching this team in 2012, I'm going with Bill Belichick. As for the front-office possibility when he ultimately does decide to step away, it makes sense if he's interested. But I haven't heard anything on that either.
Mike you're so dr-a-maaa-tic
I think Ridley can be the unsung contributor this game. He seems primed to have a big game, with his explosiveness and the Pats need for ball control.
Ridley as unsung hero. Broncos play to stop pass, play a lot on dime, Ridley carves them up with his speed and cuts, goes for 100+ and 2 TD (unless BB give Law firm the ball at the goal line )
Back to back carries for Ridley!
This might seems pretty basic, but the Key to the game is Tom Brady. He shot the team in the foot in the first half of the Jets loss last year, with the worst example being the failed screen pass to BJGE that went 5 yards over his head and into the arms of a waiting Jets defender. A horrible play for a College QB, let alone a Hall of Famer. Brady needs to play like an elite QB for 4 quarters. If he stinks up the joint in the first half again, the team will be in trouble.
Hard to argue with this Joe. Here is a piece from Jeremy Lundblad of ESPN's Stats & Information on Brady. http://espn.go.com/boston/nfl/story/_/id/7453102/win-lose-tom-brady-makes-history
What do you think of the news coming out of the Jets' locker room? Is this the product of poor offensive performance and frustration or the result of the Rex Ryan culture? This type of thing would never happen in a Belicheck. Where do you see the Jets and AFC East next year?
Ben, I don't think the Jets are that far off. And in fairness, 2009 was no picnic around here. In the end, the Jets' success will come back to Mark Sanchez in my opinion.
Hey Mike,If you could add any player in the NFL to the Patriots for the rest of the playoffs, who would it be?
DeMarcus Ware, please.
Whenever talk of cointoss/deferring comes up, the stat that gets thrown out is that if a team scores at the end of the first half and on the first posession of the second half, they win 90something% of the time.For comparsion, what's the win% of a team that scores on the first possession of the first half and on the final possession of the second half? I suspect it's also very high....
Chuck, you give me too much credit. I don't have that info off the top of the head.
He's barely contributed so far, but what about the possibility of Shaun Ellis as unsung contributor for the playoffs. We hear that he's a player who "steps it up" for playoff games, and his last good game was in NE last January. He's fresh, as he's barely played this season. And with Andre Carter out, the Pats need another pass rushing presence to step up. Any indication that he could be used more frequently in the playoffs?
Yes, Dan. After Carter was injured in that Denver game, Ellis saw himself more involved with the defense. He played 44 snaps the next week against the Dolphins. He followed that up with 25 against the Bills. That was up from his previous playing time. I think we'll see him.
Mike, thanks for all your input on my beloved Pats! 70 of the 80 yards on Tebow's overtime pass were Thomas being a beast. Keeping a safety back will protect against that. What I'm most concerned about is not letting up 176 yards on the ground per quarter. Pitt focused solely on the run and got lit up through the air. How do we find a balance?
You've hit on the key to the defensive game-plan, Jon. The answer isn't anything too thrilling. Players need to play their assignment and not try to do too much. Those "run fits" need to be sound. Look back at the Broncos' final two regular season games -- at Buffalo and home vs. Kansas City -- and the opponents did it. It's not hard if you don't make it hard.
Just going to take a quick 2-minute TO to post a quick practice blog update!
Mike, to me this game comes down to whether the patriots can win the battle at the line of scrimmage. The Patriots offensive and defensive lines have been lost the battles in the trenches the last two home play off losses. I think an unsung contributor could be Kylve Love. He's quietly having a terrific year.
Hey Mike, the unsung contributor for this game is going to be Dieon Branch. He was no active for the last game and this is a prime situation for him. If Denver chooses to try and double Gronk or Welker that is going to leave Branch in one on on coverage! Perfect for him in this playoff enviornment. Also I think Sean Ellis may play big in this game! Go Pats!
Philip, if you have a chance and are interested, listen to Bill Belichick's news conference today and the part in which he was asked about Branch. Interesting stuff on what makes Branch special.
Will Ocho see much action during the Patriots playoff run?
Cody, if Branch's groin doesn't restrict him, I don't expect to see too much of Ochocinco. He's really the No. 5 option right now.
It seems like Josh Mcdaniels never was a fan of using TEs in his offense. Do you believe he will change or could this be a potential issue moving forward? I'm sure you have been getting many questions about this. Thanks.
