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Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Columnist
Tuesday, December 4, 2007; 3:00 PM

The Post's Mark Maske was online Tuesday, Dec. 4 at 3 p.m. ET. to discuss the latest news from around the NFL.

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The transcript follows.

Mark writes the NFL Insider blog, and is the author of the new book War Without Death: A Year of Extreme Competition in Pro Football's NFC East.

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Mark Maske: Hello, everyone. Sorry we had to reschedule today but let's get right to it.

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Rockville, Md.: Did you see Tom Brady's press conference last night? He seemed a little cocky. My prediction is James Harrison breaks some of his ribs. Do you think the Steelers have a shot at the upset?

Mark Maske: I was sitting right there. He just has a little bit of an offbeat personality. I think he was a little offended by the suggestion in some of the questioning that the Patriots had gotten lucky. But too bad for him. They did. Certainly you'd have to think the Steelers have a chance, given the way the Patriots played against the Eagles and Ravens. They looked very vulnerable. The Steelers seem to play to the level of their competition.

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Anonymous: What's the deal with the Pats defense? I am only alarmed because Baltimore scored 24 against them. I felt Baltimore's defense would not allow a 50-point explosion, but New England allowing them 24 is scary.

Mark Maske: I would think the Patriots would be very alarmed about their defense at this point. The Ravens were running the ball right at them, especially in the third quarter, and they simply couldn't stop Willis McGahee. Now, they did clamp down at the end of the game, but clearly some flaws were exposed.

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Worcester, Mass.: Wow, that was exciting. That Ravens cornerback really melted down. Samari Rolle (on the fourth-down holding call): "In a game of this magnitude, you don't make that kind of call. Let the players decide the outcome of the game." Do you think the Colt's general manager, Polian, intended the NFL's renewed emphasis on calling defensive holding and pass interference to help the Patriots?

Seriously, the Ravens play defense like the Patriots used too: Mug the receivers and hope the officials are too timid to call it. This is how the Patriots defensive backs played for years, especially Ty Law. The "boy" calling issue needs to be addressed. If the official did that, then he needs to be fined and possibly suspended. Thanks.

Mark Maske: I agree with a lot of what you say. The Patriots used to play that way against the Colts, and that's what led to the crackdown in enforcement on defensive holding and illegal contact in the secondary. The Patriots got very lucky last night, but I don't think any of the calls was wrong. It was just the succession of breaks the Patriots received that makes me say they were lucky. If the official indeed was condescending in the way he addressed the Ravens players, he should be disciplined.

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Hartford, Conn.: Are these teams really just exposing a Patriots weakness, or are the Patriots truly not playing as well as they have in previous weeks?

Mark Maske: It's a combination of the two, I'm sure. I do think defenses are finding ways to put some pressure on Tom Brady and they're taking Randy Moss out of games by being physical with him, and the Patriots will have to adjust. On defense, the Patriots seem to be wearing down a bit.

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Minneapolis: Given the last two performances of the Patriots, do you think it's time NFL pundits start believing that the top five or six teams are all fairly even, and that the Patriots aren't in "a tier by themselves"? Certainly the Patriots are very beatable, and it seems to me the Pats, Colts, Cowboys, Packers, and Steelers are all pretty even. I could see any of these teams beating any other on any given Sunday. I think we're heading for a very memorable playoffs and a barnburner of a Super Bowl. And no, this is not Roger Goodell writing.

Mark Maske: Not yet. Someone has to beat the Patriots for me to be willing to say that. It's one thing for teams to come close. It's another thing for someone to seal the deal and beat them.

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Timeout: It seems like coaches have been blowing a lot more timeout calls this season, yes?

Mark Maske: You're right about that. I just don't know why the Ravens were calling timeout in that situation. To ice the quarterback sneak?

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Washington: So it looks like Redskins/Giants is staying in prime time on NBC in two weeks? We'd know otherwise by now, right?

Mark Maske: I believe it was announced that the game is staying in prime time.

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Brainwashed Pats: You say Tom Brady has an offbeat personality ... couldn't agree more. But doesn't it seem that every player who goes to the Patriots becomes that way (Belichick being their leader). They must use the same brainwashing machine Tom Cruise used on Katie Holmes.

Mark Maske: You'd better get with the program when you go there, that's for sure. Belichick has even managed to program Randy Moss to say all the right, Patriot-like things.

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Mullins, S.C.: I was wondering, with all hubbub about Sean Taylor not speaking to the media, how do you guys perceive players? Art Monk did not speak to the press, and that may have been the reason some have not voted him into the Hall of Fame, but someone like Barry Bonds or Curt Schilling can't shut up or avoid saying something stupid. Eddie Murray and Jim Rice are quiet, but Terrell Owens, or to a lesser extent Ocho Cinco, have diarrhea of the mouth. It is almost damned-if-you-do damned-if-you-don't situation. I think some athletes learn early on that what they say can affect their careers for a long time, so they do not say anything.

