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Some love for special teams

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

Q. Hi Tedy, we've heard all about how this is the most complete defense New England has had for a while, but what about the special teams? You have a reliable/seasoned FG kicker who has been phenomenal once more, a great punter, explosive punt returners, and you have players able to block kicks on both FG and punts. This unit has clearly had an impact in generating momentum and winning games (Jets). Am I blowing this out of proportion or can this unit be one key to New England making it back to the big game? -- Nick (Montreal)

A. Absolutely love this question. Nick, we see how the third unit of a team can contribute to a championship. Let's go back to the 2001 AFC title game -- TDs scored on a blocked field goal and a punt return. I feel strongly that if one unit on this team isn't playing up to par in the playoffs, the other has a strong possibility of picking up the slack.

Q. Hey Tedy! I want to get a new Patriots jersey this year and I would love your input. Who do you think will be making the most plays and will still be on the team for many upcoming years? I already have Brady/Gronk/Wilfork. Thanks! -- Keaton (Kingston, Ontario)

A. That's a good question. I say that because I felt like to see a fan with my jersey on was the biggest compliment a player could have. The Brady, Gronk and Wilfork selections are good. You have offense and defense, so how about showing some love for the special teams (they came up big yesterday) and getting a Matthew Slater jersey?

Q. Hi Tedy, thanks for your Pats time before and for your Pats fans time now. I keep insisting on posting questions about our LB corps as it seems to me that we haven't had this much talent there since your generation. Your opinion about their importance in both pass rush/run stopping and in coverage? I simply love Jamie Collins' playing. Dont'a Hightower is a true leader, and Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas are providing some good plays too. I just keep wondering what it would be like if we also had Jerod Mayo. I would be afraid to step on the field against these guys if I am the opposing QB. Thanks again. -- Pavle (Serbia)

A. Yes, I agree. Having Jerod Mayo back would make this defense complete. But one thing that has impressed me is the depth of the unit, the way the coaches have been able to incorporate Ayers and Casillas when needed has been noteworthy. Just never underestimate the importance of quality coaching with players who want to do the right things.

Q. Bru! How can the Patriots possibly consider bringing Mayo back at his cost against the cap with the high level of play coming from Hightower and Collins? Do you see them cutting ties with him at the end of the season? If not, do you think this linebacking corps would be playing at a higher level with Mayo in the middle at this point? -- Nico (Rhode Island)

A. I don't think it's any question about bringing Mayo back. He will be with this team, he deserves to be with this team. But I know, just as he knows, that there are certain contractual situations that need to be addressed. And maybe they won't. I'll tell you this now -- the flexibility Matt Patricia has with Hightower and Collins, can you imagine the variations he could use in the middle of the field if he had all three of them?

Q. Hey Bru, two questions: 1) When does Bill Belichick sit Brandon Browner? His penalties are going to cost the Pats big time come the playoffs and I'm a bit surprised BB hasn't addressed this with him. 2) What do you think of Matthew Slater intoning his inner-Bruschi after every win with a "How do we feel about a victoreeee" chant? -- Tom (Boston)

A. Tom, I see the potential of Browner's penalties being a problem. But I don't think he's close to being sat down. You need that type of aggressiveness, as long as he understands there are certain things you can live with. In certain situations, when the ballgame is on the line, he has to play cleaner. Coaches have to be careful in altering the way a DB plays. That's his style. You knew that was his style when you signed him.

I love it that Slater is breaking down the team after a victory. So glad it's not Brady anymore. He doesn't have any rhythm!

Q. Hello, Tedy. Jonas Gray provides substantial energy while recognizing and hitting the hole very swiftly. Can we get more carries for him? Also, what technique is necessary to rush the passer from the inside? -- Frank (Miami)

A. It's been a progression -- from nothing, to a sprinkling, to yesterday (most carries he's had since Indy game). This is a young player. Right now, I personally like to see LeGarrette Blount in there. The role Gray is playing now, from my view, followers should be happy with. There are various moves you can use from the inside. But to get a true grasp of it, get into a phone booth and try a pass-rush move. That's how quick and compact you have to be.

Q. Even with the win, the slow starts continue for the Pats. They need to clean this up before the playoffs or it could spell trouble for NE against a better quality opponent. Thoughts? -- Ryhan (Orlando)

A. Yeah, they started a bit slow, but I think this team has shown that it can play many roles. They can go out fast. They can win a game in the fourth quarter. They've shown they can come back from a deficit. This team is mentally tough. Don't judge a game by how the first quarter goes. You haven't judged this season by the first quarter, have you?

