Patriots defense gaining confidence in recent weeks

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Patriots defense gaining confidence in recent weeks

FOXBORO -- In the Patriots' last three games, they've allowed 19 points to the Jets, 16 points to the Dolphins, and 14 points to the Texans -- all wins.

With each week, the scores have dropped, and with each week the defense is gaining more self-assuredness. Vince Wilfork said on Thursday that the Patriots defense has been on a roll that has turned out to be a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy: The better the defense plays, the more fun it has, and the more fun it has, the better it plays.

"One thing I see is confidence," Wilfork said. "Guys playing and having fun. That's the one thing, when you play with confidence, you can have fun. When you play stuck up, it's not fun because you scared to make a mistake. You're not sure if you're doing the right things or not."

After Monday night's game, Wilfork credited cornerback Aqib Talib with bringing a certain swagger to the defense that may contribute to its playing more loosely.

"He's brought an attitude," Wilfork said. "He don't say much, he just practice his tail off. He fit right in with everybody else. He's a physical player. Big, strong, physical player. I don't know if he brought anything to the secondary or not, but I can tell you what he bring on the practice field and what he bring in the game. He's a special player, and I'm glad we got him."

As the defense has gelled as a unit in the last month since Talib's arrival, positions in the secondary have solidified as well -- Talib and Alfonzo Dennard man the corners, with Kyle Arrington in the slot, and Steve Gregory and Devin McCourty at the safety positions. Whether that has helped contribute to an air of confidence or not, Wilfork says that he hasn't seen teammates getting disappointed after allowing big plays during this recent stretch of success.

"Other teams, they get paid, too," he said. "They play good football, too. Every once in a while they make plays, and it's not the end of the world. I think the guys do a really good job of understanding that, not getting down on themselves, trying to go out and make another play. It's gonna be like that again this week."

Patriots To-Do List: Figure out what’s up with Cyrus Jones

Patriots To-Do List: Figure out what’s up with Cyrus Jones

Personally, I would buy a crapload of stock in Cyrus Jones. In part because – after his nightmarish rookie season – stock can be bought on the cheap. But also because he’s too talented, too committed and too smart to suck like he did in 2016 when he handled punts like they were coated in uranium and never made a big contribution in the secondary.

(Listen above to hear Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry discuss Cyrus Jones on the Quick Slants podcast.)

Because of his disappointing year, Jones is an overlooked player on the Patriots roster, but he’s in a pivotal spot. With Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon approaching free agency, Malcolm Butler’s contract expiring after 2017, Pat Chung on the edge of 30 and a free agent after 2018 and the other corners being Justin Coleman, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones is going to get his shot.

The reason I included safeties Harmon and Chung in the discussion is that when the Patriots go to six DBs, roles are less stringently defined. And because of Jones’ size (5-10, 200), powerful build and short-area quickness, he can be the kind of versatile player who covers inside against quicker slot receivers as well as being on the outside if necessary. Kind of like Chung can cover on the back end or drop down to cover tight ends.

The Patriots are confident that Jones will get it right. His teammates in the secondary are unanimous in saying he’s got all the talent he needs.  

PATRIOTS TO-DO LIST:

But as 2016 wore on, it was apparent that Jones was miserable and let his failures consume him. Jones muffed or fumbled five kicks in the 2016 season.
 
By the time the Patriots played the Ravens on a Monday night in December, he was so inside his own head that he stalked a bouncing punt he had no business being near (for the second time that game) and had it bounce off his foot setting up a Ravens touchdown. That night, Jones exited the Patriots locker room and made his way to the players parking lot before the field was even clear of equipment.

Jones either expected things to come as easily in the NFL as they did at Alabama and wasn’t prepared to deal with adversity. Or the mistakes he made caused him to wonder if he really was good enough to play in the league.

Either way, Cyrus Jones was all about Cyrus Jones in 2016. And his comments to the Baltimore Sun over the weekend were evidence that the world he’s concerned with ends at the end of his nose. 

"I honestly felt cursed," he said. "I reached a point where I didn't even want to play. I just didn't have it...What I did this year was not me," he said. "I don't care how anybody tries to sugarcoat it. Yes, I was a rookie. But I feel I should always be one of the best players on the field, no matter where I am.
 
"But honestly, it was hell for me," he said. "That's the only way I can describe it. I didn't feel I deserved to be part of anything that was happening with the team. I felt embarrassed that these people probably thought they wasted a pick on me."

The first thing Jones needs to do this offseason is get over himself. He can look one locker down and talk to Devin McCourty about getting crushed for shaky play in 2012, battling through it and then turning into a Pro Bowl-level safety. He can talk to fellow Alabama product Dont'a Hightower about Hightower’s being benched in the 2013 season against the Broncos and labeled a bust before flipping his season around and being the team’s best defender by the end of that year.

But he’s going to have to figure it out. Draft status means nothing to New England and, as it now stands, undrafted corner Jonathan Jones out of Auburn has more demonstrated value to the team that Cyrus Jones does. In two months, the Patriots are damn sure going to add more secondary players.

This offseason, Jones needs to check his ego, simplify his game and simply ban outside perceptions from fans, media or coaches from infect his on-field decision-making.

His conversation with the Sun didn’t really indicate he’s ready to do that. Asked about criticism, Jones said, “It pisses me off. You can say shut it out or don't listen, but I know people are talking, and it's negative. I'm not a dumb guy. It definitely affects me. What it should do is piss me off in a way that I want to shut them all up."

From the limited number of times I spoke with him and from his teammates regard for him, I can confirm Jones isn’t a dumb guy. That doesn’t necessarily make life easier though. In 2016, Cyrus Jones’ brain got in the way. The Patriots need him to shut that thing off in 2017. 

Brady lists suspects in jersey theft: Edelman, Lady Gaga, Game of Thrones villain

Brady lists suspects in jersey theft: Edelman, Lady Gaga, Game of Thrones villain

The case of Tom Brady's missing Super Bowl jersey got a tad more serious on Tuesday as the Houston Police Department's report on the stolen No. 12 was published by TMZ. In it, police estimate the value of the jersey at a cool half-million dollars

Brady clearly took notice. 

Though he'd probably like to have the jersey back in short order, he took to Instagram on Wednesday to make light of the search. 

His investigation seemed to lead him toward a familiar face, Julian Edelman, who he describes as a "sneaky lil squirrel." 

To let his teammate know he means business, Brady pulled a quote from Good Will Hunting.

"Ya suspect, yeah you! I don't know what your reputation is in this town, but after that s@?# you pulled, you can bet l'll be looking into you!"