Is Stephen Gostkowski back in form? He looked good in Denver and the conditions weren't the best.
Gostkowski has certainly been much better in recent weeks. He's made nine straight field goals and all his PATs of late. There is certainly returning confidence in his work and sending him onto the field for scoring chances. I won't say that the recent success has completely erased the memory of Gostkowski's slump earlier this season, but the more the positive kicks snowball the more that becomes a more distant issue. We all know he's capable of being the best kicker in the game and he's looked more like that the last few weeks.
Hello again from Pennsylvania! Great win yesterday in New England's "House of Horrors." I noticed Jonathan Jones started the game yesterday and played about 10 snaps on defense, do you know the reason behind it? Are they trying to get him some experience? I would also like your take on claiming Michael Floyd on waivers. I was very excited when I learned of this transaction. I read a comment from Charlie Weis stating that Floyd should know 70 percent of the Patriots verbiage from his time at Notre Dame under Weis. Is there any truth to this or is that wishful thinking? Thank you for keeping us fans informed throughout the year!
Jones is the latest guy to get a look at cornerback in New England. He saw a few snaps a week earlier and then as you noticed got the start in a sub look in Denver. The Patriots have been mixing things up at cornerback behind Malcolm Butler most of the season. There has been a healthy competition for roles at the No. 2 and No. 3 cornerback slots. Injuries to Eric Rowe and Cyrus Jones being inactive, as he was in Denver, have also played into the various looks. Justin Coleman's role has been reduced and it seems Jones, who's been a core special teamer as a rookie, might be on the uptick. As for Floyd, certainly Weis knows more about the Patriots offense and its verbiage than I do. I read the same reports you did and think Weis' thoughts are valuable. But, Floyd not only has to learn the calls and terms, but has to build a relationship with Tom Brady and the rest of the offense in a really short period of time with limited practice reps. That's a huge challenge. I still think it's a little bit of wishful thinking that Floyd will have much more than an insurance/bit role on the offense between now and whenever the final game is played this season. But even one big catch or play, especially in the postseason, might be worth the shot, I guess.
Did Patriots mismanage Gronk's back injury, which was first reported after the loss to Seattle, by not operating right after that game? It might have allowed Gronk to make it to SB.
Gronk's back injury was not reported after the Seattle game but rather after he left the game two weeks later in New York against the Jets. In fact, the joint statement released by the Gronkowski family and the Patriots Dec. 2 said, "After a hit early in the Jets game, Rob began to experience significant back and leg pain. This injury forced him to leave the game and he did not return. With the help of the Patriots medical staff, along with the consultation of several medical experts, it has been determined that it is in Rob's best long-term interest to undergo surgery to address his lower back injury." I know there were reports after the back surgery came to light that indicated it could have occurred in the Seahawks game, but the joint statement, from the player's family and the team, seemed to run counter to those reports. I don't think there was ever a good chance Gronkowski could/should return for the Super Bowl. I would have been very much against such an attempted speedy recovery for the player's short and long term health interests as well as the best long term interests of the team. It's unfortunate, but it is what it is.
T.J. Ward busts Brady's knee, then Gronk's knee and now tries to slam Edelman. Is there any more doubt that he is deliberately hurting Patriots playmakers and is there any way to bring this issue with the league?
Ward did not hurt Brady's knee, that was former K.C. safety and Patriots villain Bernard Pollard. And I have always felt Ward's hit on Gronkowski was a legal, normal but unfortunate play. That said, his suplex of Edelman after Sunday's incomplete pass was dirty, dumb and inexcusable. He was rightfully flagged for the play and my guess is that he'll also be fined, even if he tried to argue he thought the pass was complete. The league reviews these plays as a matter of course, but teams can ask for things to be looked at and generally do so on almost a weekly basis across the league.
Beating the Broncos is the most satisfying thing, and I would love to beat them again in the playoffs. Based on this game, would you say that Patriots defense has caught up to Gronk-less offense in its playmaking? And isn't there anyone else besides Edelman and Chung who can handle the returns?
