Not as easy as it looked

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Not as easy as it looked

By Michael Felger

Four quick thoughts from a terrific NFL Sunday:

Credit the Patriots win on Sunday night to Aaron Rodgers' concussion. If the Packers starter played, it's hard to imagine the Packers would have burned the clock like they did late in the game and it's hard to imagine the Pats, given the way they were playing, would have been able to stop him. As it was, the Pats made Matt Flynn look like a star (or at least Colt McCoy) and won only thanks to a pair of unlikely returns one by guard Dan Connolly of all people, and another by corner Kyle Arrington.

The Pats were not particularly sharp offensively or defensively on this night, but they made just enough plays on both sides of the ball to eek out the victory. That's an improvement from the last time they looked like this, Nov. 7 at Cleveland, when their mistakes proved fatal. This time, they just proved a nuisance.

Still, Bill Belichick will have plenty of teachable moments to show his team. Ideally, this will be the kind of reality check game the Browns contest was, only without the negative impact of a defeat.

Then again, the Pats had been playing so well recently that a more human performance was probably in the cards. And it may very well show the fans the reality of the situation: The path to the Super Bowl won't be as easy as the Pats were making it look.

I don't know how you feel about it, but I consider the Colts winning over Jacksonville to be a mediocre result for the Patriots.

With the win, the Colts assumed the lead in the AFC South, and if the season ended today they would hold the No. 4 seed. As of now, that makes them the Pats' most likely opponent for their first playoff game at Gillette Stadium next month. (The Pats, as the presumed No. 1 seed, will face the lowest remaining seed in the AFC in the divisional round. If both home teams win on wild card weekend at this point that would be the Chiefs and Colts then the Pats get Indy).

I'd rather face any other team in the AFC than the Colts.

The history is well-known. Peyton Manning and Indy came into Foxboro last month having won five of the last six meetings with Belichick, and only a diving James Sanders interception in the closing moments prevented that run from going to 6-of-7.

Yes, the Pats defense has improved. Yes, Manning's offense has been depleted by injuries (Austin Collie suffered another concussion yesterday). Yes, the game will be played outside in January, and Manning has only rarely played well in those conditions. I understand all those things.

And I still don't want to face the guy. He figured you out a long time ago.

Disagree?

Great win for the Jets in Pittsburgh. One of those statements games. They may not be as good as the Pats, but they don't suck. They're a worthy playoff team. They are NOT the "same old Jets."

All that being said, they still do stupid things as a team and a coaching staff that will eventually catch up to them. Two things stood out in Pittsburgh:

The first was the way they defended Ben Roethlisberger. The book on the Steelers quarterback is well known: His best plays come off scrambles. He loves rolling right and throwing into the right flat. He's not as effective staying on the spot, or scrambling left. Everyone knows this.

So what did the Jets do? They sent blitz after blitz off Roethlisberger's left side, forcing him out of the pocket to his right. The results were predictable: Roethlisberger shredded them on third downs

The other was the Jets total lack of clock awareness in the final five minutes. On several occasions, Jets ball carriers stepped out of bounds, stopping the clock and allowing the Steelers to preserve time outs. Receiver Braylon Edwards did it twice. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson did it at least once. And if that wasn't bad enough, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer kept calling pass plays, most of which naturally fell incomplete, again stopping the clock and allowing the Steelers to keep their stoppages.

Brutal.

Finally, after what happened yesterday in New York, how can you not want Michael Vick and the Eagles in the Super Bowl, should the Patriots make it that far?

I know some of you want revenge on the Giants. And I know some would like the fireworks associated with a matchup against the Saints for Falcons. A few of you would appreciate an easy matchup with Chicago.

But come on. There is no more exciting or controversial player in the NFL than Vick. It's guaranteed entertainment both during the week (can you imagine the dog nuts in Dallas?) and come game time. That's the matchup I want.

The only downside, and it's a significant one, is having to share the city of Dallas with the knuckle-draggers from Philadelphia. I'll just be sure to bring the Hazmat suit.

The report card will post Tuesday morning. E-mail Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to Felger on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

PFT: Belichick can still diagram his dad’s Navy plays from 1959

PFT: Belichick can still diagram his dad’s Navy plays from 1959

CBS interviewed Patriots coach Bill Belichick and 1960 Heisman winner Joe Bellino from Navy as part of its Army-Navy Game coverage Saturday.

Belichick's father, Steve, was an assistant coach at Navy when Bellino played there, and little Bill, then 7, took it all in. So much so, that 57 years later, Belichick can still diagram the 27 F Trap play that his dad used to drew up in the 1959 season for Bellino.

More from NBC Sports' Pro Football Talk here.

 

Curran: To gauge Patriots' plans for Jimmy G, look to Brissett

Curran: To gauge Patriots' plans for Jimmy G, look to Brissett

When trying to figure out what the Patriots will ultimately do with Jimmy Garoppolo, forget about the speculation and instead focus on the little things the team does. 

Like how they are tending to Jacoby Brissett. 

After having thumb surgery on Oct. 7, Brissett was put on IR. But the team used its one "Get off of IR free card" on Brissett and he's been practicing with the team for the past couple of weeks while not taking up a roster spot. 

That alone isn't compelling evidence that he's the backup-in-waiting and Garoppolo's about to be packed up and shipped out, argued my compadre, Senator Phil Perry. The team had no other players on IR that they could use the designation on at the time. Why not use it on Brissett?

Prior to that, though, we've seen Brissett accompanying the team to away games including the cross-country junket to San Francisco. A reason? Since the Patriots played three straight at Gillette at the start of the season when Brissett was the direct backup to Garoppolo, he didn't get a good look at the road operation and the tempo of being the visiting team. How things work on flights, in meetings, at opposing stadiums and on the sidelines is worth getting a promising young players' eyes on. Also, getting his offensive teammates used to having him around is probably an even bigger benefit. It's not unprecedented to have IR players travel but its not conventional practice either. 

With so many quarterback-needy teams around the league, Garoppolo is perhaps the most attractive option out there. By the end of this year, he will have apprenticed three seasons behind the best quarterback of all-time in a sophisticated offense for a program that's as demanding as any in the league. In the 1 1/2 games he was able to play as a starter in place of Tom Brady, he was sensational.

He got hurt and that's not great. But any team making a deal for him that has concerns about his durability can take him for a spin for one season. Garoppolo is on the books for $825K in 2017 and then his contract is up. The team that dealt for him can franchise him if they need another season to think on it. 

I don't think the Patriots are itching to move Garoppolo. They know they are sitting comfortably with a stack of the most valuable commodity in the sport -- good quarterbacks (or at least one great one and two promising ones) - piled in front of them. They can let the game come to them. 

If it does, as former Patriots executive and Bill Belichick consigliere Mike Lombardi thinks it will, the Patriots can rest easy dealing Garoppolo knowing that they already did advance work getting Brissett up to speed.