Mark Maske: It's a very interesting question. It is a natural human emotion to be angry if you are snubbed by someone, especially if it happens in a less-than-polite way. The longer I've done this job, the more I've reminded myself that someone not talking to the media does not automatically make him or her a bad person. You mentioned Eddie Murray. I covered him at the end of his career when he came back to the Orioles. He was a delight of a guy. You could sit and talk to him for a long time. You just couldn't pull out your notebook to try to put any of what he was saying into the paper. Now Barry Bonds, I was around him too, and he wasn't so delightful. So you have to remind yourself constantly to keep an open mind and judge people on the big picture, not just on one trait.

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Washington: How has the fact that the Patriots played three -- count them, three -- prime-time games in a row hurt them lately?

Mark Maske: I don't think so. What hurts you is to have a short work week. In this case, having all the prime time games should have enabled them to get into a routine because the amount of time between games was normal.

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Gibbs should resign: Joe Gibbs gave the Buffalo game away long before his embarrassing timeout fiasco. The 'Skins had a first down with only two minutes left; one more first down would have iced the game, but on third and long Gibbs didn't even try for a first down -- he just had the 'Skins run the ball, even though the running game was terribly ineffective all day. That forced the 'Skins to give the ball back to Buffalo for a chance to win, and win they did. Gibbs is too in love with the run, even when the run clearly is not working. I honestly hope he is not coaching the team next year. His comeback has been a failure.

Mark Maske: I just am not ready to treat that game like a normal football game, and make the coach subject to normal football criticism. Nothing about that game or what led up to it was normal.

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Falls Church, Va.: Judging by Gibbs's response to the question about starting the game with only 10 defensive players on the first play, he wasn't clued in by Gregg. What's the controversy there?

Mark Maske: Even though Gregg Williams runs the defense and has great autonomy to do it, you would think it would be standard operating procedure for him to run something that important by his boss, the head coach, first. If he didn't, he should have. But as I said in my answer to the previous question, nothing about that game or the week leading up to it was normal, so I'm not ready to fault people for failing to follow any normal football protocol.

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Alexandria, Va.: Do the Patriots have a better chance of losing in the playoffs at home (in cold, possibly snowy conditions) than they do on the road (specifically if those road games were in mild-climate cities)?

Mark Maske: I would think any weather conditions that affect the passing game, like the wind last night in Baltimore, would hurt the Patriots more than their opponent, no matter the venue. Even the Colts, now that Joseph Addai has emerged as such a terrific runner, are less reliant on their passing game at this point than the Patriots are.

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Boston: For the regular season, is Pittsburgh the last real test for the Pats? Also, do you the Dolphins actually winning a game? I thought the Jets were their best chance.

Mark Maske: I still think that Giants game at the end could be problematic for the Patriots. We don't know what the game will mean for either team or what approach Belichick will take if it means nothing to the Patriots. We haven't gotten any indication whatsoever that he'll ease off the throttle for any reason this season, but you just never know. And I have a hard time seeing the Dolphins beating anyone else if they can't even come close to beating the Jets.

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McLean, Va.: I've heard various radio folks say that moving the Chicago game from Thursday would be a "logistical nightmare." It certainly would be challenging, but doesn't the NFL have offices and people whose job is to do just that sort of thing? For example, the Chargers were all set to move their game to Arizona a while back.

Mark Maske: It's possible. It can be done. The big problem in this case would have been television, since the game is being carried on the NFL Network. As far as I know, the Redskins never requested that the game be rescheduled.

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Atlanta: Do you buy Michael Wilbon's statement in his discussion yesterday that Sean Taylor's murder was not "random"? I think it was a sad way to try and justify his premature speculation.

washingtonpost.com: Transcript: The Chat House (washingtonpost.com, Dec. 3)

Mark Maske: I don't know the context in which that was said. It was not random in the sense that, by the police account, his home was targeted for burglary because of his wealth and the presumption that he wouldn't be home.

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Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.: "Mark Maske: Even though Gregg Williams runs the defense and has great autonomy to do it, you would think it would be standard operating procedure for him to run something that important by his boss, the head coach, first. If he didn't, he should have. But as I said in my answer to the previous question, nothing about that game or the week leading up to it was normal, so I'm not ready to fault people for failing to follow any normal football protocol."

This is totally uncharted territory and I agree. However, how long can that be used as an excuse? This week, two weeks, the rest of the year? As for the 'Skins defense and starting with 10 men, how were Jay Glazer and the Fox pregame team able to report that the 'Skins would start with 10 men on defense 30 minutes or so before the game, but Gibbs didn't know?

Mark Maske: I don't know how long that lasts. As you said, it's uncharted territory. It just goes by feel, I guess, and your answer to that might be different than mine. To me, Gregg Williams should have made sure that Joe Gibbs knew. But I'm not going to lower the boom on anyone for something like that, given the circumstances.

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Washington: The Seahawks have won four in a row, including two on the road in a row. If they beat Arizona this week, they clinch their division with three to play. Are you still convinced they are not very good?

Mark Maske: I'm not convinced of that at all. I just don't trust their consistency. In my preseason picks, I think I had the Seahawks beating the Cowboys in the NFC title game. I hope they make me look good.