The offense was lacking a bit in Denver, but I think a big part of that was playing against the best pass defense in the game. You can hate the Broncos – and they are rather hateable – but you have to acknowledge the greatness of their pass coverage and pass rush abilities. The Patriots defense has been much better in recent weeks – mixing up personnel and scheme to find a nice playmaking mix. But that success has come against below average quarterbacks and offenses. While Brady, Edelman and Co. have been getting the job done against some of the best defenses in the game, the New England defense has been doing the same against lesser competition. Maybe the best way to answer this question would be to ask if the Patriots offense played the Patriots defense, who would you take? Even without the extraordinarily important Gronkowski I will take Brady and the offense every time. At this point, with Danny Amendola out with an ankle injury, the trusted options on punt returns are limited. I'm not sure you want to put another inexperienced player back there late in the year given what has happened over the last year-plus with Cyrus Jones and Chris Harper. Edelman is the best, most proven option right now, at least until Amendola gets healthy.
How much credit should James Develin receive for the improved running game?
As maybe the biggest Develin fan and promoter on the planet I think he deserves a major nod, but I would start passing out credit by acknowledging the play of the offensive line. That group – under the watchful eye of returning legendary line coach Dante Scarnecchia – has made great strides. Even Belichick made it clear earlier this season that the group was doing a far better job opening up holes for the running backs. Develin is a part of that and certainly adds an option and physicality from the fullback position that was lacking last fall. Finally, we have to give LeGarrette Blount credit for the solid season he is having. He's far from an elite back, but he's having by far his best season in New England and doing so with consistency that we've never seen in the past. The line, Develin and Blount all share the load and should all share the credit for the impressive balance and success on offense.
Where do you rank this backfield of LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis and James White amongst all those which Bill Belichick has had during his tenure in New England? They're all producing at a high level and complement each other very well. In chronological order, the best years appear to be 2003 (Kevin Faulk with 1,078 yards from scrimmage and Antowain Smith adding 642 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns), 2004 (Corey Dillon with 1,635 yards and 12 touchdowns and Faulk adding 503 yards and 3 touchdowns), and 2012 (Stevan Ridley with 1,263 rushing yards, plus 51 receiving, and 12 touchdowns, and Shane Vereen adding 400 yards from scrimmage and 4 touchdowns). Is that an accurate assessment and could 2016 be the best yet?
When you are ranking backfields under Belichick, it all starts with the Dillon-led 2004 season. He was a dominant force and put up record-setting production. But Faulk and even Patrick Pass added production as well. This year's group is very good and maybe a bit more diverse, but not at the point where it is carrying the team like that group sort of did. This year's group is probably very similar and competitive with the 2012 corps backs that was led by Ridley, but also had Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden produce. Certainly, the trio of Blount, White and Lewis deserves credit for its major contributions to this year's success. I'd also say it's important to highlight the role running backs coach Ivan Fears does with that group, as he's done for years. That's maybe the most tight-knit, supportive group of players on the roster and Fears deserves credit for fostering that competitive, productive environment.
Don't get me wrong, I really like the Floyd pick up off of waivers. However, I'm just confused as to why we will pick up a guy that just got in trouble for a DUI but we get rid of guys that have other character issues like Chandler Jones and possibly Jamie Collins. I mean, I know they might have brought money issues also but then the question comes into play about why we didn't get guys like Ray Rice or more importantly, Greg Hardy. Wouldn't they have come cheap and brought production? Our defense could be scary with Greg Hardy, Trey Flowers, Chris Long and Malcom Brown. Your thoughts?
There is always a value balance teams must consider when dealing with players. First, I would say in the current landscape of the NFL DUIs are looked at differently than domestic violence. I am not here to say whether that's right or wrong, but I believe that to be the reality. I also think that the Jones and Collins trades were primarily football decisions – based on what those guys brought to the field and locker room as well as the demands they would be/were bringing to the contract negotiating table. Floyd's off field issues are part of his total package. He fills a need at a position that's lacking depth, something Belichick made quite clear when discussing the move. While Floyd is in the midst of a disappointing season, he's still relatively young and brings the upside of his physical ability/original draft status. That's not true of domestic violence guys like Rice or Hardy. They are older and weren't very productive last we saw them on a football field. Considering all the various factors Belichick and the Patriots decided it was worth giving Floyd a chance this season. Whether that's right or wrong, even Belichick admitted that can be up to interpretation. It's a fair question to ask.
I'm a huge fan of Tom Brady, the Greatest Of All Time, in my opinion. But there is one thing I wish he wouldn't do. When his teammate, Julian Edelman, didn't do what Tom wanted him to do, Tom threw a complete fit, screaming and slamming his helmet like a child. Yet when Tom made an even bigger mistake a few minutes later with an interception that cost seven points, you didn't see Julian or anyone else throwing a tantrum and embarrassing him in front of a national audience. I don't know Julian Edelman as well as you do, Tom, but I'm pretty sure he's trying as hard as you are, that he's as passionate and competitive about the game as you are, and that he feels as bad about his mistake as you do about yours. You should treat your teammates the same way Bill Belichick treats you when you screw up. Do you really think a guy who's playing his heart out and taking even more hits trying to carry the load for the guys who are out deserves to be publicly berated like that?
Brady's tirade on the sidelines against the Ravens, much of his wrath directed at Edelman, got a lot of attention last week. Many players were asked about it and all said it was Brady's passion boiling over, something they've all seen many times over the years. Brady's fire is a big part of what makes him great and drives him to continue to succeed as his career continues to roll on. It's also a reality of the position he plays. No, you don't often see other positions yelling at players, certainly at veteran quarterbacks. It's part of the job, on some level, for quarterbacks to deal with their receivers. Brady isn't the first quarterback to chew out a receiver and won't be the last. I don't think it bothers Edelman or the other players. I think they go with the age-old theory that if Brady is yelling at them he cares about what they're doing and wants to succeed with them. It's if he stops yelling at you that you might be in trouble.
I would like to watch the Patriots play the Saints in New Orleans. Can you tell me in what year they will play there?
Under the NFL's rotating schedule system, the Patriots are scheduled to play the Saints in New Orleans next fall. The exact date and time for the projected 2017 meeting will be released sometime this coming spring.
Long-time Pats fan guys, going back to 1971 when the "Boston Patriots" made Jim Plunkett the first overall pick in the draft that year. My question is about Gronk's viability going forward. Knowing that on the business side of the NFL, the Pats (and every team) have to look at the return they get on each player and an obvious piece of that has to be a player's availability. Gronk is exceptionally gifted and should be in any discussion about being one of the greatest TEs of all-time but he is also one of the most injury prone players that Bill B. has had on NE's roster since coming on-board as the head coach in 2000. When is it no longer practical to have a player of Gronk's ability on the roster because that player seems to be injured and available part-time each season?
This is certainly a fair question to ask. I just don't think we've yet reached a point where you cut ties with arguably the most unique, productive offensive weapon in the NFL today. A big part of such a decision would be money. Next fall Gronkowski is reportedly set to have a cap number of just under $6.8 million. If the Patriots cut him, and took on the accelerations of the deal, his cap number would be $6 million. So it really doesn't make any sense to move on from him at this point given the expectation that he'll be back on the field next fall. Gronkowski's salaries jump up to $8 million and $9 million in 2018 and 2019, respectively, with cap numbers of $11 million and $12 million in those years. Those are the points, depending on his health and production in 2017, that might be potential splits in the road for the relationship between the Patriots and the All-Pro tight end. We also must remember, Gronkowski has always come back from injury to be dominant. He was leading the NFL with a 21.6-yard average this fall. Before this year he had back-to-back seasons with 70-plus catches, 1,100-plus yards and double-digit touchdowns. He's too good to give up on too early.
