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Ask PFW: Ready for a Super Bowl run?

This playoff bye-week edition of Ask PFW has emailers pondering the possibilities of the Patriots making yet another run at the biggest game in all of sports.


Why is Tom Brady throwing off his back foot so much? All year long but specially of late, Brady seems reluctant to step up into the pocket and set his feet before making his throw. Even if there is only a minimal amount of pressure Tom seems to panic and throw off his back foot while fading away, which has resulted in many balls hitting the dirt, or simply being off-the-mark. This is so uncharacteristic of Brady as he has typically thrived when pressured throughout his career and has always been fundamentally sound. But often times this season #12 has looked like a rookie learning how to play QB in the NFL.

Ed Jackson

This has been one of the major talking points surrounding the Patriots and the G.O.A.T. in recent weeks after glaring examples of what you are talking about in losses at Miami and Pittsburgh. Personally, I think this has been an issue off and on at times dating back to his torn ACL suffered in 2008. He returned from that lost season wearing a knee brace on his left, front knee and I think with a lasting memory of the injury in his mind. That said, it's looked much worse this season. I think some of it relates to pressure. I think some of it relates to him trying to stay healthy at an ever-increasing age. I think some of it has to do with a lack of confidence or trust in the ability of his go-to receivers to get open to where he can stand in and make throws to them. Whatever it is, it's been detrimental to a passing game that has had plenty of other issues as well. It will be interesting to see if this comes into play in the postseason or if Brady, as many have supposed, will be more willing to stand in and step into his throws in the face of pressure with the season on the line in the playoffs. Still, it's alarming to see the usually fundamentally-sound Brady doing things unbecoming of an all-time great. Other than Aaron Rodgers, few guys make elite plays consistently throwing off their back foot or shying away from oncoming rush.

Andy Hart

Even if Patriots had gotten #1 seed, this team looks like one being ripe for a humiliating loss on home turf by someone like the Ravens. In fact I can see at least 3 teams who will beat this team in Foxboro. Why? With Gordon's departure, besides Edelman, the aging Brady seems to have no other receiver to throw the ball to. If the teams shut down the Patriots run game, it is basically over. Am I missing some secret weapon or approach?

Ben Lukoff

Though some fans are projecting a breakout January from Rob Gronkowski, I don't believe there is any secret weapon or magic switch that is set to be flipped this postseason. That said, it doesn't mean the Patriots can't win this winter. They will have to do the things they've done when they've played well in the regular season which includes running the ball, timely passing plays, key big plays/turnovers on defense and contributions from the kicking game. In many ways, I've come to think that the 2018 Patriots need to turn back the clock and win games in the well-rounded fashion that that original dynasty squad, the 2001 version, went about its business. Could the Patriots lose to almost any team that comes into Gillette Stadium? Maybe, but there is also the possibility that Bill Belichick's squad pulls it together against other similarly flawed postseason foes to go on another run. I've said all season that New England has been fighting it out in the competitive fray and that will continue in the postseason which could be as interesting across the entire NFL as it's been in quite some time.

Andy Hart

Please explain the constant negative comments about the Pats. And I'm talking about all negativity from the people residing in NE. Listening to radio talk shows, reading all the area newspapers. If I don't watch the game against Buffalo and just read social media I'd have thought our boys lost the game. All the talk about the Patriots is about their weaknesses and bad plays on field or underestimations about individual players and coaching.

Brett Larson

Brett was so worked up about this topic that he sent about a half-dozen similar emails the last two weeks. As Jim Gray put it in a recent Westwood One radio interview with Brady, in many ways the Patriots are "haunted" by their past success. They have set a standard for themselves over nearly two decades that is hard to maintain. In most places winning a 11 games to secure the No. 2 seed/playoff bye would be reason for celebration. In New England it's a reason for concern and much questioning of the home team that didn't cruise toward January as well as it has in the past. This Patriots team isn't as good as past squads. It struggled mightily on the road. Some of its best, most counted on players aren't playing at the level they did less than a year ago. Fans and media alike see that and react. It's human nature. But, there is also plenty of reason to be hopeful of victory heading into the postseason even if a trip to the AFC title game or Super Bowl isn't quite as expected or presumed in pass seasons.

Andy Hart

Brady looks like he doesn't trust anyone enough outside of Edelman. What about bringing in Terrelle Pryor who the Pats have a history with for week 17 and the playoffs? He can offer what the Pats lost with Gordon. If they do nothing, this team will be the most one-dimensional team in the playoffs and even with their record at home not make it far.

Zach Flowers

Pryor doesn't really have a history in New England, other than a workout. While he has the size and theoretical skills to be an outside receiver, I can't see any way he would come in and be trusted by Brady with the season on the line over the next month. It's just not realistic in any way. Clearly, the Patriots didn't think so either as they didn't add to the receiver position in the wake of Gordon's suspension. They are going with what they have. We will find out if that is good enough, but it's not realistic to think Pryor would come in this late and be a positive difference maker, especially after failing with two other AFC East teams already this season.

