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Ask PFW: Part 1 includes top 10 playoff moments

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After watching the "3 Games to Glory" DVD, I was again reminded of just how many big plays a team needs to make to get through even one playoff run to win the Super Bowl, let alone three. So rather than agonize over Big Sey's contract situation or ponder the contributions Marquise Hill and Tully Banta Cain may make this season, I've spent some time reflecting back on the past few seasons, and how lucky we Pats fans have been to watch this team. I've come with a list of the top ten most important playoff plays of the past 4 seasons: Thanks for all your hard work, and keep up the good work at PFW! 9) (Tie) 2004 AFC Championship Game vs. Pittsburgh - Patriots D stuffs Bettis on 4th & 1. 9) (Tie) 2004 AFC Championship Game vs. Pittsburgh - Brady hits Deion Branch with a 60 yard TD. This turn of events was really incredible. In just a few moments, the Patriots stuffed the top running game in the NFL on a fourth-and-1, forcing a fumble, then turned around and smoked the top defense in the NFL with a 60 yard Brady laser. The Patriots are able to seize control of the game and banish any demons from the thrashing they took in week 7. 8) 2003 Super Bowl vs. Panthers - Panthers denied when going for two. With 12:39 remaining in the 4th quarter and the score 21-16 Patriots following a 33 yard Foster TD run, Panthers Coach John Fox decides to go for two and climb within 3 points. The Patriots break up the pass and the score remains 21-16. This strategic error by Fox started a chain reaction that resulted in Carolina going for two and failing again with the score 22-21 Panthers, and the Patriots going for two and converting with the score 27-21 Patriots. The net result was, rather than the Patriots trailing 30-27 at the start of the final drive, the score was tied 29-29, and the resulting Vinatieri FG won the game rather than sending it into OT.7) 2001 Super Bowl vs. Rams - Troy Brown 23-yard reception from Tom Brady. With only 30 seconds left in the game, the Patriots were still on their own 40-yard line and still needed about 30 yards to get into FG range. Brady fades back, slides to the left to avoid pressure and finds Troy Brown coming across the middle for a big gain. After a short completion to Jermaine Wiggins, Vinatieri comes on and makes history. 6) 2003 Championship vs. Colts - Rodney Harrison interception in the end zone. The mighty Colts rolled into Foxboro having scored on just about every possession against the Broncos and the Chiefs. It was their third game of the playoffs and they had yet to punt. After the Patriots scored on a Givens TD reception, the Colts rolled down the field to the New England 5-yard line, and it looked like they would roll through the Patriots like they rolled through the Chiefs and Broncos. But Manning felt pressure and forced the ball over the middle, where Harrison picked him off and sent the message: not today, Peyton. Not against this team. Manning throws up his arms in frustration and proceeds to crumble, throwing three more picks in the game. 5) 2001 Championship game vs. Steelers - 55 yard punt return by Troy Brown. Just a huge play by Brown, allowing the Patriots to seize control of the game, make Kordell Stewart feel the pressure, and give the Patriots a chance to play with the lead. Josh Miller's original punt was out of bounds, but a penalty (and a controversial spot on the right hash) gave Brown a chance against a gassed Steeler coverage unit. 3) (Tie) 2001 Super Bowl vs. Rams - Field Goal by Vinatieri wins Super Bowl. 3) (Tie) 2003 Super Bowl vs. Panthers - Field Goal by Vinatieri wins Super Bowl. What can I say? Any play that wins a Super Bowl is pretty darn important, even if it is a field goal. If either of these games go to OT and the Patriots started on defense, they would have been in deep, deep trouble. 2) 2001 Super Bowl vs. Rams - Ty Law 47 yard Interception Return for a TD. Going into this game, most people didn't give the Pats a chance to win. But if the Patriots were to have a chance, they would need to make some big plays on defense. After Law (& Vrabel) made this play, I stopped hoping they would win and started thinking that they would win. 1) 2001 Divisional vs. Raiders - 45 yard Adam Vinatieri field goal. Who know what happens if Vinatieri misses this field goal. In the short term, the Pats are out of the playoffs and don't win the Super Bowl; Tom Brady is 0-1 as a playoff starter; and Bill Belichick falls to 1-2 as a playoff coach. In the long term, perhaps Bob Kraft loses patience following the 2002 season after three seasons of Bill Belichick have produced one playoff game, a loss. Perhaps Belichick loses the team after cutting Lawyer Milloy because he lacks the respect he earned in 2001. Good thing we will never know. Honorable mention: Vinatieri's FG vs. the Titans; Harrison's 87-yard INT return vs. Pittsburgh; Ty Law's 3 picks vs. the Colts; Pats D stuffs Wheatley on 3rd and 1 vs. Oakland; Vrabel's sack, forced fumble vs. Carolina; Brown/Harris FG return vs. Pitt; Givens TD vs. Colts (2004); Bruschi strip of Rhodes vs. Colts (2004).
David Drew

