Curran's Mailbag: These aren't the 2010 Patriots


Curran's Mailbag: These aren't the 2010 Patriots

What is it with us and the ability to look at a cloudless sky and automatically assume we are just in the eye of a hurricane?

I swear, 90 percent of New Englanders could hit the lottery and immediately start grousing about the taxes they'll have to pay.

We'd dumb into inheriting an oceanfront home and -- instead of breaking out the umbrella and beach chair -- spend the day inside trying to determine the likelihood of tsunami.

So it is with the Patriots getting the Houston Texans in the AFC Divisional Playoffs next weekend.

"Remember that time the Patriots beat the Jets 45-3 in December and then lost to the Jets in the playoffs at home...? That wasn't awesome..."

That was also 2010 when the Patriots -- in spite of a 14-2 record -- were a REBUILDING team. Still one of the most underrated seasons the Patriots have had under Bill Belichick. Rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Randy Moss jettisoned and washed-up Deion Branch returning midstream. Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis as scrap-heap guys in the backfield. A broken Wes Welker hurrying back from his ACL to catch 86 passes. No suitable outside pass rusher and a defense with rookie Brandon Spikes, useless Brandon Meriweather, retread Rob Ninkovich and bargain bin Kyle Arrington at one corner.

When those Patriots annihilated the Jets, New York lost Jim Leonhard on Friday afternoon in practice. And those Jets had already shown the Patriots more than a few times they could stop their offense as it was then constituted.

So when they came into Gillette for the Divisional Round, they were pulling an upset but one that came over a flawed team that had outwitted and outlasted opponents to get to 14-2.

These Patriots? Actually more stocked for the Texans rematch with Rob Gronkowski coming back and a week of rest to get dented guys fixed. And those Texans? They were an A.J. Dalton overthrow away from being down 20-19 with two minutes remaining.

Now . . . MAILBAG!!!

Q: @tomecurran Ray Lewis is GREAT, but ever notice after loss he doesn't face media or puts blame on himself? - Sgt Football @SgtFootball A: Sarge, I was in that Ravens locker room a lot from 2006 through 2009 when I was at Lewis was never hard to find after a loss. You can quibble with aspects of his persona but being criticizing him for being unavailable to the media is not one I'd choose.
Q: CSN reporters? Some of the funniest sports follows on twitter. @tomecurran @RattoCSN & @RoobCSN, all worth your time. - RumfordJohnny @RumfordJohnny A: Ray Ratto is the funniest sportswriter in America. The prevailing tendency of columnists to get a little older and reach a point where they hate sports and only write for their equally jaded media peers hasn't visited Ray. For instance, Ray could name most of the players on not only the local teams but upcoming opponents on whom he columnizes. Don't always get that around here, especially since Bob Ryan semi-retired. Shame. (And I'm aware that wasn't a question per se. Good jumping off point for a rant, though.)Q: @tomecurran @profootballtalk why hasn't A. Peterson been asked about PED use in his much better than usual recovery? - Sgt Football @SgtFootball
A: It definitely is. Not sure asking him about it is the fastest path to finding out. Actually, the fastest path to finding out would be for the NFL to get HGH approved ASAP but that's not going to happen. From Rivers to Brady to Welker to Peterson to Manning to the incredible rise of J.J. Watt from pizza boy to best defensive player in all of football, recoveries from ACL's and improvements in performance stretch credulity.
Q: @tomecurran "The Texans got past Cincinnati Saturday in a Wild Card matchup XX-XX." ---- Premature publication? - Chris S @cmsarro A: Yup. Had to run out of the house at 7:25 p.m. Saturday before that game went final. We missed on the update...who won, anyway?
Q: @tomecurran early thoughts on next weeks matchup? - brian flanagan @soxoct27 A: Sure. It will come down -- once again -- to Vince Wilfork beating the hell out of Chris Myers and gumming up the Houston stretch running play with Arian Foster. If the Bengals could have won that matchup -- or not been as susceptible to checkdown and tight end action as they were -- they would be heading to Denver. Foster got the ball 40 times! Eight on receptions. Owen Daniels was targeted 11 times and caught nine for 91. That's protecting the Pro Bowl quarterback from doing something stupid. The Patriots may challenge Schaub to beat them.