Any reason the Patriots appear to be the only team without a player donning a captains 'C' on their jersey? Just another of the finer points of the team-first Patriots Way?
A bunch of years ago, when NFL teams started putting Cs on their captains' shirts, I actually asked Belichick about this. I don't have the exact quote, but he basically said they don't do it because they don't want to do it. I do think there is something to your idea about not putting certain players above the team, at least not in a visual, overt sense in terms of them wearing essentially a different uniform look. Belichick has captains, respects them and places a great importance on the role within his team. He just doesn't apparently want to bring attention to them on the field. He often says, in many ways, that he cares about all his players and that they are all important. That could be part of it in one way or another.
Hello, big fan from Mexico here, I heard maybe the Patriots play against the Raiders in Mexico City, is it true? I hope it would, that could be a good chance to see my team live in a stadium.
There are a lot of rumors, speculation and reports that the Patriots will indeed play the Raiders in Mexico City next fall. We do know that New England is scheduled to play a road game against Oakland next fall. That's a fact. While nothing has been announced as of yet by either of the teams or the league, I certainly wouldn't bet against the reports that it will occur in Mexico City. ESPN's John Sutcliffe, who first reported the Patriots would be playing the Raiders in Mexico, is based in Mexico City and would seem to be a relatively reliable source on the situation.
Looking towards the playoff run for the Patriots, which team do you think could give the Patriots the most problems to make it to another Super Bowl? Also with the Patriots playing the Broncos Sunday, do you think this win will show people that New England is capable of going to the Super Bowl?
This email obviously came in before Sunday's win in Denver. And, yes, I do think the victory over the Broncos only strengthened the idea that the Patriots are the clear team to beat in the AFC. Now, which team could derail the train to LI? I really can only think about two teams – the Raiders and Steelers. What those teams have in common are offenses with playmakers who might be able to score points and keep up with Tom Brady on the scoreboard. They also have two coaches that I think very much fail in comparison to Belichick. Oakland is a much younger, unproven group which, depending on how you look at it, makes them dangerous or not quite ready. Pittsburgh is much more grizzled, led by Ben Roethlisberger. And while I am always fearful of guys like Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, the Steelers defense has been improving. They are now a top-10 unit in both yards and points allowed, complementing a top-10 offense. The Patriots should be at home this January. They should win. They should go to Houston. But things don't always play out how they are supposed to in the NFL.
Cyrus Jones can't be the most confident Patriot right now. What are the odds this kid gets coached up, slips the yips, and turns into a Desmond Howard in time for a big game contribution?
I'd say the odds are somewhere around zero. I don't think Jones will be put in a high-pressure situation the rest of this season, if he's put in any situations at all. He's been a consistent problem both in terms of decision-making and ball-security as a returner dating all the way back to training camp practice. He's too big a risk as the games become win-or-go-home important. His future as possible playmaking returner will likely play itself out next year. Hopefully he can turn thing around, because I do think he has some clear playmaking ability with the ball in his hands.
What are your views on the possible creation of farm leagues for the NFL? Long overdue? How about possible NFL expansion into other countries?
I love the idea of a farm league and think that NFL coaches would embrace it as well. With all the limitations on practice time, contact and offseason work I think it's getting harder and harder to develop talent. Something like the NBA's D-League could be huge for all involved. It gives more players more chances to pursue their dreams. It gives teams and coaches a way to develop talent without having to do so in cut-throat NFL games. And fans might see an improved product, on average, in NFL games more consistently. It's a win all the way around, now they just have to figure out the whens, wheres and hows. I'm not, however, as bullish on global expansion, especially out of North America. I think there are major hurdles in such an idea. I think it could put more stress on the league rather than improve it. I just don't think it should be a priority right now.
