More ups and downs for McCourty

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More ups and downs for McCourty

FOXBORO, MA -- Devin McCourty must have asked Santa for an interception this Christmas.

The cornerback picked off Matt Moore in the fourth quarter of New England's 27-24 win. It was an important play: the score was tied at 17 and Miami was driving into Patriots territory. Moore, who successfully hung up 294 yards on the opposing secondary, looked downfield to where Brian Hartline was streaking toward the end zone.

The ball went up...

It came down with McCourty at the New England 2.

"Felt pretty good," he smiled after the game. "Finally got a chance to get one and reel it in. It was a big play, helped the team out big time."

His use of "finally" is appropriate. It's taken McCourty 16 weeks -- 13 games because of the separated shoulder -- to nab a pick after tallying seven in his 2010 Pro Bowl season. The sophomore slump is old news by now, so much so that the inconsistencies are one of the most consistent aspects of his play.

But also unfailing? His attitude. A good one.

Despite the cloud of negatives overshadowing each individual positive, McCourty has remained accountable. He has spoken to the media on behalf of the secondary after every loss. He's answered every question about surrendered yardage and pass interference penalties (this week it was on third-and-12). Not once has McCourty shown frustration or impatience.

He views the season as a fight that's far from over.

"That's the life of playing corner," he shrugged. "You make a play and then they come right back and make a play. I think you just keep battling. In the secondary you're always going to go against that.

"When you play this position you kind of tell yourself that your whole career. Today wasn't the first day I got beat in my career and it won't be the last. You've just got to keep playing."

Fans and media alike are quick to heap criticism on McCourty for the drop-off. He knows he deserves it; a guy can't rival Ndamukong Suh for defensive rookie of the year then return as a defensive liability the next season.

Unfortunately, that's what he now resembles. For each person who mentions McCourty's interception there will be 10 clamoring to list each of Miami's big gains. Like the fourth quarter 41-yard bomb Moore delivered to Brandon Marshall on third-and-10. That play was more than half the distance of the entire drive, which ended in a touchdown and brought the Dolphins within three points.

Marshall finished with 156 yards and a touchdown -- the bulk of his damage done on McCourty's side.

So it goes.

The reality is, McCourty's rookie campaign was good enough to give him a long leash. It's likely the Patriots' biggest worry is preserving his nucleus of confidence, and that means riding out the waves. How does McCourty handle it all? He's buoyed by teammates.

After coming down with the interception McCourty scrambled to his feet and high-stepped to the sideline, ball tucked under his right arm. Linebacker Rob Ninkovich was there around the 20. The pair met with a thunderous bump in mid-air.

Ninkovich recalled the celebration with a smile. The relief wasn't just McCourty's.

"As a defense we all lean on each other. An NFL season is tough... you've got a lot of ups and downs. You've got to have that team camaraderie, everybody around you staying positive."

It hasn't been easy. But as McCourty will tell you, that's not why you fight.

Hawkins says he passed up more lucrative deals to sign with Patriots

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Hawkins says he passed up more lucrative deals to sign with Patriots

The Patriots went into Wednesday with what could have passed as the deepest receiving group in team history, yet by lunchtime they had added another. 

Former Browns and Bengals wideout Andrew Hawkins announced on Twitter (via uSTADIUM) that he had chose to come to terms with New England. He explained that the opportunity to work with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick proved to be enough to convince him that he should pass up more lucrative offers from other clubs.

"After giving it a lot of though, I've decided that I'm going to join the New England Patriots," he said. "Super excited about the opportunity, man, to join the reigning football champions. In Cleveland, I said it was about joining a contender, and the Patriots are the contender, the reigning champs.

"The program is top-notch, and you get the opportunity to play with the best quarterback and the best coach in NFL history, man, so it's super exciting. It was never really about the money. To be honest, I passed up on deals that were probably double the compensation . . . but it was all about winning for me at this point, and putting myself in the best position to do so."

Hawkins (5-foot-7, 180 pounds) may be a familiar name to Patriots fans as he caught four passes for a season-high 56 yards and one touchdown against New England in Week 5 of last season. He finished the year with 33 catches for 324 yards and three scores. The 31-year-old has recently seen his name in the headlines as he completed his Sports Management degree at Columbia and graduated last week. 

