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October 4, 1:00 PM ET
Chat with Mike Reiss

Mike
  (1:01 PM)

Good afternoon and welcome to today's chat. Turning on the auto update, getting a few things together, and then we'll chat. Kickoff around 1:05 p.m. ET.

Mike
  (1:05 PM)

Just running a few minutes behind. Will make up the time on the back end. A few more minutes here...

Mike
  (1:09 PM)

All right, here we go. What's on your mind? The highlights today from the media-access here at Gillette Stadium was hearing from Brandon Spikes. Feel like he's one of the best interviews on the team, but he doesn't make himself available that often. He did today and there was some good stuff.

Mike
  (1:10 PM)

Quote from Spikes that stands out: "I just want to make a point. When I hit a guy, I want him [to say], 'Oh, that was Spikes that hit me. I know that already."

Mike
  (1:10 PM)

Boom!

Mike
  (1:10 PM)

And with that, let's roll.

James (Derry NH)

Hey Mike, I know the Pats would like to get Manning moving out of the pocket so that he can't set his feet when he throws. It seems that he has less arm strength on the move now. With that said will the Pats look to put Vince right over the center this week? I know Koppen struggled with him in camp.

Mike
  (1:11 PM)

I see the same thing, James. Put Wilfork over center and see if that matchup works in your favor. In fairness to Koppen, he was still getting his legs under him early in camp coming back from that foot injury. I thought he got better as camp progressed.

Nigel M (London)

Hi Mike,How impressed are you with the Patriots running game this year?I think its been something that the Patriots (despite some great point scoring offenses over the last 5 years) have been crying out for - a reliable plan B if teams are going to sell out heavily on the pass (as the Bills did sunday).I look at last years SB and think that a reliable running game (from 2 TE sets esp) should stop a team like the Giants just lining up in the NASCAR all day hoping to hit Brady 5 or 6 times.

Mike
  (1:13 PM)

Nigel, what I view as most important with the running game is the commitment and mentality. I have believed in the past that it's something you develop early in a season/camp and it's about commitment. It would have been easy to stray from it after the Cardinals and Ravens games, but they didn't. I like that.

Tim (Newport, RI)

With Ridley becoming the feature RB on this team, and Bolden being a nice compliment to him, what does this mean for Vereen? I am sure he makes it through the year for depth reasons, but does he have a future with the Patriots?

Mike
  (1:14 PM)

Tim, I'm still high on Vereen. It's the injuries that have stunted his momentum. If he stays healthy, I do believe he has a future with this team.

Alison Hart-Burnett (Martha's Vineyard,MA)

Everyone was so excited about Bequette when we picked him up in the draft and all through training camp. Some people even said he would make more of an immediate impact than our two first-rounders. Now, he's been inactive for 3 games in a row.

Mike
  (1:15 PM)

Alison, Bequette was actually active for Sunday's win in Buffalo and played sparingly late in the game. He's more on the developmental side at this point than an immediate contributor. That's not necessarily a bad thing. We could go through a long list of players who have had quiet first years and learned behind the scenes before emerging the next year. He just needs more time right now.

David Katzenbogen (Hibbing,MN)

Gostkowski... is he slumping or is it an issue of snapper or holder, or a combo of all three?

Mike
  (1:16 PM)

David, I think it's more on Gostkowski than the operation. He spoke today in the locker room. It was a little short. I sense that he's on edge. It wasn't a comfortable situation for him to have to answer those questions.

Albert Pine (Minidoka,ID)

Is it a coincidence that when we get more of Ridley and Bolden, we win and win big? And why is it obvious to an average Joe like me, and takes two gut-wrenching loses before it becomes obvious to Josh McDaniels?

Mike
  (1:18 PM)

Albert, you might be right. The way I view it that the overall point is that when you pride yourself on being a game-plan offense, roles are going to vary on a week to week basis. You don't always draw up the best plans, but I'd be surprised if we consistently see the same RB snaps that we saw last week over the next 12 games. There is going to be more reps for Danny Woodhead/Shane Vereen in the future.