Andy Hart

Why can't Cordarrelle Patterson be used as a legitimate WR in the position Josh Gordon was featured? The pass he caught in Miami proves he is just as good and faster than Josh Gordon if you just give him a chance. More importantly, give yourself a chance, teams must respect his speed to go deep quickly. Cordarrelle Patterson may be the key opening up Tom Brady's passing game in the postseason, At least try to show him that you believe in him at WR, keep defenses honest and I think you will be "Surprised" and "Rewarded" by this adjustment in the post season?

Charles Sowell

Patterson has been given plenty of chances by plenty of teams – Vikings, Raiders and Patriots – and really just is what he is at this point in his career. He has all the physical tools, including size, speed and strong hands, but has never found a way to be a reliable, consistent receiver. He's at his best now as a versatile weapon and jack-of-all-trades. Many link that with the fact that he's not a consistent route runner, especially in a precision passing attack like the Patriots. Six years into his NFL career in a variety of systems with a variety of coaches it's just really hard to fathom that Patterson could become a go-to option to propel the Patriots passing attack at this point. He can contribute. He may be leaned on more in Gordon's wake if he can get his knee healthy. But Patterson is what he is.

Andy Hart

Over the last 12 years, how often have the two top seeds played for division championship?? The top seeds in the divisions played in the Super Bowl ??? Thanks.

Paul McGillicuddy

Since 2006 the top two seeds in the AFC and NFC have faced off on the conference title game nine out of a possible 24 times. Over that 12-year span the No. 1 seeds from the two conferences faced off in the Super Bowl six times, including last February's matchup between the Patriots and Eagles that made it four of the last five years.

Andy Hart

I really respect your opinions so may ask for it now? Do you think our 2 star players (Brady & Gronk) missing OTAs has anything to do with their play this year? I'm not saying they're playing real bad but we have seen better.

Bill Heaney

We certainly have seen better, much better. In fact we saw it just a year ago when Brady was the NFL MVP and Gronkowski was an All-Pro tight end with big production. This year, not so much. The down seasons have come after the two players stayed away from voluntary OTA workouts this spring. That is a fact. But connecting the two dots, well that's a bit more questionable. Clearly there is value in spring workouts. There is a reason that all teams do them and that Brady/Gronkowski did them previously in their careers. But it's also reasonable to think that a 41-year-old quarterback and nearly-30 tight end with a long history of injury might just be slowing down at this point in their careers. Neither has been terrible this fall, but neither has lived up to his own recent lofty standards. Would the duo be better right now – or the offense as a whole be better right now – if they had taken part this spring? Probably. But how much? That's the question that's almost impossible to answer.

Andy Hart

Some end-of-roster questions as we head into the post season: Why did the Patriots choose to play Keion Crossen over Duke Dawson in the Jets game? From everything we've seen thus far, Crossen is an OK depth piece but just OK, very mediocre. We don't know what we have in Duke Dawson because he's been on IR and then inactive the entire season. Given the lack of competitiveness in the Jets offense, I don't understand why we didn't activate Dawson to see if we have something there to help in the postseason. Putting Crossen in a playoff game is probably a liability, but with Dawson, we just don't know. As far as other depth pieces, do you think that Belichick made Danny Shelton a healthy scratch for 3 weeks to send him a message, and is BB doing the same with Adrian Clayborn letting them both know that if you don't play better you aren't seeing the field. It seemed to work with Shelton, at least to some extent, because we are doing better stopping the run.

Alan Bernstein

While I understand your point/question, I think it really boils down to special teams. Crossen played nearly half the snaps in the kicking game against New York and has done so on and off this season. He's an athletic specimen and raw player who's found a role in the third phase. Dawson hasn't been able to break into a pretty healthy, deep secondary since returning from IR and likely doesn't have the same potential (at least according to the coaches) on special teams. With Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones the top four corner jobs have been pretty solidified down the stretch. That means not much of a need on defense for either Crossen (who played 13 snaps on D against New York) or Dawson, even with the Dime packages played of late. Whether it's "sending a message" or just a reality check, it is interesting that two of the biggest veteran acquisitions of last offseason have been healthy scratches on multiple occasions in recent weeks. Both have clearly underperformed and earned their demotions. Shelton came back against New York and maybe Clayborn will find a role in the postseason. But neither contributed to the defense this season in a way that was hoped/expected.

Andy Hart

Two weeks of winning football. Two weeks of unimpressive foes who were banged up on defense. Enjoyable watching but hardly games that leave me feeling all is well. Do you feel that the Pats offense can perform well enough to move the ball and finish their red zone visits or are the Texans and Ravens too much with their highly maneuverable QBs and strong front 7?

Dave Brown

I think anything is possible. I've been saying for a while – and I understand this is terrible analysis – that the Patriots could beat or lose to anyone in the postseason in the coming weeks. The offense doesn't have a lot of room for error. Turnovers and key penalties could be drive- or even season-killers. But, if Brady can spread the ball around and get a consistent running game I still think the unit can score enough points to win most games. It won't be easy. To me the biggest strength that New England has right now is that it's a true team. It has shown the ability to get winning contributions from everyone and every unit on the roster. But it's going to need those varied contributions to win. There aren't a lot of playmaking stars to lean on right now. It's all hands on deck. And, as you pointed out, on offense that starts with the offensive line up front winning the line of scrimmage against foes with potentially disruptive fronts. It won't be easy in the coming weeks.

