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October 10, 12:00 PM ET
Chat with Mike Reiss

Mike
  (11:59 AM)

Good afternoon and welcome to today's chat. We'll kick it off shortly.

Mike
  (12:02 PM)

Hope everyone is doing well today. I'm here at Gillette Stadium for media-access (12:45 p.m. ET) as the Patriots prepare for Sunday's game against the Saints. I watched the Saints' 26-18 victory over the Bears, on the road, from last Sunday. Very impressive. I had also seen them in Week 2 against the Buccaneers, mainly because I was watching the Buccaneers in advance of the Sept. 22 game against the Patriots. ...

Mike
  (12:04 PM)

I'd feel comfortable calling them the best team in the NFL based on what I've seen. Between offense, defense and special teams, I haven't seen a better complete team, and that includes the Broncos and Seahawks. Now, I haven't watched every game, so that context is important. But the Saints really have it rolling. Great example of the power of a coach, too. While it will always be about the players, first and foremost, coaching is important too. Sean Payton is a top-5 coach IMO, one of the best in the game. And we see the difference Rob Ryan has made with the defense as well. ...

Mike
  (12:05 PM)

So big challenge ahead for the Patriots on Sunday. Doesn't mean they can't win the game. But it's going to be a tough one if the Saints play up to their capabilities.

Mike
  (12:05 PM)

What's on your mind?

Marc (Malden, MA)

Two words: Josh Gordon

Mike
  (12:06 PM)

I hear you, Marc, but I actually think that's the wrong position. If they are going to make a trade, I think defensive tackle is the key position. Ultimately think they'll be just fine at WR. ...

Mike
  (12:06 PM)

Also, Gordon is one suspension away from missing a year, if I have my facts correct. Very, very dangerous acquisition if you're going to make it IMO.

Jeremy (New Orleans)

Greetings from enemy territory! I've been politely reminded all week that he is the greatest TE in the league. But if there's one thing I can expect from BB is that he will take away the opponent's biggest threat so I expect Graham will get the Faulk treatment this week. I think the biggest threat will come from out of the backfield from Sproles and Thomas. Dennard and Talib are playing at a level where they can contain the WRs, so if you don't mind putting on your cutoff hoodie, how would you neutralize Sproles? Does Ryan/Cole move to the slot and do you let Arrington shadow the RB?

Mike
  (12:09 PM)

Great question, Jeremy. This will be a sneak preview to our "Bruschi's Breakdown", which will post on ESPNBoston.com later today, as it's an area that Tedy Bruschi touches on. There will likely be plenty of "butch" calls for the Patriots. Those "butch" calls are when the defensive end sacrifices his rush to initially chip/jam/impede the running back coming out of the backfield. The idea is to disrupt the timing of the passing game, relative to that player. So you give up something -- obviously the DE won't be getting to the quarterback if he's first preoccupied with the RB -- but it's probably the strategy they will take.

Mike
  (12:09 PM)

After the "butch", then the DE continues his rush and it's up to whoever is assigned to cover Sproles to finish the job.

Kevin (Boston)

Mike, I am worried about Brady, more specifically his age. As any athlete gets older they tend to slow down a bit. Typically we will see this in legs, arm strength etc. With Brady, could it be that he is mentally slowing down a touch?

Mike
  (12:11 PM)

Kevin, I think it's fair to say, through the first five games, that Brady hasn't met the high standard he's set. But I wouldn't worry about the idea that he's slowing down. He still has it. A big part of the inconsistency has been the volatility of the unit. Not that Brady can't be better in certain areas -- he can -- but I come back to this thought: If Brady is someone's biggest worry, things should be going pretty well.

Ricardo (Monterrey)

Hi Mike, been here on your chat for a long time and I hope to get this question answered. I have been an avid NE Fan for many years now watching from Mexico, and something that always stood out to me was they always found plays to maximize their receivers potential and skill set. Short routes with welker, short intermediate branch, long moss, and in 2006 they also adapted to gaffney, caldwell, etc. What are these rookies strength and how can the Pats maximize them to give Brady rhythm? Also, if Gronk comes back we can see more action in the seam, opening for Amendola and Edelman in the slot and possible give the rookies options to shoot down the field and make the catch, giving Brady over the top options while his veterans move the chains and using the rookies to explode and keep defenses in check, opening holes for Ridley preferably, what is ur take on this?

