Just turned on the auto update, getting settled, and will be back in a few to get started.
Just finishing something up quickly. We'll make up whatever time we miss on the back end. About 3-5 minutes here.
How is everyone doing today? I just filed our weekly Bruschi's Breakdown to our editors at ESPNBoston.com, which breaks down Sunday's Patriots-49ers game. One thought I wanted to pass along, that I didn't realize before, is that the 49ers have started the same offensive line for every game this season. I'm wondering if they are the only team to have done so. Consider how the Patriots have shuffled players around, and it's a stark contrast. Niners o-line looks solid -- Staley/Iupati/Goodwin/Boone/Davis.
If you have a chance, check out the "Bruschi's Breakdown" later today on ESPNBoston.com. Tedy has some solid insight, as usual, on the "grab" technique which we should all become familiar with this week, as well as some thoughts on Randy Moss.
I misjudged Monday's Patriots-Texans game. Thought it would be more competitive. I think this one will be. Let's go until 1:07 today. What's on your mind?
Mike, for the past 6 years the eventual NFC champion has played the patriots on November 1 or later of that same season (look it up). Considering the numerous teams who claimed to learn something from the pats businesslike approach, think this is a total coincidence? And will San Fran make it 7 straight years?
Jim, I had this same thought just moments ago. Reminded me of 2001 a bit -- Patriots/Rams. I think Patriots/Niners could be a Super Bowl preview. It would be played Feb. 3 at the Louisiana Superdome. That Patriots/Rams Super Bowl was at the Louisiana Superdome on Feb. 3.
Any chance that Moss is a big factor in this game?
David, I think Moss could have a similar impact to what Donte' Stallworth had for the Patriots against the Texans -- a big play or two.
Hey Reiss, great job by you and your ESPNBoston colleagues covering the Pats this year. One thing that really stood out to me last game was the play of rookie Dont'a Hightower, who in my opinion, had his best game of the year. What did you think of his game on MNF and his progression as a player this year?
Joseph, this is timely that you brought Hightower into the discussion. I was just talking to Mr. Reiss (a.k.a. Mike's dad/Patriots season-ticket-holder/passionate media critic) and he said the same thing you did; he thinks Hightower is really coming on. Hightower had a season-high for snaps, which I thought was due in part to a high percentage of base defense being played, and also Brandon Spikes being sidelined late. I saw good things, too, but I wasn't as auhtoritative as you or Mr. Reiss.
Now that the receiving corp has been thinned and Jabar Gaffney's suspension/injury issues should be in the past, do you see him being resigned by the Pats soon?
Ryan, I think they do need another receiver and Gaffney would be at the top of the list. I still need to double check on the specifics of that suspension.
Hi Mike - There's one thing that has been bothering me a lot all season. Is it pronounced "DENnard," or "DenNARD?" I think Jon Gruden pronounced it both ways in the same sentence on Monday!
Darrick, going directly to the Patriots team-issued media guide, here is how they list it out. DENN-erd.
Mike you're The Dude. But how about the 49ers? They look to me like a more intense version of the Ravens. This will be the toughest game of the season. What is the key to stopping their offense? Because I don't see Brady putting up anymore than 28-30 points. Gostkowski will be called upon this game.
Really like the 49ers. Tough, physical team. I know I made the comparison to the 2001 Rams earlier in the chat based on the idea of possibly seeing them in the SB after meeting in the regular season. But here is a major difference -- these 49ers are anything but "finesse." They will hit you in the mouth. Just as the Patriots' success starts with Bill Belichick and the program he's put together, ditto for Jim Harbaugh. I think he's one of the best coaches in the NFL.
Hi Mike,While bringing back Branch makes sense in the short term, he does not bring what both Edelmen and Stallworth brought to the table. The ability to run the fly route and make it at least a little scary. Watching Brady take those two deep shots, and connect on one, was so uplifting against the Texans. Is there anyone out there the Pats can or are looking at to help for the stretch run?
