Curran's Mailbag: How mentally tough are the Pats?

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Curran's Mailbag: How mentally tough are the Pats?

Often, I get queries on Twitter.

Some are variations of, "Why am I following you again?" or "Are you always this stupid?" My therapist says those take me to a sad and angry place and my response should be quietly muttering personal affirmations to myself.

Other questions are good ones. A successful Twitterer would answer those questions immediately. But I am lazy. So they are fodder for my Mailbag!

Q. Would really like to see Tebow as a Patriot next year, thoughts?
Salim Mathew @salheem

A. I bet you would. As for my thoughts on Tebow becoming a Patriot? It seems the Jets haven't found a spot to maximize Timmy's talents. Or they haven't found Timmy's talents. Given he played significant time for the Broncos last year, this is inexcusable unless they didn't bother to look at film (a possibility) or only hired him as a publicity stunt (even more possible). Either way, I have no doubt Bill Belichick would be intrigued at the challenge of turning Tebow into a contributor to the Patriots so as to grind the Jets' noses further in their own ineptitude. And Belichick genuinely likes Tebow. While he may not be able to provide Tebow a concrete role, I believe there's a good chance the Patriots at least explore bringing him to town.

Q. Super Bowl 36 on ESPN2 with commentary by you! With those old rules how bad would the 01 team beat up on the current squad?
Tyler Massey @tmass41 A. That would be a fascinating matchup because of the ferocity of the Patriots secondary. Ty Law would render Brandon Lloyd a non-factor at the line of scrimmage. Tebucky Jones would be an interesting physical matchup for Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and Terrell Buckley and Otis Smith would get tortured by Wes Welker. The 2012 team is more talented; the 2001 team had captured lightning in a bottle and would play harder and with more confidence and abandon because they have nothing to lose.

Q. Hope you & your family had a great holiday, Tom. With two spots now open, one for Jermaine Cunningham, one for Jabar Gaffney maybe?
Greg Bruno @GBruno526

A. Thanks Greg! We did. Since you asked, the Patriots did indeed return Jermaine Cunningham to the active roster. It will be important this week for Cunningham to get his game legs under him. It will also be interesting to see how Cunningham's return impacts the use of Justin Francis and Trevor Scott. Francis in particular has shown an ability to get off the line and bring pressure in the offensive backfield. As for the other spot(s) - two are open - the likelihood seems greater they'd haul someone up from the practice squad who's been practicing with the team rather than sign Gaffney, though I understand why you'd ask about bringing a veteran in now.

Q. Any news on whether Tom Brady has started his playoff beard yet? Is that too much to ask?
chris lynch @ALargeRegularA. No definitive news yet. It's not too much to ask, just haven't noticed. I am more attuned to his accessorizing - glasses, hats, etc.Q. Tom, I am confused, last night you said to Borges you where worried about this teams mental toughness, tonite you are not?
Rob P @0_LayDX
A. I apologize for causing you confusion. In the aftermath of the Jacksonville game, I mentioned on Sports Sunday that there were some lackluster efforts in that game. I alleged that players needed to power through things at this time of the year (easy for me to say, as I noted at the time). Particularly unimpressive effort plays came from Donta Hightower and Aaron Hernandez. By Monday, the conversation had morphed into one that wondered whether the team as a whole was mentally tough. I mentioned that the way they closed the Jacksonville game was a sign of growth from earlier in the season. I also think the period of time from Seattle through San Francisco - given all the travel, questions, injuries and pressure playing on a team that's driven very hard by its head coach - showed they are indeed pretty tough mentally relative to the rest of the league. Compared to the 2001-2004 Patriots, they are not there. But who is?
Q. Why did Hernandez even take the field? Looked hobbled on his first few plays.
PatriotsXLVII @PatriotsXLVIII A. He sure did. Necessity, I think. Fortunately, Michael Hoomanawanui performed well in the Gronk role to take some tight end heat off of Hernandez but 81 continues to not be himself on the majority of snapsQ. How many more times are you going to post this?VFN28 @vfn28 A. Probably just a few more.
Q. Do Pats rest the banged up starters next week or let em play and finish strong?Eric Paulson @epaulson89 A. I really believe that some key players need to recharge. Not be shut down entirely but Wes Welker, for instance, could use a quiet Sunday. He's handled the ball 134 times this season on receptions, punts, kickoffs and carries. He's been targeted an additional 53 times on balls that were incomplete. Through 16 games in 2011, do you know how many times Welker handled the ball? 140. An additional 51 passes in 2011 went his way that fell incomplete. So the hope of reducing Welker's workload in 2012 didn't work out, thanks mostly to injuries around the offense and Welker's own effectiveness.Q. I don't know what to make of the Pats, Tom. They might get beat in 1st round of playoffs or they might go to the Super Bowl. Who knows?Laurence King @larryking97748 A. I hear ya, Larry. Q. Does this mean Seattle is better than SF & Pats?? I'm confused
Headstomp @Headstomp2k

A. The line starts behind Larry. You're behind me, Headstomp. And I don't want to find out why they call you that. Wait...Albert...is that you?

