Even though they're on the bye week, there's plenty to discuss with the Patriots, and the readers have flooded the mailbag once again. Let's discuss Tom Brady's potential to break some records, Chad Ochocinco's struggles, Kevin Faulk's return and some issues with the defense.
Jeff, it feels like every season we hear about at least one or two new NFL records Tom Brady has broken, and right now all the talk is about Dan Marino's passing record. What significant football records are left that Brady hasn't broken? Which ones is he within reach of, and are they mostly fresh or long-standing records?–Sam (Somerville, Mass.)
Good question. Brady is still on pace to shatter Marino's single-season yardage record, which stands at 5,084 yards. Brady is on pace for 5,768 yards right now. Brady needs to average 293 yards per game for the rest of the season to top Marino's mark.
I'd say the two biggest career-long records would be passing touchdowns (Brett Favre threw 508) and passing yards (Favre had 71,838). Brady currently has 277 career touchdowns and 36,907 yards, so he's got almost no chance to break either record. Let's say Brady throws 23 more touchdowns this season (which would give him 39 touchdowns overall) to give him an even 300 for his career. He'd still need to average 42 per season (if he surpasses 30 touchdowns this season, it would only be the third time in his career) over the next five years to catch Favre. It's possible, but it's just not very realistic.
And since Brady is just a little more than halfway to Favre's yardage record, Brady would need to play into his mid-40s to have a chance to get to that mark.
If Brady gets to 50,000 yards and 400 touchdowns, he'd join Favre, Marino and Peyton Manning (who only needs one more touchdown) as the only players who have reached each plateau.
And finally, the one record Brady truly cares about — he'd like to join Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks to ever win four Super Bowls.
Rob Gronkowski is clearly better and more reliable than Aaron Hernandez, yet Hernandez is being targeted more. Why go with a fumbler when we've got a sure top-five tight end?–Lee (Boston)
There's no question that Gronkowski is a more complete player than Hernandez, but you can't really compare the two because they're used very differently. Hernandez has been a better option between the 20s because he's so good in space, and they use Gronkowski more in a blocking capacity there. If Gronkowski wasn't one of the league's elite blocking tight ends, he'd have more opportunities to catch passes. And if the Patriots wanted to put more responsibility on him as a receiver, he's got the ability to catch 90 balls.
Hernandez isn't on the same planet as Gronkowski in terms of blocking, and that's fine. He doesn't need to be. But Gronkowski is a much more dangerous threat in the red zone because he's a matchup nightmare from a physical sense.
Why won't Bill Belichick add a new piece to help our defense? I think a good veteran presence would go a long way in the playoffs. Your thoughts?–Brawn (Casco, Maine)
Not to be snarky here, but who exactly would you like them to add? If there's a free agent out there at this point in the season, it's for a reason — they're not very good. And in order to get a good player at the trade deadline, you've typically got to pay a hefty price because teams don't have fire sales like they do in the other three sports. I know Jared Allen and Robert Mathis (more on him later) came up as possibilities, but it might have taken as much as a first-round pick or a second-rounder and something else to get either one of those guys. I also don't believe the Vikings were incredibly interested in trading Allen, and if they did, they would have made sure they won the deal.
Safety Darren Sharper has been the biggest name thrown out there as a free agent, and the Patriots have worked him out. I just have to believe that since they didn't sign him — and because no one has signed him, for that matter — his name is more intriguing than what's left in his tank.
Why don't the Patriots do more of the no-huddle, particularly against good defenses? It seems to me they ought to put the foot on the gas and not let up until the final gun (even if not in no-huddle). Too often they get ahead and then take the foot off the gas (Buffalo?). And on the other side of the ball, does anyone hate the prevent defense as much as I? It seems you give up what you are trying to prevent but in smaller increments. So what has it prevented?–Allen Kuusela (Springfield, Vt.)