Wayne Sneeden (Auburn,AL)

So here we are with 25 percent of the season gone. The Patriots have been up and down, or kind of like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. We've seen some great playing and some really poor playing. In [the Bills] game we saw all of it. Why do you think they are playing like that? Is it the coaches? Are the players not focused? More pointedly, it seems that a switch was flipped in the second half. I don't understand how such inconsistency can be so inherent in this team?

Mike
  (1:22 PM)

Wayne, I think this is the NFL. Of the 32 teams, I think we could put 30...31...32 of them in this category. Arizona is undefeated, but they are probably asking why they had such a tough time with Miami last week. Houston is undefeated but they didn't decisively finish off the Broncos two weeks ago, so do they lack a killer instinct? Atlanta is undefeated, but they needed a late rally to beat the Panthers. What took them so long to turn it on? This is the way it is in my view. No doubt, the Patriots could have risen up more in critical situations at times. I think it just comes down to making plays.

Mike
  (1:22 PM)

UPDATE: Good news from practice: Aaron Hernandez is back.

Mike
  (1:22 PM)

Just going to take a quick timeout to write a quick blog entry on that.

Mike
  (1:25 PM)

All right, we're back.

Har Journalist (Go Patriots!! Vancouver, Canada)

Hi Mike how's it going? Brandon Bolden has a breakout game against the Bills but how much involvement do you see him getting with the Patriots offense in the future? Was that a one time lucky game for him? or do you see him taking away playing time from Ridley? Thanks Mike

Mike
  (1:26 PM)

Har, I think this is a situation where the two will push each other and the Patriots will ride the hot hand. It was 34 snaps for Ridley vs. the Bills and 26 for Bolden. The players will determine how much that type of split varies by how they perform in practice and games.

Ruddock (Los Angeles)

The Offensive Line was clearly a standout versus Buffalo. But depth is a key to success in the NFL. Did Marcus Cannon play? I have not seen a snap count for the O-line. How do the coaches feel about Cannon?

Mike
  (1:26 PM)

Cannon did not play in the game, Ruddock. Dante Scarnecchia said in preseason that he's still high on Cannon. He would feel comfortable if he was starting.

Gabriel Kelly (Boston,MA)

It was a good and much needed come-from-behind victory [at Buffalo], although the defense giving up 438 yards is still a concern? The two bright spots were Devin McCourty bouncing back and a dominating running game. Do you attribute the running game's success to the backs and O-line starting to gel, or was the front seven of the Bills inept?

Mike
  (1:27 PM)

Gabriel, the key in the game was the Bills playing a small nickel defense (which I viewed as a dime because linebacker Bryan Scott is 6-1, 210, which is basically safety size). They went small and the Patriots just mauled them.

patriots fans (usa)

why patriots don't give more time to cunnigham.he is super.it good combination between jones and him

Mike
  (1:28 PM)

We saw Jermaine Cunningham rotate in a bit more last game, replacing Rob Ninkovich. I think he's earned that. Wouldn't be surprised if we see more of it in the weeks to come.

Todd (Philly)

Does Welker's recent involvement change once Hernandez comes back on the field or do you think it reverts to how he was used early in the season?

Mike
  (1:29 PM)

Todd, I don't think Hernandez is the big factor for Welker as much as Edelman.

John (Orange NJ)

Mike, now that Hernandez is back at practice, when do you see him back on game day ??

Mike
  (1:29 PM)

John, would think this puts him in the "game-time decision" category for this week.

Tim (Newton, MA)

Hey Mike, Could you see Tavon Wilson becoming the starter soon? I like him over Gregory, heck, I like how he's looked more than Chung so far. Wilson has shown great timing and anticipation, and from my view has great tackling fundamentals and can clearly lay a big hit. Thoughts?

Mike
  (1:30 PM)

Tim, I think he could start this week with Steve Gregory possibly sidelined with injury. Would be a tough first start against Peyton Manning. But I think he's earned the possibility of more time.

Eric (Andover, MA)

On offense, isn't it time to be a little less game plan specific? I feel they try to outsmart themselves a little too much when they have the talent to take it to almost any defense.

