Mike from Attleboro: Protecting the shield

873237.jpg

Mike from Attleboro: Protecting the shield

Mike from Attleboro -- the leading contributor to Michael Felger's old mailbag and one of Felger's favorite callers to his radio show -- is now contributing occasional pieces to CSNNE.com.

Its not often that a New England Patriots fan is in full agreement with the living embodiment of Patriot anti-matter, Bernard Pollard. But after two weeks of terrible scab officiating, you couldnt help but agree with him. Pollard, on 98.5s Toucher and Rich show, stated (at great risk to his checkbook) that These guys need to be out and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell needs to do more to fix the problem:

My issue is we have a commissioner that is jumping on board to hammer every other issue down in the NFL. He is jumping on board to get meetings with players when things are happening, but we have something on hand that is messing up the integrity of the league and nothing is being done about it.

Pollard is 100 percent correct and should be commended for saying so. The fact that the league is still locking out the officials at this point is an absolute joke. Allowing the best sports product in North America, and arguably the world, to suffer for the price of some benefits and pension plans is so myopic and foolish it defies logic.

When you realize that Roger Goodell is at the helm of the most moronic replacement plan since Coy and Vance took over for Bo and Luke Duke, it all starts to make a little more sense.

If there is one thing that the reign of the NFLs most despotic commissioner has shown us, its that there isnt a person, place or thing that Opie Goodell wont try to crush under foot if given the opportunity. In the past, the NFLs commissioners duty has been to Protect the Shield. Roger Goodell, on the other hand, isnt down with protecting it as much as he is with using it like Captain America to beat his foes into submission.

Protecting the shield is exactly what this situation requires. The game itself needs to be protected from a group of owners who think the officials are just another bunch of employees they can exploit and short change in negotiations. These arent run-of-the-mill, part-time employees. These are battle-tested arbiters of a fast-moving, violent, multibillion dollar product. They deserve to be compensated as such. If the uniform Narc who ratted out 49ers QB Alex Smith for wearing a San Francisco Giants hat at a press conference is important enough to get full benefits, giving them to the refs is a no-brainer, part-time or not.

Even more so, the on-field product needs to be protected from the type of doubt and skepticism that shadow the NBAs every move. The biggest officiating controversy the NFL has had in the last decade was due to Walt Coleman correctly enforcing the tuck rule in a Patriots-Raiders game during the divisional round of the 2001 NFL playoffs. David Stern would move the Lakers back to Minneapolis in exchange for that kind of officiating competence.

Instead of giving up a fraction of a fraction of a 9 billion pie, Roger Goodell has led the owners down a path that may lead to irreparable damage. In the leadup to the season, Goodell said the replacements would do a very credible job and short-term sacrifices were needed to ensure long-term success. This statement on its own is delusional enough to have Goodell removed and committed. But when you consider that Goodell has had the leagues officials under his purview since 2001 and already witnessed one officiating lockout, it now becomes a case of deliberate and premeditated negligence.

During the 2001 referee lockout, the league was able to get a much better caliber of replacement official. During that lockout, the entire preseason and one regular-season week passed largely without incident. The events of September 11th helped to accelerate an agreement and this dispute became a minor footnote of commissioner Paul Tagliabues tenure.

This lockout, on the other hand, left the league skimming the bottom of the football officiating barrel. Instead of continuing with the lockout, Goodell should have seen the futility of trying to replace veteran NFL officials with Lingerie League rejects in the preseason and advised the owners to settle. Instead of being forced to send press releases reminding players and coaches to make nice with the scabs, Goodell should have seen that star-struck replacements would get intimidated and bullied into bad calls and reversals. Instead of letting these replacements take the field with little or no league vetting, Goodell should have pulled some of his gestapo off the Bountygate witchhunt and had them make sure that they arent in fantasy leagues. Or that a Saints fan isnt officiating a Saints game!!!

Given the way NFL football and gambling are indivisibly linked, Roger Goodell should be thanking John Facenda that his replacements have been outed only as star-struck fantasy players and not gridiron versions of Tim Donaghy. Spared such a disaster, he should have been hauling the owners back to the bargaining table yesterday.

