Each week throughout the season we'll ask our Patriots correspondent and Boston Herald writer Ian Rapoport five questions about the Pats. This week, he talked about the Patriots' excitement with Logan Mankins returning and which player is key for the second half.
1. What was the team's reaction to Logan Mankins returning?
Rapoport: It was overwhelmingly positive. The guys understand it was a business decision. They wished he was here earlier, but they understood where he was coming from. Logan is a good guy even if you don't agree with his business decisions. When he came back, it was like he never left. It looked so natural, he fits right back in — he looks the same and acts the same.
2. What do you make of the Eric Mangini-Bill Belichick reunion?
Rapoport: They're not in the same division anymore and time heals wounds. It's obvious that Mangini looks up to Belichick and wants to have a good relationship. The handshakes — they joke about them, but at some point it wasn't funny. Now it's a little funny, that's an improvement. The Patriots know Rob Ryan, too, so there is a lot of familiarity heading into this game.
3. The defense seems to be winning games with a bend-but-don't-break style, when will it finally 'break'?
Rapoport: Teams are going to score. It's obvious you can move the ball against the Patriots and that's not completely surprising. The thing they do is put themselves in position to make plays. They are physical, but not the most physical, not the absolute toughest, but they are in the right place. They don't take a lot of chances so they are going to give up yards — they depend on key plays at the right time. It's not going to look great, for the most part, but they can be in enough right places to make a difference.
4. Who is a key player for the second half?
Brandon Tate — if he can do what he did against the Vikings and get open to make a big play and run for 65 yards. Maybe he can stretch a defense, not like Randy Moss obviously, but just enough to open a little room running the ball and just enough to open things up to Wes Welker underneath. That's what this offense needs — if Tate can improve his route running and stretch the field vertically, everyone gets better.
5. What's your prediction for Sunday's game against the Browns?
Rapoport: I think this will be a tough one, actually. I'm not sure the Browns are as bad as they seem to be. They haven't had good quarterback play, but the defense is pretty tough. Patriots 28, Browns 20