Please stand up and give this man a round of applause. Really, get out of your chair and cheer for him. There is always room for debate on any list of this sort, but the effort was outstanding and the result brilliant. I'm tempted to publish the list in the newspaper edition of Patriots Football Weekly. David, if there were an Ask PFW Hall of Fame, this would be in. The only negative thing I can say is that it was Zack Crockett that was stopped on third-and-one in the Oakland game. But this is just great work by you. And I would add perhaps the unsung plays of the 2001 playoffs were the two Troy Brown fumbled punts in the second half of the Raiders game that Larry Izzo recovered that started both of the Patriots fourth quarter scoring drives. No one seems to remember those plays. Hat's off to Izzo.

Ever hear the expression, "Liars figure and figure lie"? Well that's the case with the stats of the punt return unit and to a lesser extent, the kick-off return team. What I saw was BAD coaching and ineffective blocking schemes coupled with a peel-back mentality that allowed opposing kickers an extra second to kick the ball and being unhurried, plenty of time to get great hang time as well. Add to that the "Bend don't break" philosophy of the Pats D and you'll see many punts were on a short field where again hang time and not distance is most critical for the opponents. Not many return yards if you have to call for a fair catch on a 35-yard kick! Big runbacks come from line-drive, long kicks that give the returner an opportunity to see his blocking and even start running BEFORE having to make a move. So get off the kick return bandwagon and think of how the Pats used the field so well to win 3 of the last 4 Super Bowls. In this case... I do NOT trust in Bill.
Otis Hill

C'mon Otis. You're better than that. You email us every week with excellent questions and are a candidate for the fictional Ask PFW Hall of Fame I mentioned above, but you're off base here. First off, I will defend Brad Seely who I think is an excellent special teams coach and I think has proven that since first coaching special teams back in 1989 and ever since, including the last six years with the Pats. So while I'm sure he might have made some mistakes as we all do, he was not the problem, and there was a problem. You are correct in saying that fair catch on a 35-yard punt yields no return yards, however, it also doesn't count as a return for the punt returner and therefore doesn't affect the average return. Sure, the Patriots won the Super Bowl anyway, but the bend-but-don't-break defense you describe has been in affect since Belichick's arrival, meaning a short field, in theory, has always been an issue. The Patriots averaged a paltry 5.8 yards per punt return last year while allowing 11.8 yards. New England had 40 returns for 230 yards while allowing 365 return yards on 31 punts for a difference of 135 yards of field position. Here are the Pats punt return numbers under Belichick before last season with the team's leader in parentheses: 2003 - 10.1 (Troy Brown, 10.1); 2002 - 8.8 (Brown, 7.3); 2001 – 13.3 (Brown, 14.2); 2000 – 12.5 (Brown, 12.9). Last year was a significant drop-off in production. Even the Pats kickoff return average dropped to its lowest in three years although only marginally (23.6 in 2002; 23.8 in 2003 and 23.4 in 2004). The coverage teams also struggled. The Pats allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown against the Bills and later a punt return for a score against the Bills while also allowing a punt return to about the 1-yard line against Miami that amounted to a TD one play later. The 11.8 yards allowed per punt return almost doubles the 6.3 yards allowed in 2003, and under your theory, the opponents shouldn't have had opportunities to break punts because of short fields since the Patriots offense rarely went three-and-out without moving the ball some. They also allowed only 7.5 yards per punt return in 2002, 4.8 yards in 2001 and 8.9 in 2000. The kickoff return average allowed (23.3) was the highest in the Belichick era. Josh Miller's 33.7-yard net punting average was on par with Ken Walter's 33.6 the year before and 33.3 in 2002. Otis, the Patriots struggled on fourth down last year except when Adam Vinatieri was on the field. The numbers were almost Belichick-era lows across the board and I can't blame Coach Seely for that since he has coached the special teams for all of those years. I have to disagree with you here and I don't think the numbers lie one bit. I watched all those games and think the numbers, in this case, represent an accurate picture.

