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Ask PFW: Ouch!

After starting the season 2-0 things came crashing down with Sunday's dismal defeat to the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. New England's 21-game regular season winning streak is history and the team enters the bye week with plenty of questions to answer on both sides of the ball.

Hey guys, why did Miami have so much success out of the 2 RB spread option? And teams like San Diego, Oakland and Pittsburgh have the personnel for this sort of formation, so do you think we will be seeing it more often in the future? Thanks!Kris Johnson

No one has the answer to New England's dismal defensive struggles against the college-type spread attack. They not only had trouble playing Ronnie Brown and the option look, but they couldn't even really line up with any confidence. Miami ran the offense out of an unbalanced front with left tackle Jake Long moving to the right side. That left the Patriots front unsure how to line up and, as Richard Seymour put it, feeling like chickens with their heads cut off. I can't even remember that last time New England defenders looked that confused and unable to adjust. It was just plain ugly. The good news is the team has two weeks to look at the film and try to make changes because my guess is you will see the spread option at some other point. The Raiders (Dec. 14) could do it with Darren McFadden, who ran it aplenty last year at Arkansas. The Jets (Nov. 13) have done it with Brad Smith. Others may follow if New England can't stop it.
Andy Hart

If we can call Vinny T off his couch at 44 years old - can we find Drew Bledsoe to help us out? He knows the team, knows the plays and couldn't do any worse than we are doing. If we get killed by the Fish, what will happen when we play the Chargers or the Broncos coming up after the bye? I realize that the defense is slow and offense not helping Cassel but what changes are planned to help the team? Thank you.
Joan R. Mandzik

Is Matt Cassel going to ruin the season, or is Belichick going to get this team running like it should?Tricia La Fountain

They need to see about Culpepper and if he is still healthy. I've been a fan since 1960, they have no right to give up on the season because of the loss of Brady. The heck with Cassel. He is not a pro quarterback, that's the bottom line. Why should us fans pay all our hard earned money to go see a team where the owner and coach gave up. Not fair to us. Culpepper can take them further than anyone they have now. Thank you.Gerard Peloquin

What will the Pats do with Matt Cassel he [stinks]. I gave him a chance. I think they should start that rookie QB.Paul Alexis

Riddle me this...the Patriots lose 38-13 to Miami with Matt Cassel under center. A key component of the Patriots game is the deep threat. Granted the deep threat is much more threatening with Brady under center, but why, why, someone tell me why the Patriots did not attempt to throw the ball deep (longer than even 25 yards) one time in the game. After seeing the game I am disgusted with Matt Cassel and felt more comfortable with our rookie Kevin O'Connell in the game during the fourth quarter. Bring up Gutierrez and put him in or let O'Connell give it a go. We lost horribly to the worst team in football, [Joey] Porter put his money where his mouth is by sacking Cassel twice and hurrying him about 100 times, I think it's time for someone else to get a chance and step in under center. What do you think? Please, any sort of input would be excellent.
Steve Saunders

I don't think I've ever been so shocked and disappointed by the mass of emails we receive here at Ask PFW. This is just a small sampling of the many emails criticizing Cassel. Some were even too vulgar and distasteful to print.
I don't get it. Did I watch a different game? Because the game I watched saw the Patriots give up 461 yards of offense, 38 points (under 40 only because Miami called off the dogs and kicked a field goal) and failed to adjust even a little bit defensively to a college-like, gimmick offense. How exactly did Cassel do all that? Could he have been better? Sure, if he scores early and punches into the end zone it changes the entire complexion of the game. But we know Cassel was in just his second start, is going to go through some hiccups and is a work in progress. What's the excuse for the veteran players on defense and the coaches on that side of the ball?
Culpepper is retired and couldn't get out of his own way the last couple years in his post-injury career. Bledsoe is happily retired and not coming back. Do I think they need to throw the ball deep more? Yes, if the offensive line can give Cassel time and if Randy Moss can get down the field. And, neither O'Connell nor Gutierrez is ready to run this team, this offense, at this time.
This was a team loss. Matt Cassel was part of that. But he wasn't the biggest problem and does not deserve to be the fall guy or scapegoat. Get a grip fans. Tom Brady isn't walking through that door. Give Cassel time to see what he can do. But if the defense plays like it did on Sunday, what Cassel does moving forward won't matter much.
Andy Hart

I don't understand what's happening with the refs jumping the gun on whistles this season. After watching the replay over and over again, I don't see how they could have possibly ruled that Cassel was definitely going to be sacked. It looked like he was fighting his way out the whole way before running to the end zone. In my mind, I had a feeling the game turned right then. Whoever blew the whistle should get the same grade down that [Ed] Hochuli got last week.Nathan F.