Mike
  (12:14 PM)

Thanks Ricardo. My view of the rookie WRs is that Dobson's main strength is his size and ability to be a factor in the intermediate to deep areas of the field, especially outside the numbers. On Thompkins, I think his greatest strength is his smarts and aptitude to digest all the changes that occur on a given play, and also his ability to create initial separation at the line of scrimmage. Boyce, it's speed. As for Gronkowski, I assume he will be limited upon his return, but absolutely his presence should create more action in the seam. Good thought.

billy buckner (boston, ma)

how do you feel about Stevan Ridley for the rest of the season?

Mike
  (12:16 PM)

Billy, it all comes down to health for Ridley. If he's healthy, I think he's their best running back and I think they will make a concerted effort to get him going. I thought he was very good Sept. 22 against the Buccaneers. That was an ugly start for the offense that day and I felt like Ridley's presence settled them down. I also thought he ran well against the Falcons on Sept. 29. So while the numbers aren't necessarily there, I like what I'm seeing from Ridley.

Scott (Raleigh)

Hi Mike, thanks for the chat. Transplanted Pats fan from Wellesley...Can the Patriot defense withstand the loss of both Wilfork AND Kelly and continue with realistic super bowl aspirations? Also, wondering if you think Brady is showing the first signs of decline. I know the weather stunk....but he did not look good in Cincy.

Mike
  (12:20 PM)

Scott, I used to love covering Wellesley High football games in the early 1990s. Andy Levin was the coach, the games were Saturday mornings at 10, and the execution of their offense (I think it was Wing-T) was really fun to watch. ... Not that you asked about that or anything :) ... As for the defense, that would be a tough blow to overcome a Wilfork and Kelly loss. I'm not sure we're there yet with Kelly, but at this point, it doesn't look like he'll play this Sunday. Tough week for that to happen because you want those long levers of the 6-foot-6, 310-pound Kelly to rush up the middle and disrupt the passing lanes of the undersized Brees. Not ideal to be without it. ... On Brady, he'll be fine IMO. No decline. Still one of the best in the game.

pj (midlo)

Hi Mike, hard to say that Ridley has been anything but disappointing compared to prior year performance. What do you see as the cause for this or I am too critical? is it offensive line limitations, is it play calling, is it lack of receiver threats, or is it that he is not as explosive as last year

Mike
  (12:21 PM)

PJ, I can understand the thought from a statistical perspective, and also with his ball security in the opener. But looking at how he ran in the last two games he played, I thought it was very strong.

Mike
  (12:21 PM)

Also, some credit to the Jets' defense for the Week 2 performance. That's a tough defense to run against.

Michael (NYC)

I find it interesting that people are asking about Brady's possible decline due to his age but nobody's asking about that with Peyton Manning, who is a year older.

Mike
  (12:22 PM)

To be fair, Michael, the reason Manning hasn't been mentioned from a "decline" standpoint is performance-based: 150 of 198 for 1,884 yards, 20 TDs, 1 INT.

Mike
  (12:22 PM)

Pretty good numbers there.

Michael (NYC)

Mike, hard to see a scenario where the Pats win on Sunday. Agree?

Mike
  (12:24 PM)

I would pick the Saints, Michael, but I can absolutely see a scenario in which the Patriots win. Look, I think this is a good Patriots team. And I think they should play better than they did last Sunday. The Saints aren't invincible. Force a few turnovers and don't turn the ball yourself and that's the start of the recipe of a win. Saints don't turn it over often, though. They are plus-6 on the season (11 takeaways, 5 giveaways), the fourth best mark in the NFL.

Mike (Boston)

RE: Brady slowing down mentally; he's not experiencing dementia at 36.

Mike
  (12:25 PM)

Mike, I don't buy it. I think he's as sharp mentally as he's ever been. In fact, maybe as good as ever. The older he gets, the smarter he is because he's seen so many things over and over again. Not buying it.