Q. Tedy, great win yesterday. I still come away with some concerns about the slow starts. If it happens against a playoff team, we might not be able to recover. Any thoughts? -- Mat (Baltimore)

A. I just don't doubt this team's mental toughness. To come back from a slow start, that's what you need. Their mental toughness, talent and coaching is enough to dig themselves out of a hole or two they might get in come playoff time. You just hope any errors don't come late in the game when time runs out on them.

Q. Tedy, which AFC teams should Patriots fans be most worried about meeting in the playoffs? -- Dave (Hingham, Massachusetts)

A. This is a great question, Dave. You know the Broncos matchup will be huge, but I've been watching the Ravens and they do some things I feel could give the Patriots problems. If they come into Foxborough, that's a team that won't be afraid of that situation (unlike the Texans a few years ago).

Q. Tedy, regardless of where this sits in the playoffs, how important was this game to us? Beating the Dolphins with two games left by a "sufficient" amount. Does that put us in a good place mentally? Do you think the guys will lessen their concentration? -- Ronnie (North Haven, Connecticut)

A. Ronnie, this is a good question, because that's probably the only thing left for this team to maybe prove -- remain focused, emotionally level, mentally focused and continue to do it every week. It has shown the ability to do that, an incredible amount of mental toughness to bounce back from adversity. I think followers can feel confident that every week with this team, you know what you're going to get. That's one of the biggest compliments I can give it.

Q. Tedy, hats and T-shirts aside, why does this victory make me so nervous? Why does the offense look so shaky? Why does TB miss so many long throws? -- Bob Q. (Coventry, Rhode Island)

A. Why do you overreact so much, Bob? It's Monday. Take a deep breath and enjoy the division championship. Every team has issues it needs to fix. Most teams have major issues. The Patriots have minor ones right now. I agree, minor issues need to be addressed. But man, take a chill pill!

Q. With Chandler Jones back and having seen the good play of Ayers since he was picked up, wouldn't it be wise to give Rob Ninkovich some plays off? I know he's a rock and some football players just don't get injured (like yourself), but it seems like common sense to have a chance for your pass rushers to be as fresh as possible, if you have someone remotely similar. -- Otis T. (Wilmington)

A. Yes, Otis, it is great to see Chandler Jones back and see him showing up and making big plays. You don't purposely give Rob Ninkovich reps off, it just naturally happens with three guys in the mix (Jones, Ninkovich and Ayers).

Q. How do you think Chandler Jones' presence being back on the field positively affects the defense? -- Lawrence (Boston)

A. Great question, Lawrence. Without Chandler, there were times the pass-rush was lacking, especially when Rob Ninkovich was used in coverage. Think about a rematch with the Broncos, or with the Packers in the Super Bowl, that's when a player like Jones is going to be needed most -- getting pressure on QBs who pick you apart with additional time. For all of you thinking many players should rest if things are wrapping up, think about Jones as someone who needs reps to get in full swing for the playoffs.

Q. Hi, Tedy. "Bad clock management" is what some writers are calling that lackluster Pats series at the end of the first half. Seems to me the strategy was fine, but the execution on offense and special teams was poor and put the Dolphins in a position to score that TD. What say you? -- Sharon (Cambridge)

A. They lost in that situation. But after each running play, the Dolphins used their timeouts. They gave the Dolphins as little time as they possibly could. It wasn't poor clock management. It was poor execution on the three runs not to get the first down. It was Shane Vereen three times in a row, so maybe they called the wrong plays (maybe LeGarrette Blount/Jonas Gray there), but the situation was attempted the right way. You drop back to pass on third down, you're giving Cameron Wake and that pass rush the chance to exploit the tackles of the Patriots, which they've had history of doing.

Q. Hi Tedy. Loved seeing you play at Arizona. We have another undersized, over-performing playmaker in Scooby Wright. No doubt the scouts will downgrade him for physical reasons, ignoring (as with you) his heart and brain. A perfect chance for the Pats to draft him cheaply in a few years! -- Bruce W. (Tucson, Arizona)

A. Now we're talking, Bruce! My Arizona Wildcats and one of the best players in the country in Scooby Wright. We're really projecting ahead here because he's only a sophomore. I'm sure he'll have a big decision to make in the future, but I love watching his play. The last time an Arizona player like this came out, I was pounding the table for the Patriots to take him. They listened to me then!

Q. Hi Tedy. I wanted to know your thoughts about Donta Hightower and the leadership role he has formed in this defense. -- Bob (Rhode Island)

A. Bob, I couldn't be more pleased to see 54 worn by Hightower. He's representing the number well.

Q. What adjustments did the offense make in the second half? They did not look good in the first half. -- Khalid (Germany)

A. Gronk.

Not much else needs to be said.