Dave, I think McDaniels would have been a fan if he had players like Gronkowski and Hernandez. The best coaches adapt to the strengths and weaknesses of their personnel. In 2007, for example, the Patriots were stacked at WR (Moss, Welker, Gaffney, Stallworth). No reason not to tap that instead of banging with block-first Kyle Brady as a second TE.
I think the unsung hero in this game will be Rob Ninkovich. He had a difficult time setting the edge when the two teams met back in December. I think he's going to do a much better job this time around and will force a fumble or somehow create a turnover. I think forcing a turnover or two will be critical for the Pats in this game and Nink is a guy who can do it.
Rob picks Rob. I like it. Ninkovich's hip had limited him to 24 snaps in the season finale, but my sense is that he's feeling good based on the way he's been bouncing around the locker room.
Do we pressure Tebow or drop back and force him to throw into coverage? Seems to me that blitz only creates open receivers and long scrambles.
Key word in my opinion -- discipline. I think they'll throw a few blitzes at him, but I'd be surprised if it's a throw-the-kitchen-sink-at-him with pressure type of game. Instead, it's a play-your-assignment type of plan, with a mix of pressure and coverage based on the situation.
Why dont people understand that Tim Tebow (statistically) is the worst quarterback in the NFL? And think that because he wins against teams who have mediocre days that he can beat the Patriots who put up 32 points a game!
Cameron, are you chatting from study hall? That's going to be a 5-yard penalty. On Tebow, here is what Bill Belichick said today, "I would look at the won-loss record. That's what I would look at." Care to argue with the coach?
Make the lefty QB scramble to his right...very simple, I haven't seen him make a play going in that direction yet.
Bill, that's something Tedy Bruschi touches on as part of our "Bruschi's Breakdown" this week. Look for it on ESPNBoston.com today. Double-edged pressure from that side.
Since most questions will probably involve that lefty QB's name, I refuse to mention him. But, do the Pats use a spy on him? I think it would be risky to use someone like Chung in that capacity, given the problems the secondary has been having.
Bill, that's another topic we touch on in "Bruschi's Breakdown." Probably will be a spy in some situations.
Time to start plugging the fans to get loud. None of this "only stand and cheer on third downs and big plays" nonsense from the 'Foxboro Faithful.'
Tron, I think Gillette is going to rock.
Do the Pats don't ever hold practice in the evening with a prime time game pending? Seems to me this would not only have players used to the lighting, but also the colder temps that normally come after dark.
Andy, the last time I recall that happening was in the Pete Carroll era. It was after a long weekend and I believe the team had a night game coming up. The only reason I recall it is that I had a nice chat with Myra Kraft that night. It was one of those moments you don't really forget.
If Dick Lebeau wasn't such a great defensive coordinate throughout his career, he should be fired after his awful defensive gameplan against the broncos. He stacked the box with 9 men, yet refused to bring pressure on Tebow. Tebow had all day to throw, Demaryius Thomas had time to make double and triple moves with no defensive coverage inside or over the top. Ike Taylor was completely on an island, but worse yet, received no help from his pass rush. I agree with trying to get Tebow to beat you deep, but why stack the box with 9 people yet not send any of them on a pass rush at Tebow? Any quarterback could have thrived in this situation. The Patriots need to stack 8 in the box, rush 4-5 consistently, maybe more, at Tebow, and leave one safety in coverage. The corners on the outside can play man coverage, since Tebow struggles with tight windows in man, and the linebackers not rushing Tebow lock up the tight ends and running backs. Our man coverage might stink, but so does Tebow as a quarterback, and as long as you can pressure him and keep him inside the pocket, he stands no chance.
Joe, I tip my cap to you for a pointed yet fair analysis. Imagine if the Patriots came out with that plan? I think this staff would be getting roasted. But LeBeau is held in such high regard, I haven't heard much criticism from many circles. That game-plan really hurt the Steelers. Goes to show even those considered the best can have off days too.
Unsung contributor? Sebestian Vollmer. If he can come close to returning to form from previous seasons (which is a big if), he frees up Solder as a full-time big blocking TE. That power package is tough to stop even when Solder is paired with reserve OTs. It may be the key to ensuring that the team avoids the slow starts that have derailed them the last two postseasons. Gain some yards on early downs running the ball, sustain early drives, end the first quarter ahead. Vollmer's presence could be a big factor there.