Hi guys, I was wondering if the Pats had any plans to break out Pat Patriot and wear the red throwback unis in 2005 or 2006? I am not a fan of the silver alternates they currently wear, and I think it'd be a nice treat for the fans to be able to see them again. Thanks!Brian O'Connell

I don't know of any plans to break out the red. I believe it's quite costly to do so because in addition to buying the red shirts, new pants and new helmets also have to be purchased. That's not the case with the silver unis. The last time the Pats wore the red was Thanksgiving Day in 2002 at Detroit.

I'm a huge PATS fan all the way from Australia, any way enough about me. I have a comment and a question. Comment; the last article on PFW, Paul Perillo said that Randall Gay's performance was not his finest hour in the Super bowl. As like many people who watch the SB, I found that Gay did a great job on T.O. no matter what anyone says. A rookie, playing as replacement, playing in the SUPER BOWL and having to go up against one of the best wide receivers in the NFL (no doubt about that), Gay did a tremendous job on T.O. T.O. can not be stopped; he's too great a player to be stopped. T.O. could only be contained, and Gay did that. He limited the best wide receiver in the SB. T.O. had nine catches for 122 yards, no touchdowns, and only one or two big plays against a rookie for crying out loud. My question is this; Richard Seymour obviously is holding out on the Patriots, meaning his heart is after the money and not for the success of the team. Tedy Bruschi cut his salary when he could have gone to any team for more money, but his heart is with the PATS. Now, do you see Seymour being traded to a low ranked team for say a first or second round draft pick for next years draft as a possibility? Because he needs to go; he's in it for the money, not the PATS, as much as I hate to say it, and I am a big Seymour fan, but it's true.
Thank you, from Down under, Jan Yaakoob

I think Gay had his hands full with T.O. as most any corner would, but especially a rookie undrafted corner. Given his pedigree, Gay played well enough. T.O. didn't make any true big plays and the long catches he made were short passes with run after catch yards where Gay was unable to corral him and bring him down. But I wouldn't use the word "limited" when the guy had nine catches for 122 yards. That said, T.O.'s production did not kill the Patriots and he was unable to find the end zone. To say he did a tremendous job is a stretch, but he fared OK given the perceived difference in talent. The coaches put a lot on the rookie corner and he responded well enough. I'll leave it at that. I'm taking a wait-and-see approach with Seymour. I think Richard is a team player who works hard and does whatever is asked of him for the sake of winning. You have to be able to separate the business side of the game from the playing side. That said, I think Richard deserves to be criticized for skipping a mandatory mini-camp while under contract. If I was the Patriots, and believe me I'm not speaking for anyone with any say on contracts or negotiations or any other matter of true importance, I would tell him that I would like to work on a new deal, but will not discuss the matter until Richard is in training camp honoring his current deal. Then talks could commence, or resume as the case may be. But don't judge Richard's personality by his desire to make more money for his services. His rookie contract will average more than $3 million per year if he plays it out through 2006. That does leave him underpaid given his accomplishments. The system is such that Richard has no leverage other than to hold out, and he knows that his next contract will be the one that sets him up for life and might be the only contract that does that. If he goes out and rips up his knee this year, he might never get that contract, so there are other factors that come into play. It's not just a guy being selfish. Richard is still handling his situation with class (beyond skipping a camp at which almost all of his teammates were out practicing in the heat) and even though I'd like him to come out and say his mini-camp mini-strike was contract related, I respect his decision to refrain from commenting.

