A truly offensive ending

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A truly offensive ending

By Michael Felger

If the Patriots had lost that game I would have blamed the offense. Seriously.

It wouldn't have been for playing a bad game, per se, because the unit clearly didn't. It would have been for not playing winning football.

It's the only thing that matters, after all.

The Patriots beat the Colts at Gillette on Sunday, 31-28, becasue Peyton Manning, for all his brilliance through most of the game, puked on his shoes when it counted.

But it never should have come to that. If the offense had merely performed at a fraction of the effectiveness in the final 15 minutes that it had over the previous 45, then it never would have come down to Manning pulling a Favre.

The reason Manning was in a position to choke, in other words, was because the Pats offense choked first.

You think I should be pointing a finger at the defense? Well, sure. Duh. That side of the ball was overmatched yet again for stretches of the game, including a pair of crucial drives in the fourth quarter.

But don't you understand? The Pats' defense was SUPPOSED to lose it's battle with Peyton Manning. He's pretty good, you know. One of the best ever, in fact. And the Pats countered with a young defense that may be good some day but just isn't right now. What did you expect to happen? For the Pats -- with nine first- and second-year players on defense -- to hold the Colts to a touchdown and a field goal? To stuff Manning in a fourth-quarter, no-huddle situation?

On the play before Manning's game-ending interception, for example, Pat Chung was matched up with Reggie Wayne in man-to-man coverage in the middle of the field. A second-year safety against one of the best receivers in the league. Again, what did you expect to happen? If you were hoping for anything other than the result of the play -- a 15-yard reception -- then I think you're expecting too much.

I don't know about you, but if you had told me before the game that the defense would hold the Colts to under 30 points while picking off Manning three times, I'd have taken it.

The strength of the Patriots -- with Randy Moss or without him -- remains the offense. That's the side of the ball that is going to have to win the big, close games.

The point total is irrelevant. Yes, 31 points should be enough to win on most nights. But a game against Manning doesn't constitute "most nights." Against Manning, you need to be close to perfect. You need to put the game out of reach when the opportunity arises -- and the Pats failed to do that on Sunday night.

To wit:

Their first possession of the fourth quarter resulted in a crap out in the red zone. The Pats had a first down at the Colts' 11 when they ran two wimpy running plays and then opted to try and get the ball to Julien Edelman over the middle on third-and-6. Drop. The Pats settled for a field goal and a 31-14 lead when it should have been a more comfortable 35-14.

On their next possession, after Manning had cut it to 31-21, the Pats went three-and-out. Their third-down play was a little button hook to Deion Branch that was close to being called a defensive pass interference -- but wasn't. Blame Branch for not getting more separation. Blame Brady for not putting the ball outside the defender. Blame whoever you want, but going three-and-out in that situation was inexcusable. Felt like fourth-and-2 all over again -- only this time the Pats punted on fourth down.

After Manning made it 31-28, the Pats offense was only marginally better the next time out. They managed four plays before Zoltan Mesko came out for the punt. The third-down play here was even worse than the one before, as Brady should have been intercepted by linebacker Tyjuan Hagler only to have the ball bounce off his shoulder pads and to the turf. Lucky.

In short, the Colts defense was as soft as puppy poop, and the Patriots did the appropriate damage to it for three quarters. But when it counted, it was like 2009 all over again. The only thing that saved Brady and the offense was James Sanders.

You know how I feel about the decision to trade Moss. It's the best thing Bill Belichick has done in a long, long time. It was the final act in getting his team back. You just can't hope to have a tough, smart and resilient football team and have Moss in your locker room. He's antithetical to those values. And he's now attempting to blow up his third team in two months, so good riddance. Branch, meanwhile, has had his three best games as a 2010 Patriot in the three toughest games on the schedule: Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. That's what you should expect from him. He's a competitor.

I haven't changed my mind on the Moss thing one bit. The Pats are far better off without him, even on offense. And my prediction remains: I'll see all you folks at the AFC Championship game Jan. 23.

But If the offense is going to turtle with the game on the line like it did on Sunday, then the Pats might as well get Moss back here.

Then at least I can blame him.

Felger's report card will post on Tuesday and his Patriots-Lions game column will post on Friday. E-mail him HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Super Bowl appearances aren't old hat to all the Patriots

Super Bowl appearances aren't old hat to all the Patriots

FOXBORO -- It’s old hat to plenty of the Patriot, but certainly not all of them. A whole lot of players who joined the team since 2015 haven’t been to a Super Bowl. That says an awful lot about the personnel department headed by Nick Caserio with Dave Ziegler heading up pro personnel and Monti Ossenfort doing college personnel. 

