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Nitpicks & Nitwits: To Kick, or Not to Kick? It's a question worth asking

Has there been a decision more talked about recently, than the one we all saw made on the field by Matthew Slater Sunday afternoon in East Rutherford, NJ?

You and I, perhaps along with much of the rest of the free world, would probably have decided to receive the overtime kickoff after winning the coin flip against the New York Jets.  It's an easy decision for us to make because, frankly, we don't have the "skin" in the game that the players and coaches have.

We would have opted to put the ball in Tom Brady's hands first, because, well, he's Tom freakin' Brady.  The Patriots had some momentum at the end of regulation in a 20-20 draw, scoring late to tie the game as the offense seemed to have - at least momentarily - figured out a way to keep a hard-charging Jets' defensive front out of the backfield.

But here's where conventional thinking - if not wisdom - gets thrown out of the Patriots' Playbook.  Perhaps it's because TB12 was taking heavy fire from a dominating defensive line?  Maybe the thinking was, the defense had just made a stop at the end of regulation - let's let them make another stop to put the offense in position to kick a field goal and win it?  

It is also curious to note that Bill Belichick, who has famously deferred the opening kickoff each of the 11 times (in 15 games thus far) the Patriots have won a coin flip in order to potentially double-up scoring chances, decided this week to have his offense sit on the ball and run out the final 1:57 of the 1st half clock.

Doesn't that defeat the purpose of deferment in the first place?  Add to that a Brady interception thrown on the opening drive of the 3rd quarter against the Jets this week, and you've got a big "swing-and-miss" in the decision-making department.  Taking the baseball analogy a bit further, and the choice of kicking rather than receiving in the OT - as per the usual decision - is a lot like a relief pitcher firing one-too-many fastballs over the plate.

This last one got knocked out of the park.  Every once in a while, shouldn't the hitter see a change-up? 

The Jets' Brandon Marshall said afterward his first reaction to his team losing the coin toss in OT was to "stop 'em.  Then, it was our ball and it was 'what the hell?'"

"There's not much to it.  We wanted to kick off," Slater explained to the media after the game.  "We won the toss, we kicked off.  We did what we wanted to do.  Obviously, in that situation, as a player maybe you're thinking, 'Hey, we want the ball if we won the toss.'  That's not what Coach wanted to do."

In effect, the Jets took advantage of the unconventional thinking and ultimately won the game.  Could it be, however, that the Patriots ultimately win the war?  Perhaps the coaching decision to ride with the defense was predicated upon the troubles up front that the offensive line - once again, further depleted with an injury to Sebastian Vollmer early in the game - experienced throughout.  Perhaps playing for field position to try for the win (as Belichick said post-game), as opposed to playing the "In Tom We Trust" ideal was actual discretion being used as the better part of valor?

Saving even one, precious opportunity for TB12 to win you a game is a nice idea, but there's still much for the Patriots to play for this season.  Winning or losing a game, even against a division rival in December, that doesn't change your own playoff fate really doesn't alter the big picture.  Losing your QB in such a game, just might.

Yes, it was a strange, unconventional decision to kick it away in overtime.  But it was also strange and unconventional to not call a time out at the end of the Super Bowl game against Seattle last season, just before Malcolm Butler's heroics.  It was also strange and unconventional to kick-off in OT at Denver in 2013, only to ultimately win that one, too.

This time, those with the skin in this particular game got burned by a call.  Perhaps, however, they ultimately saved some skin for when they might need it most.

The Kick wasn't the only problem

Kicking off in overtime is an easy play to nitpick.  Instead, Slater should have simply said which side of the field they wished to defend first, rather than "we'll kick."  The trouble, however, is that the play call had plenty of friends in the nitpicking department.

For perhaps the first time this season, we learned how valuable Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung have been at the safety spots.  Without their presence (due to injury) in the lineup, Duron Harmon and rookie Jordan Richards got the calls to start.  Film study will undoubtedly reveal some good things they did.

Film study will also show how the Jets ripped holes through the middle of the NE defense for much of the game, how missed tackles may have played a part in the Jets building confidence, and how Ryan Fitzpatrick kept pitching the ball deep just knowing he'd connect with his tall, talented receivers.  

Eventually, he did.

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Who's next on line?

This is a hard one to figure, because you really can't do anything about guys getting hurt.  The run of injuries to the offensive line, however, is almost becoming comical.  Four different starters at left tackle?  It might be number five for Miami.  

The Jets have one of the best defensive fronts in all of football, and yet managed only two sacks (but a lot of hits) on Brady.  This offense needs health, and the offensive line needs health now.  Or, it needs to figure out a way to provide some extra protection for the QB, or a way to move the ball consistently without his spending more than two seconds in the pocket.

1-for-10 on 3rd down conversions is abysmal.  Did I mention the top two running backs (LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis) are also out for the year?  Julian Edelman remains sidelined (for now) and Danny Amendola is banged up again, as well.

Maybe the Patriots had little to play for against the Jets, but they also only had a little to play with.

Making a stand

The two scoring drives for the Jets in the first half totaled 26 plays and covered 159 yards, swallowing 13 minutes and 47 seconds of precious time from the game clock.  When your offense is struggling like a thoroughbred race horse trying to run on three legs, your defense needs to step up and make stops.

Jamie Collins did that in the 3rd quarter, thanks to a Jabaal Sheard strip-sack on Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Collins' fumble return for a score was exactly what the team needed, and the 2nd straight week for the defense to put points on the board.

And it still wasn't enough.  Stops don't need to be spectacular, like Collins' play was.  They simply need to come more often.

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Manning's share of the public glare

Manning vs. Brady XVII might take place, after all.

He hasn't quite reached the TB12 stage of public scrutiny, but Peyton Manning is undoubtedly beginning to learn what Tom Brady's off-season this past year was really like.

With the Al Jazeera report released Sunday night that Manning had HGH sent to his wife Ashley for his personal use, the "all-American" veneer of another NFL superstar took on some tarnish.

Manning almost immediately went on offense, rather than being defensive, by discrediting the report as "completely fabricated, complete trash, garbage."  And yet, his agent Tom Condon did not deny that Ashley Manning had received HGH supplements, and that Manning was a patient at the Guyer Institute where Charlie Sly had been employed.  

Sly was an intern pharmacist at Guyer, and was seen (and heard) in the Al Jazeera report implicating Peyton's use of HGH (Human Growth Hormone, a performance-enhancing drug banned by the NFL) while there.  He has since recanted his previous claims.

Doesn't matter.  The cat's now out of the bag, and the story will undoubtedly be believed by some, ignored by others.  The bigger story, however, may not fall upon whether Manning actually did anything wrong - but on how the media treats his alleged misdeeds in comparison with how Brady's "Deflategate" saga played out.

Is the NFL interested in "integrity" as they call it, or finding out the real truth of a story?  Has the media - and the general public, for that matter - had their fill of cheating accusations surrounding superstars to the point where it's all simply information overload?  Or will they actually try to get to the truth like real journalists should, instead of acting like gossip columnists regurgitating the whispers they hear?

Borrowing a familiar phrase from one-time pass-catcher Terrell Owens, "getcha' popcorn ready."  Patriot fans should have a front seat for this next show, and it might be a real seat-squirmer.  

It might make you angry, too.

*John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and is in his 23rd year as the Patriots' stadium voice.  Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 27 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame.  *

Follow him on Twitter - @JRbroadcaster

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