I hear what you are saying Will, and I'm not sure there is anyone that would make that much of a difference when compared to someone like Matthew Slater, who was also open/available on a long pass that wasn't connected on.
What sort of reception do you expect Randy Moss to get on Sunday night? Also do you expect him to be much of a factor
Big cheers for Moss, I think. Wouldn't be surprised if we see a few Moss masks too. General feeling is that there is a lot of appreciation for what he did here. That '07 was magical. Greatest back-to-back stretch of plays I've ever witnessed in person was the season-finale vs. the Giants that year when Moss dropped the long one, then caught the long one. Still get chills thinking about it. Thanks for that, Randy.
Hi Mike. Hard not to be excited about the Pats these days! I know Tony Logan was signed to the practice squad, and I'm sure the coaches want to get a look at him. But it sure would be nice to have a PR replacement for Edelman and a KR replacement for McCourty (who is way too valuable as a DB to be returning kicks, IMO). My question is: Any scuttlebutt about this Logan guy and whether he might get promoted to the game day roster and contribute as a returner? Or is this just a long-term project in case Demps doesn't pan out? You hearing any buzz about him?
DJ, I would be surprised if they put Logan in that spot in 2012. At this time of year, when the margin for error thins and the conditions become a factor, dependable ball-handling is all the more important. It's not ideal to add those duties to Wes Welker's plate, but I think he's the player you have to go with. At this point, if I'm going down, you have to go down with your best.
Hi Mike, the Patriots looked unbeatable on Monday Night Football, and now everyone is riding the Pats and joining the bandwagon. What flaws, or problems do you think the Pats huge win covered up? Has this team reached its highest point of the season? Thanks Mike
Greetings Har. Was just communicating with another writer in the Bay Area about possible Patriots vulnerabilities and this is what I came up with (noting they weren't major): 1. Pass protection the last 2 games has been more inconsistent than previous weeks; 2. Depth at WR; 3. Depth at interior DL; 4. CB health.
The Patriots look good. What about the NFC? Is it going to be another Giants run?
PJ, I'm not as in-tune with the NFC because I'm so locked in on the Patriots, but if I had to pick a team, I'd go 49ers. I'd like to see the Falcons win it for Tony Gonzalez and GM Thomas Dimitroff (former Patriots director of college scouting), but I'm not sure I feel as strongly about them as I do the 49ers, even with an untested QB.
Hi Mike, Why did the team put Stallworth on IR, rather than release him? If they released him would he not be potentially available to them once his injury improved? Also, being on IR - could the Pats come to a release settlement, then resign him again or was this only in the pre-season i heard about this option? The only reason i can see him being on IR is to prevent other teams learning anything about the offensive playbook....
Adrian, another possible reason is doing him a favor. Stallworth helped out the team, did his job, and placing him on IR gives him financial benefits in the short- and potential long-term. Always hard to judge these things without more knowledge of the severity of the injury.
Hey Mike, love your stuff. Question: Is Kaepernick the most athletic QB the Pats face this year? To be honest, I haven't seen much of the 49ers this year. Can you think of a QB in the AFC he's most similar to?
Pete, I'm feeling the love today. Thanks. Jake Locker a good comparison, although there wasn't as much option-type stuff to deal with when it came to Locker.
MIke: For as frustrating as it was to watch the defense earlier in the year, it is just as exciting now. Besides the fact we are playing basic defense better, I see us hitting harder and being more physically aggressive. Do you see the same thing, or has it been there all year and I couldn't see it? They just seem to really be popping guys like I haven't seen in several years.
Yes, Karl, I see the same change and I trace it back to a key acquisition -- CB Aqib Talib on Nov. 1. That has helped solidify the secondary, which has opened up more creativity in the front seven.
Why isn't there more concern about Welker's drops on Monday? Had the game been closer, those failed downs could have been quite costly!
