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September 19, 12:00 PM ET
Chat with Mike Reiss

Mike
  (11:58 AM)

Good afternoon and welcome to today's chat. We'll get started in a few.

Mike
  (12:01 PM)

Hope everyone is doing well. Couple of beautiful days here in New England back to back. Wake up and it's a little chilly, but by mid-morning, the sun is beating down and it's just perfect. Great time of year here in the region. Meanwhile, we have a 2-0 football team (Patriots) that has struggled on offense going up against an 0-2 football team (Buccaneers) that has struggled on offense. A good reminder of the thin margin for error in today's game. Patriots could easily be 0-2 and the Buccaneers easily 2-0 if a few plays go differently.

Mike
  (12:01 PM)

That was the theme of this week's Bruschi's Breakdown: http://espn.go.com/boston/nfl/story/_/page/bruschibreakdown-0919/bruschi-breakdown-tampa-bay-buccaneers-dangerous-0-2-foe-new-england-patriots

Mike
  (12:03 PM)

I've watched both Buccaneers games (opener at Jets; Week 2 home opener vs. Saints) and I'd sum them up this way: Undisciplined (23 penalties, 1 dirty hit by safety Ahmad Black IMO), strong on defense, and held back by the QB on offense. In terms of pure talent, it's there at many positions. But just hasn't come together at this point.

Mike
  (12:03 PM)

Those 23 accepted penalties are tied for most in the NFL with the 49ers (to my surprise that San Francisco would be in that category).

Mike
  (12:04 PM)

As for the Patriots, not expecting to see Rob Gronkowski or Danny Amendola on Sunday. I think Gronkowski could play, and if this was the Super Bowl, he would play. But it's not. So that's why I lean toward "no" and the Patriots taking extra, extra, extra precaution to make sure everything is right -- both medically and with the way Gronkowski feels about things -- before they take that final step. Just a hunch.

Mike
  (12:05 PM)

On Amendola, what we saw at practice tells me he'll need a little more time. That's strictly by the "eye" test.

Ronnie (Charlotte NC)

Are we going to be able to stop Doug Martin? I was not impressed with the run defense last week..

Mike
  (12:07 PM)

All right, Ronnie, thanks for leading us off today. Martin is a smaller back at 5-foot-9 and can sometimes be tough to locate behind those big offensive linemen. Sort of like Danny Woodhead in that regard. I wasn't that impressed with him in the season opener, but the Jets deserve some credit for that (they are a good run defense). I thought we saw the real Doug Martin last week vs. Saints. Tough challenge. I'd think he'd be their No. 1 priority Sunday.

Cappy (Boston)

Hi Mike,Run game hasn't looked all that great the first two weeks, anything in particular that you see as the cause?

Mike
  (12:07 PM)

Better offensive line play needed, Cappy. I thought they ran it well against the Bills. Not so much against the Jets. Let's start by giving credit to the Jets -- a good run defense. But the Patriots are better than they've shown.

Michael (New York City)

Has Gronkowski had any live contact with pads during practice?

Mike
  (12:08 PM)

Yes, Michael. Yesterday, for example, was a full-pads practice. You only get so many of those, so you have to make them count.

Keith (Enfield CT)

Hi Mike, love your work. What's the vibe been like at practice since last Thursday night? Any signs that the WRs are losing confidence or are they building on the experience and getting better?

Mike
  (12:08 PM)

Keith, I'll pass along a comment from Aaron Dobson from Wednesday and let you be the judge, and then pass along my own thoughts: "You can't ride the highs too much or the lows too much. What happened last week happened, and I'm just trying to move on, improve, and have a better game this week."

Mike
  (12:10 PM)

Part of the reason the Patriots are high on these young WRs is that they are smart, tough-minded, and obviously have good physical skills. They'll be OK. Some tough on-field love from Tom "This Isn't Tiddlywinks" Brady this week won't bring them down.

Beazer McDonald (San Francisco, CA)

Mike, you probably saw that the Boston Globe ran an article about the Pats' potential interest in Terrell Owens. Do you think there's any chance the team would sign TO?

Mike
  (12:11 PM)

No chance, Beazer. Non-starter. Dead on arrival.