The Patriots have receivers room that's currently pretty loaded with talent. Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell figure to make up the top end of the depth chart, while former practice-squad wideouts Devin Street, Devin Lucien and DeAndrew White figure to compete for playing time as do undrafted rookies Austin Carr and Cody Hollister.

"Nothing's for sure. I got my work cut out for me. It's an opportunity," Hawkins said. "That's how I'm approaching it. Going there and seeing how I stack up with the best and try to earn my keep and prove my worth. I'm jsust excited to get there, get to work, and hopefully I can be part of something special and kind of join that Patriot legacy."

Would Gronk benefit from work with Guerrero? Revisiting Brady's response

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Would Gronk benefit from work with Guerrero? Revisiting Brady's response

Back in December, after Rob Gronkowski underwent back surgery, Tom Brady was asked by WEEI's Kirk and Callahan show if the oft-injured All-Pro tight end would benefit from work with Brady's "body coach" Alex Guerrero.

It's a question worth asking again this week as news surfaced on Tuesday that Gronkowski and the Patriots agreed to restructure their deal for 2017. Gronkowski now has the opportunity to be paid as the top tight end in the league should he hit certain statistical benchmarks or be named an All-Pro.

But to reach those goals, he'll need to stay relatively healthy throughout the regular season. In seven seasons as a pro, he's been able to do that four times.

Perhaps an altered regimen, one like Brady's that focuses on pliability, would help him in his pursuit of maxing out his 2017 salary. When Brady was asked about a potential partnership between Gronkowski and Guerrero late last season, he said that the two had already done some work together. 

"I mean Gronk is so hard working, and Gronk has spent a lot of time with Alex at different points," Brady told WEEI at the time. "Gronk has his rehab and he’s going to do it, and I have no doubt he’s going to come back stronger and better than ever. All of us learn every year about things that work and don’t work. And it’s really up to the individual.

"Gronk, it depends what all the . . . I don’t want to single out Gronk because he’s the only one that's injured. There's a lot of players that get injured over the course of the year, and then you go about changes in your routine because you think this may work and this may not work.

"To me, I feel like it’s very touch-and-feel with how you do take care of your body. Some weeks it is a little more strengthening. Some weeks it’s a little more conditioning. Some weeks it’s a little more pliability depending on how your body feels. I don’t think people spend enough time on pliability at all. I think that is the missing third leg to what athletes in high school should be learning and college athletes. We learn at a young age it’s all about strengthening and conditioning. And strengthening at the expense of pliability, to me, gets you injured. If you’re injured you can’t play. If your body is your asset and you’re injured, you’re not going to have much of a career for any athlete."

Gronkowski's already had himself one of the best careers of any player who has played his position. But figuring out how to extend his career despite the pounding he has taken -- and surely will continue to take -- is a complicated endeavor. Does it mean improved pliability? Better nutrition and hydration? More sleep? 

In reality, any player would probably benefit from any of those things . . . as well as luck. Brady's admitted that some of the injuries Gronkowski has suffered in the past have been unavoidable.

"He’s dealt with certain things that are almost impossible to avoid on the football field," Brady said. "Sometimes it’s just bad luck. For me, I try and do all the things I can do to avoid as many things as possible and be as proactive as possible so that I can try to be out there every week. I believe that if you have a great foundation, it ends up being a lot harder to get hurt.

"That’s kind of where I focus my time and energy over the course of the week so that . . . you know you’re going to get hit, you know you’re going to sustain these impacts, and how can your body be prepared to withstand those things?"

Taking up Brady's workout routine resistance band excersise-for-resistance band exercise probably doesn't make sense for a 265-pound player who needs to be strong enough to block defensive ends and sturdy enough to absorb high-speed collisions down the seam. But sprinkling in some of the elements of Brady's prep, if he hasn't already, might not hurt. 

And after his recent contract restructure, Gronkowski may have more incentive than ever before to tinker with his program in the hopes of staying on the field.