Mike
  (1:32 PM)

Eric, I think there is a little something to that at times. Maybe they do outsmart themselves at times.

Jim Bob (Oregon)

One thing I've been waiting for this season is the return of the "Controlled Chaos" defense. Is this the week, with Peyton Manning, that we see a front 7 of Wilfork and 6 linebackers?

Mike
  (1:34 PM)

Interesting thought, Jim Bob. The one reason I would hesitate is that the Broncos can run it. Could lead to a big day for Willis McGahee.

Al (Boston)

Brandon Bolden is the second coming of Corey Dillon, I have to say. He doesn't have Dillon's speed, but he has all of Dillon's power. Do you think Bolden has star potential in this league sometime in the future?

Mike
  (1:36 PM)

Al, I think it's a little early on the Dillon comparison. Bolden shows promise, but I think the consistency is the thing. Can he keep doing it? To a lesser degree, it reminds me of when one of my good friends compared Heath Evans to John Riggins after Evans exploded on the scene here. It's not that I think it's a bad comparison, but maybe just a little early.

Jack (Florida)

Hi Mike - I enjoy all your blogs. Thanks for keeping us distance guys informed. It seems like the defensive secondary is still the weak link in the team. I'm amazed at how passes between 10 and 20 yards are completed without any defensive back in the area. On longer passes the corners rarely seem to have their head turned toward the oncoming ball often leading to pass interference. The nice interceptions last week were, however, on underthrown passes. Am I off base? Thanks.

Mike
  (1:41 PM)

I agree, Jack. I want to report more on the whole "turning back for the ball" angle of things and the techniques they are playing. Going to circle back on that one when I hopefully get more information. On the flip side, I'd just say that some of the run defense I've seen from the cornerbacks, in particular, has been impressive.

Eric (DC)

Who's the best team in the AFC right now?

Mike
  (1:41 PM)

I'd vote for the Texans. But here's the thing: We're going to find out a lot about them over the next three games: at Jets Monday night, home against Packers, then home against the Ravens.

Tron (Waltham, MA)

Hey Mike, Is Dowling not at practice cuz of injury or was he released? If injury, do you think thats whats held him out of the last few games?

Mike
  (1:42 PM)

Tron, Dowling wasn't on the injury report. I'd be surprised if he was released. Will see if he pops up on injury report today.

Dave (Newton, MA)

I share Tedy Bruschi's view that the key to stopping the Broncos is stopping the running game. That really has me worried. Against Baltimore our defense was doing alright early, but once the Ravens got the run game going it looked almost as if the Pats D was paralyzed by the run and play action pass. Thoughts?

Mike
  (1:43 PM)

Dave, think Tedy makes a great point there. He most often usually does. The Patriots, and most teams, are at their best when they are making opponents one-dimensional.

Dan (Leominster)

Mike,Do our linebacks run well enough to keep Manning from picking us apart similar to what Pittsburgh did to us last year, or do we need to go smaller and hope the front can control McGahee?

Mike
  (1:44 PM)

Dan, I think it has to be a nickel/dime type of defense. If Spikes is in there, I think they'll go after him. How does he hold up in the passing game?

John P (Washington D.C.)

Can you give an update on Shane Vereen? Is the limited action just a result of him falling behind when he was rehabbing the injury?

Mike
  (1:44 PM)

John, that's the way I see it. He was really rising at the time he hurt his foot Sept. 24.

Chunk (Big Boy Burger)

Volmer really looked good at RT on Sunday. What kind of contract do you see him getting this offseason?

Mike
  (1:47 PM)

Chunk, I thought it was one of Vollmer's best games. I still think it's the type of situation where the club signing him might be looking for some injury protection, because back injuries can be tricky. But if Vollmer plays like he did Sunday over the next 12 games, it will be cha-ching for him.

Evan (Pompano Beach, FL)

Do you think Spikes should be fined for his hit during McCourty's second pick? Especially considering Kyle Williams has already been fined for diving into Brady's knees it would seem like the NFL should be consistent with their penalties.

Mike
  (1:48 PM)

Evan, I asked Spikes today and he told me he hasn't been informed of anything regarding a fine. I'm going to take another look at it and then will circle back on the blog tonight.

