When wins become losses and the blame game

915093.jpg

When wins become losses and the blame game

In the NFL, the line between victory and defeat is thinner than a goal post upright. So often these games, wins and losses, are decided by one play a missed field goal, a broken tackle, a turnover, a blown assignment. However, in the aftermath, it's never about just one play. Instead, these singular plays set off a chain reaction of revisionist history. In depth, after-the-fact evaluations of why a team lost, why a team won, who deserves the game ball and who deserves a pink slip.

Its too bad, really. But theres nothing we can do about it. Over the course of 60 minutes, the plays both good and bad come so fast and furious that its impossible to digest them in real time. Its impossible to evaluate their role in victory or defeat until we see what happens next, even if what happens next isn't always a product of what happened before.

For instance, if Adam Vinatieri missed his game-winner in Super Bowl XXXVI, wed have no reason to remember J.R. Redmond in New England. If in turn, the Rams had won that game in overtime, the most heroic performance of Tom Brady's career would be remembered as an underwhelming afternoon 16 of 27 for 145 yards and a TD.

If David Tyree doesn't make that catch in Super Bowl XLII, Asante Samuels blown interception wouldnt exist. If Eli Manning hadnt found Plaxico Burress a few plays later, neither would Tyree. Is Wes Welkers drop remembered as the reason New England lost Super Bowl XLVI if Mario Manningham doesn't make his own miraculous catch? Nope. But today, and forever, Brady and Welker blew that game. Maybe it's unfair, but that's reality.

As is this: With one stop down the stretch yesterday in Seattle, the Patriots would have flown home last night on top of the world. They would have gone into one of the NFL's most intimidating stadiums, against one of the NFL's most heralded defenses, and come home with an impressive, hard-fought victory. In that moment, it wouldn't have mattered how they won, just that they won that they survived and we would have all turned the page, feeling good about the Pats chances next week against the Jets and every step after that.

But Russell Wilson-to-Sidney Rice changed all that. One play one act of pathetic coverage by two rookie defensive backs changed everything. Of course, it wasn't just them, but in a way, it was just them.

If Tavon Wilson finds a way to stick with Rice and break up that pass, would you give a damn about Tom Brady's first half intentional grounding? Of course not. But today, Brady's decision is a problem. Somehow, that's a major reason New England lost a game that they led 23-10 with nine minutes left and a greater indicator of Brady's waning talents. If Nate Ebner takes a better route and disturbs Rice's concentration, would the sky still be falling? Would Tony Dungy have gone on national TV and gotten away with calling the Patriots an "average NFL team"? Of course not. Instead, we'd all be lauding New England's toughness and perseverance. In fact, with the Texans getting destroyed at home against the Packers, and the Ravens defense falling apart in Baltimore, we may have even used this game as an argument for why New England's the cream of the AFC crop.

One drive. One 46-yard touchdown pass. Two NFL Draft no-names.

Now obviously there's a happy medium between merely chalking everything up to one bad play, and over-reacting to the various plays that came before it. Even if Wilson and Ebner had come through, it would have been equally careless to ignore the obvious problems in New England's secondary, some of Brady's poor decisions and the lack of consistency and cohesiveness that the Pats showed on both sides of the ball. But the point is that it's never that easy. On either side. So much happens down the stretch in these games that it's like a weekly NFL version of Sliding Doors. One thing happens and everything is different. There are at least 20 things that could have occurred plays that could have been made that would have rendered Wilson and Ebner's coverage insignificant. If that sounds confusing, that's because it is; because there's no right way to properly evaluate and appropriately dish out the blame for everything that happened yesterday in Seattle.

But we can say this: There was a time in Patriot history when we didn't need to worry about this stuff. There was a time when, regardless of all the craziness that might unfold down the stretch, we had faith that despite mistakes that were made and shortcomings that existed, that the Patriots would find a way to come out on top. That when it came time to execute those plays make those field goals, break those tackles, cause those turnovers and be there in that coverage New England would be there. The Patriots would step up and save us from falling into the funk that we're feeling this morning.