Thanks Darryl. I have some doubts he'll be ready, but that's just based on a hunch.
Mike,This is more a comment than anything else, but, as a long time season ticket holder I'd like to make a plea! We need a better home field advantage!! I watched the games last week and those crowds were loud!! I am sick and tired of seeing a half empty stadium five minutes before the game and the mob at the gates trying to get in. We need the stadium filled at kickoff Saturday night! Let's go PATS! Mike, keep up the good work!
Fair enough David. Hope all is well in Framingham. Two old-school favorites from me in the hometown -- an oil change and interior cleaning at Clean Machine (with a 3 for 2 coupon) and a crispy shrimp luncheon special at Uncle Cheung's. I recommend both :)
mike is it just me...or is NO BODY talking about the patriots??
All Tebow, all the time.
Do you see any similarities between "Flutie Magic" and Tebow Time"? I remember going to the Patriots games when Flutie played for Buffalo and Patriots fans wanted Flutie to do well. I would hear "I want the Patriots to win but I want Doug Flutie to play well."
David, I see some similarities, but not necessarily in that sense. I don't think Patriots fans want to see Tebow do well. Flutie was different in that he was from here, so there was more of a rooting interest. The common thread to me was that they both played the position a bit on the unconventional side. But they won.
The unsung hero has to be the OL. Our offensive line has played a major part in losing our last 3 playoff games. Games are won and lost in the trenches
I went to the Colts game and the fans seemed plenty loud, and I learned some new swear words!
Hi Quinn. Love those snow days, right? Thanks for chatting and sorry you had to learn those words. Better to avoid those whenever possible. Study hard and make sure you tell whatever adult(s) you live with how much you appreciate them. You probably don't realize it now, but it will make their day.
Who has a more uncertain future with the team Cunningham or Spikes?
AJ, I'd say Cunningham.
Mike, unsung hero = Danny Woodhead. I expect the pats to spread the denver D out, and if they want to play dime and bracket coverage on gronk/hernandez/welker, i expect a bunch of draws and outlet passes to Woody.
Jamie, Woodhead had a couple of terrific runs against the Broncos on Dec. 18. Finished with 7 carries for 40 yards. That 10-yard TD run was about as good as it gets.
I will be the unsung hero, mon.
Thanks for checking in, Patrick. Impressive to be able to chat and practice at the same time.
Mike, my Giants friends are getting on me saying Brady is 10-1 in the playoffs pre-Spygate and 2-3 post. I need some ammo!
David, the best ammo is to point to the 2007 season. No, they didn't win it all. But anyone who knows football, and is looking at it objectively, has to admit for a team to do what the Patriots did that year speaks volumes.
5 minute warning!
Change of pace: what do you think about the Jets hiring Sparano?
Jane, I like that hire for the Jets. Thought that whoever would get Sparano would be better for it. It's almost like one of those old WWF "handicap" matches when two wrestlers go up against one. Ryan/Sparano vs. Belichick.
Who do you like in the Texans-Ravens game?
Ravens. Believe that the two best teams in the AFC over the course of the season will meet in the AFC title game. The way it should be. We'll see how my crystal ball looks next week.
Do you think Reggie Wayne will be wearing a Pats uni next year? What a plus that would be for our offense, and he has had a good QB/coach in his career so it would not be an Ocho repeat!
Jeremy, we know how much Belichick respects Wayne. I think it would be something to consider.
How about a weather forecast for Sat. night?
Cold, from what they say. Bundle up. Here's a link from a great site, weather.com, that highlights the weekend expected forecast. http://www.weather.com/weather/weekend/02035
Hi Mike, Is there any chance McDaniles has any negative effect or becomes a distraction to the Pats in the Post Season?
I don't see it, Brian. I only see it as a positive. No mixed messages or role confusion here. Just another set of trusted eyes to help. Can't see any negative to it.
Not a question, but a thanks Mike.I appreciate you covering the team and not writing those reactionary pieces like the one about the Ravens on ESPN yesterday,
Thanks Pat. I've had some reactionary pieces myself, to be fair. They just don't come around too often.
I think the theme of this chat is that we can make a case for anyone to be the unsung contributor...
And with that, Matt, let's end it there.
As usual, this was a lot of fun. We ended up with 283 questions in the bin to answer, so it was impossible to get to them all. Hopefully we got a variety in there without mentioning Tim Tebow too much.
Should be a great night Saturday. Enjoy it and we'll catch up on the other side.