Mixed reaction to Packers loss

GREEN BAY TO SAN DIEGO -- The New England Patriots had their seven-game winning streak snapped by the Green Bay Packers, and there is an unusual mix of reaction in this week's mailbag.

Some view the game from the "good loss" category, if there is such a thing. The Patriots showed a lot of fight in a tough place to play, and they had a chance to win if a play or two went in a different direction.

Others aren't so positive and see a similar pattern to the way some recent seasons have ended -- an offense that sputtered in the big game and a defense struggling to get off the field on third down.

I'd put myself somewhere in the middle, but closer to the first category if forced to choose.

As we all know, the result now lessens the team's margin for error when it comes to securing home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. If the Patriots win out, they will be the No. 1 seed. But the Broncos are in position to capitalize on one more Patriots loss.

So now it's on to Sunday night's game against the Chargers, and I've watched their two most recent games to get familiar with them. The biggest compliment I can give the Chargers is that they remind me of the Patriots in the sense of how they fight; if you're going to beat them, you have to knock them out. I view Mike McCoy as one of the underrated head coaches in the game, as the Chargers have shown a knack for excelling in the "situational football" that is often preached in New England.

So I'm expecting another tightly contested game Sunday night and am anxious to see how the Patriots respond.

Q. Mike, as a football fan, it seems like there is a lot more to talk about after a loss. That said, the voices out of the Patriots locker room were probably the most accurate -- it was a big test, they played a good team and that team better executed. Are there any areas of concern you see that showed up in this game? -- ECF (Washington, D.C.)

A. It always comes back to health, first and foremost, so wide receiver Julian Edelman's status would be a concern if he remains limited/hobbled. Otherwise, I'd say it's more of a confidence thing with some of the reserve defensive backs, just ensuring they have a short memory, put that one behind them, and raise their level of play. Not every team is going to successfully be able to attack them with Nos. 3, 4 and 5 options, but the Packers really put a target on the back of Logan Ryan, for example. How does he respond? Finally, I think the Patriots can expect to see some opposing wide receivers in the backfield in their upcoming games. That was successful for the Packers, and as they say, the NFL is a copycat league. Let's see how the Patriots counter that approach from someone else after having it hurt them against the Packers.

Q. In true Julian Edelman character, he gutted it out with his injury in the fourth quarter. However, might it be wise to hold him out of the Chargers' game to get him healthy. Thoughts? -- Jake M. (Vancouver, BC)

A. Jake, it caught my eye that Edelman was only on the field for two of the final seven snaps on offense. Overall, I charted him on the field for 41-of-57 offensive snaps (including penalties, but not kneel-downs). That tells you he was really hurting (appeared to be left thigh), because it takes a lot to keep him off the field. We should get a better feel for his status Wednesday, but I saw him in the locker room after the game, and he indicated he was doing OK.

Q. Hi Mike, two areas of concern for me are the O-line and the D-Line. I thought Aaron Rodgers had way too much time to pass Sunday. In particular, on the play to get the third down to ice the game, he had all day back there. The O-Line also had issues . In particular, Nate Solder had a lot of trouble with Clay Matthews. I hope this does not end up being their Achilles heel. I'd like to hear your thoughts. 00 Rob C. (Litchfield, N.H.)

A. Rob, the defensive line was playing very conservatively as part of the overall game plan of staying disciplined with the rush and attempting to keep Aaron Rodgers in the pocket. There was one time, for example, when the Patriots rushed just two players (fourth quarter, 13:02) and dropped nine into coverage. Those who do rush can definitely win some more one-on-one battles, but overall I don't think we'll see that type of plan again for the Patriots. As for the offensive line, this wasn't its best day, which really showed up in the third quarter. Overall, I thought a lot was asked of it, and more of a commitment to the running game could have helped.

Q. Mike, what happened to the defense? Those problems that we saw last year came right back. The inability to get off the field on third down, penalties at the worst time, giving up almost 500 yards of offense, lack of a big pass rush. The big question is: Is this an aberration or a reason to be concerned? -- Alan W. (Boston)

A. Alan, I thought Devin McCourty summed it up best when he said, "One encouraging thing is that we didn't play great throughout the whole game, but we still gave ourselves a chance to win at the end." I don't think it's a reason to be concerned as much as it was a result of playing against arguably the NFL's best quarterback on the road. Sometimes you just have to give the other team credit, and I see this as one of those cases. As for the pass rush, the Patriots need to win some more one-on-one matchups, but their top priority was more about mirroring Rodgers and protecting against his ability to extend plays outside the pocket than it was sending a lot of extra pressure at him. One time they did send extra pressure, with five rushers, and it resulted in a 45-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Jordy Nelson. We can debate if using the "calculated rush" throughout the game was the right approach, but in the end, they still had a chance to win if a play or two goes in the other direction. So it wasn't like it was negligent.