Q: @tomecurran What time? - JOHNNY J3 RODRIGUES @johnnyrod1 A: 4:30 p.m. EST next SundayQ: @tomecurran So do you think this game was more Texans defense or Bengals ineffective offense? - Norm Welch @rednckdaddyA: Oh, the Bengals were plenty ineffective. For A.J. Green to not even be targeted in the first half? For BJGE to get three carries? Plenty ineffective.Q: @tomecurran Think they wear the lettermen jackets next week? - Eric Paulson @epaulson89 A: Have to. Don't they?Q: @tomecurran How the hell do you not tell Belichick to (stop it) when you ask questions and he gives such a (unpleasant) response? - Ryan Hammond @RealRyanHammondA: Trying to work on being less sensitive in 2013.

Q: @tomecurran Why would we want (Scott Pioli) back? We have Nick Caserio now, who is doing a good job. - Drive for SB 47 @PatriotsExtra A: I mentioned on the Twitter that Pioli returning seemed unlikely because it would be a step back to the warm bosom of the Patriots that might give the perception he was uncomfortable away from New England. It is worth noting, though, that two years ago the Chiefs were an 11-5 playoff team and Matt Cassel was a 27-7 TD-to-INT guy and Pioli's name wasn't mud the way it became when the team went south and those waiting to assail him because he made their lives harder with the way he wanted to run his franchise were able to get out the torches and pitchforks.
Q: @tomecurran why are you guys already talking about the Broncos??? - Kax @Kaxi A: Because they are the most likely impediment for the Patriots getting to the Super Bowl. We are allowed to look ahead because we don't play for the team and, hence, won't be asked to stop Arian Foster.

Q: @tomecurran Name the last highly successful NFL coach (SB's) that was significantly overweight like Andy Reid? Why is this not discussed? - Dean Harrington @DeansDeskA: Mike Holmgren in Seattle. John Madden. I dunno, skinny guys can stink too. Just ask Mike Nolan. Interesting launch point for a book I recently saw recommended as well, called "Why We Get Fat" by Gary Taubes. Give it a read. Helps explain a lot including why the Boston effort to lose 1 million pounds in 2012 finished up 939,000 pounds short.

Thuney stands out in first day of one-on-one work


Thuney stands out in first day of one-on-one work

FOXBORO -- With the introduction of fully-padded practices typically comes the opportunity for linemen on both sides of the football to shine. Unfortunately for the Patriots offensive line, Saturday was sort of a rough day.

Guard Jonathan Cooper, who has been playing as the right guard on the first offensive line unit through the early portion of camp, had to be carted off the field with a foot injury. Center Bryan Stork left practice in the middle of the workout for an undisclosed reason. Guard Shaq Mason took off for some conditioning on a lower field soon after practice began. And, while healthy enough to be on the field, Marcus Cannon had difficulty trying to keep defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard in check. 

One of the bright spots for offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia's group was rookie third-round pick Joe Thuney. The North Carolina State product has served as the left guard for the first-team offensive line thus far, and he more than held his own when the hitting commenced. 

He never appeared out of sorts next to left tackle Nate Solder, he blocked up to and through the echo of the whistle on a play-to-play basis, and he was one of the most impressive Patriots -- rookie or otherwise -- during the first one-on-one period for linemen during this year's camp. 

On his first snap, he was matched up across from last year's first-round pick Malcom Brown and held his ground against the team's top defensive tackle. Later, Thuney handled veteran free-agent pickup Frank Kearse. And on his final rep, he walled off second-year player Trey Flowers. 

For Thuney's part, those few minutes, encouraging as they might have been, had to be flushed from his memory quickly. 

"You can't think too much into one specific drill," he said. "You just gotta try and take it one play at a time and not put too much stock in one drill or one rep. If you have a bad one, just move past it. If you have a good one, move past that too and just go to the next play."

Thuney's aggressiveness and his understanding of the playbook to this point have to be as encouraging to the Patriots coaching staff as -- what appears to be, at least -- his sound technique.  

Mild-mannered in his interactions with reporters, Thuney was touted as a versatile and intelligent player coming out of college. He gushed about his college teammate Jacoby Brissett's leadership qualities soon after Brissett was drafted by the Patriots in May, and he's gone viral for his ability to slay the Rubik's Cube in a blink. 