Early in the 1st quarter of the Miami game when Cassel escaped two guys and stiff armed another to run in for what would have been a touchdown, it seemed like the officials blew the whistle a bit early. Don't ya think? I realize that they are trying to protect QBs from getting hurt, but he was far from done and still struggling to escape from what I could tell. My buddy pointed out to me that if that's how they're going to treat this type of situation then maybe the whistle should have been blown in the Super Bowl when Eli Manning was all wrapped up by our defense and subsequently escaped to make a throw that ultimately sealed the win for them? This isn't sour grapes or a conspiracy against the Pats, I just feel like better consistency in the calls would be optimum for all! What's your take?Gary Abrams

It was a bad call. The play should have been allowed to continue. Now, there is a chance that Cassel found the end zone in part because some players heard the whistle and stopped play. So it may not have ended up a touchdown, but the ref should not have blown play dead he made a mistake. The call was made properly in the Super Bowl. I always think that for the most part they should let them play. That can lead to some very exciting plays, as it did in February. But, as Gary suggests, the key is that the plays get called with some consistency. That's not happing right now.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, Not a question but a short comment. I am thoroughly disgusted and appalled at the fans booing and leaving the game early on Sunday. This team deserves better than that. We have been so spoiled over the last few years and just because the team had a bad game we treat them like that? The players did not deserve that lack of disrespect. On Sunday I was ashamed to watch this. We are better than Jets fans. But on Sunday we acted no better than they do.Heath Leavitt

While fans pay good money to voice their opinions from the stands during games, I have to agree with you, Heath. The team was in the midst of a 21-game regular season winning streak and at the first sign of trouble the crowd turned on the team, the offense and the quarterback. It was disheartening to see as a media member and fellow fan, I can only imagine how the players and coaches felt. The sun was out on a beautiful September Sunday, but apparently the weather wasn't quite fair enough for those fans who were booing.
Andy Hart

Is it just me or do you guys at PFW and anyone else think that those white home jerseys are bad luck? First Brady goes out in week 1 and now we get spanked in week 3? Why doesn't the team just wear the blue jerseys?Chris C.

While we all know that the color of the team's jerseys had nothing to do with losing Tom Brady or Sunday's effort, you might have seen the last of them. My guess is Bill Belichick had the team in white due to the relative warmth of September football, something Miami has done to the Patriots (and other teams) in Florida at times over the years. But the results haven't been great. Coincidence, I'm sure, but football people can be very superstitious. So I bet we don't see the whites at home again any time soon. Sort of like when the team ditched the blue jersey on top of blue pants look a few years back after less-than-solid results in the outfit.
Andy Hart

Hi Guys, I am just curious about the players at the bottom of the roster that are released, then re-signed, then released or possibly signed to the practice squad. How are they compensated in general (I know different players have different values)? Do they receive a guaranteed minimum payment? Are there times when a player is released with a wink and a nod, knowing it is only temporary and that they will get a call back. I'm just thinking it must be difficult. Thanks.Mark Lorusso

All players on the active roster for a given week are paid a game check, which is 1/17th of their annual salary. Players on the practice squad are compensated in a variety of ways depending on their specific deal with the team. Some are paid the weekly minimum for the practice squad -- $5,200 – while others actually earn close to or equal to the full salary they would get as a member of the 53-man roster.
Vested veteran players who are on the active roster for the first week of the season have their entire salary for the season become guaranteed at that point for the rest of the season.
And sure, some players are released with the idea that they may be back on either the roster or the practice squad. But in that case the player always has the chance to sign with another team or practice squad if there is interest elsewhere. Once a player is a free agent he's open to make the best decision for himself or his future, even if the prior team tries to make a "wink and a nod" deal to promise to bring him back.
Andy Hart

Hi, first off let me say that you al do a wonderful job answering questions that Patriots fans ask. Now on to my question, I recently read a newspaper story that compared Brady's first start to Cassel's and guess what … they are very close. In fact Cassel threw his first touchdown pass in fewer attempts than Brady! Both Cassel and Brady won their first start and guess what ... Brady faced the Dolphins in his second start just like Cassel will. Now on to my actual question. With everyone saying that the Pats looked like the 2001 Pats I think they looked more like the other two SB champion teams as they ran the ball straight at the Jets with the game on the line. What's your take on this? Don't get me wrong I do miss the 30 points the offense laid on folks last year but in the end where did that get the Pats? I love the running game and the short pass offense, after all the Pats won three SBs with this formula!Kevin Williams