But Goodell is too stubborn to swallow his pride and do whats right. Hes so obsessed with being the worlds toughest paper pusher that he refuses to see the crippling threat to his leagues credibility hovering right under his double chin. Opie thought the fallout from Spygate was a bad scene? The meltdown that would result from a Donaghy-level incident in the NFL would dwarf what a thousand Barnard Pollards could do to the Patriots.

Hopefully, the myriad of catastrophes that could fall upon the league finally become evident to Roger Goodell. Then he can stop using the Shield like his personal cudgel and actually protect it for once.

Friday Bag: What’s the Patriots' future at running back look like?

Friday Bag: What’s the Patriots' future at running back look like?

Every Friday Tom E. Curran, Mike Giardi and Phil Perry will take your Patriots questions (Curran is sitting this one out) on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or a Friday Bag, as they call it. 

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag.

MG: Q leading off my portion of the always popular, always exciting, always (occasionally?) informative #FridayBag. I think it would be easy to think that way from the outside looking in, or knowing how callous some organizations can be, but I just don’t believe that to be the case here. Players talk. Agents talk. Hell, coaches talk. If the Pats were to operate that way, it would get around the league in a heartbeat. Then why would someone want to play here knowing they’ll be treated even more like a disposable commodity then normal? The flip side to this is actually protecting the player from himself. Guys in the last year of a deal sometimes feel compelled to play through every damn thing so they can at least say “look at me, I’m a warrior!” And on that note, I’d sit Marty Bennett next week in Denver and probably the following week against the Jets if that will help the ankle and whatever else is ailing him heal to the point where he’s a hell of a lot more effective than what we just saw versus the Rams (He was awful). Bennett’s too valuable going forward. 

MG: Lisa, my understanding is teams nominate their player and then it goes to a panel (one that includes the NFL Commish) to decide who wins for the league (It was Anquan Boldin in 2015). Can’t quibble with Rob Gronkowski being the team’s nominee this year. People have no idea how much he does for the community. Heck, we don’t even know the extent of it, but the great Don Rodman of Rodman Car Dealer fame and one of the most incredibly charitable individuals to ever grace this area said that there are few if any athletes who devote more time and effort to charitable works/foundations. I hope he wins. It would mean a lot to Gronk.

MG: You never figured you’d have to worry about the offense, did you Steve? But the season-ending injury to Gronk and now the injury to Danny Amendola does concern me. Both of those guys are incredibly reliable 3rd down targets, and in Gronk’s case, he’s usually the first or second option on 3rd down. Bennett hasn’t been able to pick up the slack because he’s clearly not healthy either. That means the Pats and Josh McDaniels will be going through a trial and error period here to best determine how to improve that number and become more efficient. I suspect more will fall on Julian Edelman, but also look for the continued evolution of the two back set with James White and Dion Lewis.

MG: Ambrose, the Pats have remained incredibly committed to the run because they don’t want to find themselves in the same spot they were a year ago, when the run game was so pathetic that neither Miami in the regular season finale nor Denver in the AFC title game paid it one mind. That means rushers pinning their ears back and smashing into Tom Brady at rates no one is comfortable with. So while I won’t be surprise if Brady throws it 45 times, I don’t think they shelve the ground game, at least in the first half. 

MG: Ok Bunk, I stole a comment of yours for the mailbag. Trying to make you famous…yes, I stand by my tweet in which I stated the Ravens and Broncos are bigger threats than the Chiefs or Raiders. Oakland’s defense would give up 40 to Brady. 45 if the Pats needed it. Or 50. I’m dead serious. As for the Chiefs, Alex Smith is not coming into Foxboro and beating this team, even with some of it’s defensive issues. And Belichick will make damn sure that rookie Hill doesn’t get many cracks at touching the football in the return game. Oh, and now the Chiefs best linebacker, Johnson, is out for the year with an Achilles. Should I continue???