He has some nasty to him, though. 

"I think inside every offensive lineman there's an inherent desire to play through the whistle," he said. "Obviously we don't want to play dirty or anything, but we try and play as hard as we can from whistle-to-whistle. And yeah...I do take pride in that." 

Thuney wasn't the only rookie lineman to play well on Saturday. When Cooper went down, it was sixth-rounder Ted Karras who began to see more work. 

Together, they caught the eye of at least one veteran defensive lineman. 

"They're physical," said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. "That's a good start. Obviously they'll have to work on different techniques. Coming from college you have different terminology, a different playbook, a different style of game probably. 

"I try to help them out as much as I can even though we go at it. After the play if I feel something, I'll definitely share with them, whether [to] help them going up against myself or help them in the long run because we're all on the same team at the end of the day."

Whatever lessons Thuney's received thus far -- whether they're from coaches or from teammates on the other side of the line of scrimmage -- it looks like he's taken them to heart.

Patriots excited by massive fan turnout for Saturday's practice


Patriots excited by massive fan turnout for Saturday's practice

FOXBORO -- For years now, Patriots training camp practices have become an event. The opportunity to get an autograph, the sunny weather and the non-existent entry fee all make the two-hours-or-more practices a significant draw. 

But rarely do the crowds get as big as they were on Saturday. Fans filled the bleachers and lined the ramps that scale the outside of Gillette Stadium just to get a glimpse of what Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots were up to. 

The team's official Twitter account announced after practice that a whopping 21,781 fans had been in attendance. 

"It's awesome," said defensive end Chris Long, who spent the first eight years of his career in St. Louis without ever having made the playoffs. 

"As if being in pads the first day isn't exciting enough, you come out and these fans give you a real boost. It just speaks to the passion that these fans have. We're warming up in the hot tub, and we can see the fans filing in on ESPN or NFL Network. They beat us out on the field. It's pretty cool what they've got going here."

Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, a Connecticut native who grew up following the Patriots, has spent time with the Redskins, Broncos and Jaguars, but Saturday's crowd caught his attention. 

"If I wasn't playing, I'd be up there too," he said. "This is a winning franchise and . . . the fans are loyal. This is a place that I've played at in the past, and the games are always sold out and the fans will give you a hard time when you're on the opposing team. I just happen to be on the good side now."

The Patriots are in the middle of their first stretch of five consecutive days of practice. Two of their first three practices have been held with temperatures reaching around 90 degrees, and Saturday's practice was the first padded session of the week. They'll go through their in-stadium practice on Monday night before they're given a full day to rest.  

Players indicated that having the kind of fan support that they had Saturday seemed to give them a jolt. Especially for the players who are new to the organization. 

"There's excitement in the air with these fans," Long said. "They're awesome sports fans. Boston sports have always been known to be passionate, but until you're here, you don't really get a feel for it. They are a lot of fun to play in front of out on the practice field."

Knighton kicks himself off Twitter

Knighton kicks himself off Twitter

FOXBORO -- If you're on Twitter and you follow Terrance Knighton, you know where he stands on all sorts of topics. 

He thought the Sen. Elizabeth Warren speech at the Democratic National Convention would be "epic." He watches the WNBA. He loves the Celtics. He hates it when his dog looks at him naked. He wants an uncensored sports talk show on the radio when he's done with his playing career. 

And those are things you could gather from his timeline in the last week alone. 

Three days ago, the avid Twitter user called it quits. For the time being. 

"I'm just gonna try something different," he said when asked about his self-imposed Twitter ban. "The environment that I'm around, everyone's just focused on football. I'll be off it for three weeks, and as soon as I break it in three weeks, I'll have a lot to say I'm pretty sure." 

Knighton said he's not concerned about getting himself into any trouble with what he may say on the social-media site, but given the amount of focus he wants to put into his job, it makes sense for him to back away now that training camp has begun. 

"I would never say anything to get in trouble," he said. "But I speak on everything so right now, all the Democratic and Republican conventions, I just keep them quiet right now." 

He added: "In the locker room, you don't see guys on their phones all the time. You don't see guys joking around. They're always doing something productive to win. I decided to give [Twitter] up for three weeks, but like I said, I can't wait to get back to Twitter because I always have a lot to say."