Curran: Pats have little margin for error

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Curran: Pats have little margin for error

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO - For weeks on end, the Patriots have emptied their tanks every Sunday.The gauge has started on "F" and made its way to "E" over the 60 minutes. Self-inflicted wounds? Wait for the other guys tocommit them. The Patriots were smarter. Always. Bloodlessly efficient. And the way they were winning showed the gap between a team playing at close to full capacity and teams that were, well, slapping it out there. The Patriots slapped it out there Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers.It almost got them beat by a backup quarterback making his first career start. It would have arguably been the biggest upset of this NFL season.Penalties. Drops. Failure to execute things they've been doing with startling ease for nearly two months. It all came up Sunday night. Luckily for the Patriots, they survived. But their attention was gotten by their own performance. "We came into the game obviously not playing like we did the last couple weeks," said linebacker Ron Ninkovich. "We knew Green Bay was good. It was a game we needed to come into with energy. The past two weeks we had tons of energy. Just in pregame we just . . . this week, I feel we dipped down in energy." The words "reality" and "check" often get whipped around after games like this. As if a team gets its comeuppance from a flat performance. That happened to an extent. But the reality check wasn't just for the guys wearing the helmets and shoulder pads. It was for all those who have anointed the Patriots as being atotal juggernaut, just as goodas the 2007 team. They are not. They aregood. Very good. But what's best about them is the fact they operate at such a high level.They don't hurt themselves. And they are where they are supposed to be most of the time on offense and defense. But it's smarts and effort, not overwhelming talent, that's got this team at 12-2. The wind will blow the other way now. And speculation will now rise that the Patriots have been "exposed" or figured out.The code's been cracked, blah, blah,blah. The reality is the only secret the Patriots havehas been hiding in plain sight. They don't make mistakes. Sunday night, they did.The 7 penalties for 52 yards was piddling compared to what some teams do on a weekly basis. But it was enough to keep drives alive. And the defense that'sbeen able to get off the field with increasing regularity as the season's progressed, regressed Sunday night. In the face of . . . Matt Flynn? Yes. In the face of Matt Flynn. Because, the fact is, the Patriots are not talented enough - especially not on defense - to just overwhelm teams by lining up. They have to play as near as they can to 100 percent. And if they don't? "I think we need to play better than this or our season won't last much longer," said Bill Belichick. Based on what they've done this season, they probably will. Because they now have gotten a taste of what will happen if they don't.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Hogan 'feeling good' as he recovers from thigh injury

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Hogan 'feeling good' as he recovers from thigh injury

FOXBORO -- Patriots wideout Chris Hogan indicated after Saturday's divisional round win over the Texans that he'd be OK, and he doubled down on that stance when meeting with reporters Tuesday. 

The veteran receiver, whose first season with the Patriots has brought his first career postseason experience, injured his thigh against Houston. He left in the third quarter and did not return. 

"Feeling good," Hogan said. "Just had a little minor setback in the game. I'm working back every single day and feeling better every day."

Hogan had an awkward collision with Texans defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney at the end of the first half on a play at the goal line. To that point, he had reeled in four passes for 95 yards as the team's primary deep threat. With Hogan out, Brady relied upon Julian Edelman and Michael Floyd as wideouts.

Hogan explained that he was expecting to practice this week.

"I'm just gonna go day by day," he said. "Come in here tomorrow. Everything's been feeling better day by day. I'm looking forward to getting out there and practicing this week."

Strahan picks Steelers to upset Patriots in AFC Championship

Strahan picks Steelers to upset Patriots in AFC Championship

Michael Strahan saw the Patriots lose a Super Bowl first-hand, but he doesn’t think they’ll lose Super Bowl LI. That’s because he doesn’t think they’ll be participants. 

Appearing on The Tonight Show, the former Giants defensive end and current Person Who is Frequently on Television said that he expects the Steelers to upset the Patriots in Sunday’s AFC Championship.

“I think in the AFC, I think Pittsburgh might pull the upset this year,” Strahan said. 

When Jimmy Fallon objected, Strahan said Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ pass rush would be enough to beat the Pats if New England plays the way it did in the divisional round. 
 
“If you watched the Houston Texans, they had a shot; they just turned the ball over,” he said. “And the Houston Texans offense is in no way, shape or form near what Pittsburgh has. They don’t have the quarterback that [Pittsburgh has]. Defensively, Houston had the really good defense, but Pittsburgh [puts] the good pressure on the quarterback. And from my Super Bowl experience, Tom Brady does not like pressure. I’m just saying I feel like if there’s anybody who’s going to pull an upset, it will be them.” 

As for any rooting interest, Strahan said that he hopes the Falcons win the Super Bowl, citing Matt Ryan being overdue for a title and Julio Jones having a Brady-like quality of putting team goals before his own legacy.