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

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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 NBCSports.com. 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.

Butler earns praise from Belichick, Patricia after wire-to-wire performance

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Butler earns praise from Belichick, Patricia after wire-to-wire performance

FOXBORO -- Malcolm Butler left Sunday's win over the Texans feeling pretty good about himself. One week after being relegated to the No. 3 corner role on the Patriots defense, he played every snap and allowed just two catches for 10 yards.

“I think I’m building,” Butler said afterward. “I think I’m taking it a step at a time. There’s a lot of football to be played, so whatever you see, judge me.”

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And we have. There was the pass-interference penalty in Week 1. There was the botched pick-play coverage with Patrick Chung in Week 2. But even with those mishaps mixed in, Butler's energy and effort did not seem to wane on film.

He caught Chiefs speedster Tyreek Hill for a tackle from behind to prevent a first down in the season-opener. Against the Saints, his hard pass breakup on top Saints wideout Michael Thomas was a bright spot for the Patriots secondary.

In Week 3, that effort was there again. Targeted twice while in coverage on DeAndre Hopkins, Butler did well to jam Hopkins at the line of scrimmage and then limit the game's highest-paid receiver to zero yards after the catch.

When asked about Butler on Tuesday's conference calls, both Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia struck tones that were strikingly different than the ones that made headlines when discussing Butler the week prior.

"Yeah, I think Malcolm did a good job," Belichick said. "I mean, all of our defensive backs I thought were pretty competitive. We had some scramble yardage and loose plays and things like that. But I mean, the normal passing game we were pretty competitive on. But like anything else, there are certainly a lot of things we can do better."

That goes for Butler, too, who admitted last week that he hadn't been playing up to his standards.

On one of those scramble-drill plays Belichick referenced, Deshaun Watson found tight end Ryan Griffin for a 35-yard gain, which included several yards after the catch when Butler was among the defenders who missed the chance to try to wrestle Griffin to the ground.

There were occasions though -- like Watson's first-quarter third-down scramble that Butler helped to stop, forcing the Texans to kick a field goal -- when Butler's want-to was evident.

"I thought Malcolm played really well," Patricia said. "We certainly didn’t play great at all as a defense. I’m not saying that but I think the guy really tried to go out and play extremely hard. 

"This is a very competitive guy. Malcolm steps up to the challenges that you place in front of him. He goes out and competes, he works hard, he tries to do it the right way and he really tries to get better every week. Look, we had a productive week last week for him and working through. But it’s a new week and we’re going to try to get the same consistency every single week and that’s what we’re trying to do."

A week ago, when asked about Butler's performance, Belichick and Patricia weren't quite as glowing.

"I don’t think anybody’s performance this season is really where it needs to be or where it will be," Belichick said at the time. "We all need to do a better job."

"I think with Malcolm, he’s kind of in a boat with everybody else," Patricia said. "We’re trying to get better."

Part of the reason Butler may have been relied upon as much as he was could have been due to the fact that fellow corner Eric Rowe -- who started in Week 2 opposite Stephon Gilmore -- was inactive with a groin injury. 

How Butler will factor in against the Panthers in Week 4 remains to be seen, but if his work against the Texans improved his confidence, then that would seem to benefit the Patriots defense as a whole. 

"Things that we're confident in," Belichick said, "we do more aggressively, we do quicker, we do with probably better overall execution than things we're not confident in . . . 

"It’s a fine line there between confidence and overconfidence and taking it for granted, as opposed to just being right in that sweet spot of having an edge, having confidence, being alert and aggressive."