Matt (Elon NC)

I'm not familiar with recently-signed DT Andre Neblett. How will he help in the Patriots' defensive line - run-stopper, pass rusher?

Mike
  (12:26 PM)

Matt, I was doing a little research on Neblett last night. Had a four-game suspension. Was more of a 4-3 DT for the Panthers. Flashed a little bit in his second season at one point. 6-0, 310. So undersized by Patriots regular standards in their system.

Jake (Denver)

Hey Mike! Good morning from Denver, or "Hell for a Patriots fan"! What role, if any, do you see Austin Collie playing this week?

Mike
  (12:29 PM)

Was thinking about Collie this morning and here is one theory that came to mind: He might be here with the "big game" in mind. He's played in some big ones, is an experienced route-runner, and in those critical games/situations, I could see him potentially getting more looks than the rookies Thompkins and Dobson. It's just a theory, because I've been wondering where he really fits here. When they signed him, I thought it might be insurance for injuries (Thompkins & Dobson were on the injury report last week), but I'm wondering if it might be more with the big-picture in mind. Wish I had more concrete info on that one, but that's what I was kicking around this morning.

Dave (Charlotte)

It also doesn't help that Rob Ryan used to be a defensive coach in New England...I'm sure he knows how to get Brady off his game.

Mike
  (12:31 PM)

Dave, I really enjoy watching Rob Ryan and Rex Ryan coached defenses. They really mix it up. Early in last Sunday's win over the Bears, you see safety Malcolm Jenkins blitzing off the defensive right side, Jay Cutler never sees him, Jenkins has a free path and creates the strip sack. Then later in the game, he's dropping eight into coverage and rushing three. So you get a mix there. It's a challenging scheme, with game-plan elements to it. In the end, the players have to execute it and the Saints have some good ones.

john (Pa)

Thoughts on Dont'a Hightower overall to this point? Good, average, bad?

Mike
  (12:32 PM)

More of a thumbs-up than down, although we see the limitations in coverage at times. Part of that is that he is a 270-pound linebacker. That's a DE in some schemes. Like his smarts and power. Runs well enough although obviously not like a 240-pound linebacker. His playing time is up significantly compared to 2012, as he's been in more sub packages this year.

Jake (Denver)

Mike, before the season the return of the same offensive line was heralded as a coup, highlighted by the resigning of Volmer. Is this a unit that simply isn't as strong as many predicted, or are their struggles a reflection of superior D-line play from opposing teams?

Mike
  (12:33 PM)

I'd caution from reading into one game, Jake. As excellent as the unit was against the Falcons, it was that disappointing against the Bengals. They can be better and I would expect them to be better. If they aren't, it's a disappointment.

John (CT)

Does Gronk have an immediate impact on this offense Sunday if he plays? Or is there going to be a shake off some rust period?

Mike
  (12:34 PM)

John, the area I'd focus on is the red zone. Patriots are having trouble covering opportunities (17) into touchdowns (6). While Gronkowski figures to be limited in some form, I'd have him out there for every red-zone snap. That alone should help, as long as he doesn't look as uncomfortable as he did in the season finale last year against Miami.

Michael (NYC)

Mike, to your earlier point about the importance of coaches, look at how Rob Ryan has turned around the Saints' defense from last season. Can a great defensive coach create a great defense out of average players? If so, where do we rate Mike Patricia?

Mike
  (12:35 PM)

Michael, this is a complicated question to answer, because at the end of the day I truly believe this is Bill Belichick's defense. When you talk about Rob Ryan, you bring him in and he's bringing his scheme. I think that's different than Patricia, who is coaching Belichick's scheme. So I'll answer it this way -- Patricia is a good coach, but his impact can't be compared to Ryan's because it's not an footballs-to-footballs situation.

GronK (Not playing sundays)

Mike:This is so much more then just about me... The issue on this team is deep.... You saw what happened when they played a real d...Nothing... It will be like that all year bc we have bunch of 4th or 5th type wr in a passing league...Danny wont be normal all year....Dobson is not good..Sorry... Thompkins almost drops everybody...He catches what 35% of the balls going his way...How Bill thought this was going to work is so confusion...It wont even be close to being good enough to win a SB...Not even close.