If the Browns or the 49ers made a trade offer for Jimmy Garoppolo and offered their 1st round pick do you think the Pats would take it? Do you think Belichick would trade down? What position do you think he would target with that high of a pick?
I think if those teams offered a first-round pick Belichick would jump at it. For Cleveland it would either be No. 1 or No. 7 overall at this point, while the 49ers currently hold the No. 2 overall pick. Those are huge assets to acquire for a backup quarterback whose current timeline just doesn't align with a likely future in New England as Brady continues to prove his agelessness. I know some think that Belichick wouldn't want a top pick, but I think he would put it to good use by either taking an elite player or trading down to add multiple picks. Without the details of the players available at that point his approach is hard to predict, but he wins either way. As for a position to target, I think cornerback, edge rusher, tackle or running back might all be options. But, the draft is a long way away.
I'll admit that I've never been a fan of Marcus Cannon, and was a little terrified when he was essentially named the RT of the future with his latest extension, but what he did was just astonishing in the Denver game. I know he's had a good year but he made Von Miller look like just another guy. Is this a fluke or has he finally turned the corner with the help of Dante?
There is no doubt that Cannon is having by far his best NFL season. There is also no doubt, given his five-year, $30-plus million extension that he's the future of the right tackle spot. That's assuming there isn't a thought to move him to the left side at some point, which can't be ruled out given that Nate Solder is only under contract through 2017. Cannon had a very impressive day against Von Miller, bouncing back from his role in the hellacious end to last season in Denver. I think a lot of factors have been at play in his improvement. I think he's healthy and, as Belichick pointed out, in the best shape he's ever been in. Certainly the return of Dante Scarnecchia has been huge for him. Cannon's previous best season, filling in for Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle back in 2013 also came under Scar, who clearly gets the best out of the big man. Hopefully Cannon's improvements continue down the stretch this season and beyond, especially if, at some point, Scarnecchia decides to again ride off into retirement.
Since they're only renting Floyd for a few games at this point, do they plan some long routes for Michael against the Just End The Season Jets, Jets, Jets, primarily to keep opponents in the playoffs from concentrating on the short dink-n-dunk passes, only?
I don't think anyone knows right now what Floyd's role will be this week or beyond. He's less than a week into his Patriots career and really hasn't practiced yet. Certainly I would think the possibility exists for a few key plays on the outside, maybe deep balls or a package of plays to use his size in the red zone. He's a unique target at 6-2, 222 pounds and can bring an added dimension on the outside to the likes of Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell. But Floyd must learn the offense and prove himself worthy of getting on the field at all before he can settle into any role, regardless of how small or large it might be.
During the Patriots and Broncos game on Sunday, an info graphic was put up showing that the Patriots has 26 fumbles this year. I couldn't believe it, so I did some research and generally found out - depending what site your on - that the Patriots had 26 fumbles and lost 9 of them. This seems incredibly uncharacteristic and a huge red flag going under the radar as we enter the playoffs? I didn't even hear any reporters ask Bill or Josh about this after the game. What do you guys attribute this to and can Andy bring this question up to the Patriots staff?
The Patriots have, according to official NFL stats, fumbled 26 times this season and lost nine of them. Cyrus Jones leads the team with five fumbles, though he lost just one. Brady is second with four fumbles, though he's yet to lose one. Belichick has harped on the need for improved ball-security at various points throughout this season. It's something they work on all the time in practice. Certainly putting the ball on the ground as often as they have is not ideal, but they are middle-of-the-pack in fumbles lost. Still, New England leads the NFL in fumbles. That's a dangerous way to play. It's the type of issue that could derail an otherwise powerful contender in the postseason. I don't think there is anything that it can really be attributed to other than ball security that's not good enough, though the fumbles all came in different specific situations. Each guy who touches the ball – eight different players have fumbled multiple times this season – has to do a better job taking care of it. But I'll bring it up the next staff meeting I'm in and get to the bottom of it.