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Nitpicks & Nitwits: Errors keeping Patriots from elite status

John Rooke recaps the Patriots 30-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings and offers his opinion on Roger Goodell and the NFL's continuing domestic abuse issue.


Chandler Jones for President!

Or at the least, he could be Comeback Player of the Week, after two costly roughing-the-passer penalties a week ago. The Patriots' first touchdown off of a blocked field goal since 2010 was a back-breaker against the Minnesota Vikings to be sure…and a 30-7 road win shouldn't be taken for granted. There are always, however, a few nitpicks to point out from Sunday's soiree. Jones' feat of the block and return for a score did turn a close game just before halftime into a 24-7 breather…with the way the defense was managing (mangling?) the Minnesota offense.

The other big moment? Without a doubt, Devin McCourty's interception of Matt Cassell in the first quarter kept a 7-0 deficit from turning into a disaster. From there, after Stevan Ridley squared things on the scoreboard, New England seemed to regain its confidence, its swagger, and its ability to actually control the line of scrimmage – three things they were most-decidedly missing in Miami.

15 penalties for 163 yards, the most ever under a Bill Belichick-led New England team in a single game, were the biggest nitpick of all. Penalties come down to a lack of execution, a lack of discipline, or a lack of knowledge. Fortunately against the Vikings, with the defense intercepting Cassell four times, sacking him six times and holding the offense to 217 total yards (thanks in part to the missing Adrian Peterson in the backfield)…the mistakes made weren't particularly harmful.

But they will be, if they continue at the current rate. 24 penalties for 263 yards in two weeks, counting the miscues in Miami, isn't a positive step toward the NFL's elite.

Marcus Cannon – a holding penalty late on the offensive left guard in 1st quarter stopped a drive cold that could have/should have been seven points, instead of three (a 48-yard field goal) from Stephen Gostkowski.


The New England Patriots visit TCF Bank Stadium for their Week 2 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings.

Nate Solder** – the left tackle was called for three consecutive penalties over two offensive snaps with 6:20 to play in the 3rd quarter. Two were accepted. An illegal block, holding (which was declined) and a false start in the span of 26 seconds…those aren't just minor mistakes, they're usually drive-killers. The Patriots did complete this 11-play drive that consumed almost seven minutes of the clock (6:49) with a 27-yard field goal from Gostkowski early in the 4th quarter.

Aaron Dobson – with a 10-7 lead in the 2nd period and a 3rd-and-four near midfield, offensive pass interference on Dobson (running an illegal pick or screen) rubbed out a 26-yard gain to a wide open Danny Amendola. The drive did end with a touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Julian Edelman, but this is a case of needing to know the situation, and where you are on the field. Which Dobson apparently didn't.

There are a couple of others, such as Darrelle Revis' game-long assignment on Greg Jennings – why Jennings over defending the more athletic, dangerous Cordarrelle Patterson? Or, with a chance to deliver an early blow to the Vikings' chances of a comeback, why call for the deep pass route to Edelman on a 3rd-and-two call from the Minnesota 43-yard line on the first drive of the 3rd quarter, especially with such a commitment to the running game? Again, considering the outcome, it's tough to single out much other than actual errors committed in a 30-7 win.

Sir Charles Says?

Who asked Charles Barkley to become an NFL Today analyst for CBS? Love Charles, he's great for the game. The game of basketball, that is. Although the TV commercial he made in the early '90's for Nike ("I am not a role model…just because I dunk a basketball doesn't mean I should raise your kids") is pertinent right about now. But as a football analyst? If the NFL (and CBS) were really smart, however, they wouldn't turn to someone from the NBA – a league with plenty of its own issues off the court and in the courtroom – for a voice of reason.


Tebow Time on TV

In case you were wondering, former Patriot quarterback Tim Tebow has a new job. Or two.

Tebow, released by New England after training camp in 2013, is apparently still hopeful that playing football is somewhere in his future. But he'll have to settle for talking about it, at least for now, as he was hired to be a college football analyst with the new SEC Network. That's a perfect role for the former Florida Gator, as his temperament and knowledge should shine through enough for his pied-piper persona to gain some traction in the TV biz.

