Patriots

Curran's Mailbag: How mentally tough are the Pats?

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Curran's Mailbag: How mentally tough are the Pats?

Often, I get queries on Twitter.

Some are variations of, "Why am I following you again?" or "Are you always this stupid?" My therapist says those take me to a sad and angry place and my response should be quietly muttering personal affirmations to myself.

Other questions are good ones. A successful Twitterer would answer those questions immediately. But I am lazy. So they are fodder for my Mailbag!

Q. Would really like to see Tebow as a Patriot next year, thoughts?
Salim Mathew @salheem

A. I bet you would. As for my thoughts on Tebow becoming a Patriot? It seems the Jets haven't found a spot to maximize Timmy's talents. Or they haven't found Timmy's talents. Given he played significant time for the Broncos last year, this is inexcusable unless they didn't bother to look at film (a possibility) or only hired him as a publicity stunt (even more possible). Either way, I have no doubt Bill Belichick would be intrigued at the challenge of turning Tebow into a contributor to the Patriots so as to grind the Jets' noses further in their own ineptitude. And Belichick genuinely likes Tebow. While he may not be able to provide Tebow a concrete role, I believe there's a good chance the Patriots at least explore bringing him to town.

Q. Super Bowl 36 on ESPN2 with commentary by you! With those old rules how bad would the 01 team beat up on the current squad?
Tyler Massey @tmass41 A. That would be a fascinating matchup because of the ferocity of the Patriots secondary. Ty Law would render Brandon Lloyd a non-factor at the line of scrimmage. Tebucky Jones would be an interesting physical matchup for Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and Terrell Buckley and Otis Smith would get tortured by Wes Welker. The 2012 team is more talented; the 2001 team had captured lightning in a bottle and would play harder and with more confidence and abandon because they have nothing to lose.

Q. Hope you & your family had a great holiday, Tom. With two spots now open, one for Jermaine Cunningham, one for Jabar Gaffney maybe?
Greg Bruno @GBruno526

A. Thanks Greg! We did. Since you asked, the Patriots did indeed return Jermaine Cunningham to the active roster. It will be important this week for Cunningham to get his game legs under him. It will also be interesting to see how Cunningham's return impacts the use of Justin Francis and Trevor Scott. Francis in particular has shown an ability to get off the line and bring pressure in the offensive backfield. As for the other spot(s) - two are open - the likelihood seems greater they'd haul someone up from the practice squad who's been practicing with the team rather than sign Gaffney, though I understand why you'd ask about bringing a veteran in now.

Q. Any news on whether Tom Brady has started his playoff beard yet? Is that too much to ask?
chris lynch @ALargeRegularA. No definitive news yet. It's not too much to ask, just haven't noticed. I am more attuned to his accessorizing - glasses, hats, etc.Q. Tom, I am confused, last night you said to Borges you where worried about this teams mental toughness, tonite you are not?
Rob P @0_LayDX
A. I apologize for causing you confusion. In the aftermath of the Jacksonville game, I mentioned on Sports Sunday that there were some lackluster efforts in that game. I alleged that players needed to power through things at this time of the year (easy for me to say, as I noted at the time). Particularly unimpressive effort plays came from Donta Hightower and Aaron Hernandez. By Monday, the conversation had morphed into one that wondered whether the team as a whole was mentally tough. I mentioned that the way they closed the Jacksonville game was a sign of growth from earlier in the season. I also think the period of time from Seattle through San Francisco - given all the travel, questions, injuries and pressure playing on a team that's driven very hard by its head coach - showed they are indeed pretty tough mentally relative to the rest of the league. Compared to the 2001-2004 Patriots, they are not there. But who is?
Q. Why did Hernandez even take the field? Looked hobbled on his first few plays.
PatriotsXLVII @PatriotsXLVIII A. He sure did. Necessity, I think. Fortunately, Michael Hoomanawanui performed well in the Gronk role to take some tight end heat off of Hernandez but 81 continues to not be himself on the majority of snapsQ. How many more times are you going to post this?VFN28 @vfn28 A. Probably just a few more.
Q. Do Pats rest the banged up starters next week or let em play and finish strong?Eric Paulson @epaulson89 A. I really believe that some key players need to recharge. Not be shut down entirely but Wes Welker, for instance, could use a quiet Sunday. He's handled the ball 134 times this season on receptions, punts, kickoffs and carries. He's been targeted an additional 53 times on balls that were incomplete. Through 16 games in 2011, do you know how many times Welker handled the ball? 140. An additional 51 passes in 2011 went his way that fell incomplete. So the hope of reducing Welker's workload in 2012 didn't work out, thanks mostly to injuries around the offense and Welker's own effectiveness.Q. I don't know what to make of the Pats, Tom. They might get beat in 1st round of playoffs or they might go to the Super Bowl. Who knows?Laurence King @larryking97748 A. I hear ya, Larry. Q. Does this mean Seattle is better than SF & Pats?? I'm confused
Headstomp @Headstomp2k

A. The line starts behind Larry. You're behind me, Headstomp. And I don't want to find out why they call you that. Wait...Albert...is that you?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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