Ryan, I watched the drops and you're right on a couple of them. I thought he could have been a "down" in our gut-reaction-right-after-the-game "ups and "downs" but I hesitated because I wanted to see the passes again. I didn't think they were all on the mark, but they are catches a top WR usually makes. Welker did have the solid punt return and nice catch up the left side to set up the first touchdown. A mixed bag for Welker, I tought.
Mike can big Vince be stopped? He is amazing! He can impact the game without filling up the stat sheet. He is my DPOY.
..Not that my vote matters!
Nice to see Wilfork get some recognition for the impact he has on a game that can't be quantified by stats. I wouldn't call him the DPOY, but he's clearly a difference-maker still playing at an extremely high level.
Hi Mike - Julian Edelman would have made a good choice to be the scout team's version of Kaepernick. I'm not sure Mallett's mobile enough to replicate that - who have you seen in that spot during practice this week?
They only had a walkthrough on Wednesday Brian, and we don't get to watch the full practice, but I'd guess it's practice squad WR/PR Tony Logan. He was a QB in high school. Cousins with Jets CB Kyle Wilson.
Have not heard too much on a weakness to the 49ers defense. What is their biggest vulnerability on defense?
John, my questions come at the CB spot. Some teams have had trouble attacking them, though, because of how strong they are up front.
Hey Mike, could you talk a little bit about the emerging contributions from the Patriots defensive depth, especially Brandon Deaderickand Trevor Scott? Kyle Love is definitely a thumping run-stopper, but it seems like Deaderick has a better build to push the pocket from the DT
Sure, Austin. Deaderick has been taking snaps away from Love, and as we've noticed, he's been starting games the last few weeks. In our weekly podcast on ESPNBoston.com, Tedy Bruschi pointed to Deaderick/interior DL as the most improved spot on the team (outside of Wilfork, of course, who was already at the top of his game). As for Trevor Scott, my thoughts are that he's the same player as Mark Anderson at about 1/16 of the price. It's why the Patriots are the Patriots, and the Bills are the Bills. My apologies to any Bills fans out there, but that was the thought that came to mind (credit to Paul Perrillo of Patriots Football Weekly for sparking that thought the other day).
Mike, the blitzes we are showing are excellent with Jerod Mayo because you don't know where he will come from and when because they are usually delayed. They should keep this pressure up not only to set the edge for kaepernick the runner. What do you think?
Thomas, we've talked about pressure all year and I'm aligned with those who have been calling for more pressure all along. I just prefer that style. But one thing that I do think is important to mention is that some of these pressures are a result of what happens after the ball is snapped. They aren't always called in the huddle. If the back stays in to protect, maybe then Mayo comes as an extra rusher.
Hey Mikey, at this point it looks safe to assume that Gronk isn't going to play. Do you think that at least part of the consideration in the decision is that they would like to hold Gronk back in case they play the 49ers again in the SB, or the Texans again for that matter. Clearly it's not going to be a big factor, but could it be ultimately what swings the decision one way or another?
Boomdizzle (I just wanted to type that), I wouldn't assume that on Gronk. I don't think he's that far off. But I think the big question becomes, "Is it worth even risking it?" I don't think they would hold him back with the thought of possibly playing these teams again. It would solely be based on his health.
Hi Mike,Do you think the Pats draft class of 2012 is one of the best of BB's era? Jones, Hightower, Tavon W, Dennard and Ebner have contributed in someway or the other.
Yes, Matt, I do. I'd add rookie free agents Brandon Bolden and Justin Francis in there too. I count them as well.
(We interrupt this chat to report there are now 300 questions in the queue. What a passionate group. Thanks.)
mike,looking at the remaining schedule around the league, can you believe it is possible that the road to the superbowl could go through denver?
I can believe it, trader75. I'll take Tom Brady 10 times out of 10, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate and respect the work of Peyton Manning. That's mostly about Manning from this viewpoint.