Mike
  (12:38 PM)

I'll agree with part of the thought, GronK, and disagree with part of the thought. The part I agree with is that Gronkowski isn't a cure-all. If the offensive line doesn't play better than it did, if pass-catchers don't stop dropping balls, if the running game doesn't produce more consistent results, it won't matter much. ... But I think it's too early to say they can't win with the players on this roster. I remember a lot of the same people were saying the same thing in 2006 and they were right there in the end. I feel like we often want to know the ending to the story before we let the process play out. Have to let it unfold. ...

Mike
  (12:39 PM)

... The last point I'd make is that the easy answer would have been to bring back Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch and go status quo. To take two steps forward, they've had to take a step back here as they develop these younger targets. I wouldn't give up on this group just yet.

Dave (Charlotte)

Please tell me Gronk isn't on the field goal unit?

Mike
  (12:39 PM)

No, but Chandler Jones has been at times this year. Same position.

Zach (WI)

Can the Patriots make the Super Bowl? Can they really get past Denver?

Mike
  (12:40 PM)

Absolutely Zach. Now, if that championship game was played today, I'd probably pick Denver. But a lot can change between now and then, including the weather.

Jared (Boston)

Hi Mike, what are you thoughts regarding Brady making several references to the Broncos and Welker lately in his interviews? The reason I ask is usually he and the Pats would say they can address other players/teams (unless they were next opponet). So, it could be one of 2 things; a change in philosophy regardign the media, or Brady anazlying (or wishing he had the same talent) as the Broncos. Thoughts?

Mike
  (12:41 PM)

Neither, Jared. I think he's mentioned them because he's been specifically asked about them (at least the times I've heard). For example, he was asked about the Broncos' 51-48 win over the Cowboys on Sunday night, during his weekly radio interview, and he said he watched it on the plane.

Mandeep (Boston)

Mike I think tom Brady is missing is go to guy on 3rd down that he used to have in the past with Kevin Faulk and Wes welker but who is suppose to taken on that role this year. I think one guy who could have emerge into that role could have been vereen. What are your thoughts on this.

Mike
  (12:43 PM)

I agree, Mandeep, and part of that goes back to the Shane Vereen injury. They also had a capable option in Danny Woodhead who, in my opinion, was undervalued when it came time to extend his contract. I feel like they made a mistake on that one. And I say that while acknowledging that no team is perfect, and neither is every reporter covering a team, or fan following a team. We all make mistakes. To me, that was the worst one of the Patriots' offseason and I wrote it at the time. Woodhead would have been back here for the same contract -- it wasn't about extended opportunity or anything like that -- and I believe the Patriots misjudged his value.

Geo (Iowa)

How much do you think Ridley is going to play? They need his running ability to keep the Saints O off the field.

Mike
  (12:44 PM)

Geo, I'm not sure he'll play at all this week. He's still limited in practice and when I saw him yesterday he had two large bags of ice on both knees. That is probably just regular maintenance, but I think his status very much remains in question right now.

Rick Patino (Louisville)

4-1 and it's non-stop complaining...I was so right when I said the negativity in this town sucks.

Mike
  (12:45 PM)

Did you change the spelling of your last name, Rick?

Scott Watkins. Morgantown, WV [via mobile]

Do you think that Gronk will be stuck next to the offensive tackle for most of the game, or will he be spread around the field in certain packages?

Mike
  (12:46 PM)

Scott, they wouldn't be fully maximizing their asset if they just kept Gronkowski next to the tackle on the line of scrimmage. Expect him to move around and be a factor as a pass-catcher as well. I'm guessing about 25-33 percent of the snaps for him.

Mike
  (12:46 PM)

Let's take a few more questions and then I'm running into the locker room...

Mo (Chicago)

People smarter than me have insinuated Bolden looks better on film running the ball than Ridley. Is that common perception? Does Bolden ever become a 3-down back for NE?

Mike
  (12:47 PM)

I don't see it that way, Mo. With Bolden, I'd say he's a little more diverse than Ridley, specifically when it comes to catching the ball (his drop Sunday aside). But Ridley, to me, is the better pure runner.