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Fairfax, Va.: I think the reluctance of some athletes to speak to the press is understandable. They are expected to be interesting, informative and responsive while not giving the typical cliches. At the same time, they're not supposed to reveal strategies or locker room secrets, nor criticize any other player or coach. These folks are not hired because of their PR skills; talking to the press is high-risk for some. Let's understand their reluctance -- it's not always because they are surly.

Mark Maske: Fair points. Although in my dealings with people, all I ask is that you be as honest and straightforward with me as you possibly can. You don't have to entertain me. But that's a level of trust that can take time to build.

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Arlington, Va.: I heard that coordinators are not supposed to be able to call timeouts, and that last night's timeout on fourth and one should not have been granted. Is this true?

Mark Maske: Technically, I think that's true. The rule is written for the head coach to be the one on the sideline able to take the timeout. But in practice, I think anyone who yells for a timeout from the sideline is going to have it granted. The official is facing the field, with his back to the sideline, and how is he supposed to know for certain who's calling it? That falls under the heading that it's the head coach's responsibility to police his own sideline.

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Baltimore: Doesn't last night's game just exemplify that in December and January, the team that can run and stop the run always has a chance, no matter what? This was always the knock against the Colts before they won -- that they were soft. Do you see this in the Patriots -- their linebackers sure looked old, especially Bruschi and Vrabel.

Mark Maske: I was thinking the same thing. The defense does seem to be wearing down. If teams are going to be able to run right over them like that, they have some issues to address.

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AL in SJ: When I was searching for an adjective to describe the Redskins in 2007, the word "cruel" came up. Sean Taylor is an enormous tragedy, but Shawn Springs also is dealing with his father and Joe Gibbs with his grandchild. And cruel describes seeing a person as good and iconic as Gibbs, making such a stunning gaffe. Add the optimism crushing close losses to the mix. Which brings me to the question: How does a team/organization recover from all this?

Mark Maske: I don't know how anyone could possibly have any realistic expectations that things will look much better or feel much better for the rest of this season. That might sound gloomy but I just don't know how, on a personal level, you can shake off all these things in the short term and excel professionally. That's why I say I'm just not willing to judge people in normal football terms for what happens in these games.

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Baltimore: Re: Attacks on Wilbon's commentary: Online yesterday Mike agreed that he has to watch himself and that he's gotten more combative (my word, not his) since he's gotten older. On the other hand, Sean Taylor's death did not come in a random burglary. His half-sister was dating the brother of one of the guys being charged. Another one of the guys supposedly did yard work for Taylor. And they all had sketchy backgrounds. Taylor's murder was not deliberate, but the break-in was far from random. His house wasn't just picked out of the phonebook.

Mark Maske: I would say if you go by the police account, there's no doubt that Sean Taylor was targeted -- targeted to be robbed, not to be killed.

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I predict: The Miami Dolphins are the only team that will beat the Patriots, thus sort of saving their season.

Mark Maske: I hope you haven't wagered your home on that one.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Dan Snyder seems devastated by Taylor's death. I actually feel bad for him. It might be dawning on him that owning a football team is about more than making money. I know Snyder had his own health issues and he has overcome them, but perhaps he realizes now that each of the players and coaches with the Redskins has a family that loves them the way Sean's family loved him. He also can see the special connection this area has to the Redskins. No one would be crying if Six Flags closed tomorrow. For better or worse, thousands in this area care very deeply about the Washington Redskins.

Mark Maske: He seemed truly, deeply affected by this. It certainly seems that he had genuine affection for Sean Taylor as a person as well as a player.

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Washington: How annoying are the '72 Dolphins? Nobody regards them as one of the best teams of all time, yet they pop out of their holes every year like groundhogs, look around to see who's undefeated, and run their mouths off. They come off as a bunch of pathetic old geezers who still live in the past.

Mark Maske: They do come across that way. But someone has to ask the question for you to answer it. Maybe if we all can just agree to ignore them, it will be better for everyone.

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Missing No. 21: O Wise One, do you agree or disagree: Coaches calling timeouts right before the play (either a field goal attempt or last night's debacle) has got to stop. It cheapens the game.

Mark Maske: And it doesn't seem to be working all that well any more, does it?

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Boston: Will the Baltimore players stop whining that the refs stole the game once they see the game tape? The refs didn't throw a ridiculous pick in the fourth quarter. They didn't blow the coverage on the Moss touchdown. They didn't call timeout to nullify a fourth-down stop. They didn't fall down on Gafney's touchdown. When the NFL and others take a look at the game tape they will see plenty of Ravens defensive holding throughout the game that wasn't called, and one finally came back to haunt them with the defensive back draped all over Watson on his route into the end zone. Oh, and we still won. Now our front seven needs to figure out how to stop the run, and we will run the table and win the Super Bowl. If not, will we bow out in the playoffs?

Mark Maske: The Patriots did clamp down on the run at the end of the game but yes, that defense has to be a major concern at this point. And even if there were no calls that were obviously missed, it was an amazing series of breaks that the Patriots got last night.

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Mark Maske: I'm going to run, folks. Thanks for the questions and see you here next Tuesday, back at the regular time.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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