Andy Hart

It gets to this time of year and I think everyone swallows too much of the hype in the media. Are we really that underwhelming, or is it that parts of our team (when not suffering from miscues and mental mistakes) are actually formidable? If one play at the end of the Dolphins game ends differently, the Pats are 12-4 and the number one seed in the NFL, then the narrative is "the Patriots are a Juggernaut" rather than the perception that we are an underwhelming team compared to the top talent like the Chiefs, whom we have already beaten (pre-Hunt's stupidity)? Shout out from the British fans btw.

Richard G.

You and others can blame the media all you want. Seems to be what is done in the world these days. I will simply tell you two things. First, this team isn't as good as past Patriots teams, or even really close, in my opinion. You can disagree if you want. But, we also both know the team doesn't have to be as good as past versions of itself, it simply has to be one point better than the teams it will play moving forward. And it has the potential to be just that, although going on the road to K.C. for a possible AFC title game is a questionable proposition given the way New England has played on the road all year. Second, nearly everyone I interact with that's a fan of the Patriots tells me this New England team "doesn't feel like a Super Bowl team" or "feels different" or simply, "isn't that good." So you can blame the media all you want, but from my experience a lot of very loyal, passionate fans pretty much feel the same "underwhelming" way. Again, though, all our opinions are irrelevant. Belichick's latest squad has put itself in position to win just two games, the first guaranteed to be at home, in order to go to yet another Super Bowl. That is what it is.

Andy Hart

Dorsett had a nice game this last week which had me wondering why he hasn't been used more in the second half of the season — even with Edelman's return and Gordon's stint. Regardless of exact receiver position, the Pats seem to do well when they can frequently employ sets with two shifty receivers (eg. Edelman and Amendola) even if there is some overall redundancy and sacrifice of deep threat. So my question is, how well do you think Dorsett fills an Amendola - like role and do you think we will see more of him moving forward?

Steven Van Norman

Given the way he produced in the finale against a undermanned, poor Jets pass defense – catching the ball efficiently even if he still doesn't pick up many yards – Dorsett may deserve to be at least a rotational complementary weapon in the postseason. I've never thought he brings a ton to the field. He catches the ball, which is good, but just doesn't make many real plays. His contributions, and to some degree those of Chris Hogan, could be somewhat determined by Patterson's (knee) health in the coming weeks. I'll be honest, I don't feel great about any of them getting open regularly and making plays in the postseason, especially against solid defenses. But the Patriots have to roll with what they have and those guys may need to be leaned on. No, though, I don't feel that Dorsett can be the type of effective, consistent, clutch playmaker that Danny Amendola was.

Andy Hart

With one sloppy play in Miami, the Patriots fumbled away the #1 seed, and with one slip with Josh Gordon, they lost a key player. And just like that, for no good reason, this team is no longer a SB contender. Did the last two wins over helpless teams change that view for you?

Mark Smolin

Other than it being good to see Brady and the passing game actually make plays against the Jets, I don't take much away from the final two weeks of home action. I felt all along that the Patriots were a Super Bowl contender but not a favorite. I continue to feel that way. If they have to go on the road to face the Chiefs, I won't feel great about their chances. But I will also not rule this coach, this quarterback and this team out until they are officially eliminated. They have earned that nod.

Andy Hart

Do you think that McDaniels would be interested in taking a HC job with the Jets to coach a team on a rise with a very promising, possibly star QB? IMHO, going to NY is a lot more exciting for McDaniels and his family than Indy.

Stan C.

No, no I do not. McDaniels is reportedly going to have a lot of options in front of him for head coaching jobs. I don't think he would consider New York ahead of places like Green Bay, Cleveland or others with some degree of stability or potential at the QB position. The rivalry between the Jets and Patriots is quite real. Eric Mangini was basically cast out of the Belichick football family for taking the head coaching job in New York. I don't think McDaniels wants to go down the same road and really has no reason to.

Andy Hart

Do you think that since Tom Brady, as great as he is, but is getting older, would the Pats consider trading to get Jacoby Brissett back? He's been here, knows the system, and maybe he could be the next quarter back? Just a thought, I don't know his stats, and how his departure happened. Just thinking that we have to do something soon, he's not that old yet, and he does have talent? Right?

Ron Poire

Nope. If the Patriots thought Brissett had a future as an NFL starter they would not have traded him in a swap for Dorsett. The reality is that after a year working in New England, the third-round pick Brissett was in danger of getting cut, never mind traded. He did his best filling in for Andrew Luck last year, but really didn't show anything to prove he's a future starter. Given his skills and intangibles, Brissett looks like a guy who could very well have a long career as a professional, likeable backup. But I never thought he had the talent to be a franchise QB and certainly isn't the guy I'd be looking to have follow TB12 in New England.

Andy Hart

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