Greenie (Willoughby OH)

I know this question has been asked, but what is with all the TEs being looked at? It seems like a carousel. Does Shiancoe coming back at some point stop this obsession with TE tryouts? Shout out to Bruh Nation!!

Mike
  (1:51 PM)

Greenie, the TEs are a key to the Patriots' offense. They want to be able to line up with two TEs on any day, because it dictates matchups. For example, the Bills matched up their smaller nickel against the Patriots' 2 TE package and that was a favorable matchup that could be exploited. If they didn't have the TEs to do so, it's a trump card that couldn't be used. Shiancoe is eligible to return in two weeks.

mandeep (montreal)

Mike dont you think that rob nikovich fits more as a linbacker instead of defensive end i can understand that he is verstaile but still i dont see him getting to the qb quite often like von miller or some other outside linebackers playing at the defensive end i think he can be more effective in the coverage your thoughts.

Mike
  (1:52 PM)

Mandeep, Ninkovich dropped out to linebacker on a handful of snaps Sunday. As an end-of-the-line player in this scheme, his first responsibility is often to play two gaps against the run. He generally does a good job of that, just as he did as an OLB in the 3-4, which is also an end-of-the-line position. I think he's a good player.

Jake (Sharon MA)

Hey Mike, I am curious to here your opinion on Patrick Chung? Why is he thought of as a good safety around the league. I have watched every play he has been in his whole career, and in my eyes he couldn't be more average. I would love to see him get benched for Wilson. He doesn't deserve to get resigned by this organization. He makes the corners look a lot worse then they are.

Mike
  (1:53 PM)

Jake, I think it's fair. Not sure he's getting better.

Derrick (Bristol) [via mobile]

Is Dont'a Hightower's injury going to force him to miss games? Also, when do you see Hernandez returning

Mike
  (1:54 PM)

Hightower was back at practice this week, in a limited capacity, so I think that gives him a chance this week. Ditto for Hernandez.

Matty Boy (Chi-town)

Hi Mike, Before training camp even began I thought Bolden would make the team (Big Ole Miss fan). Needless to say I was thrilled with his production last week. If the weakest part of the Denver defense is really the middle of the field I think both Bolden and Riddley could be in for big games again.

Mike
  (1:55 PM)

As Tedy Bruschi pointed out this week, one of the best ways to attack this Denver D is with the punishing ground game. Dumervil and Miller are terrific pass rushers and it's a defense that moves around and has some good rush packages. How do you negate that? By jamming it down their throat.

Charles (RI - (gronk E60 follow-up))

Hey Mike - you hadn't watched as of the chat last week. My takeaway was how much smarter the big man actually seemed and how dedicated he was to his craft - which is why i think the partriots are OK with his off field - off season antics (to a degree). Love to hear your thoughts on this piece which i thought was fantastic.

Mike
  (1:56 PM)

Still haven't watched it. My bad, Charles. Let's try again next week, and hopefully I've watched that and the Cleveland '95 program on NFL Network.

Reed (Minnesota)

Have the Patriots ever considered a goal-line package with Wilfork in it? Seems like if e lined up at FB, he could move the pile and almost guarantee a lane to the endzone, thoughts?

Mike
  (1:57 PM)

Noooooooooo!!!! Reed, I still have flashbacks of when they used Richard Seymour in that role and Seymour was injured.

Tanvir (CT)

Mike, I fear that Chandler Jones is going to fall into the Butler, McCourty, Cunningham, and even Mayo cateogory: great rookie year followed by a poor second year. Why do you think our defensive rookies seem to really falter their second years? It seems like a bad and consistent pattern.

Mike
  (1:58 PM)

Can I throw a respectful penalty flag for 15 yards? The penalty would be for negative thinking. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez had fantastic seasons last year and are two examples of rookies who built off their first campaign. I'm not overlooking that there are others who dip, but I think we can find that anywhere.

Jon (Richmond)

What is Eledeman's actual status? I still haven't heard anything about his hand; is it broken? How long is he going to be out for?

