The Patriots are Super Bowl-bound for the seventh time in franchise history and the fifth time in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era, but some readers are looking ahead for New England and wondering who could be coming and going once the season ends.
There’s also a little bit of second-guessing on one play call in the AFC Championship game and a status update requested on Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallet.
Q: How is rookie quarterback Ryan Mallet progressing? Is Brian Hoyer or Mallet a better choice for the replacement should Tom Brady get knocked out of the game during the Super Bowl?
A: I think you might be the only Patriots fan willing to broach this topic, Chris. Many don’t even want the thought to cross their minds that Brady might not be able to finish the game for any reason. But since you’ve asked, it would almost certainly be Hoyer who replaces Brady. I’ve been told that the Patriots coaching staff is very impressed with the progress that Hoyer has made in terms of his passing and mobility, and at this point he could be a starter in the NFL. As a side note, Hoyer is a restricted free agent at the end of this season, and it will be interesting to see if the Patriots do a sign-and-trade deal with him. There are more than a couple quarterback-starved teams in the league. As for Mallet, I’ve heard he’s progressing well; at this point, given the potential of Hoyer being elsewhere, I could see him being Brady’s backup next year.
Q: Who called the ill-fated long pass after the Brandon Spikes interception in the AFC Championship game? If it was offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, then as far as I am concerned he can skip Indy and go straight to State College. Whoever made the call must have been channeling 30 years ago when a turnover led to a disorganized defense. Now, a turnover is followed by 10-20 commercials so the defense can stay organized.
Dan, Los Angeles
A: My guess would be that O’Brien did make that call, Dan. I think the biggest issue with calling that play was because it was the first time Matthew Slater was in the game, and it immediately tipped the Ravens off to the idea that the Patriots might try a deep ball. Baltimore safety Bernard Pollard said on Houston radio earlier this week that when he and cornerback Jimmy Smith saw Slater on the field, they figured he was on for the Pats to take a shot deep. They did, Smith and Pollard played the pass attempt well, and it ended up as an interception. Personally I can’t fault O’Brien for trying a home run ball, it just wasn’t well-disguised. That one play was the only offensive snap for Slater.
Q: I was wondering why (to my knowledge) the Patriots have never attempted an option pass play with Julian Edelman, as he was a college quarterback after all. Do you think Bill Belichick is saving this for when something very special is needed or just not interested in it? Coach Belichick has run it successfully many years ago.
A: The Patriots have not run any sort of option play with Edelman passing the ball since he’s been here, Howard. With the Wildcat (remember that?) in vogue when New England drafted him in 2009, it was easy to think then that Edelman’s background as an option quarterback at Kent State was part of his appeal for the team. The window for reporters to watch Patriots practice is limited only to stretching-type exercises and not any actual plays being run, so I don’t know if they’ve practiced a play like that and have it in the repertoire just in case.
Q: I know I’m getting ahead of myself, but do you think the Pats could take a stab at Indianapolis defensive end Robert Mathis this offseason? He is a free agent and the Colts seem to be shifting to a rebuilding mentality. It would be nice to get a pure pass rusher if he’s got something left in the tank.
A: You are certainly looking a bit into the future, Chris. The Pats haven’t played the Super Bowl yet! To be honest, I haven’t started looking toward free agency, but I think any interest in Mathis may hinge on whether Bill Belichick would want to stick with the 4-3 he began using more heavily this season. With Andre Carter and Mark Anderson each signed to one-year contracts, it isn’t yet known whether either will be re-signed (Carter, who will be 33 in May, is coming off a quadriceps tear), and even if one or both is, pass-rusher is a need for this team. Mathis, who will be 31 next month, has averaged 10 sacks a year since 2004, his second season in the league.
Q: With the Pats signing Josh McDaniels to finish the year as an offensive assistant and to be offensive coordinator next season, what would you say the odds are of soon to be free agent WR Brandon Lloyd of the Rams being a Patriot deep threat next season? Lloyd has repeatedly stated that he owes his emergence as a quality receiver to McDaniels. Can he be New England’s deep threat next year a la Randy Moss in 2007?
Jack, Wilmington, Del.
A: Not sure yet what the market might be for Lloyd, but you’re right that he is on the record as saying he’ll follow McDaniels. The biggest question is what kind of money he would be looking for. As we all know, New England usually isn’t a big spender in free agency. Plus there is Wes Welker’s contract to consider. Robert Kraft said last week that he wants to keep Welker with the Patriots, and the last several times he’s said that -- with Vince Wilfork, Tom Brady, Logan Mankins -- the team has come to a contract agreement with that player. Deion Branch will also be a free agent when the season ends; he isn’t the receiver he once was, but we’ve seen him play a big role at times this season, and he has a big fan in Brady. Were Branch to re-sign with the Pats, it would very likely be for less than the $2.2 million base salary he’s receiving this year.
Q: I am a transplant from Rhode Island to California and am a Patriots fan, but I am very much in 49er territory ... We have all been racking our brains to remember when the last time the Patriots played the 49ers. Do you have any insight on this one?
Neil, San Jose, Calif.
A: The last time the Patriots and 49ers played was in 2008, Neil, part of their four-game West Coast set that took them to Oakland, San Francisco, San Diego and Seattle. Since Tom Brady was injured that season, he did not get the opportunity to play in Candlestick Park, where he had watched so many games growing up in nearby San Mateo. The Pats and Niners will play in the 2012 regular season, but San Francisco will travel here to New England.
Q: Is Oct. 28 a definite date for the London game?
A: Yes, that date is locked in, Carol. The league announced last week that the Rams will host the Patriots at Wembley Stadium on Oct. 28 this year. Since the NFL began playing one regular-season game in London in 2007, it has been played on the final Sunday in October.