Levine: It's Tebow Time once more

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Levine: It's Tebow Time once more

Not that our opinions actually mattered, but at the start of yesterdays overtime between the Steelers and Broncos, Patriots fans were faced with an interesting question:

Whom would they rather have the Pats play next?

Was it Pittsburgh, with its beaten down defense, no-name running game and quarterback who was now as immobile on the field as he was hide-your-daughters creepy off of it?

Or was it Denv Boom!

Before you could even finish the thought, Tim Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas on an 80-yard score to knock out the Steelers and render the whole argument insignificant. Although, we all wanted Denver anyway, right? Right?!

Of course we did.

Heading into this weekend, the Steelers were the only potential opponent to strike fear in New England's hopes to avoid a fourth straight playoff loss. The Bengals were a joke. Tebow Time had long run out. The Steelers, and only the Steelers, were the team who had a chance to come in and ruin another Patriots' season.

But after watching what Denver did yesterday, are you still that convinced that the Curse of David Tyree I've got copyrights on that, Shaughnessy. Don't even think about it! is ready to run out?

On one hand, you only need to look back as far as Week 15 to realize how capable the Pats are of dominating Denver. Outside of a frustrating first quarter which is the only way these Pats know how to play the opening frame they treated the Broncos like dirt. And that was in Denver, at the height of Tebow Mania, before they lost offensive lineman Chris Kuper for the season and now, very likely, Eric Decker. The Pats destroyed the Broncos when they were at their very best, so it's hard to imagine or expect anything less when the two reconvene on Saturday night.

Then again, regular season success hasn't really helped the Patriots much in recent years. As you know, they've now lost three straight playoff games, and all three came against teams that they'd already beaten that same season. They beat the Giants 38-35 in Week 17 of 2007, and lost in the Super Bowl, 17-14. They beat the Ravens 27-21 in Week 4 of 2009, and lost 33-14 in the playoffs. And most recently (and probably the most comparable situation to this one), the Pats beat the Jets 45-3 in Week 13 last season. You remember that? Remember how that's all anyone could talk about heading into the playoffs? How that game was proof positive that the Jets had absolutely no shot of coming in here and walking away with a win?

The Patriots were 9.5-point favorites heading into that game, and finished up as seven-point losers. On Saturday, they'll take the field as 14-point favorites, and will likely face a very different Denver team than the one they saw in December. The defense has been taken down a peg, the offense has taken a few major injury-related hits. Who knows how Willis McGahee's confidence is after that huge potential-season-ending fumble? And of course, Tebow Time isn't what it once was.

While he may have led his team to another improbable victory, it wasn't anything like those head scratchers from Denver's mid-season run. There were no onside kicks, two point conversions, phantom fumbles or idiots out of bounds. Instead, it was just a solid quarterback playing a relatively sound (and consistent) game against a very good (albeit beaten down) defense. Perhaps that makes him more apt to take on the Patriots, but if anything, the superhuman mystique has certainly worn off. There will be no question in the Pats minds that they're up against a mere mortal. But given recent history, there's also no question that absolutely nothing can be taken for granted. We've been here before. We've assumed too much and been burned in ways that haven't yet healed.

But still, while it might be dangerous to assume the Pats are in for a playoff cake walk against Denver, I'm sure as hell happy they're not playing Pittsburgh.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Secretary of Navy: Cardona 'may have to leave the Patriots' to serve

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Secretary of Navy: Cardona 'may have to leave the Patriots' to serve

United States Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus joined the Dan Patrick Show on Thursday to discuss new Ravens draftee Keenan Reynolds, a record-setting quarterback during his career at the Naval Academy. In so doing, Mabus hit on the uncertain status of Patriots long-snapper Joe Cardona. 

"Right now we do have a process," Mabus said. "It hasn't got up to me yet to [decide on whether or not Reynolds will be eligible to play], but there are a lot of paths to both play and to serve. 