DJ (Ann Arbor)

Am I wrong, Mike, or have these things all transpired: (1) Spikes reports being talked to by BB about reaching his potential and becoming a difference maker, and how that motivated him this off season. (2) Spikes misses OTAs to train on his own in Florida. (3) Spikes almost absent the first two games, even when on the field (as well as leaving early with dehydration in Game 1). I've seen none of the big hits from the last few years yet, and all the problems playing in space. I'm starting to think this is no coincidence, and that makes me really wonder about his future as a Patriot.

Mike
  (12:14 PM)

DJ, here is how I'd sum up my thoughts on Spikes: He's at his best playing downhill, still a liability in coverage, and all the talk about wanting to become more of a three-down LB was a cover for simply not wanting to train in Foxborough this offseason. Which, as we know, is his right. Spikes' contract expires after the season and with the Patriots drafting Jamie Collins with their top pick this year (52nd overall), it wouldn't surprise me at all if he is elsewhere in 2014. I'm not saying the door is completely closed on his return, but if I had to guess, this could be a case where the Patriots' view of his value is different than his own.

Raz (Bergen, Norway)

Mike, the Patriots run defense currently rank 28th in the league with 132,5 yds allowed per game. I'm overall pleased with our D so far, but defending the run used to be one the team's strengths in recent years. Cause for concern?

Mike
  (12:16 PM)

Raz, I didn't think Vince Wilfork played up to the standards we've grown used to seeing from him last week. So that's where I'd start when looking at the run defense. But I don't think it's been all bad. When you can hold C.J. Spiller to a 2.4 avg. -- one season after he averaged a ridiculous 6.0 yards per carry -- that's pretty darn good.

Lou (Work)

The drafting and team building is the problem and it's so much worse then you say...After the 100000 picks on d, who is the game changer? Mayo? Nice player that is average in pass covering and makes little big plays...Name all the big play? Pretty easy.... McCourty??? Nice player that got drafted as CB but now a s.... Hightower? Don't even notice on the field....Jones??? Yeah, he could be but he's not Ware, Aldon Smith ect....Bill wants boring safe players, but it's not good enough in the big moments.... They won sb bc of game changers...Tedy/Harrison/Adam/Brady.... No where to be found...Brady has had one stud WR for 2007 and A great slot guy???? Who else has he had at WR? Branch? System player.... The weapons at wr in a passing league that Brady has had is a sin...Bill is the reason they will NEVER win a sb again....Bill is so overrated.

Mike
  (12:19 PM)

Loouuuuuuuuuuuuu!!!! Let's start with the fact your team is 2-0 and in a weaker-than-the-norm AFC, one of the contenders this year. With that said, I'm going to nitpick on a few things, and agree with a few others. ...

Mike
  (12:21 PM)

On defense, the struggles drafting in the secondary are well documented. No sugarcoating it. That's been an Achilles heel for Belichick, but based on the present snapshot, this might be the best group he's had. I'd call Talib a difference-maker. Wilfork is in that category too. And I don't think Ninkovich, Jones, Mayo, McCourty and others are that far behind. So I disagree with you on the talent; I think there is plenty there on defense in 2013. You mention Aldon Smith and DeMarcus Ware, look where those teams are drafting those players. The Patriots have seldom been high enough to be in striking range for those types of guys. When they have, they've hit (Seymour in 2001, Mayo in 2008).

Mike
  (12:22 PM)

Those players you mention are rare -- more the exception than the rule. ...

Mike
  (12:25 PM)

At receiver, are we just going to leave out the record-setting season Randy Moss put together in 2007? Let's level it off, Lou, and be fair in our assessment. So I'll turn it back to you, if not Belichick, then who? Give me your top five general managers in the NFL that you'd want over BB, and let's match up their track records and see how they compare. BB is not perfect. But that's not a newsflash because no one is. So I think sometimes critics measure him against an unreasonable standard.

Mike
  (12:26 PM)

One final point: I do think it is a fair question to ask if they've surrounded a once-in-a-lifetime quarterback with enough weapons in 2013. I'm going to give this a chance to play out before passing judgment on that. Seems like others have already made a determination, and that's OK. I just think that overlooks a key part of the NFL -- how teams evolve over the course of the long season.

CB in Utah (Murray UT)

Hi Mike. Great coverage during an interesting time for the Pats. It seems like Deion Branch would be a great mentor for the young receivers. He was in their shoes at one time and knows how to connect with TB. Do you think the pats would bring him back for a bit to help?

Mike
  (12:28 PM)

Deion Branch's presence would absolutely be a positive, CB. In the end, I think the question is how much can he offer physically. Looked like he had slowed down late last year.

Tim (Washington State)

Do you think there's any value to the Patriots struggling early and playing some very close games? In years past it seems like the Pats got so used to winning comfortably that when things didn't go their way in the playoffs they just froze up. Maybe a little adversity could do them some good

Mike
  (12:30 PM)

Tim, I'll pass along Tedy Bruschi's words on this one: He says one of the best things for a young team is to have learning experiences and still win. That's what has unfolded the first two weeks.

Joe (Beantown)

Broncos General Manager - Andy Gorchov Ravens General Manager - Ozzie NewsomeGreen Bay General Manager - Ted ThompsonTexans General manager - Rick SmithI would take any of these folks over BB as general manager not coach

Mike
  (12:31 PM)

Good stuff, Joe. This is when we can take things to a higher level. I'm going to focus on Newsome, Thompson and Smith, because they have longer tenures and so it's easier to judge their track records. We talk all about Bill Belichick's draft misses -- and no one is sugarcoating it -- so let's talk Newsome for a bit. Excellent GM, I agree. But here are some misses:

Mike
  (12:33 PM)

Within the first two rounds...

Mike
  (12:36 PM)

1998: WR Patrick Johnson (42nd overall)2000: WR Travis Taylor (10th overall)2004: QB Kyle Boller (19th overall)2005: WR Mark Clayton (22nd overall)2005: DT Dan Cody (53rd overall)2010: DE Sergio Kindle (43rd overall)2010: DT Terrence Cody (57th overall)

Mike
  (12:40 PM)

Could probably go on. I'd agree with you that Newsome has been EXCELLENT. Probably the best in the game. But he has misses too. So does Thompson. So does Rick Smith (with Travis Johnson. Amobi Okoye etc.) and Ted Thompson (Justin Harrell etc.) Someone else mentioned Jerry Reese, but think he'd like to have the second-round pick of Marvin Austin back a few years ago? They all have some of those. My only point is that criticize the Patriots for their poor selections -- that's fair -- but only if it's put in the context of the rest of the NFL.

James (England)

I think that it is a bit unfair to criticise Belichick's draft record, when he constantly puts together a team that wins at least 10 games and is a contender. He may not allways draft players that become stars but in terms of putting together an entire 53 man roster I personally think that he is in a class of his own. The amount of players that he finds that nobody else wants and then turns them into useful players, Danny Woodhead being an example, is amazing.

Mike
  (12:41 PM)

James, I think that's a fair point. Kyle Arrington could fall into that category too. You find players in different ways. That said, I also think it's a fair question to ask if BB the GM has hurt BB the coach at times. It's a good topic.

Leonard (Massachusetts )

Mike, no comment on how Brady used your exact "tiddlywinks" expression to refer to the offense? Does he read the mail bag?!

Mike
  (12:42 PM)

LOL Leonard. If anything, that's probably a good reflection to our readers on ESPNBoston.com that the people reporting on the team are down in the locker room on a daily basis and talking to the key players on the team on a regular basis. We try to stay plugged in.

Brian (Oxford, CT)

Hey Mike - I for one am enjoying the idea that the team's identity is not going to just be Brady, Brady, Brady....but, at the same time, I'm not sure what the identity IS at this point. Do THEY?

Mike
  (12:42 PM)

Too early, Brian. I think Brady said it yesterday, that they won't find out for several weeks down the line.

Matthew (Syracuse)

There is something almost too business-like with how the Krafts manage this team. It seems (and I feel like many Pats fans/followers would agree) the Krafts aren't willing to sacrifice the short term future for winning now. There have to be some talented receivers (who have proven themselves a bit) still on their rookie contracts (would keep us under the cap) that could help this team win now. Sacrificing the draft the next year or two, trading high picks to win now, would make a lot of fans happy IMO. I don't think many Pats fans have high expectations for the first few years after Brady retires. At a certain point, if Brady doesn't win at least 1 more ring, we the fanbase will be able to look back and say the Krafts didn't put enough emphasis on maximizing Brady, even if it means 4-5 bad years after the Brady era is over. Your Thoughts Mike?

Mike
  (12:45 PM)

Matthew, it's a question that seems fair to ask -- are they maximizing what they have in Brady? But I don't think it's about spending money. They spend as much as anyone if we look at the pure cash dollars. It's about who they're spending it on, and perhaps the limits they set on some players who could help them (e.g. Danny Woodhead). They don't want to be a "window" type of team and they operate, for the most, with that in mind. I don't see that fundamentally changing.

Jay (Revere, MA)

Hi Mike, I view this game a little bit like the Arizona game from last year. The Bucs have a very good front seven as Arizona did and with playmakers in the secondary like Revis and Barron, this could be another tough day for the offense. I am also a little worried about Vincent Jackson. For all of the praise that Talib gets, I feel he has been burned by Deshaun Jackson in preseason and gave up some big plays against Buffalo. Considering New England couldn't stop him in training camp practices or the preseason, what are your keys to the Patriots winning on Sunday. Now, that I think of it, do you still do a guess the game plan on this site, I don't think I have seen it this year? Lastly, I am also worried about Dashon Goldson and the helmet to helmet hits. The last thing this team needs is to lose Edelman or Ridley to a concussion or something.

Mike
  (12:48 PM)

Jay, haven't done a "guess-the-game-plan" on the site this year, although colleague Field Yates does a weekly X's and O's feature highlighting one area the team could focus on/target. Usually comes out the day before the game. Had the same thought on this Tampa game being similar to last year's Arizona game. Good call. I think they need to get the running game going or it could be trouble.

Clint (York, ME)

Mike, what impact do you think Sudfeld has on Sunday?

Mike
  (12:49 PM)

I think he'll play, Clint, and I could envision him being on the field for about 20-30 snaps. When the Saints played "11 personnel (1 back, 1 TE) last week, the Buccaneers matched with their dime package. I could see the Patriots liking that matchup with Sudfeld as the tight end who is receiver-like. That's something I'll be watching for Sunday.

Barnburger (Boston, MA)

I don't really understand some Pats fans. They complain that they aren't in "win now" mode about a team that is 2-0 and 15-5 going back to the beginning of last season.That is winning football. I am embarrassed by some of my fellow fans.

Mike
  (12:51 PM)

I think it speaks to how high the bar has been raised here. It's no longer about winning, Barnburger, but winning with authority and winning Super Bowls. But I'll share a quick story from a recent conversation with Tom Brady in the locker room...

Mike
  (12:55 PM)

We were talking about the NFL and how it's structured these days, and he shared his thoughts that this is about how a team evolves and hardens over the course of time. Are there offenses that look better than the Patriots right now? No doubt, he said. But can they sustain? Can they do it in the snow? On the road? When they start losing players to injuries? Maybe they can. But the answers will be determined over time. This is a week to week league and at this point, you just try to survive and advance. That doesn't make for great sports talk-radio, I know. But it only strengths my belief that today's culture has two forces colliding more powerfully than ever before: 1) The need for immediate answers and snap judgments; 2) The truth that these things can't be judged on a day-to-day basis, but only over time because that's the way it really works in football.

Mike
  (12:57 PM)

It's a point that I made in last week's chat. I'm going to keep making it. It doesn't mean we can't analyze things and have strong opinions. But I think the key is keeping it in the proper context.

Adam (Cranston)

Why is a 7th round pick (Buchanan) seeing more time than our 2nd round pick (Collins)? Is it simply lack of depth on the DL or is Collins not living up to expectations?

Mike
  (12:58 PM)

Adam, I'd say it's probably more a result of the players in front of Collins on the depth chart (Mayo, Hightower, Spikes) relative to the defense they are playing (4-3 base and mostly 4-2-5 nickel).

Tim (Newton, MA)

Hey Mike, Slater going down is another tough one, hopefully he can make a full recovery soon. I'm interested to learn who the ST 'captain' would be without him out there? Do they put a guy like McCourty in that role?

Mike
  (12:58 PM)

Good one, Tim. I don't know if they'll actually name a special teams captain, but here's a good candidate from my view: LB Dane Fletcher. Core special teamer who is on all of the "Big 4" units.

trader75 (wilton,ct)

Lets go for five more...I have to get back to work

Mike
  (12:59 PM)

LOL, trader75. Thanks for following along. That's our official 5-minute warning.