Belichick on Long's sack: One of the best defensive plays of the year

Belichick on Long's sack: One of the best defensive plays of the year

It came against a rookie quarterback. It came against an offense that averages a league-worst 15.0 points per game. It came against an offense that has fewer yards than any other. 

Still there are signs that Bill Belichick is pretty pleased with where his defense is after beating the Rams 26-10 on Sunday. One came on Wednesday when Patriots.com published its "Belichick Breakdown" for a closer look at a handful of plays from the team's most recent win.

Belichick called his team's third-and-eight stop with about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter "probably one of the best good, team defensive plays we've had all year."

The Patriots show a five-man front, but linebacker Kyle Van Noy feigns a rush only to drop into coverage.

"Van Noy in here does a good job on the rush," Belichick said, "and also on the coverage on the back. Just good team defense. Good pass coverage down the field. The quarterback really doesn't end up having a lot of time, but there's no one to throw it to right away."

Belichick noted that all four rushers -- Chris Long, Trey Flowers, Dont'a Hightower and Rob Ninkovich -- all are able to pressure Jared Goff on the play. Combined with strong coverage in the secondary, the Rams nver really had a chance.

Belichick said it looked like a "tidal wave" of defenders bearing down on the quarterback.

"Long wins here . . . on the inside spin," Belichick said, "and Trey Flowers and Hightower both win on the little twist game inside. Then that's Rob with good speed-to-power on [Rams tackle Rob] Havenstein on the outside. Four good rushers. Plus a fifth guy...Van Noy getting that two-for-one on the guard and the back.

"Good team defense. That's great to see. A lot of hard work an execution on the practice field to make that happen."

Harbaugh on Belichick: 'I feel like we have a good relationship'

Harbaugh on Belichick: 'I feel like we have a good relationship'

FOXBORO -- They sounded like a couple of old pals. 

First it was Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who spoke of Ravens coach John Harbaugh during a conference call like one of his favorite fellow lacrosse dads.

"John and I saw a game a couple of years ago, a [Johns] Hopkins vs. Maryland game," Belichick said, adding that Harbaugh's love for the sport is just starting to blossom. "Yeah, I think John is seeing the light."

Belichick added that the two might be closer if they weren't competing so often, both in-season on the field and for free agents in the offseason. 

"As you know, we get into a situation like we’re in now where they have a good team, we have a good team, we’re playing a big game on Monday night," Belichick said. "Both teams are going to do everything they can to compete as hard as they can on Monday night. That’s what it is and that’s what we all signed up for. We all know that’s a part of it.

"When we’re not going head-to-head, which isn’t very often because we compete against each other in the offseason, we compete against each other to build our team and so forth, it just puts things in a little bit of a different situation."

During his press conference with reporters on Wednesday, Harbaugh echoed Belichick's sentiments. Belichick was famously one of Harbaugh's biggest supporters earlier in his career, calling the Ravens on Harbaugh's behalf when the franchise was looking for a new head coach. And if only they weren't so frequently competing against each other, they might be even closer, Harbaugh indicated. 

"I feel like we have a good relationship," Harbaugh said. "Like you said, we're probably not socializing that much, but I don't know how many coaches really do. We're all so busy. I'll see him or any coach at the Combine or at the owner's meetings, and we have a chance to talk. It's always good. I have a ton of respect for him. I really like him as a person. I think he's a great coach -- greatest coach of this generation. He's earned that title.

"And I study him. I've always studied him. I've always studied coach Belichick from when I first met him when I was an assistant at the University of Cincinnati, and he came in and just was great to be around.  [We have a] similar background with the special teams and that sort of thing. All of that kind of goes out the window when you compete against one another. It's like anything else, you want to win. I'm sure he feels the same way."

The recent history between their respective franchises is rife with emotion: There was Baltimore's irate reaction to Belichick's unusual formations in the AFC Divisional Round two seasons ago; there was the Ravens' supposed involvement in sparking Deflategate; and there was Harbaugh's subsequent denial. But Belichick and Harbaugh made it sound on Wednesday as if all's good between them.