Any chance of Bolden being worked into the offence more or is his knee not 100%?
I could see it, Al, especially after Ridley's red-zone fumble last week. Maybe Bolden more at the goal-line this week?
Mike, is Watt still your DPOY favorite?
Yes, Pete, I thought he was still very good on Monday night. You?
Since it's the holiday season, does the Reiss family have more Patriots gear OR ESPN gear? :) Also, since the secondary is playing well, do the same people who wanted Josh Boyer's head earlier, now want to give him a contract extension? :)
Bill, in the spirit of being a full-fledged media member who prefers free gear, the answer would be ESPN. LOL. ... As for Josh Boyer, I've spoken my piece on that one, as that was one of the more frustrating topics from this perspective in 2012. Now let's move on.
Will Chung return next year? With Devin, Gregory, and even Wilson playing well is there room for Chung?
At this point, I would assume Chung will be seeking a change of scenery. When you can't leapfrog rookie Tavon Wilson to even be part of the dime defense, that's telling as to how you're viewed by the coaching staff.
Forecast for Sunday is showers and cold. In the mid-30s. Patriots weather!
Tom Brady called for better "New England" winter weather after Monday's game was played at 59 degrees. Amazing the powers TB12 has. LOL.
Yes we beat the Texans, but if Hernandez didn't recover the fumble on the first drive and Schaub didn't throw the INT, I don't think the game plays out the same. Mid-second quarter through the mid-3rd quarter the Pats punted 3-4 times in a row and even had 3 and outs. I know we put up a lot of points, but doesn't this prove that we need to score early or else we risk the other team making the right adjustments? Going against the top ranked defense, this game is going to be tougher than the Texans game.
I know what you are saying, Adam, but to me what it proves is the importance of turnovers. If Tom Brady doesn't throw that "lazy" screen-pass INT to BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the Jets' playoff loss, is that result different? Those turnovers are huge and I agree with you that perhaps the Texans' game would have been different if Hernandez didn't recover that fumble. But he did, the Patriots won, and I don't think we can really re-write the play-by-play to make a case to prove anything other than the importance of that stat. The Patriots have an NFL-best plus-24 turnover differential and it's a huge part of their success.
Mike,I expect the game between the 49ers and the Patriots to be a closer hard fought game than the Texans one, that is, if Alex Smith were starting. I believe that its possible New Englands defense will be able to run sub-packages that Kaepernick may find confusing, and ultimately will lead to mistakes. Do you think this game will be determined based on how well the Patriots defense performs, and ultimately how healthy they are?
Dan, I know Tedy Bruschi aligns with that thought process on Kaepernick. I view it slightly differently. Kaepernick's elusiveness concerns me more than Smith from a Patriots perspective.
What explains Vince Wilfork's resurgence the past couple of seasons? He was always a factor throughout his career, but it seems he has taken his game to a new level.
Brian, I think he's doing different stuff than he was earlier in his career. It was only a few years ago that he was coming off the field on third down. At one point, he could have been viewed more as a run-stuffing nose tackle and part of that is that he wasn't given the opportunity to do more.
What do you see as the difference between running game of last year and this year? the OL is relatively same, only change is the RB's. Is that the big difference?
Commitment, sai. And that starts on the first day of training camp. I like to relay the story of the first day of 2010 training camp when Bill Belichick -- on the first day of full-pads practice -- put the ball at the 2-yard line and let his players slug it out. He did that because the team's red-zone offense was not up to standards in 2009. So it became a point of emphasis and they drilled it and drilled it and drilled it ... and the result was an excellent 2010. Spin that forward to 2012 and the running game and it has been a McDaniels priority from Day 1. Credit to Josh McDaniels, first and foremost, for setting the tone and then the players for their execution because ultimately even the best plans don't work without talent.
