Originally posted on NESN.com  |  Last updated 12/21/12
Sunday’s loss is still lingering in the minds of the Patriots’ players, and that could be a good thing as they prepare for a playoff run. Tom Brady says he feels like the Patriots haven’t won in three years, and I’d expect him to come out playing like he has three years worth of scoring to make up for. He’s not the only Patriot with something to prove, though. Stevan Ridley fumbled for the second time in as many games on Sunday, and his putrid output of just 23 yards rushing has many wondering if he’s wearing down with the long season. A nice surge from him in sunny Jacksonville would certainly counter that speculation. Beyond Brady, Ridley and the offense, the Patriots need to regroup on defense, too. After a stretch of solid play leading up to San Francisco’s visit to Gillette Stadium, New England allowed the 49ers to put up a season-high 41 points — the most the Patriots have allowed since 2005. The leadership of Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo will be a major key to the unit’s performance, as the Patriots’ defense seeks to rekindle the aggressive style they played with in the weeks prior. There’s plenty to talk about, though, as the loss has opened up a whole Pandora’s box of playoff possibilities, including the thought of tanking down the stretch. We’ll see how the Patriots respond on the field come Sunday. But in the meantime, let’s jump into a very special holiday edition of the NFL mailbag. You think the Patriots made a mistake by blitzing Colin Kaepernick late in the game when the defense was doing well during a stretch of stops? – via Twitter/@jbird010 I’m guessing the specific play you’re talking about is the touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree late in the fourth quarter. The Patriots brought the house, including all three linebackers, and were intent on pressuring Kaepernick, especially with the 49ers on their heels with the 28-point rally. After rewatching the film, the Patriots did bring the blitz a few times during their big comeback. That first-down pass seemed like another good opportunity to bring the heat on Kaepernick. The blitz was actually very effective on that play, as it forced Kaepernick to run through his reads and to make a quick pass to the outside. The problem was Kyle Arrington had been forced to play outside, given Alfonzo Dennard‘s injury, and he missed the tackle that let Crabtree get free. I understand the concern about blitzing too much. But to be honest, the aggressive style the Patriots have displayed over the past few weeks has been a major factor in their resurgence on that side of the ball.  Is anyone else sick of watching Kyle Arrington consistently getting beat? Why does Belichick still rely on him? – via Twitter/@Timjroc Speaking of Arrington, there’s been plenty people bashing him for his late-game play this week, and deservedly so. He made a horrible misstep on that missed tackle, and allowed some key passes through that helped the 49ers extend a few drives. But while he wasn’t great on the outside on Sunday, he doesn’t necessarily belong out there. Arrington was forced out there because of Dennard’s knee injury. Once Dennard’s back, Arrington should slide back into the slot where he has appeared much more comfortable. Belichick likes Arrington because of his speed and instincts when the ball’s in the air. He has actually been the Patriots’ best cover corner over the past few weeks, even racking up the most passes defended in the secondary (six) over the past four games. He is definitely much better on the inside. The fact that Dennard is back at practice is a good sign, and indicates things should go back to normal in the secondary in short order. Should the Pats use the Miami game as a bye and rest their starters? Losing against Miami could help a lot. The fourth seed offers a better road, too. – via Twitter/@Bobalu10 Well, we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves with the Miami talk here, seeing as that game’s still more than a week away. But resting players has been a hot topic this week, especially considering the slim chance the Patriots can get hold of a first-round bye. This week’s game should be something of a release for the Patriots. They have plenty of built-up frustration from the Sunday’s loss, and a trip to play the lowly Jaguars could be just what New England needs to get back on track. But next week is a whole different story. By this time next week, the AFC playoff picture should be much clearer. If the Broncos or Texans don’t lose this weekend, it’s all but sealed that the Patriots won’t be getting a bye in the first round. So, at that point, it might be wise to rest some of those lingering injuries to players like Dennard, Talib, Brandon Spikes and Rob Gronkowski. I’m not so sure I agree that the No. 4 seed is the best route, because Houston is still damn good at home. But using that week as something of a second bye week could definitely help. Until next week, have a great holiday, and let’s Ho, Ho, Hope for some better days ahead for the Patriots. Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.

This article first appeared on NESN.com and was syndicated with permission.

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