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.

Easley on character concerns: 'It's all rumors' until sources step forward

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Easley on character concerns: 'It's all rumors' until sources step forward

When Dominique Easley was released by the Patriots this spring, it wasn't because he wasn't productive when he was on the field. In fact, on a per-snap basis, he was one of the most productive interior pass-rushers in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus. 

Instead, there were some off-the-field factors, as well as injury concerns, that led to the Patriots choosing to cut ties with their 2014 first-round pick. 

As our Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran put it, there were "philosophical differences" between Easley and the team.

Other, more scathing reports of Easley's impact in New England were released, including one report from the Boston Globe that included a quote from a former teammate saying he was a "locker room cancer."

Since then, Easley has landed with the Rams and has a chance to contribute to one of the most talented defensive lines in football. In an interview on Sirius XM NFL Radio with Phil Savage and Amber Theoharis, Easley said he hopes that his new team will get to see that he's a better person than some have indicated.

"Just really," Easley said, "just hopefully that the Rams get to see what a great person and a great hardworker I am, and really, just a great person."

Easley went on to say that he's not sure who would speak of him negatively or why. He explained that it's not his "main goal" to prove there's nothing to worry about with his character, but clearly it's somewhere on the list. 

"There's been, obviously, stuff said about me," Easley said. "We don't know where it came from. I would say the person doesn't want to come out and say it, neither. As far as I know, it's all rumors until that person comes out and say that it was from them, and they can prove that they actually know who I am, or been around me long enough to know who I am and how I am as a person."

PFT: NFL plans to interview Manning about Al Jazeera PED allegations

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PFT: NFL plans to interview Manning about Al Jazeera PED allegations

Peyton Manning is retired, but that doesn't mean he's exempt from the interviews that the NFL plans to conduct as it looks into the allegations made by Al Jazeera's December PED documentary. 

It was reported last week by USA Today that the league's senior vice president of labor policy and league affairs Adolpho Birch informed the NFLPA that players named in Al Jazeera's report would be interviewed in July. 

Among those scheduled to be interviewed are Packers linebackers Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews and Steelers linebacker James Harrison. Former Packers linebacker Mike Neal will also be interviewed.

(Harrison has taken issue with the league's request, and said on social media that he would only meet with the league if commissioner Roger Goodell showed up to his home.)

Manning was not mentioned in the letter obtained by USA Today detailing the league's interview plans, but Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk followed up on Monday to see if the NFL intended to speak with Manning. It does.

The former Broncos and Colts quarterback has been very vocal about just how strongly he denies Al Jazeera's claim that his wife, Ashley, received HGH for his use. Despite the fact that he's no longer playing, it will come as no surprise if, given his stance, Manning cooperates fully with the league as it seeks more information regarding the report. 

As Florio points out, if Manning hopes to return to the NFL at some point as an executive -- as many believe he will -- this is something he'll want to put to bed beforehand. That process will start with an interview.