Mike
  (2:00 PM)

Jon, I'm not sure. Assuming broken hand. Was projecting 6-8 weeks based on that assumption. All guesswork, Jon.

Kevin-Ohio [via mobile]

Hi Mike, my question is about Spikes, on Sunday I heard an announcer mention how hard Spikes hits the ball carrier. This is now twice that he has caused a fumble when ball security should have a major concern. Do you see Spikes hitting that hard or is it more technique causing the fumbles? The hit on Jackson in the 2nd half made me jump out of my seat.

Mike
  (2:01 PM)

Kevin, I really see it being more about Spikes. When he delivers a blow, tremors are felt. Tom Brady called his hit at the end of the Cardinals game one ofthe best he's ever seen.

mandeep (montreal)

mike what is your prediction for this game

Mike
  (2:02 PM)

Patriots 35, Broncos 31.

jeff (arlington) [via mobile]

Mike Any news on andre carter? I take it that no one has picked him up because he is still not able to pass a physical? His situation was interesting. It seemed like the pats were very open to his return over the spring and summer (leaving his locker intact, not assigning his number to anyone else). There must have been some miscalculation or misunderstanding as to the extent of his injury and the length of his recovery.

Mike
  (2:02 PM)

Jeff, he actually signed with the Raiders. The injury was the big thing. A little more serious than initially thought.

Damian (Birr, Ireland)

Hi Mike. At one point last year it looked as if Jermaine Cunningham was not going to flourish in the Patriots system and in fact some predictions in the lead up to camp had him not making the final 53 man roster. However he has started the season well and is showing why he was drafted in the second round. How far do you think he is away from taking over as the starting RDE or is he better to bring in as a situational rusher?

Mike
  (2:03 PM)

Damian, the role he's in now seems solid -- nickel rusher from interior position, and then rotating in at left end with Rob Ninkovich. I think he could earn some more reps at LDE, but right now, the role seems like a good one to maximize his skills.

Mike
  (2:04 PM)

Going to keep going for another 10 minutes to make up for some lost time.

T.J. (McMahan)

Mike, Like you I was high on Vereen coming into the season, however, it looks like Bolden and the Riddler have become the 1-2 punch we though vereen would be a part of. What do you think of the backfield, and do you think Vereen will get any carries or will we focus on what worked?

Mike
  (2:05 PM)

T.J., I sort of view the backs in two different categories. The big guys (Ridley/Bolden) and the smaller/faster guys (Vereen/Woodhead). Still think Vereen is part of this mix long-term. Some of it will be game-plan related. Pass-protection part of this too.

Nick (Montreal)

Hey Mike, just curious as too the atmosphere in the locker room this year? Last year the locker room was portrayed as very tight and close knit group that had a positive vibe, attitude and a united identity. Has this year's group found it's identity yet ?

Mike
  (2:06 PM)

Nick, seems like a good one to me. I think the Patriots generally bring in players who have a certain DNA that contributes to that atmosphere. It's not always perfect, but I sense a good atmosphere in the locker room.

Hoogie (Lexington)

Mike, early on this pre-season it looked like Dowling had the size and speed to be a quality DB. He looked bigger and stronger than last season, and it seemed that he was due for some big reps, particularly in the nickle and dime packages this season. What's going? Is it bad play, bad practice habits, or is he just in BB's doghouse?

Mike
  (2:09 PM)

Hoogie, he's fallen off the map. Was nickelback in season opener, played 36 snaps, had pass interference penalty, and coaches must not have liked what they saw on film. He's been replaced since by Sterling Moore. So he's headed in the wrong direction. I think we can point to that season opener and/or what happened in practice the next week as the reason why.

Matt (Elon NC)

A lot has been said about how different the Broncos' offense is from last year. But how does their defense compare? After all, we put up a ton of points on them last year.

Mike
  (2:10 PM)

Matt, it's different, with coordinator Jack Del Rio putting his own stamp on it. Bill Belichick says it's more blitz-heavy. Different looks.

Paul (NH)

With that being said, any chance in your mind Hernandez plays??

