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Patriots Mailbag: Ready for a push to the playoffs

Patriots fans have their sights set on the final four games of the 2021 season, locking up a playoff spot and securing the top AFC seed.


After the 3-pass game and all the "they had no confidence in Mac" narrative. If he were to play a stinker against the Colts, what level of panic with the Patriots QB situation would arise? Mac has played great overall, I don't understand the doubts for the Bills game plan. -@VicMartin86_

I'm excited that the offense gets a bit of a break from the weather storylines this week by playing on the road inside Indy's dome, but it shouldn't have been all that surprising that the three pass attempts was such a focal point, it's just a jarring number. Either people are praising the Patriots' gameplan or they're using it to take shots at the team's confidence in Mac. I'm not getting too carried away by the Buffalo game and I see it as not the standout piece of the season but just the latest example of why this is another very solid Patriots team that is coming together and ready to do whatever is necessary to win. They have the pieces to do it.

The physicality on both sides of the ball is what is reassuring to me, as that kind of play matches up well with playoff football, especially against some of the less physical teams in the AFC. The offensive and defensive lines will give the Pats the chance to win any game they play. That said, it will be good to check in with the passing offense after the last two games. Seeing how the Chiefs are surging, it's a reminder that the Pats are going to need to make some strides as far as scoring on offense, specifically finishing in the red zone.

The Colts defense will provide another tough challenge for Mac. Unless it's a sloppy interception-fest for him, I don't think a loss in Indy would induce panic, because the bar for me is still making the playoffs. If New England wants to make a playoff run they'll need their passing offense to make strides and complement their recent spat of good work with the running game. -Mike Dussault

If you had to choose between Parsons & Mac at 15 knowing what you know now would it be an easy or difficult decision? - @TheMagnetMG_

As good as Parsons has been I still have to go with Mac, the quarterback position is just so vital to a team's long-term viability, especially when you have one on a rookie contract. But after nearly all the 2020 mock drafts had Parsons to the Pats at some point, it's hard to not imagine what he would do in the Patriots defense. Obviously, his versatility to play inside or outside, would be an ideal fit for what the Patriots do. When you look beyond the current slate of veterans like Hightower, Van Noy and Collins, there aren't any young players who have shown that kind of versatile promise and Parsons could lead the Patriots defense into the next decade. Although it's hard to imagine a player beyond the top half of the first round that can play like Parsons, he's exactly the kind of player the need to complement the strong work of the last two drafts. -Mike Dussault

Mac Jones is fired up before the Monday Night Football game against the Buffalo Bills
Mac Jones is fired up before the Monday Night Football game against the Buffalo Bills

Who's the one player returning from IR that will make an impact on the last four weeks/playoffs? -@MDubThaRuler

Not really a lot of options, as it's not expected that James White or Jonathan Jones will return this year. That's unfortunate, either one would really provide a needed boost in spots where there are still injury questions. Harvey Langi was back at practice last week, so it's a good bet he'll be activated shortly and provide some special teams experience and defensive depth. It's also hard to expect much out of rookies Joshuah Bledsoe or Cameron McGrone, both of who will have to either join the active roster or see their seasons ended on IR this week after getting some practice work in. That leaves Josh Uche and he could provide a nice boost as a pass rusher with some hopefully fresh legs. Uche could be back as soon as this week and against some of the more dangerous passing offenses coming up might have some valuable plays in him. -Mike Dussault

If things break the right way for the Patriots and heading into their last game of the season against Miami, they have the No.1 Seed in the AFC sewn up, could you see the Patriots starting Stidham over Hoyer? Gives them an opportunity to see what they have against a very good defense while protecting their playoff back-up in Hoyer. -Joel Greyling

With the parity in the AFC it's hard to see New England having the one seed all wrapped up, even for the finale in Miami, but unless Mac is banged up it's hard to see them yanking him just to get a look at Stidham or Hoyer, especially if they're going to be off for the first week of the playoffs. But I do think it's an interesting question as far as how the team views Stidham's development. Hanging on to quarterbacks and developing them is good business. Hoyer might've gotten more of a chance last year if not for a mistake-filled performance against the Chiefs, that kind of cemented his place as the third quarterback and Stidham was the backup the rest of the season, though even with Cam Newton's uneven performances the team still didn't feel the need to get a look at him.

