A defining victory for Patriots

Join my chat every Monday to have your question considered for the weekly Bruschi on Tap Q&A.

I just want to start by saying, that while watching the game last night and hearing the Patriots fans in Qualcomm Stadium, it made me proud to be a former Patriot. I remember those games vividly, when road games turn into home games, when our fans would literally take over the stadium. It makes players feel proud to play for a team when the showing of support is so tremendous. I just want to say to all of you out there last night, good job. You were a big part of this.

Q. Tedy, huge fan! As a former linebacker, what are your thoughts on Jamie Collins last night? It seems like a coming-out party for him. Also, what are your thoughts on the Brandon Browner hit? Should these personal foul calls be reviewable? -- Bert (Washington, D.C.)

A. Collins is making plays all over the field, everyone can see that. But to be that comfortable last night without Dont'a Hightower is a steppingstone for him. There are so many things he can do. He is a perfect player for this defense. He can rush the passer, cover in the backfield, stop the run. The Patriots have a lot of players like this: Rob Ninkovich, Dont'a Hightower, Ayers, Collins. Absolutely, Collins has a bright future.

On Browner's hit, I know it took away a touchdown, but I've seen less called. The shoulder was to the head or neck area and that's what the rule says. I don't know an officiating crew that wouldn't have called that one. I don't like the rule, like everyone else, because it looked like Browner made an effort. But if the head or neck area is threatened, the officials' player-safety training kicks into effect.

Q. What are the chances helmet-to-helmet hits become reviewable next year? Browner's hit looked high but clean. -- Rob (Naples, Florida)

A. The chances are zero. Player safety is the No. 1 priority right now in the NFL. Browner made an effort, but he contacted the neck area. The neck area is included for player safety.

Q. Tedy, thanks for your time! Great win last night, especially on behalf of the defense. I'm curious about your take on Chris Collinsworth's statement that Browner's penalties are getting to be too much; I respectfully disagree, and think he brings a physicality to the game that opponents have to account for (both mentally and physically), and that's part of what makes this D such an improvement over previous units. Your thoughts? -- Clarence (Sioux City, Iowa)

A. As a coaching staff, and a fellow teammate, you have to be careful about going up to a guy and saying, "You need to take it easy on these penalties." Browner's aggressiveness is what makes him special. I don't think you want to temper that. Even on the unnecessary roughness, on the Devin McCourty INT return that was called back, you could see he made an effort to take his head out of the equation. Being on some of these defensive units, you know that there are going to be penalties called. You can live with defensive holding. You can live with illegal contact. Because you know your cornerbacks have a tough job to do; one of the toughest jobs in football is to be playing man coverage out there with today's rules.

Q. Tedy, I love wins like this. Tough, on the road, against a playoff team, and playing dominant defense. How much better do you think this defense is than their ranking? -- Todd (Boston)

A. Whatever the rankings are is not important. What I think is important about this defense, and very relevant, is that it is built for today's NFL -- a strong secondary combined with players who can perform multiple roles at a high level. With those two combinations, you can do so much and give opposing offenses so many looks. You could tell by the way Philip Rivers had so much trouble figuring things out.

Q. Bru how can the Pats change this culture of getting all these yellow flags? -- Tom (from the pep in Virginia)

A. The culture can change when you're talking about a player like Brian Tyms, and he wants to talk trash after the whistle and get called for that. It is a change that can happen, and the coaching staff will address that. In terms of the aggressive penalties, those are ones you have to live with.

Q. Hi Tedy. How about Akeem Ayers! Makes me wonder: Are there studs all over the league that are buried on the depth chart, just waiting for a chance? Or is Ayers special? -- Avi (Brooklyn, New York)

A. No, there aren't studs all over the league. But what you're finding out about Ayers is that he's one of those players who can do a lot of things -- intercepting a pass, making plays in the backfield vs. the run. There are multiple things he can do. When you have a player like that who is smart, and works hard to do the right thing, Bill Belichick will find a spot for you.

When you come to a place where winning is a realistic possibility, it's amazing how outlooks can change.

Q. Hi Tedy, could you tell us a little bit more about your O-Line rankings? Where to find it, your method and rationale for it? Thanks. -- Bill M. (Washington, D.C.)

A. Bill, we'll plan on posting the updated rankings Tuesday afternoon with more explanation. To me, OL play should be measured as a group. To say you have the best left tackle in the league is great, but how do the five linemen work together? So the OL index measures key variables that reflect that.

Q. Hey Tedy, after rebounding last night after that close loss to Green Bay, how important do you think that win was in the context of the whole season and the playoff standings, such as getting home-field advantage? Do you think the remaining three games against the AFC East teams could turn out to be hiccups or do you see the Pats winning them comfortably? Thanks! -- James (Cork, Ireland)

A. I don't feel comfortable about any of them. Maybe that's the former player in me and realizing it's the last three games of the season, and your goals should be to win each of them. But Miami handled the Patriots in Week 1. Buffalo's defense is one of the best in the league. And the Jets had a 60-plus yard field goal at the end to possibly beat the Patriots. You're a couple of turnovers away from finding yourself in a hole.

Q. Hi Tedy, obviously a great game by the Patriots' defense, but my question is about the Chargers. Their D ended up being a lot better than I had given them credit for going into the game, especially their run defense. When Liuget was off the field, they just ran them over, but after he returned it seemed like they couldn't get anything going at all. Lots of hits in the backfield on any run. What happened? Is he really that good a player or were the Chargers doing something specific to slow the running game down? -- Alex (Boston)

A. The Chargers played well last night defensively. They exposed some problems that the Patriots have had all year -- specifically at the offensive tackle position (Melvin Ingram on Nate Solder), and also lining up a quality pass-rusher inside over the guards (similar to what Chiefs OLB Justin Houston did in Week 4). Don't get me wrong, the Patriots' OL has gotten better. But the Chargers were still able to exploit some old weakness. And Corey Liuget is a very good player.

