FIRST QUARTER: Since the most memorable moment of last week’s loss came on the final play, what didn’t you like about the game against the Panthers?

Todd: I first would like to note that two of the three Pats’ losses this season have been adversely affected by flags being thrown (or in this case, thrown and picked up) in the games’ critical moments.  That being said, the biggest problem I had with the non-call on Rob Gronkowski in the end zone (other than the fact that Panther linebacker Luke Kuechly was draped all over Gronk and gave him no opportunity to make a play on the ball) was that on Carolina’s go-ahead scoring drive moments earlier, the officials threw the flag on Devin McCourty when he got tangled up with Panther tight end Greg Olsen.  So where is the consistency?  I almost don’t care whether by the letter of the law they are penalties or not, but shouldn’t similar infractions be called in similar fashion by the game officials?  And where was the explanation at the end of the game as to why the flag was picked up?  For once and for possibly the only time I wish that Ed ‘Guns’ Hochuli had been the referee, because at least the attorney-by-day would have at least given a 30-60 second dissertation as to why the officials decided there was no penalty on that play.  Unfortunately we were left with Clete Blakeman telling us the game was over and then making a made dash out of the stadium but not before hearing a four-letter epithet from Tom Brady that will likely not receive an exemption from the FCC.

It also frustrated me that ESPN MNF analyst Jon Gruden was all over the McCourty penalty saying the officials made the right call but did not have the same opinion about Kuechly practically bear-hugging Gronkowski.  They were the same type of infraction!  Whether you want to call it pass interference, illegal contact beyond five yards or no foul whatsoever, both defensive coverages were identical and should have been called as such.  The glaring inconsistency is much like an umpire changing his strike zone in the middle of a baseball game or the hockey referees opting to bury their whistles in their pockets during the closing minutes of a game or even in an overtime period.  I suppose I can understand why officials are hesitant to make calls late in games because they don’t want the game decided by their call.  But when it’s obvious and you made the call on the same play moments earlier, it just looks bad to have a 10-second conference right after the play and then run for the exits?  Also can’t help but wonder whether the Pats would’ve gotten one more untimed play had Monday night’s game been played in Foxboro.

However, for all the talk about the final play, Brady said it best during his postgame press conference that the Pats had opportunities to win that game prior to the last drive.  Offensively, Stevan Ridley’s fumbling continues to be an issue, and the ball he coughed up at the Carolina 12-yard line destroyed a decent scoring drive in the first half.  Defensively, the Pats allowed Cam Newton and the Panthers’ offense to convert 8-of-11 third downs, which limited Brady to just seven offensive possessions the entire game.  Much of the pregame talk discussed whether the Pats could turn around their third-down shortcomings, but they could not.  Have to credit Newton for some great individual plays and the Carolina coaching staff for some good play-calling that limited the total possessions in the game.

Mike: I am so over this call/non-call thing. The main point is that the Patriots should have stopped Carolina's final drive, then they wouldn't have been in that position in the first place!

Frankly, I missed most of the "controversy" because I shut the TV off and went to bed right after the refs picked up the flag. Maybe if it was an afternoon game, I would have stayed with it longer, but it seemed pointless to me to keep watching, there was no way the call was going to be changed, so why watch 400 replays?

SECOND QUARTER: What was there to like about the Pats, even in defeat?

Todd: How about that Brady and the offense were able to amass nearly 400 total yards against one of the top defenses in the league that at present is playing at the top of their game?  Much of that damage came in the second half, when the Pats scored 17 of their 20 points and were only stopped on that final drive.  Part of why the offense clicked so effectively was the return of Shane Vereen, who led the team in targets, receptions and yardage (11, 8 and 65 respectively).  Wonder if Vereen will start to get opportunities to run the ball with Ridley's recent bout of fumblitis?

I even thought the defense played pretty well for all the injuries they’ve had to deal with.  I know we’re not supposed to use that as an excuse (and believe me, the team sure doesn’t), but they went into Monday night without the usual suspects who’ve been out for weeks (Wilfork, Mayo et al) but additionally had a depleted secondary with Alfonso Dennard and Steve Gregory both out.  Then when Aqib Talib re-aggravated his hip prior to Carolina’s final touchdown drive, it hardly shocked me that the Panthers scored the game-winning touchdown with relative ease.  Personally, when I see Kyle Arrington in single coverage of a receiver on the outside, it takes a lot for me to hold back my gag reflex.