As I see it, this is Mac's team and he needs all the experience he can get and should have the chance to own the full season, from the opener against Miami to the closer in Miami and whatever the playoff road holds after that. -Mike Dussault

Looking at AFC schedule, Chiefs and Titans have a cakewalk, so Pats have to win out to secure #1 seed. My concern is how thin Pats are at some key positions like RB and DB. Can they beat Colts if Harris and Philips are out? -Stan Cohen

You're right, one loss and the conference bye quickly becomes a dicey proposition. For those purposes winning in Indy seems like a must and we'll all be on the lookout for Harris and Phillips at Tuesday's practice. Both are huge keys but as long a Kyle Dugger is back from the Reserve/COVID-19 list and Rhamondre Stevenson continues his plus play, I think they will be okay. Harris and Stevenson have developed into quite the one-two punch, perhaps the key feature of their offense that makes everything else go. Meanwhile, Dugger and Phillips have really come to define the new-look secondary and both make a ton of plays all over the field. But ultimately I think the key pieces against the Colts will be Mac Jones and the defensive front seven for their run-stopping skills. -Mike Dussault

Josh Uche pressures the Panthers offense
Josh Uche pressures the Panthers offense

Since throwback helmets are once again being allowed, is there any chance to see the original 1960 helmet? I know it was only for the one year but many fans probably never seen them before. What are your thoughts? -Michael Hall

Michael, I'm a fan of all helmets and uniforms being incorporated into the rotation, including three different helmets between the current, the Pat Patriot and then one you're referring to. Likewise I think that a 70's throwback uniform, a 90's throwback and of course, the dynasty jersey that was worn from 2000-2019 should all be used on a regular basis. I love how the Chargers do it, with a variety of uniforms that can be mixed and matched whenever they want. Nostalgia is such an important part of this game and I think the more you can play into that for the fans, the better. Plus they would reward the team by buying a bunch of different jerseys at the Pro Shop! -Mike Dussault

Thanks for your coverage of this fascinating season. I have a question about Coach Belichick and when he will eventually retire (but I want to make clear that I don't want to see him go any time soon). Coach always says that he does what is in the best interest of the team. But how far is he motivated by personal achievement, to become the 'winningest' coach? Would he leave whenever he felt he couldn't coach at the highest level, or do you think he is determined to overtake Don Shula before he hangs up his whistle? Or to win another Superbowl without Brady? Hopefully, his own ambition and the team interest will coincide but I wonder how far he does covet these personal milestones. -Alan McMillan

The thing I've always admired about coach Belichick's approach is how focused he in on the short term, simply having good days, one by one and stacking them up. So we've never really heard him speak publicly about long-term goals though there's plenty of speculation about what various records would mean to him and how badly he's pursuing them.

Maybe I'm oversimplifying it, but I see a coach who has reinvigorated his team this season and, while working directly with two of his kids, is back around atop the NFL now and I think he's really just embracing the moment. A year after the 7-9 2020 season, the Patriots look like they'll contend for a while once again and I think that will motivate Belichick to keep it going. He's often spoke with admiration for how the 49ers went from Montana to Young and I think he plans on keeping the Patriots competitive as long as he's around. ­-Mike Dussault

Hey guys. Could you please explain to me why so many people feel that Mac Jones fell to the Patriots at 15 because he is a "low ceiling" QB do to his lack of mobility/running skills? Outside of one Super Bowl for Patrick Mahomes, what have all these super-athletic QB's accomplished? Has Lamar Jackson even won a playoff game yet? As far as I'm concerned, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers (both old-school pocket passers) are still the best in the game, and I'm thankful that the Patriots selected "low-ceiling" Mac Jones after all the other knucklehead teams passed him up. They'll be eating our dust for years!-James Loveland

There's no question that the league is enamored of athleticism and improv ability at the quarterback position and undervalues smarts and accuracy, but few quarterbacks have the fortune to land with an established system and coaching staff that know exactly what to do with them. Lesser teams and coaches need to rely on their rookies to make plays happen, their jobs usually depend on it. But here in New England, Josh McDaniels has been able to do whatever he needs to do with Mac Jones, whether it's asking him to only throw three passes or to simply avoiding making any game-changing mistakes.

Would Mac get the same kind of chance in Jacksonville or Chicago? Probably not, though it's worth pointing out that he has seen plenty of adversity throughout this season, especially with the number of hits he took early on.

Jones has been a perfect fit and it's exciting to wonder how good he can be as he gets more and more experience and gets a full offseason in the strength program. Mac Year 2 should be a lot of fun, especially because he should return every weapon he currently has. ­-Mike Dussault

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