Q. Mike, one thing to note from Sunday's loss: The Patriots held the Packers to only 3 points (would have been 6 if Mason Crosby makes the 40-yard field goal) in the second half. I'm guessing that was the result of adjustments made at halftime, specifically as it relates to the way the DBs matched up against their WRs. After watching the game film, can you identify the DB/WR matchups that worked the best? -- Scott (Charlotte, N.C.)

A. Scott, I focused a lot on the way the matchups evolved over the course of the game in the quarter-by-quarter film review pieces. I think one should also factor in Davante Adams had a would-be touchdown slip through his hands in the fourth quarter. In the end, it was a "limited-possession" half, with each team having four possessions, so each miscue or made play is magnified a bit more. For Green Bay, it's also important to note that the final possession ran out the clock, which accomplished its goal. For New England, I thought the defense did a nice job in the third quarter, setting a few third-and-longs as a result of some disciplined team play, which included some creative scheming with a unique three-man rush on Dont'a Hightower's sack. Here are my quarter reviews: First, second, third, fourth.

Q. Mike, I don't understand the prevailing media sentiment that the Patriots played the Packers tough and maintained their perch as AFC favorites. I think the score made the game seem closer than it was. To me, this game felt like similar losses we have seen in recent years against good teams on the road: Can't get off the field on third down, creating lopsided time of possession, which puts increased pressure on each offensive opportunity which could not be maximized because the opposing D creates just enough pressure to throw Brady a bit off his game. The Pats only lost by five, but to my eye test it felt like they lost by 25. The Patriots will likely need to now win out to maintain the No. 1 seed, which is the absolute key to the season. Based on what I saw Sunday, they are not winning the AFC Championship game in Denver. This is a long way of suggesting that you will be able to draw a direct line from this week's game in San Diego to Glendale or another season of close but not quite good enough. Thoughts? -- Drew (Worcester, Massachusetts)

A. It's interesting, Drew, because I think there's a balance to strike here. The Patriots absolutely played the Packers tough. That was a victory that had to be earned, as the Patriots have proven that they are tough to knock out. At the same time, when I reviewed the game Monday, there were more breakdowns and miscues than I was expecting to see. So I understand where you are coming from. At the same time, I wouldn't draw a line and say, "This means they can't win a Super Bowl." I don't think that's the case at all. They've shown they can do it. I believe they are still a prime contender. If not them, who are you picking? Let me know and we'll go over their flaws, too, because there are no perfect teams.

Q. Hi Mike, do you think the travel decision for the Packers and Chargers games could potentially come back to bite the Patriots? I'm wondering if changes in planning and personnel decisions necessitated by the travel schedule could be a potential distraction. Do you think players will suffer from being shaken out of their routines? -- Bob (Washington, D.C.)

A. Bob, I don't think it will be an issue. In fact, this experience can bring a team closer together. Maybe the one issue is for a player such as receiver Aaron Dobson, who injured his hamstring and might benefit more from being at home. Overall, though, I thought team president Jonathan Kraft's remarks on practicing in California explained the situation nicely.

Q. I've been a Pats fan since the Steve Grogan era. Since they are practicing in southern California this week leading up to the Chargers game, is there an "open to the public" practice time where I could stop by and see them? -- Jim B. (Lake Forest, California)

A. Jim, unfortunately those practices are not just closed to the public, but the majority of them are also closed to reporters.

Q. Packers receiver Davante Adams seemed to get separation from Patriots defenders by pushing off on offensive pass interference, which was never called by this officiating crew. I feel we got jobbed by the officials. Your thoughts? -- JIm I. (Spencer, Massachusetts)

A. Jim, I thought the calls evened out over the course of the game, and they were not the reason for the final result. Adams absolutely got away with a push-off against Alfonzo Dennard. One could argue that the Patriots, in turn, caught a break with Rob Gronkowski pushing off, or Julian Edelman drawing a penalty when he ran into a defender. Here is what Bill Belichick had to say about Ed Hochuli's officiating crew when asked during his weekly interview on WEEI: "We all make mistakes in the games -- coaches, players and officials, and all that. Nobody makes them intentionally. I thought Ed Hochuli and that crew, they are one of the better crews that we have. I think Ed Hochuli does a great job of keeping the games under control, and kind of letting the players play but not allowing any cheap after-the-play type stuff, which I didn't think was a part of the game yesterday, like maybe it was the week before [against the Lions]. I think that crew did a good job."