On the whole, I do think this version of the Patriots has a far better supporting cast than the one Brady had to work with when he ventured under center in 2001. In fact, I don't think there is even an argument comparing the two rosters. But the key question is the passer – this time around the unproven Cassel – and the overall magic and chemistry that the team builds with the change at quarterback. If New England does have a good season and makes another postseason run, it will necessitate the style you seem to love. No matter how well he plays, Cassel will remain a young, unproven passer. Working with that requires that a team run the ball and play defense with some level of consistency. Luckily, the Patriots have a deep, versatile group of running backs and an experienced veteran-based defense. The parts for the winning formula appeared to be there before Sunday's loss to Miami. Now we have to see where the team goes from here.
Andy Hart

This is for Michael Parente. A reader asked if Tom Brady got credit for the victory or not. You said this isn't baseball, so there is no stat on this. True, this isn't on the back of any football card, but it is a stat that is kept up with. The quarterback who starts the game is credited with the win or loss, not the back up. Brady also took a loss vs. the Dolphins in 2005 even though Cassel played about three quarters of that game. Brady's career regular season record is 87-24. [Brett] Favre passed [John] Elway last season as the winningest QB ever. Of course you could also come up with won/loss records for every player that starts at any position if you wanted to, but I have only seen this used with QBs and head coaches.Joey Schacher

An earlier question regarding the credit to a win as to the quarterback who gets the credit. You incorrectly stated it would be the QB who did the most playing time but it goes to the starter. Therefore Tom Brady gets the credit for the win and he is now 87-24 in the regular season. Matt Cassel [earned his first victory] by virtue of starting and winning the Jets game, as far as the NFL records keepers are concerned. If Matt Cassel had in fact lost the game in relief as he did in the end-of-season Miami game (something like 28-26 on 1/1/06) Brady picked up that loss even though he only started and played for a short time in that game, Brady's 20th regular season loss.
Andrew Taylor

You guys are right. When comparing won/loss records for starting quarterbacks it only really matters which QB starts the game, not what happens from there. It's not really all that fair, as Brady didn't do much in either of the games Cassel entered and played the bulk of the action, but it's the way it works. But I guess it works out as he ended up with one free loss and one free win. And don't get me wrong, I'm not looking to muddy the waters anymore by adding qualifications to the mix like the QB must play into the fourth quarter. That would only make the numbers more difficult to assess.
Andy Hart

Hmmmmmmmmm...Ask PFW or the "No criticism of King Tom" site? Fact: Brady didn't bother to rehab properly in the offseason, and rumor had it a few months ago that he hurt his right foot surfing with the hag (no better than what Roethlisberger did: ie, selfishly taking chances with his functioning at his job and jeopardizing the season for the fans and franchise. Otherwise I could not care less what he thinks or does in his private life.) Of course you guys wouldn't bother looking into that as that would apparently be prohibited. Look Brady was great, no doubt. Now he's lost the spark and is on a slow Bledsoe-like slide into mediocrity where we will no doubt have to listen to him pontificating about what God thinks and how truly unimportant football is, and obviously winning a SB are, whilst the losses mount. All the while getting a totally free ride from PFW. Since you guys are prohibited from responding, why not ask Brady himself? Or maybe he'll just use the whole injury as an excuse to take the next 11 months off and come back 40-50 lbs overweight and gimpy....After all it's only unimportant football. Any Patriots fan has a legitimate right to be disgusted with the likely result of Brady's "I don't care" thus I don't train attitude.Chris Casey

This is clearly one of the most ridiculous emails we've ever received here at the site. My first instinct was to simply delete it, assuming it must be from some troll, or worse, a Jets fan. But then I decided the most suitable action was to post my thoughts on it and then allow fans to respond as well in the coming week's emails. Chris, if you are a Patriots fan, you are the biggest cynic I've ever met. Regardless of what Brady did or did not do this spring, his injury was one of those split-second, freak plays that could come at any time to any player. Thinking anything else is wasting your own mental capacities. (The old, Angry Andy would have taken cheap shot here at Chris' mental capacities. But I've matured.) And I couldn't disagree more with how this will affect Brady moving forward. I think he will be as motivated as ever to prove doubters wrong and will be back with an infinitely reignited vigor in 2009.
Now, for the rest of the readers that just got done reading Mr. Casey's email, feel free to vent and send in some responses that we might be able to post in next week's Ask PFW. And if you want your message posted, please no vulgarities. Speak Patriots Nation! Speak!
Andy Hart