Whoops, that was fast. Guess his magnetism is fully-charged…as Tebow was hired last week by ABC's Good Morning America as a regular contributor. He will take part in a feature series entitled "Motivate Me Monday," along with former New York Giants' defensive end and Hall of Famer Michael Strahan…who is a regular co-host for GMA.

Wonder if his new series might motivate a pro football team to take another shot with him on the field?

Goodell's gaffe not grave enough, yet

Domestic violence should never be tolerated. Ever.

With that said first, I may be in the minority here…but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell shouldn't yet lose his job over a poor decision he made last spring, when he announced an original two-game suspension for ex-Ravens running back Ray Rice after a casino video showed him dragging his then-fiancé from an elevator.

Let's look at the story another way.


Oh yes, he messed up. And Goodell has admitted as much. The penalty then should have been much more decisive, and stronger than what was given, especially in light of domestic abuse charges that have been leveled on NFL players in the recent past. USA Today reported that domestic violence was at the top of the charts in arrests of NFL players since 2000. And the answer to that? Punishments have been light, some have been reduced, others dismissed outright. Only six players were cut. That can't happen if you hope to ever move on from what certainly looks to be the now-#1 off-field issue.

You can't move on, however, until you eliminate the problem altogether. Commissioner Goodell could have taken a giant step toward that by severely punishing Rice when the story first broke, rather than wait until the mysterious and outrageous "in-the-elevator" video appeared. Perhaps we're all in agreement here? But with so many questions surrounding who-knew-or-saw-what first, and most of them unanswered or lied about, is it fair to clean house before you know the true cause of the dirt? Goodell says he didn't see the second tape before rendering his initial decision on Rice. Without a firm policy in place – at the time – his decision was admittedly short-sighted, but somewhat understandable. There wasn't a real precedent for him to follow.

The NFL did announce a new policy against domestic violence last month, even though it was late in coming. If you've ever run a company yourself, you know you can't possibly know every little thing that goes on in the course of running that business…which is why your success (or failure) is largely predicated on the people you hire and trust to do their jobs. The NFL has been successful for a long time, and undoubtedly has good people running the show. But there's also something wrong with a system that apparently allows abusers to remain employed, enjoying a privileged lifestyle, without some sort of recourse.


The Minnesota Vikings stood up and did what needed to be done in this instance, after Adrian Peterson's indictment on charges of negligent injury to a child, by deactivating him this past Sunday. In this particular case, we should all understand that parents will – and should – discipline their children as they see fit. But where do we draw the line? There are cultural and societal differences in how discipline should be meted out. For instance, I was raised in the south…for whatever that's worth…and I was spanked as a child, but never "beaten." Many parents I know in the north (and other regions) don't spank their kids. There is a difference, however, between offering discipline and applying physical abuse, even if that isn't apparent in some corners of our country.

And yet, no matter which side of this story you stand on, there is a silver lining here. We are talking about these issues.

As to the shine sliding off of the NFL shield…Roger Goodell could fall on the sword here and resign, but I'm not certain that would solve the real problem. Unless, of course, underlings were instructed by the boss to cover up the Rice fiasco in some way. The internal investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, hopefully, will ferret this out. In the case of Peterson and Carolina's Greg Hardy (found guilty this summer of assaulting and threatening his girlfriend and deactivated late Sunday), perhaps public scrutiny forced their suspensions. I'd say that's a good thing. The public should have a loud voice in this.

Until you see something with your eyes, always ask questions. Reporters do this every day. In these cases, most of us have now seen what happened to Janay Rice and to Tyrese Ruffin (Peterson's child), and it is shocking. And it should be acted upon, so hopefully it doesn't happen again to someone else. Ex-Patriot and now NBC analyst Rodney Harrison told WEEI last week that "I think everyone is kind of confused with all of the information that's coming out. I think we've got to sit tight and ultimately let everything play out."

He's right, of course…even though something just doesn't sit right here. Something is amiss inside the confines of "the shield." We can't see it yet, but we can ask questions. Let's allow the house cleaners the chance to do their jobs and get to the real dirt, before tossing out the real trash.

John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and has been the Patriots' stadium voice for 22 years. Currently serving in several media capacities – which includes hosting "Patriots Playbook" during the season on Radio for a 14th year – Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball for the past 26 years and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame.

Follow him on Twitter - @JRbroadcaster

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