Mike, we all know how good of a player Jerod Mayo is but this guy the last few weeks is playing insane football. Is he just showing up more because of the group around him or because he's entering his prime or both?
Dave, I know I do this a lot, but I recommend listening to the start of our Patriots podcast to hear Tedy Bruschi's thoughts on this. Tedy played the position, so who better to comment on that? The short version of his remarks: Mayo is starting to expand on his calls and take more things that are available to him. As a fellow MLB/ILB, Bruschi talked about how nice that is to see. Tedy obviously arituclates it a lot better than I just did, but give it a listen if you have a chance. It's around the 10 minute mark if I recall.
Do you think the Pats wish they designated me to return. Sure could use a returner right now
Yes, Jeff Demps, you would have been a better choice than the since-released Visanthe Shiancoe. No team is perfect. Patriots made a mistake on that one.
Hi Mike, my father and I are going to our first Patriots game at Gillette this weekend. Words cannot express my excitement. We are driving to Mass on Saturday. Could you please tell me some must see Patriots places and good eats?? Thanks so much. GO PATS!
Sure, Greg. Safe travels. I'd recommend a visit to the Patriots Hall of Fame, first and foremost. If you're a Patriots fan, and haven't seen it, it's a must to put on your list. Then you can just walk up the 80-plus stairs to Patriot Place and get yourself a nice meal at any restaurant there (my first choice: Skipjacks). If you're looking to get into the city, I'm a North End fan in Boston. Al Dente is the favorite.
Mike, Do you have any concern that the Patriots have "peaked" to soon? Or are we right on schedule with the playoffs in sights?
Jimmy, at this point, no thoughts like that on peaking too soon. It was just last week that they had to battle for a hard-fought win in Miami. This team is doing what it does -- competing its tail off, playing smart football, and building momentum at the most important time of year. I think they are 21-0 in the regular season in the second half of the season since 2010. Outside of plus-24, that might be the most impressive stat in football right now.
I don't want to come across all roses here, but the facts are the facts. This Sunday's game against the 49ers should be a dogfight. Let's revisit after the game, assess the injury situation, and see what the picture looks like then.
Hey Mike, do you think we'll see a 'spy' this week on Kaepernick? (or Brady after he showed his RG3 imitation) And would it be Mayo?
Derek, if I had to guess, the first thing the Patriots' defense will focus on is keeping Kaepernick in the pocket and almost daring him to throw. Discipline in rush lanes will be crucial. As for a spy-type plan, maybe on third down. But I think if they just play their rules/assignments on early downs, they should be fine.
Hey Mike as a fan from the Midwest do you know when is the next time the Pats are gonna play in the Heartland? I would really like to catch a game!!
David, you have the Patroits at the Bengals next season. Would that work?
What are the chances that Jeremy Ebert gets promoted? He was in the camp, like Stallworth so he can be eased in action.
Just a hunch, but I'd be surprised at that one, Aki. Just seems to need a little more time (hopefully this isn't a repeat of one chat a few years back when someone asked if re-signing Tully Banta-Cain was a possibility and I said I'd be surprised ... and what happened the next day? Yup. I remember every time I mess up like that.)
Can we talk about the play of Alfonzo Dennard as of late? Can he sustain this level of play, and how impressed are you with his open field tackling.. for such a small guy.
Yes we can, Dan. Impressed with Dennard. For all the talk about the Patriots/BB missing on DBs in the first two rounds of the draft since 2007 -- which is a fair criticism -- it's only fair if we also point out the good ones too. Dennard looks like one. We won't put him in Canton just yet, but I like him. Can we also talk about how he calls me "Mr. Reiss" when I talk to him in the locker room. Come on, Alfonzo, you're making me feel old.
Mike, moving forward I think the lack of WR is goign to hit us more and more with Gronk still getting better. This game in particular scares me a little. Do you see us becoming more of a running team than usual, or do we just see more out of Fells and Hooman??