Q. Can't feel too disappointed by Sunday's loss. Even though the Pats didn't play at their best, it was still a game with just over two minutes left. My biggest takeaway from this game is the coaching staff. I think they may have overthought themselves with the game-plan. The Patriots coaching staff is the best in the league, but is it safe to say they had an "off" week? -- Inamik (Germantown, Maryland)

A. I think it's fair to say the Packers had the upper hand, with some creative wrinkles such as putting receiver Randall Cobb in the backfield at times. You could see the respect that Bill Belichick showed Mike McCarthy after the game, and I thought that was notable from Belichick. I wouldn't call it an "off" day because they had a chance to win the game in the end, but like others, I was surprised they didn't go with the power running game a bit more.

Q. Mike, my question is around the initial game plan. GB was ranked 30th overall in rush defense. I am not buying the argument that if the Patriots had the ball longer we would have run more. We ran the ball 18 times. Why would we do that against a team that was ranked 30th? I think the game-plan from an offensive standpoint was lousy. -- Kevin G. (Tacoma, Washington)

A. Kevin, I thought they could have run it more. Like you, I was a bit surprised at the approach, and I asked Bill Belichick about it after the game. One example I'd use is the second drive of the game -- pass, pass, pass. Another example would be the first play of the third quarter -- a pass despite having run-based personnel in the game (fullback James Develin), and when there was a holding penalty, it set up first-and-20, and you're forced into a pass at that point. I think it's an overall mindset and mentality, and I felt like they got away from that a bit, made life harder on their offensive line, and didn't help the defense by trying to slow things down and keep Aaron Rodgers off the field a bit longer with more of a power running approach.

Q. Hi Mike, my question concerns the Pats' run game. When they brought back LeGarrette Blount, my initial thought was that they would split carries between him and Jonas Gray in order to keep them fresh for 10-15 carries each, but so far Gray has been non-existent. Was the Blount signing a way of replacing Gray, or are they planning on using both Blount and Gray in tandem? -- Al (Worcester, Massachusetts)

A. Al, I truly believe that was the intention. But things can change fast in the NFL, and when Gray overslept and Blount ran well in his place, there's an element of riding the hot hand that comes into play. I think that's what we're seeing right now.

Q. What is wrong with Logan Ryan? Last year he held his own against great offenses like the Colts and the Broncos, but now he can't stay with Davante Adams. It seems like the sophomore slump is much worse for our players than other teams. -- Javier (Raleigh, North Carolina)

A. Javier, the Packers really attacked Ryan, and then his replacement Kyle Arrington, and then his replacement Alfonzo Dennard, before the game ended with Ryan back on the field and once again being targeted. The coverage wasn't tight enough at times. Other times, I thought it was very good. That's football. I don't think this is the time to be making any definitive judgments or calling out the cornerbacks coach, which some emailers have done. Last week, Ryan had an interception, and I didn't hear any of that stuff.

Q. Mike, I am confused: What has happened to Malcolm Butler? The last game he played meaningful defensive snaps he seemed to hold his own against Denver (specifically Emmanuel Sanders). I understand he had special-teams miscues against the Colts, but strictly as a DB he would have had more value on the game-day roster than Brian Tyms, Dobson or even Gray. Thoughts? -- Abigail (Sacramento, California)

A. My sense of it is that the Patriots wanted to see if they could get Alfonzo Dennard going, as he's proven himself at this level a bit longer, and we're now in the homestretch of the season. In doing so, it cost Butler a spot on the 46-man game-day roster. I could envision a scenario where that changes this week.

Q. Mike, I am a bit confused why the Pats continue to activate receiver Brian Tyms but not use him. He does not contribute at all on special teams. Seems like Sunday would have been a opportunity to take a few shots deep. Seems to be wasting a roster spot. -- Dominick (Iowa City, Iowa)

A. He was basically a layer of insurance with Brandon LaFell (shoulder) not 100 percent, and now with Aaron Dobson injuring his hamstring (wouldn't be surprised if he lands on injured reserve), I think Tyms' standing looks fairly secure. They didn't run a lot of three-receiver sets in the game, which meant it was mostly Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman. No need to tinker with that.