In 2012, the expectation is the opposite. It's no longer: "OK, calm down. They got this . . . they got this . . ." It's: "Man, how are they gonna find a way to blow this one?"

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Mayock: Under-the-radar tight ends, defensive backs could interest Patriots

ap_760298810600.jpg

Mayock: Under-the-radar tight ends, defensive backs could interest Patriots

Until the tidal wave of free-agent moves comes crashing down in March, it's not exactly clear what anyone's needs are in this year's draft. But that won't keep us from guessing with the NFL Scouting Combine taking place this week in Indy.

From a Patriots perspective, they may need a tight end to provide some Rob Gronkowski insurance, especially if Martellus Bennett leaves town for the highest bidder. Defensively, they might be looking at big bodies up front or linebackers. They could also choose to dip into one of the deeper position groups in this year's class -- defensive back -- if they're taking a strict best-player-available approach. 

No matter which spots they're thinking about in this year's draft, the Patriots have a pretty well-defined set of likes and dislikes when it comes to prospect traits. That's what allows someone like NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock -- who held a marathon two-hour conference call with reporters from around the country on Monday -- to make an educated guess on the types of players Bill Belichick will be thinking about in late April. 

At tight end, Mayock thinks Alabama's OJ Howard is a perfect match for New England. He can catch. He can block. He's an athlete. He came up in Nick Saban's program. The only problem is there seems to be very little chance Howard is available at pick No. 32. 

The good news for the Patriots? It's such a deep tight end class, Mayock rattled off a handful of other names who could potentially find themselves in a huddle looking at Tom Brady in 2017. 

"As you drop down and look at the other tight ends after [Howard], there's some really good pass-catching tight ends that would be more like an [Aaron] Hernandez," Mayock said. "You start talking about David Njoku of Miami, he's an absolute freak, and he's also tough enough to learn how to block. Again, I don't know if he gets to the Patriots [at No. 32].

"Evan Engram and Gerald Everett are the two guys that are kind of the move wide receiver tight end. They can play in the slot. Jake Butt had an ACL at Michigan at the end of his season, but he's one of those in-line blockers. Tough guy. Good enough athletically to catch the ball short and intermediate.

"This is a great tight end class. You can get second and third-round tight ends that make a lot of sense. I think down the road a little bit, Michael Roberts from Toledo is a big guy that needs to block better, but he's got some pass catching skills. New England's going to have their choice of a bunch of different tight ends in this draft and get them in the first three rounds."

Defensive back is another area where the Patriots may be able to wait to find an impact player, Mayock suggested. One of the first names that popped into Mayock's mind when it comes to what intrigues Belichick was a safety who played his college ball in the area.

"I think a guy that would have to be interesting to New England is Obi Melifonwu from Connecticut," he said. "Six-foot-4, 219 [pounds], and he's probably going to run sub 4.5 [40-yard dash]. If he runs in that range, I think teams are going to start looking at him as a corner and a safety.

"The reason I think New England, with Matt Patricia, I think they're the best matchup group in the league. Look what they did with Eric Rowe from the Eagles, what they did with [Kyle] Van Noy -- two guys that were kind of cast-offs. They brought them there for matchup reasons. That's what they do. I look at Melifonwu, he looks like a guy that could cover a tight end one week and go out wide and cover a big wideout the next week. I think he'd be interesting.

"[Another] a really good football player that nobody talks about is Lorenzo Jerome of Saint Francis. And what he runs this week is going to be important. But I think he can play both safety positions, and he's really, really a good football player. Like him a lot . . .

"Other names: Des King, who is a corner from Iowa that I think is going to be a nickel or safety, and I think New England always has success moving those guys around a little bit . . . I like Des King; I like Kevin King from Washington who is a corner that can play some free safety; and I like Chidobe Awuzie from Colorado, who (is a corner that) I think might be better off as a safety."

Could Adrian Peterson be a fit with the Patriots?

Could Adrian Peterson be a fit with the Patriots?

Will Brinson of CBS Sports talks with Toucher and Rich about speculation that Vikings running back Adrian Peterson could be a fit with the Patriots this offseason, and if not New England, then who?