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Ask PFW: Venting over Miami loss

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Is it just me or did the Miami game reminded you of the last Super Bowl? It was a game where our defense wasn’t able to stop anything and despite good performance by the offense, we lost a game that was needlessly close by the end and we were fooled by long plays. I love my Patriots, but this year, I have made my peace that we are not winning the Super Bowl with this team. We may make it to the AFC Championship Game if we have one or two good games, but that’s the ceiling for this team. Sandy Patel

Wouldn’t it have made more sense for the Patriots to go for the TD on 4th down [against the Dolphins in Week 14], rather than kicking the field goal? If they succeed, the game is over; if they fail, the Dolphins only need a field goal to win, but are inside their own 10-yard line with no timeouts. Also, what was the logic of [tight end Rob] Gronkowski being on the field for that final play? I understand his role is to go up and deflect or intercept a potential Hail Mary, but did they honestly think [Dolphins QB Ryan] Tannehill was a threat to get the ball into the end zone from where they were on the field? He’s not exactly Aaron Rodgers or Matt Stafford in terms of arm strength. I feel like the play that happened was inevitable and it would have made much more sense to have one more experienced tackler on the field. Pete Biehl

I don’t understand why Gronk was out on the final play [in Miami]. Miami was too far away for a Hail Mary attempt, so, it was either going to be a short pass and run or laterals. But we had Cordarrelle [Patterson] and Josh [Gordon] on the bench. Wouldn’t either one of them have been a better choice? Even if it was a Hail Mary, either one of them can jump and catch the ball. They are faster and in better health, considering Gronk has been suffering from back and ankle injuries. I’m still in shock on the decision and play calling of the coaching staff. Stacy Hanson

Hey guys, great job as always. Anyway, with about 20 seconds left [in the Dolphins game], I wanted [the Patriots] to go for the TD on fourth down. One, if they get it, game over. Two, if they don’t, Miami has about 16 seconds to go 95-99 yards OR go about 70 yards and still stop the clock without any timeouts. Both are very unlikely, but of course, so was that play we saw. Also, missed kicks could be to blame, Brady’s sack to end the first half, or the presence of Gronk on the final play instead of someone who is used to playing D. I could see if it was a potential Hail Mary, but it wasn’t. I’m not sure if we proved we can win in Miami or not, but I think we proved we can’t win a playoff game. Andy Gibbs

Why wouldn’t the Patriots go for it on 4th down in the Dolphins red zone?! If you don’t get it, dolphins have to drive the whole field versus starting on the 31. Totally confused on that play. Tony Perez

The play by Tom [Brady] at the end of the half was the worst and dumbest of his career. [Kicker Stephen] Gostkowski was atrocious. Some people are going to point to those wasted points as the reason they lost. But I thought they scrapped and clawed in the second half, and played perfectly at the end, and had the game won. Why on that final play would you ever rush four guys? Why wouldn’t you call timeout before the play and make sure everybody was on the same page?? And why on Earth would you have Gronkowski in the game?? And please don’t give me the Hail Mary story because no team in the history of football has thrown a Hail Mary from its own 30-yard line. This one is all on [head coach Bill] Belichick, 100 percent. He once said, “Players win them and coaches lose them,” but he won’t step up and take responsibility for it. You let your team down Bill, and probably cost them a shot at the Super Bowl. At least have the guts to say so. Ross Gallo

This is just a sampling of some of the reaction that’s flooded our Ask PFW inbox since the loss to Miami. Many of these criticisms are legitimate, and we talked about them at length on our most recent episode of PFW in Progress.

One that might not be is the last one about Belichick not shouldering blame. When asked directly about whether he (and by extension, his coaching staff) could have done anything better in the lead-up to the final play, as well as that play itself, here’s how the head coach answered a conference call question the following day.

“We have to do a better job of that. It starts with me. We’ve got to play better situational football. We’ll work to try to achieve that. First of all, it’s [about] understanding the situation. That’s the number one thing, and then what specifically you would call in that situation. That could have a lot of variability depending on what personnel they have in the game and various other factors. Understanding what are the critical parts of each situation and then applying the specific call that’s made to that. It’s a combination of a lot of things. As I said, I’ve got to do a better job with it.”

You can definitely fault Belichick for not answering, for example, a question about why safety/co-captain Devin McCourty wasn’t on the field for the final play, but to argue that he isn’t assuming his share of the blame for this outcome is criticism that appears unwarranted. Erik Scalavino

All in all, this [latest Miami game] is the worst Patriots defeat I can remember. Is this a good thing going forward, [because] “You learn more in defeat than victory?” The Patriots are still in line for a playoff bye. Maybe this is a wake-up call for the team? Brett Larson

If you believe this latest loss to the Dolphins is New England’s worst-ever defeat, you clearly suffer from a short-term memory. Super Bowl losses are far worse than any that occur during a regular season. The losses to Philadelphia this past February and the Giants in Super Bowl XLII are two examples that immediately come to mind as being far more crushing that this one to the Dolphins in Week 14.