Chris (NYC)

Just a quick comment: Sounds like Hoyer is getting a fair shot by starting this Sunday! I didn't feel like he got a fair shake in AZ. Happy for him, and really hope that he can show that he's a starting-calibur QB.

Mike
  (1:00 PM)

Feel the same, Chris. Happen to like the Richardson trade for the Browns. Unconventional, but it's a new regime and they're going to build it their way.

Kent (CO)

I'm glad that we have Welker instead of Amendola. Tell Bill thanks...

Mike
  (1:00 PM)

Kent, based on the present picture, I can understand why you feel that way. Let's revisit it at the end of the season and see where things stand.

CW (NYC)

Mike, you're becoming a philosopher on us!

Mike
  (1:01 PM)

I don't know about philosopher, but maybe just a little bit stronger in my beliefs after being around the game for some time now, and having access to speak with/spend time with others who build teams for a living.

Jeff (Unknown)

Hi Mike what are you thoughts on fans saying that the Patriots should slow down their up tempo offense to let the rookies get on the same page as the team?

Mike
  (1:01 PM)

Jeff, I think there could be some benefit to that. Have had that thought myself. Might ask BB his thoughts on that tomorrow. Thanks for bringing it up.

Todd (Philly)

What are your expectations for Ridley this week?

Mike
  (1:03 PM)

Tough defense to run against. They bottled up the Jets well in Week 1. Had a few leaks against Sproles but were otherwise pretty solid in Week 2 against the Saints. I think the Patriots need to run the ball better than they did against the Jets, but this is a challenging week to do it.

Sean (Boston)

Didn't we expect the rookies to be making mistakes? What we didn't expect was Brady and the O line to be struggling as well. Can't just blame this all on the wide receivers.

Mike
  (1:04 PM)

I feel like I've been pretty consistent on that, Sean, saying that there would be early growing pains. Did I expect them at this level? Probably not. But it's more than just the receivers.

David (Atlanta)

Mike seems like using 5 DB's is really hurting the run defense.

Mike
  (1:04 PM)

David, I feel like you have to be able to stop the run in the nickel. Not an excuse.

Don (Boston)

2 wins, both in the division, and people are jumping off the Tobin. Comical. How do you think the passing offense performs Sunday?

Mike
  (1:05 PM)

This is a tough defense to throw the ball against. You saw Drew Brees struggle last Sunday, and that's a pretty good offense. So I expect more struggles. The reason I think they can still win it is that the Buccaneers have struggled themselves on offense.

Bill L (Fort Collins, CO)

Hey Mike! Living near Denver is difficult right now, the media has given the Broncos the rings this year... forgetting it's been a decade since Manning won a playoff game when it's below 32 degrees, and the SB this year is, oh yeah, in the Meadowlands. Although the Red Sox are in town next week! Why aren't we seeing more of Leon in the return game? Thanks Mike!

Mike
  (1:07 PM)

Bill, I'm curious about Leon Washington in the return game as well. Only thing I can think of is that his thigh injury is limiting him, but the counter to that is he played 14 offensive snaps vs. the Jets and you'd think that if he's deemed healthy enough to protect Tom Brady, he should be back returning kicks. On the Broncos, they look tough. At the same time, they just lost starting LT Ryan Clady for the season. Big blow. Let's see how that plays out for them.

Adam (Broomfield, CO)

Mike, I thought you made some good points in your mailbag regarding the Pats WR's. Sure, timing is a work in progress, but Dobson and Thompkins were in fact getting open. It's the drops that killed them. If they make those catches .... different ballgame all together. I have to think that they will do a better job of this moving forward.

Mike
  (1:07 PM)

Thanks Adam, and we'll see how it all turns out. If there are the same struggles in Week 4 or 5, maybe it's time to make a move. But for now, I think you stick with them and ride it out.

Jim (Chiang Mai)

Mike! What's the offensive gameplan for the Patriots this week?

Mike
  (1:09 PM)

Let's end on this one, Jim. I think the key is to get enough of the running game going to be able to call on play-action. This is a fast, aggressive defense. By establishing the run early, it can create openings in the passing game through play-action based on their style of play. Easier said than done.

Mike
  (1:09 PM)

Thanks to everyone for chatting today. We'll do it again next week.