Mike:  I was encouraged by the fact that the Pats were able to move the ball down the field, especially on that last drive. While they weren't able to punch it in, they at least had a shot. I also liked the play call on the last play. With six seconds left, they threw a quick out to the sideline to move the ball into a realistic range to try for a touchdown rather than try for a low-percentage Hail Mary. The play only took 3 seconds, and it greatly increased their chances to score. It took discipline from the offense to run that play, if it is completed inbounds, there is no chance to score. Not a lot of teams would have dared to try that with six seconds left and no time outs, but the Pats ran it perfectly.

THIRD QUARTER: Patriots-Broncos preview (and a brief look ahead to Pats-Texans because we’re off next week)

Todd: Here it is, the game we’ve had circled on the calendar all season—Chapter 14 of Brady-versus-Manning (Tom leads 9-4) and the return of Wes Welker to Gillette Stadium.  Regarding the former (and current) Number 83, Welker’s status remains uncertain after he suffered a concussion versus the Chiefs last Sunday night. If Wes can practice on Friday he will play and I expect he will do just that, not wanting to miss the opportunity to ‘stick it to Bill’.

Meanwhile, Manning is on pace to throw 54 touchdown passes, which would shatter the single season record of 50 that Brady set back in 2007.  Peyton is dealing with a high ankle sprain, but the guy hardly moves in or out of the pocket anyway.  So unless a Pats defender grabs Manning by his cleats and gives that lower leg a good jerk, I expect Peyton’s success to continue, especially if Talib is limited by that hip injury (Dennard has practically been ruled out this week).

Have to admit that the prediction I’m making this week is more from my heart than my head.  The Pats secondary simply looks too banged up to be able to slow down Manning and his many talented receivers.  Frankly, the Pats will have to try and do to the Broncos what the Panthers did to them last week, which is to limit the total game possessions.  I expect Belichick and Matt Patricia will scheme the defense to allow Peyton all the underneath yardage he wants but no big plays deep down the field, a/k/a the death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts technique.  Brady and the offense should be able to keep pace as Denver’s D has sagged in recent weeks against multi-dimensional teams.  The key for the Pats will be the same as last week—have the last offensive possession, only this time make sure it doesn’t come down to a potential penalty call to decide it.  Patriots 31, Broncos 28. 

Mike and I are both taking Thanksgiving week off, so we’ll also offer our picks on the Week 13 games which include the Pats visiting the woeful Houston Texans.  As of this week, the Texans have amazingly lost eight straight games after a 2-0 start, and it looks like veteran receiver Andre Johnson has reached his limit of frustration, walking off the field with a minute left in last week’s home loss to the Oakland Raiders.  As dreadful as Houston has looked in recent weeks, I think they’ll be viewing this matchup as their personal super bowl and will play one of their better efforts of the season.  Still not enough to win mind you, but I bet they keep it closer than any of us would like.  Patriots 24, Texans 17.   

Mike: I actually hope Welker doesn't play, for a couple of reasons. One, it will take away a big weapon from Manning, and two, it will eliminate that ridiculous "will the fans boo Wes Welker" stuff. He doesn't deserve to be booed, and I think if he misses this game, the hatred towards Welker will cool in New England and it will be a far better reaction if or when he comes back again.

As for the game itself, I think that even though the Patriots are hurting, they will be able to handle what Manning will throw at them. He is a very familiar opponent, and the Pats have handled him well in the past. I think it continues again this week in a game that New England really needs to stay in the hunt for a playoff bye. Pats 27, Broncos 24.

FOURTH QUARTER: Other games we like this week (and next)

Todd (3-0 last week, 18-12 season): Who in the world would have thunk this?  Over the last two weeks I’ve won five of my six games while Mike has dropped five of six, and now we are dead even heading into the final six weeks of the season.  Am I going to trump Mike for the fourth straight year?  Am I just incredible in my prognostications, or do I have no clue what I’m doing and suddenly have a horseshoe up my keester?  Regardless, let’s be bold this week and take the Chargers on the road to stun the Chiefs, the Bears to beat the Rams and the Cardinals to upset the suddenly slumping Colts.

I traditionally like to pick the Turkey Day games, so next week I will take both long-time holiday hosts—Lions over the Packers, Cowboys over the Raiders—along with the suddenly hot Ben Roethlisberger to lead the Steelers to beat the Ravens in Baltimore, where the turkeys are likely to be filled with crabcake stuffing.

Mike (0-3 last week, 18-12 season): I'll take the Panthers over the Dolphins, Green Bay over Minnesota and the Colts over Arizona.

For next week, I'll take: the Eagles over the Cardinals, Buffalo over Atlanta and Seattle over New Orleans.

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