However, your point about this being a wake-up call is well taken. The problem is, the Patriots have had too many of these potential wake-up calls in their road games this season. I’m not sure there’s much more, if anything, that they can learn about themselves at this point than they already know. Erik Scalavino

[Entering Week 15 at Pittsburgh], the Patriots lost four road games this season to mediocre teams, survived the Bears, and pulled away late in the game from the depleted and helpless Bills and Jets. What is your confidence that this team will beat a quality team on the road in the playoffs? Seth Pomoikin

Very low, barring some miraculous turnaround in performance. Home playoff games are this team’s best chance of making it to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII. Erik Scalavino

Do you think that the weakness of our rivals in the division actually does us more harm than good? Yes, we more or less expect to be in the playoffs every year, but does the lack of a meaningful challenge from the rest of the AFC East mean we sometimes need to pick up more on intensity in January than some of our opponents? Robert Whittaker

No. Erik Scalavino

Would the Patriots get a [playoff] bye if both the Chiefs and Chargers end up with a better record than the Patriots? Ken Kannapan

Only division winners are eligible for postseason bye weeks, Ken. Playoff teams who reside in the same division, as Kansas City and Los Angeles do, cannot both qualify for a bye. Whichever one wins the AFC West will almost certainly get one of the two byes, based on their current records. The other, regardless if their record is better than any of the other three AFC division winners, will automatically become a Wild Card team and will be forced to play on the road the first weekend of January. Erik Scalavino

I think everyone can agree he is adjusting fine and contributing positively for the offense. I was wondering what the deal is with Josh Gordon’s contract? Do you think we will offer him a multi-year deal or does BB need to see how he handles himself during the off-season? Thanks for hearing me out, a long-time Patriots fan now living in Sweden! GO PATS! Shawn Cordeiro

Gordon is in the final year of a contract that New England assumed when it traded for the wide receiver back in September. The Patriots are paying him just under $700,000 this season, and when the 2018 season ends, so does Gordon’s contract. He will become a restricted free agent in 2019, at which time New England has the option of offering him one of the three RFA tenders. Based on the way he’s played, I would expect that to happen. The only question now is, which level of tender will he receive? I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the highest. Erik Scalavino

In the continuing quest to find ways for the highly athletic [Cordarrelle] Patterson to get the ball, is it totally out of the question that he might be looked at as a tight end rather than a wide receiver? He has size and speed, seems to block pretty well, and with Gronk seemingly entering the twilight of his career, maybe he could find a new role. Andy Perry

Almost nothing is entirely out of the question when it comes to this team, but I don’t foresee Patterson making that move. Yes, he’s big, for a wide receiver, but not nearly the body type to play tight end. Blocking defensive backs downfield is one thing, but from what I’ve seen, he also doesn’t have the necessary blocking skills to take on front-seven players with any regularity. Erik Scalavino

Why does Brady get rid of the ball if the screen play is sniffed out? Isn’t there a possibility that someone else is open? This [Dolphins game] is the second week in a row and fifth time this year he has thrown the ball at the feet of the receiver when he is NOT being pressured. Why not look downfield? David Brown

As the head coach here is fond of telling us, screen plays are the only ones in this Patriots offense that are designed for one intended receiver. By design, screens call for linemen to head up-field and block once the receiver – usually a running back – gets the ball. If the quarterback chose not to dump the ball to the back/receiver because the opposing defense snuffed out the play, and then decided to throw to another eligible receiver downfield, he would run the risk of at least one of his linemen being downfield – that is to say, past the line of scrimmage – illegally. To avoid such a penalty being called, the QB has no other choice but to throw the ball away when a screen is unavailable. Erik Scalavino

Hello from New Hampshire. I have a couple questions. With the Patriots being in the final chapter of the Brady era, do you think it is time to get our next QB? If so what QBs do you think would be good draft prospects? My other is with Gronk not being his old dominating self, do you think his time in New England is coming to an end? Do you think they will look for his replacement in the draft? Thank you. Mark Bushnell

The Patriots had their post-Brady QB-in-waiting, but he’s now a 49er, so, yes, it is certainly within reason to be on the lookout for a future replacement. Whether there’s one worth taking in this coming draft remains to be seen. We’re not nearly prepared to talk about draft prospects right now. Same goes for the tight end position, but superstars like Gronkowski are once-in-a-generation players. It would be asking a lot to expect New England to find a tight end as impactful as Gronkowski, but the Patriots do need to address their depth at that position in the near future. Erik Scalavino

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