First, one of your readers asked about the '46' defense, and what happens to the missing player (4=6=10). My understanding is that '46' has nothing to do with the number on the field but was Buddy Ryan's D when he was defensive coordinator for the Bears. "46" was for Doug Plank, former defensive back for Da Bears and now coach of the Arena Football League Georgia Force. Second, with all the talk about great players such as Chad Brown to play ILB if Bruschi chooses to skip all or part of '05, they're missing something-- Tedy's unbelievable big play ability. Like McGinest, No. 54 always seems to be in the right place to make that critical, unbelievable interception or strip of the ball. Someone might match the raw physical skills, but match the gamesmanship? There is no 'gamer' better than 54.
Pete Clark

I would agree with you. The Patriots will be hard-pressed to replace Tedy's big-play ability, but I'm guessing they can compensate in other ways. I say that because I didn't think they could survive the injuries to their playmaking corners last year, Tyrone Poole and especially Ty Law. They did. I wondered whether they could make it through the playoffs without Seymour. They did. I thought they were completely done in 2001 when Drew Bledsoe went down. They won the Super Bowl. They will not ask any Bruschi replacement to do exactly what Tedy did just as they didn't ask Randall Gay to do what Ty Law did, but they play a good, solid team defense and can still be successful in different ways. There is no question that if Tedy doesn't play, he will be missed.

My question relates to the use of our running backs in the Super Bowl last year. On the second to last drive (that ended in a FG), Corey Dillon ran the ball twice in a row for a first and goal, but then went to the bench and carries were given to Patrick Pass and Kevin Faulk before Dillon came back into the game on third-and-goal. On the last drive, Kevin Faulk carried the ball 3 times. Did Corey Dillon get injured sometime in the game? The coaching staff had done a superb job of not wearing Dillon out during the season by giving him too many carries, but that last drive seemed to encapsulate why we got Corey Dillon in the first place - grind out the clock and get a first down to ice the game. If he wasn't injured, then why wasn't he in on the last drive?
Mark Damiano

Dillon injured his groin in the Super Bowl. It was not merely a coach's decision to remove him.

Does the signing of Chad Morton mean Bethel Johnson will have to fight for a roster spot? Thanks guys.
Jarred Luke

It could, but I tend to doubt it. I think Bethel has another year to show what he can do as a receiver and he already can help the team as a returner. And I don't think Morton is as good a returner as Bethel, who might be the fastest man I've ever watched in person. Morton will compete for a job as a kickoff and punt returner and is more likely to battle the likes of Tim Dwight, who is fighting for a receiver job and to return punts, not kickoffs. Morton could also compete with Patrick Pass for his roster spot. The Patriots don't utilize a traditional fullback much and could use Benjamin Watson and Daniel Graham in the backfield when necessary while also turning to their jumbo package fullback trio of Dan Klecko, Russ Hochstein and Richard Seymour in short-yardage situations. Pass is a reliable kick returner, but has no big-play ability in that area. Morton could replace him next to Bethel Johnson and give the Pats two dangerous return men with big play ability. He also can return punts, which could make Dwight expendable. Dwight will need a solid summer both in the return game and as a receiver since the Pats have at least seven wideouts legitimately battling for five or six roster spots. I am assuming Troy Brown makes the team.

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