That lack of WR depth is a little bit of an issue, as we saw in the final 25 minutes vs. the Texans when they were without Stallworth (ankle). It basically wipes out a big part of the play-call sheet because you're limited in what you can do with 3 WRs (unless you put Matthew Slater out there, which isn't the preferred option). That's why I like the idea of a Gaffney signing as well.
Let's go for another 5...
Why risk Wes Welker on Punt Returns (or Hernandez)? If he gets hurt - Lloyd and Branch aren't going to scare anyone even with Brady as the QB.
Tough one, Vinny, but I think it comes down to this: You don't want to lose a game because of an inexperienced punt returner back there, especially at this time of year. The top options are Welker, Chung and Hernandez. Who do you all like? We'll put up a poll on our Patriots blog today. Check it out and vote if you have time.
Hello Mike, as a lifelong Patriots fan I am torn about the Denver - Baltimore game. Logic would dictate that we should root for Baltimore, but I just can't stomach the thought of rooting for that team, ever. If you were a Patriots fan and not a neutral journalist, who would you be rooting for in this game?
Dan, I'd be pulling for Baltimore because I think they are more easily beatable in the playoffs than Denver.
Good afternoon Mike! I just wanted to send a HUGE shoutout to the unsung group of the Patriots; and that's the O-Line. I want to especially concentrate on Nate Solder and how much he has grown this year. It seems like ages ago when we were all concerned in the New Orleans pre-season game. Also, Ryan Wendell has been great at center. If there has been an inaccurate snap this year, I can't remember one. Thanks and GO PATS!!
Kevin, I believe there was one quick snap in the Ravens game that caught Brady by surprised, but otherwise, Wendell has been terrific. You know, we talk about the small guys like Welker and Woodhead and their contributions -- yes, I'm partial to the small guys for obvious reasons -- and I think we could put Wendell in that category. He's "under-sized" for a lineman, but has really held up well.
A quick aside ...
Wendell is one of those players in the locker room that I feel really good for, because I've watched him grow from unknown practice squad player to what he is now. That's really a nice part of this job. You get to know the players a bit (you never really get to know them, but you know what I mean) and when they finally get that breakthrough, it's hard not to feel good for their success. Wendell could have signed with another team's roster a few years ago, but he took a long-range view and stayed with the Patriots practice squad. That turned out to be a really smart decision for his future. He's earned everything he has coming to him.
Mike, Just curious as to how the Patriots might attack the 49ers defense. Their defense is much more stout and consistent than that of the Texans. Where is the weakness if they have one? Also, what are the rumblings I've been hearing about Gronkowski maybe practicing this week? My feeling is he should be held out until the playoffs. Thanks for answering my questions!
Stephen, the first thought is to spread it out a bit and get the ball out quick, trying to isolate some matchups against their secondary. I want to see how well they cover. Similar to last week, I don't think this is a game where Tom Brady is going to be holding the ball often in the pocket. And, of course, there still needs to be a commitment to being balanced to set up play-action, where they were lethal last week vs. the Texans.
what pats are leading probowl votes?
Craig, I'll post something on that over the next few days on our Patriots blog. Still have to dig up the info.
.TDo you agree with Goodel that the playoffs need more teams? Why change what works and helps to make the NFL the best sport?
I don't like the idea, Seth. Was just thinking today that the overall quality of the NFL seems down this year. Any disagreement?
Mike, can you give us your prediction please?
Sure, Mine, and let's end on this one. Patriots 23, 49ers 20. I really like the 49ers and their style of play. Unlike others, I envision Colin Kaepernick presenting some problems for them, more so than Alex Smith would. But in the end, I can't bet against Tom Brady at this time of year, at home. I said at the bye that they would run the table and I'm sticking with it.
Thanks to everyone for chatting. The questions are great and I think it contributes to a great Patriots community that we've all created here on ESPNBoston.com. I appreciate that. Catch up next Thursday.