MG: History tells us no, David. Brady would throw a fit and argue that he needs to play to remain sharp or iron out this problem or that problem. There’s also the possibility of a bye week looming, meaning he’d go 3 weeks without actually playing in a game. Seems like a good idea in the sense that you don’t risk a 39-year old to a blindside shot, but neither he nor Belichick would ever go for it.

PP: The running back position might be the toughest to project moving forward because there are so many injuries there and there are so many backs who come from nowhere to earn significant roles. I'll say this though: The backs they have on the roster -- not including Brandon Bolden, who has turned into strictly a special teamer after having a difficult time holding onto the football this year -- don't seem to be slowing down. LeGarrette Blount just turned 30 but is in the middle of his best season. Dion Lewis looks strong after two surgeries. James White has taken his game to a new level in his third season. I could see the same group coming back next season, but given the volatility of the position, you know the Patriots will always be scouring for talent there. 

PP: Tom E. touched on this yesterday, Big Wally. Brandon Pettigrew, who was released by the Lions on Friday, might make sense. Otherwise, there's not a whole lot out there. Zach Sudfeld? He's available. Would be an unlikely reunion, but desperate times . . . I think the Patriots will continue to roll out Martellus Bennett at less than 100 percent. I think Matt Lengel could see more work as a blocking tight end as he becomes more familiar with the system. I think we'll see more Cameron Fleming, and we could see more two-back sets with no tight ends. In my opinion, Bennett could use a rest, but I don't think it's coming any time soon. As far as Sarge's question about the hurry-up, I'm not sure we'll start to see more that. It's possible, but one of the benefits with the hurry-up is to keep a defense from substituting to shift matchups in its favor. With Gronkowski or Bennett on the field in a hurry-up situation would have even further highlighted the matchup issues they present. If either one found himself with a slow linebacker on him, the Patriots could have rushed to the line and continued...to exploit...that matchup. Without Gronkowski and without Bennett at full strength, the advantage of the no-huddle is somewhat sapped.  

PP: It's so late into the season, I'm not sure there's much in the way of opportunity for a breakout game this week, Paul. I guess the obvious choice would be Griff Whalen. If he can give the Patriots a pair of sure hands as a punt-returner, that would be a significant enough add that I might qualify it as a "breakout." Bill Belichick made it clear this morning that the team views him as more than just a returner, though, so he could see some offensive snaps in four-receiver sets and provide the Patriots with a presence in the slot. I'd deem a four-catch, 50-yard performance as a "breakout" as well. To me, that's the range of his ceiling for this week. One other name as a potential "breakout" candidate? Justin Coleman. He could be used defensively after being inactive for the last three weeks due to Eric Rowe's hamstring injury. If he's able to help slow down the combination of Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and Steve Smith, that'd be a breakout in my book. 

PP: The combined record of opponents they've beaten is actually 26-57-1, including the Browns 0-12 mark twice, but now it's out there. 'Preciate you, Dave!

PP:  There's still so much up for grabs in the AFC West that it's hard to determine the likelihood of Patriots playoff matchups and where those games will be. However, without getting into the nitty gritty details, I'll just point out that it's still possible that the Patriots end up on the road in either of these cities in the postseason. On the road, Denver is the tougher matchup. Always has been a brutal place for the Patriots to play, and Denver's defense is still good enough to cause them problems. At home? I'd say, of these two teams, Kansas City would be the one that would provide the Patriots with a slightly tougher test. In my mind, they're a little more balanced and I have more faith in Alex Smith to make plays than I do Trevor Siemien.

Friday's Patriots-Ravens practice report: Richards returns to the field

Friday's Patriots-Ravens practice report: Richards returns to the field

Friday's practice participation/injury report for Monday night's Patriots-Ravens game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
TE Martellus Bennett (ankle/shoulder)
DB Jordan Richards (knee)
LB Elandon Roberts (hamstring)
DB Eric Rowe (hamstring)
WR/SpT Matthew Slater (foot)

BALTIMORE RAVENS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
TE Crockett Gilmore (thigh)
LB Terrell Suggs (not injury related)
RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh)
C Jeremy Zuttah (not injury related)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
G Alex Lewis (ankle)

FULL PARTICIPATION
G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)