Two of them -- cornerback Eric Rowe and linebacker Kyle Van Noy -- figured in the two Steelers turnovers in Sunday night’s AFC Championship Game. Both joined the team via in-season trades. 

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So in the afterglow of the Patriots postgame locker room, we asked a few of them what their emotions were upon realizing they were going to the Super Bowl

Eric Rowe (acquired via trade with Eagles, September 6): "It’s been a long road. Everyone has their own journey and how they got here but just for me, it’s been a long road. During OTAs and training camp down in Philadelphia, it was frustrating. I didn’t understand why I was sliding down the depth chart but I just kept my head down and kept working and once I got traded here I had to learn a whole new culture and defense and then I got hurt. Through those ups and downs it’s been all worth it. My parents, my girlfriend, my agent, all through training camp with the Eagles kept telling me, ‘Just keep your head up, there’s always something greater on the other side. Don’t stop working, keep working because you never know when you’ll get your chance and, ‘Boom’ I got traded so that was the way around that obstacle. And now I know what’s on the other side. 

Kyle Van Noy (acquired via trade with Lions, October 26): “I took a lot of heat [in Detroit]. I wasn’t living up to what I was capable of doing, even for myself. I had high expectations and I just wasn’t fitting in right away and it was great to get a fresh start and I’m really blessed to have them trust in me to come in and contribute. I don’t know if you ever get comfortable here. You better learn or they’re gonna pass up on you. I’m just grateful for the opportunity. Eric and I are holding it down for the Utah schools (Rowe went to Utah; Van Noy to BYU). We’re here to represent. It hasn’t sunk in yet. I am truly blessed and the man upstairs is looking out.”

Chris Long (signed in March as free agent): "I honestly didn't know they did the confetti thing after. Because I'm usually at the bar with these games are going on. And maybe it's a little later at night. I've turned it off. I didn't know they did the confetti thing after the AFC Championship. That was a real plus . . . because I love confetti. There's no bad situation where there's confetti. I can't think of one. I certainly feel like I’m in the right place at the right time. I’m on a helluva football team and lucky to be a part of it and we’ve earned the right for one more opportunity. It means something different to everybody. We come from different backgrounds, we come from different teams but we’ve all earned this together. It’s a melting pot in that way."

David Andrews (signed as undrafted free agent, 2015) whose great uncle is former Atlanta coach Dan Reeves: "When the Falcons went [in 1998], my parents couldn't take me, but they went." (Is he still sore about that?) "Not anymore. Not at this moment."

Joe Thuney (drafted in third round in May): "It's just a great opportunity. You've got people like Marty [Bennett] and Chris Long that have played so long and just don't get the opportunity. You just got to take advantage of it, and soak upevery minute, and just prepare as best you can, I think. Just go out there and do the best you can."

Malcolm Mitchell (drafted in fourth round in May): "I have no idea [what to expect]. I'm pretty sure I'll be debriefed. And guys will tell me everything I need to know walking into it."

Jabaal Sheard (signed as free agent, 2015): “Great feeling. Unreal. Just an awesome feeling. We gotta get this ring, man and go finish this thing off. It’s exciting, obviously. I’ve heard the stories from the guys who’ve been here. It’s huge. We have to go out there and take care of business.” 

Phil Perry contributed to this report.

Alarm-puller: ‘I’m drunk. I’m stupid. I’m a Pats fan’

Alarm-puller: ‘I’m drunk. I’m stupid. I’m a Pats fan’

Intentionally or otherwise, the guy who allegedly pulled the fire alarm at the Steelers’ hotel Sunday morning may have also provided the average Bud Light-loving Bostonian a new motto. 

“I’m drunk. I’m stupid. I’m a Pats fan,” Dennis Harrison told police after he was arrested, according to the Boston Globe.  

Citing the State Police report, the Globe wrote Monday that Harrison was talked into pulling the alarm while at a party in Revere, with a friend driving the 25-year-old to the Boston Hilton Logan Airport hotel Sunday morning. 

Harrison reportedly walked up to the second floor and pulled the fire alarm before returning to the car, but his friend and the keys were gone. He was then picked up by police while walking away from the hotel. 

According to the Globe, Harrison pleaded not guilty to charges of disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace and setting off a false fire alarm Monday and was released on personal recognizance.