I have been a fan of Brady ever since that 2001 incident with Bledsoe. I hate to ask this, but I just have to get someone's professional opinion on this. Before Carson Palmer had the season-ending knee injury back in '06 in the playoffs, he was the most accurate and efficient QBs in the league! As of before Tom's demise - He WAS TOO! Now Carson Palmer is looking "off his game". He has never been that same "Gunslingin Powerhouse" that he was in '06. IS THAT BRADY'S FUTURE? Is this knee injury going to scare him into getting rid of the ball too early so he wouldn't take a hit? Is he going to downshift?Dhiren Sarwal

Dhiren, these are just the sort of questions that I think will drive Brady throughout his rehab and to be a better player when he returns to the field next summer. Also, it's important to point out that Palmer had a more severe injury than Brady did. Palmer dislocated his kneecap and had some shredded rather than torn ligaments. One doctor called the Bengals QB's injury potentially "career threatening" at the time. While I don't know for sure exactly what injury Brady suffered, published reports indicate that it's a traditional ACL/MCL tear. While it's a major injury, it's also a pretty common one that doctors and trainers have had a lot of practice with. Any time a player is hurt and goes under the knife the future is uncertain, but as major knee injuries go Brady's is one that I think he will make a full return from. And I think the doubts against that will only fuel him to be even more driven for 2009. That's a scary thought for the rest of the league.
Andy Hart

Hi guys, love your work although you never answer my question. When Bryan Morry was there he always answered my question. Well anyways, here I go. It seems that David Thomas is not quite the blocking tight end the Pats have had here in the past (Graham, Brady K.) and seems to really struggle in obvious running situations. Now that they have cut Spach and Watson is hurt, do you think the Pats will try and sign a blocking tight end? Also, what is the status of Kyle Brady, did he turn in retirement papers, go to another team, or currently unemployed?
Jay Moulton

I was going to answer your questions, but throwing the name Bryan Morry around made me change my mind.
Andy Hart

Hello, Will Tom Brady get a Super Bowl ring and be counted as four-time Super Bowl champion if the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl this season? Other asked: what is the criteria for a player to be counted as Super Bowl champion for a certain season? I mean the player needs to play once during the season, or must be only member of the roster etc. Best Regards.Tamás Karakai

When a team wins the Super Bowl it gets to decide internally exactly who gets a ring. There is no set standard. Brady would get a ring if the team goes on to win the Super Bowl this season as, at least the past, the Patriots have given rings to all players on injured reserve and the practice squad, among other. As far as being a four-time champion, it depends on what criteria you use. If you count simply Super Bowl rings, or guys who were on the roster in some form, then he counts. If you only count guys who are active and play in the championship games, he doesn't. Generally I think people would look at him as a three-time SB champion, as he was a key player in those three wins. But he will have four rings if the team happens to go on and win the big game this season.
Andy Hart

Who looked more confused (against Miami), offense or defense?
James Siegel

Serious answer? The defense as it failed to adjust to Miami's spread option formation. But I know what you mean on a broader level, James. I'm just glad you could formulate your feelings in an email of shock like this one rather than calling for Cassel to be cut, Bruschi to be cut and the entire defense to be turned over to younger players, like some of our more volatile emailers suggested.
Andy Hart

I would like to know if a pass is in the air thrown to a receiver within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage and the receiver is hit or grabbed is it a penalty?Joe Chepetsky

Any contact with a receiver while the ball is in the air is pass interference, even in the first 5 yards where contact with the receiver is otherwise allowed.
Andy Hart

How come there has been almost no recognition of Ellis Hobbs? He's doing a good job returning kicks again this year, but more importantly has looked good while in the secondary, having a pick and deflecting several passes. Everyone is quick to bash him when he has a bad game, so why not giving a bit of props for a good one?Kacper Kosinski

This came in before the loss to Miami, but I still wanted to post it because I do think Hobbs deserves a little praise. He's been great returning kicks, as the only guy to really do his job on Sunday. He also was pretty good on defense in the first few weeks, although he admitted he bit on the run on Ronnie Brown's option pass for a touchdown in the loss to Miami. Hobbs has talked about his play being better thanks to his good health after a couple years dealing with wrist, shoulder and groin injuries. If that's true, and if he can remain healthy under the burden of cornerback and kick return work, it will be interesting to watch him developing over the course of the year. The team needs a corner to step up in the secondary after the loss of Asante Samuel, maybe Hobbs can do just that. So far he's been better than he was at any other point in his career in New England to date. That's a good sign, even in light of last week's overall defensive effort.
Andy Hart

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