Q. Mr. Bruschi, I'm very excited at the way this defense is developing. It seems to be the best one we've had since 2003-04. The secondary now has that Rodney Harrison type presence in Browner. My question is, can they stop a powerful run game? When matched up against those physical AFC North teams in the playoffs or even the Dolphins next week, can they get off the field? Is this a Super Bowl caliber run defense? -- John (Illinois)

A. The Jets exposed this run defense earlier in the year. If a team commits to the run game, it could have success. But does a team that has that element to its offense have the defense to stop the Patriots? Because once the Patriots get up by 10 or 14 points, the run game now is moot. You mentioned the AFC North. If there is one team I've been watching closely the last month -- thinking about a playoff matchup -- it's the Ravens. That team has elements offensively and defensively that match up well vs. the Patriots.

Q. Why is it that the Patriots had such a strong support in SD last night? -- Jean-Luc (Storrs, Connecticut)

A. You guys travel well.

Q. Hello Tedy! I asked about Tom Brady trying to be the man in Green Bay, now, again, in the end of the almost blocked field goal, why not keep running? Is it Brady or Josh MD? And as good as LeGarrette Blount is, and I love him, Jonas Gray had two good runs and then he did not play anymore. It really feels they could use the personnel a lot better. What do you think? -- Rodrigo (Sao Paulo)

A. I don't think this was a defense that was going to be dominated like the Colts. There was an element of consistent penetration in the backfield, especially when Corey Liuget was in there. Melvin Ingram made some plays in the backfield also. The way they were playing last night, this wasn't the type of defense that would let you run for 200 yards if you just hand it off.

Q. What do the Patriots do that guys who seem like they are on their last leg on a previous team (Akeem Ayers, Jonathan Casillas, LeGarrette Blount) come to the Patriots and perform huge? Are their previous teams just scratching their head wondering what they did by trading them? -- Todd (Virginia)

A. First of all, a winning culture can change a player who has never experienced it. When you see the way Bill Belichick coaches this team in terms of dealing with players and egos, and you see how the players who have had so much success that are on this team act, there is a consistent message being sent from the head coach, to the captains, all the way down to the trainers. The message is consistent throughout the organization. It sounds easy, doesn't it? But some organizations and some head coaches don't get it. And don't get me wrong, the Patriots aren't the only ones. There are other organizations that I feel do it the right way too.

Q. Tedy, calm me down! After that huge effort last night, all I could think was "they don't even have Hightower and Chandler Jones playing!" If they get those guys back pretty healthy, I think they have all they need deep at DT (Vince Wilfork, Alan Branch, Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones, Dominique Easley) and finally have rotation ability at DE (Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Akeem Ayers), depth at LB (Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower, Akeem Ayers, even Jonathan Casillas) and that incredible secondary. Seriously, temper my expectations before I get outta control! -- Mike (Brooklyn)

A. I'd love to temper your expectations, Mike, but with three games left to go this is one of the two best teams in the NFL. They've beaten the best teams in the AFC already. Hopefully Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones come back soon healthy. If not, they have shown they can win without them. It's amazing how when you show you can win without a player, the player amazingly finds a way to heal a bit quicker. That's the way it was when I played. If I had a sprained knee or something and there were good things happening, I'd be like "Tape it up, I'm ready!"

Q. Hey Tedy, the Pats' players have to be thinking hats and T-shirts this week against Miami, right? -- Brian (Oxford, Connecticut)

A. In that locker room, you always know when hats and T-shirts are on the line. Those weeks are always one of the most exciting, because you know if you win, you've accomplished something.

Q. Hey Bru! Great defensive effort last night! Really picked up the offense. So, we have a hat and T-shirt game coming up this weekend. Is that something the players will be thinking about during their preparation? -- Nick (Denver)

A. I haven't looked at the scenarios, but I'm pretty sure if they win this week, they clinch. When that was a possibility when I played, it increased your focus that much more because football players love free swag.

Q. Tedy, really encouraged to see the team win a tough road game without the offense firing on all cylinders. My question this week is about Nate Solder. As big as he is, it is understandable that at times he has issues with speed rush guys. But Tedy, it looks like he has really regressed, and from what I can see it looks to be a balance issue. He appears to be letting himself reach and then he gets off balance, and once that happens his strength advantage is gone, leading to him getting beat far too much. He, and the line, need to find something inside and play with a chip the rest of the way. Am I off base? -- Scott (Charlotte, North Carolina)

A. I'm sure that's one of the things that Patriots fans are thinking about this morning. Even watching the game last night, I said to myself, "If your left tackle can't hold up, it can be a season ender." Solder has to play better the rest of the way.

Q. Tedy, if I am Tom Brady I am scared to death of my blind side. Nate Solder has been around too long to look as bad as he does. He doesn't appear quick enough or strong enough to deal with the better defensive ends in the league. Are the Pats in the market for a left tackle in the offseason? -- Brian (West Virginia)

A. I'm not going to write off Nate Solder right now. As bad as he looked last night at times, he has still put out some good performances. One thing is this: Tom Brady looked very nimble last night -- scrambling for two first downs. I said in training camp that Brady would play four more years and my old friend got all over me. Last night sent a message that Brady could play as long as he wants. He's not fast, but his feet are still very athletic. If he does feel that pressure from Solder, he has pocket athleticism to throw off a re-established platform, as we saw on his throw to Julian Edelman. Maybe it was the fact he was playing in his home state. I don't know, but what I'd say is this: It looks like he has a lot more left in him.