The offense has to pace itself. If they used the no-huddle all game, they could wear out the offensive linemen by the fourth quarter. Plus, they've got to give their own defense a chance to catch their breath. I understand the no-huddle isn't always the hurry-up with this offense, but they've got to stay balanced from a ball-control perspective.
I think they use the no-huddle smartly. They do it when they want to pick up the pace and force the defense into a pressure situation, and they also do it when they're trying to take advantage of a matchup. For instance, Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware came off the field during the Patriots' first touchdown drive Sunday, so the Patriots pushed the pace for their last two plays of the drive.
I don't like the prevent defense, either, but there's no problem using it at the end of the game in blowout. The one advantage is it forces the offense to take more time off the clock because it allows the offense to take shorter gains in the middle of the field.
What happen to the big guard from TCU? Did he come off the PUP list or get put on IR?–Ray Bergeron (Plantation, Fla.)
Marcus Cannon is still on the reserve/non-football injury list, and there's been no indication from the team when he'll be ready to practice. And while Cannon has been projected as a guard in the NFL, Belichick has alluded to his positional versatility, which makes me wonder if he could play tackle in the league, too. Obviously, the Patriots are set there now and in the future, so there might be more of a pressing need at guard, but it will be an interesting storyline once he's able to practice.
And while I'm on the subject, I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots re-signed Brian Waters next season. He's been their best offensive lineman this season, and he's everything you want from someone in the locker room, too.
Why did Tom Brady miss practice with the team?–Peter Filosa (Medfield, Mass.)
I don't think it's anything serious. I'm sure it was just a couple extra days of rest. Nothing to worry about there.
When are we going to cut Ochocinco? He is a $6 million waste and taking up a roster space needed for a more productive person like Kevin Faulk or Taylor Price.–Jim (Spencer, Mass.)
I understand the frustration with Ochocinco, but the money has already been guaranteed this season. If they cut him, they aren't saving anything from a financial standpoint. And even though he has definitely underperformed, there are two reasons to keep him around. First, they're banking on the hope that he'll be better at the end of the season and in the playoffs. Second, wide receiver Deion Branch has only played 16 games once in his career, so there's nothing wrong with having some depth at the position.
I'll get to Faulk later, but as for Price, well, Belichick wouldn't keep him on the bench if he deserved more reps. Price was set back due to his hamstring injury, and it obviously derailed his momentum from training camp and the preseason. But honestly, if Price deserved the reps over Ochocinco, he'd get them.
Why didn't the Patriots make a play for a Robert Mathis since we all know that he was available? And it's not like we don't have the draft picks to spare for him. It's just crazy. He would have given us that elite pass rusher we desperately need. And also, is something very wrong with Lofa Tatupu's knee because no one is picking him up, and wouldn't he be a good fit with us?–Steve (Myrtle Beach, S.C.)
The Patriots do have the assets — they've got a pair of first-rounders and second-rounders in the 2012 draft — and Mathis would definitely help the team, too. But take a step back for a second. Do you think Bill Polian would sleep well at night if he thought he was helping the Patriots get closer to a Super Bowl? Absolutely not. Let's say Polian would have traded Mathis for a second-round pick. If the Patriots called, I'm sure Polian would have wanted a first- and third-rounder.
As for Tatupu — and you're right, he would definitely fit well with the Patriots' 4-3 defense — the fact that he hasn't signed anywhere is a giant red flag to me. I don't know if there's an injury concern or a character issue, but he's been a high-quality player for a few years. I'm not sure what it is, but there's something going on behind the scenes with him. Think about it: We haven't even heard from teams saying they've worked him out. It's an odd situation.
With Kevin Faulk coming back, will the Pats keep five running backs?–@TButtner, via Twitter
Unless someone is injured, I believe they'll keep five running backs, just like the last two years. I don't think it's an ideal situation, but they can't cut any of their top-four guys. But don't be surprised if one of them somehow finds their way on injured reserve. Teams do that all the time to open a roster spot without the repercussions of losing a player.