"We've got Joe Cardona, long snapper for the Patriots. He played . . . last year for the Patriots while he was on active duty because he was able to work them both out. Now he's been assigned to a ship, and he's going to report to that ship. He may have to leave the Patriots for a year or so to go fulfill that roll."

The playing status for individuals like Reynolds and Cardona is always somewhat uncertain given their commitment. Last season, Cardona was able to serve by working at the Naval Preparatory Academy during his time away from the Patriots facilities. Once his rookie season ended, he headed back to the Newport, Rhode Island-based school to work full-time and help mentor students there. 

Cardona was scheduled to make his way to Norfolk, Virginia later in the offseason and live there for about two months to participate in the Navy's Basic Division Officer Course, or "BDOC," which was required before he could report to his ship as a Surface Warfare Officer. From there, he was scheduled to travel to Bath, Maine, to work on the USS Zumwalt. 

"I'll get to work there and figure out a schedule that doesn't interfere with either of my jobs," Cardona said back in January following New England's loss to Denver in the AFC title game, "and hopefully be back on the field next year."

Cardona has long maintained that his job as an active member of the Navy is his top priority. Should his duties on the USS Zumwalt interfere with his long-snapping work with the Patriots, he could realistically sit out for the season. 

The Patriots signed veteran long-snapper Christian Yount earlier this offseason in a move that reminded those following the team that Cardona is not guaranteed to be available for 2016. Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich has long-snapped in the past and typically serves as the team's emergency snapper. 

Cardona was selected in the fifth round of the 2015 draft and played in all 16 regular-season games and two postseason games for the Patriots last season. 

Reese Witherspoon tries to recruit Malcolm Mitchell for her book club

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Reese Witherspoon tries to recruit Malcolm Mitchell for her book club

Malcolm Mitchell's on-the-field ability got him drafted in the fourth round by the Patriots last weekend, but his off-the-field story has garnered just as much -- if not more -- attention.

Mitchell's story, at this point, has been well-told. The 6-foot, 198-pound receiver arrived at the University of Georgia able to read at only a middle-school level. But while on campus his love of reading steadily grew, and he has since become a strong advocate for children's literacy. He's written his own children's book, The Magician's Hat, and he even joined a book club in the Athens, Georgia area made up of women about twice his age and older. 

Though his fellow book club members plan to make a visit to Gillette Stadium at some point this season to watch Mitchell play, he may be in the market for a new group now that he'll be moving to New England. 

Actress Reese Witherspoon was so inspired by Mitchell's story that she tried to recruit him to her own book club. Using Twitter to make the connection, Witherspoon happily engaged Mitchell in a back-and-forth where the two shared some of their favorite reading list suggestions.

Mitchell will soon be in Foxboro for Patriots rookie minicamp so he'll likely have to devote an inordinate amount of time to digesting his new playbook, but it seems like he now has a few other items on his to-do list thanks to his new pal.

GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

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GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

In an all-CSN edition in the 15th episode of the Great American Hockey Show Podcast as co-hosts Joe Haggerty and Jimmy Murphy welcomed SportsNet Central anchor Mike Giardi to discuss the current B’s situation and conducted a wide-ranging interview with Sports Tonight host and Felger and Mazz co-host Michael Felger about his time covering the Bruins as a beat reporter, where he developed his love for hockey and his pathway toward becoming the most influential figure in the Boston sports media scene.

Perhaps most interesting from Giardi’s segment was his take that “nobody should be untouchable” on the Bruins roster, that includes franchise player and future captain Patrice Bergeron, if the return is good enough. Felger discussed who he’d move between Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask to change up the Bruins roster this summer and how gravely concerned he is about the health and well-being of the franchise coming off two seasons out of the playoffs.

“I’m fearful, of course. I think the passion of the Bruins fan base is still there. We could do four hours on the radio tomorrow talking about the Bruins, and totally bang it out with callers,” said Felger. “So the Bruins are so lucky that the fans are that passionate. But if it’s too long of a drought, we all lived through 2005 and 2006 coming out of the lockout. It was dark, and we have the capacity to go back there.”

For the full Great American Hockey Show podcast check it out below: