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Ask PFW: Coming back short

Posted Dec 18, 2012

Sunday's valiant but fruitless comeback attempt against the 49ers has Patriots fans wondering what the postseason might hold for a New England team that's unlikely to secure a first-round playoff bye. That topic and more fills out this pre-Christmas gift Ask PFW!

We, the fans, may as well start talking about a divisional playoff game at Mile High where a well-rested, eager to avenge, [Peyton] Manning and a Denver team prepped for our no-huddle offense will be very ready for us. My question - is Manning known for going to no-huddle offense to turn the tables on us with it?
Ben Kirsh

I “C” you can’t call my boss, Fred Kirsch, a relative. (Oh, that’s bad even for me!) Anyway, Manning has run the no-huddle plenty in his career. Just looking at last Sunday’s win over the Ravens, Manning went to the no huddle on each of the Broncos first 10 drives of the game. It’s a weapon that he’s as attuned to use as any quarterback in the game due to his knowledge and power within the scheme that he essentially runs. It will be interesting to if Denver takes that tact if a postseason game against New England were to occur. I’d expect they would. And I’d expect the Patriots will obviously prepare for it, but they’ll still have to prove they’re ready for it on the field of play.
Andy Hart

OK, so I'm headed to Costa Rica on Thursday (Dec. 20) and returning back on the 8th. So it would be much appreciated if you would answer my upcoming week's questions. So question number 1 involves the playoffs. We practically threw away our BYE week last Sunday but I don't see this as a loss but more of a reality check. This may actually put a spark in our bellies to propel us to the Super Bowl. Anyways my question involves our journey to it. I believe our toughest challenge in the playoffs would be the Broncos at this point. With Manning catching fire, we could be in a tight one later down the stretch, your thoughts? My other question is about Gronk. Since I'm without SportsCenter for 3 weeks I'll be missing out on all things football. If I were BB I would let Gronk play a quarter next week and the 1st half of the Dolphins game the week after. So Gronk won't lose any rust. I think that is reasonable, right?
Kyle Rogers

First of all, have fun in Costa Rica. I’ve had a number of friends and relatives visit the country and they had nothing but good things to say about it. Go bananas! I think there is a strong argument to be made that the Broncos would indeed be the biggest challenge in the postseason, especially with the game in Denver. That said, I’m also not dismissing the Texans simply because of the egg they laid in Foxborough two weeks ago. That could be a learning experience for them, and playing them at home is a major change. I also have this fear, maybe an unrealistic one, of the Steelers coming to Gillette. That said, I think the Patriots can easily beat any team in the AFC in the postseason. But I also think that any of the three just mentioned, on the right day, could be the Patriots. To me, the margin for error for all playoff teams in the NFL this postseason is going to be slim. As for Gronk, my decision would all depend on the medical staff. If he’s 100-percent recovered and the bone is completely healed then I would play him. If not, I wouldn’t. It’s really that simple for me. I wouldn’t rush him by any means. And I will say that our buddy Tom Curran over at CSNNE.com has said he doesn’t expect to see big No. 87 until the playoffs. So we’ll see.
Andy Hart

Yes, we have a young defense, but our ILBs are slow to cover TEs, chase fast QB's or speedy RBs, and there are no heavy hitters at safety to help them. Then guys like [Brandon] Deadrick and [Kyle] Love just don't have enough talent to face elite O-linemen. So we get exposed when we face the fast-and-physical teams like Bills and Niners. And I don't see how can that be fixed this season - do you?
Alex Contour

I think there are times when the Patriots bigger linebackers are very much exposed in coverage. I just don’t think this was one of those weeks. I thought that safety and cornerback play was a much bigger issue in this one. I also don’t really think that Deaderick and Love are among the bigger problems on defense. They’re complementary guys up front working with Vince Wilfork. I am a little disappointed in what I’ve seen from Chandler Jones – who found himself on the sidelines quite a bit this week. That could be a result of him still dealing with an injury. Or maybe he’s hit the rookie wall. Not sure, but he needs to be better if this defense is going to be as good as it possibly can down the stretch this season. Then, the issue of oversized linebackers who are liabilities in coverage may be addressed in the future. In a passing league, I do think that is something the Patriots are going to have to deal with moving forward.
Andy Hart

Hello, well can't lay blame in the 49ers game anywhere specifically, because all of it was bad. But something kinda stood out at me, on two occasions when 49ers recovered turnovers, Brady just stood there and waited for someone else to tackle them, unless my eyes were playing tricks. What has happened to the guy who used to get worked up and head butt defenders after a sack and get pumped. The team seemed to respond back then when he got fired up. Last week we saw a glimpse on his first-down run, but few and far between.
Gene Dasky

I guess this makes two emails in a row where I just don’t agree with the overall topic. Brady made his first tackle in eight years on the interception return of Carlos Rogers, saving a touchdown. He’s also been very fiery of late on runs, sneaks and touchdowns, including his fourth rushing score of the season from Sunday. Sure, he is prone to avoiding contact and serving only as a last-ditch option as a tackler on turnovers. I think that’s pretty much true of most quarterbacks, especially guys in the latter part of their careers. Let me know the next time you see Peyton Manning lay someone out. I think Brady is as competitive as ever on the field. I think he’s as fiery as ever, just ask the officials he chews out on a weekly basis.
Andy Hart

Ed Hochuli has been a ref for many years now. I would like to know is there a mandatory retirement age for NFL refs? He seems to be so lost out there on the field. Like he has no clue what he's doing any more. Almost every time a flag was thrown he had to have a five min meeting about it.
Matt Lucia

I know that Hochuli, thanks to his fame and popularity, is an easy punching bag for those criticizing NFL officials. I guess that comes with the tight shirts, Sports Illustrated covers and long-winded in-game rules explanations. But I think he generally does a good job and tries to do a good job. I’ll also give him credit because his explanation on the punt/return/illegal touching/fumble fiasco in Sunday night’s game was enough to totally ease any questions that Bill Belichick had. Not too many officials explain something to an irate Belichick and do so well enough to put the coach at ease. Hochuli did. I agree he’s worth mocking at times due to his shtick, but in the end I think he’s a pretty good ref. I know the conversations between officials can slow the game down a bit and annoy fans, but I think they occur with the best crews that are trying to ensure they get the call right on every play.
Andy Hart

I think the defense shouldn’t get any blame for that loss [Sunday] night. Yes they gave up some plays but so does every team in the NFL when your offense has a whole half full of turnovers and 3 and outs. The offensive line, running backs and special teams lost that game. It seemed like it took the O line four to five drives to even compete against that defensive line. Once they gave Brady time the game changed. I expected the Niners to have issues holding onto the ball in those weather conditions, the Patriots appeared to be the team from California. The defense was put in bad positions time and time again. Not only did the Pats turn the ball over but they allowed returns deep in their territory three times. Then you add the fake punt and long kickoff return I feel the defense was left out to dry. They played hard and kept the game reasonable when it really should have been a blow out.
B. Royster

I think there was plenty of blame to go around in this one. The offense clearly did not play well and was a big factor in digging the 28-point whole. I agree that they seemed to be overwhelmed by the 49ers physical play and athleticism on defense early on. By the time they adjusted, it was a game that was out of whack on the scoreboard. The turnovers are also certainly a problem for the offense. That said, I didn’t think the defense – particularly in the back end – played all that well, nor did the special teams, as you pointed out. As Belichick said in his postgame press conference, I think this was a true team loss in which failures in all three phases made the game unwinnable, despite a decent effort against a very physical team.
Andy Hart

Hi guys. How can the coaching staff trust Ridley again? This is the second December in a row where he's put the ball on the ground multiple times. Last Sunday, it merely contributed to their losing of a game and possible bye. Next month it will cost them the season. Should Belichick bench him again?
Tony D.

This is probably going to be one of the biggest questions and topics for the Patriots moving forward. It’s a tough one. The team has invested a lot of time and effort in Ridley, who’s rewarded that by turning into a true lead back and one of the more productive players in the game at his position. That’s worth something. But he’s also put the ball on the ground with enough regularity, especially given his personal history, for it to be a question. In the end, I think Ridley needs to be trusted and continued to be coached on fixing the ball security issue. Guys like Tiki Barber and Kevin Faulk got over major fumbling problems to be elite playmakers. Adrian Peterson has dealt with his own demons in this area, and now is the most feared back in the game on an MVP track. The Patriots are a better team with Ridley a part of the running game, and have a better chance to win a Super Bowl with a complementary running game. I think that means Ridley needs to be on the field moving forward, not on the bench as he was last January.
Andy Hart

Can you explain it?! Coach-GM BB would let another great year of Tom Brady go to waste and not back him up with a defense good enough to win a SB? We have been making incremental improvements on defense, and by the time we finally have it a good enough, Tom Brady and Wes Welker will not be the same. Do you get it?!
Ted Kerns

I understand that the New England defense is not as good as the offense. I understand it’s been the weaker side of the team for years. But I don’t think that Belichick has ignored the problem. He’s invested plenty of early draft picks on defense in the recent past. He’s used plenty of free agent money. Heck, he made a somewhat controversial deal at the trading deadline to try to fix his defense and its biggest weakness. I get your frustration, but I also get that Belichick has tried to fix the defense many times and many ways. I also get that personnel decisions in the NFL are very tough. On offense in New England everything extends off the team having Brady, making life easier on the rest of the unit. Things don’t come that easy on defense.
Andy Hart

A few weeks ago, you guys called it - win-loss split with Texans/Niners. So please explain it to me, how after just one win over a quality team last week, numerous pundits around the league called us the SB favorite. Is that the effect of legalized marijuana or what?
Stan Cohan

I think the Patriots are still the Super Bowl favorite at this point. They beat one supposed elite team and fought hard while playing a poor game against another. In this day and age of NFL action, that’s pretty impressive. But the bigger issue is with modern media where grandiose comments on big picture issues have to come before the data is really available to make them. It’s about being first, not about being right. We see that in news. We see that in sports. We see it in all media in this digital age. Or, maybe your reasoning is more to blame!
Andy Hart

Please tell me who sang God Bless America for the Patriots-SF game on the 16th --- it seemed especially beautiful in light of what occurred at Sandy Hook. Thank you.
Suzanne David

I think you are referring to the National Anthem prior to the Sunday night game. The singer was George Komsky. He’s a 27-year-old from California, originally from Ukraine. He’s primarily a tenor, was on the show America’s Got Talent and tours the world with musicals such as Riverdance.
Andy Hart

Hello my name is Phillip and this is my first question to PFW. I was wondering whatever happened to Andre Carter? I thought that when we started to have some problems rushing the passer this year and when Jermaine Cunningham was suspended if we would ever see him again. I am just curious as to why New England has not contacted him. Is he still hurt or have we just moved on and tried to develop the players that we have now. Thanks.
Phillip Oswald

Carter signed a free-agent deal with the Raiders.
Andy Hart

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