Mike
  (2:11 PM)

Paul, would think Hernandez will be limited hte next two days and then maybe be a game-time decision.

mpc12pats (Work)

Kickers are almost all mental. I personally think (although I hope I'm wrong) that they've lost Gostkowski. Not working out a kicker might give him the silent vote of confidence, but is bad business IMO. Why not even work out someone?

Mike
  (2:12 PM)

It reminds me of 2008 when Tom Brady went down with the torn ACL. The Patriots had a few QBs coming in for workouts, when BB told them to turn back around. It's a statement of 'We're sticking with our guy.' He didn't want even the perception of doubt with that. I sort of like the approach. If Gostkowski bombs again, how hard would it be to dial up a kicker to replace him? Doesn't seem too hard.

Tone Loc (ATL)

What does Belichick have against speed in his WR corps? And do you think that this lack of speed affects the Patriots DB play considering they never practice vs speed. Watching Lewis of Baltimore blow by McCourty repeatedly screams that the Pats DBs don't know how to handle speed.

Mike
  (2:14 PM)

Tone, wondering if it might be the Curse of Bethel Johnson. LOL. Seriously, I thought McCourty ran well with Torrey Smith. Sure, Smith got behind him at one point, but I thought he was pretty competitive that game (outside of the fourth-quarter breakdowns).

Mike
  (2:15 PM)

A few more before we wrap...

Paul (Orono, ME)

When was the last time the Pats sacked a QB via blitz? They get close many times but lack the ability to close. This defense has some talent now but needs coaches who can teach technique

Mike
  (2:16 PM)

Paul, I thought they brought some linebacker blitzes early in the Bills game but they were picked up. I also don't view the pressure as a coaching issue.

Dan (Leominster)

Mike,Look out for Rory McIlroy jokes

Mike
  (2:17 PM)

"Central time zone! Central time zone!" Hey, I was slightly delayed on the chat, but I knew what time it was kicking off.

Joey LaBella (New Rochelle, New York)

I haven't really liked McDaniels as the offensive coordinator so far. One play that really angers me was when it was 3rd and 6 and the Pats were on the Cardinals 30 yard line. Easy field goal range and he called a pitch in which the Pats lost 9 yards... What are your thoughts on McDaniels.

Mike
  (2:18 PM)

Joey, I think I'm convinced that if there is one position on the coaching staff that is sure to have the lowest approval rating, it's offensive coordinator. First Charlie Weis, then Bill O'Brien, now Josh McDaniels. All took/are taking hits. I think McDaniels is excellent.

Andrew (Boston)

Mike- I think you were a little hard on Hightower in your mailbag. He's looked pretty solid to me. Not many rookies play well enough to start for one of the elite NFL team. Did you see the play he got injured on? That was a dominating defensive play where he totally destroyed the RB in order to make the play in the backfield.

Mike
  (2:19 PM)

Absolutely Andrew. And perhaps was a little hard, but in the context of the question, I felt like it was in the spirit of "Everyone is saying all these great things and I don't see it." He's done some very good things, but there have been times when he's looked a step behind (Ravens). Mixed bag. Does that seem fair?

Steve5495 (Clearwater Fl.)

Please rate Fells as a blocker first then a reciever.Is he better than Winslow?

Mike
  (2:20 PM)

Seems like better as a blocker.

Ryan (Maryland)

With Belichick being so elusive during press conferences, do you ever work on crafting questions that can't be answered so easily or would at least allow him to go into depth if he's in the mood?

Mike
  (2:20 PM)

Ryan, we actually have a "coach" who helps us ask questions with the idea that they will produce the answers we hope for. Just like a player or coach, some days you're on your game, other days not so much.

Alvin (Amherst, MA)

After a quarter of the season, doesn't Chandler Jones look like a leading candidate for DROY?

Mike
  (2:23 PM)

Let's end on this one. Jones won the NFL Rookie of the Month award for September. That puts him in the driver's seat, for sure.

Mike
  (2:23 PM)

Thanks to everyone for another great chat. Could be rain on Sunday for Patriots-Broncos. Maybe another day to run the ball. We'll catch up next week to break it all down.