Zach (Orlando)

Hey Mike, thanks for your time. We all know there are no moral victories in defeats. that said ive been trying to find optimism in the loss to cincy. I thought back to 2010 (browns) through last year (cardinals) where the pats always seem to start slow and post a stinker. we always seem to have bounce back performances and seasons. I feel this loss will be the same and was potentially good for our team. I feel its good for all the young guys to know we cat play mediocre offensive ball and expect to win like we did against the jets. your thoughts?

Mike
  (12:48 PM)

Sure, Zach. This is still a good Patriots team, even though one might not think it based on the media-based tone of some of the discussion surrounding the club. They actually did a lot of things well in that game -- defense, no penalties, field-position game. A few plays go the other way, in the critical situations, and we could be talking about a 5-0 team. The margins are thin in this league.

Darby (Mass)

Mike, very little thus far has been written or discussed about the play calling from Josh McDaniels. The Cincy game looked like it wasn't called well at all, as evident by some head scratching plays the Patriots made that left many fans wondering "why did they do that"? Sure he has a young group to work with, but 1st and goal with less than a yard and a lob in the endzone to (NOT Mike Vrabel) was honestly a good choice?

Mike
  (12:51 PM)

Darby, that wasn't McDaniels' best game, no sugarcoating it. They had practiced that play and liked how it looked during the week, so they gave it a shot. No one was complaining when Brady threaded the needle to Matthew Mulligan the week before. Win some, lose some. It's part of the game. But I do like the idea of running it in that situation better.

Timothy Irvin (Los Angeles)

If Tony Gonzalez were to be made available by the Atlanta Falcons, wouldn't one of the first calls be from Foxboro?

Mike
  (12:51 PM)

Sure, Timothy, I would think most every team would call. But the Falcons are already on record as saying they aren't trading Gonzalez.

Jeremy (NJ)

mike, i love your commentary. but rationalizing what BB did with the wrs by comparing them to branch and lloyd isn't a good argument. two wrongs don't make a right. the only wr they shouldve kept was welker and they let him go. everyone else is a wr4 (at best) on a championship team. there's a reason no one else wanted or wants these wrs

Mike
  (12:54 PM)

Jeremy, we can rehash the Welker situation over and over, and certainly there is accountability on both sides there. The Patriots could have brought him back, and had a chance to match right up until the end, and decided not to. If the season doesn't turn out as they hope, and the Welker decision is the reason why, by all means hold them accountable. To me, we don't know the answer yet. Based on what we've seen to this point, it doesn't look good. But last I checked, they play the Super Bowl in early February, not early October.

Brian (Oxford, CT)

Hi Mike - What's up with Leon Washington at this point? It looked like he wanted to force the issue in his first action. Brought the opening kick out to the 14, and the Pats were in a field-position hole the next quarter and a half. Do you foresee him lasting the season with any tangible benefit? He's not showing up on offense much, and now he's hurt as well....

Mike
  (12:58 PM)

Let's end on this one, Brian. The Washington signing obviously hasn't worked out like the team has envisioned and I wouldn't be surprised if this is an IR/release type of situation. Part of it is that he just hasn't been healthy. I thought his influence would be a real positive to the running back group, and I believe it has been. But the on-field production hasn't been there. Again, health a big part of it. It might turn out that that can't hold the roster spot for him.

grandjordanian (San Diego, CA)

Why did I agree to travel to India over THIS weekend? Of all the games to miss...I should be somewhere over the Indian Ocean during the game. Will I be pleasantly surprised when I land, or will the Pats lose this one?

Mike
  (1:00 PM)

Let's pop one more in here, because we don't want to leave our man Grandjordanian, who is traveling to India, hanging. I'll start with this: Beautiful time of year here in New England, and a reminder of one of the main reasons to appreciate the fall season here -- the cool, crisp, comfortable weather and high-level football. If you like both of those things, 4:25 p.m. at Gillette Stadium is the place to be. I'm picking the Saints in a close game. But here's the good news for Patriots followers who put stock into predictions like those: I'm 0 for my last 2.

Mike
  (1:00 PM)

Have a great rest of the week everyone. We'll catch up with you next Thursday.