A week ago Monday, Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs was feeling a bit down in the dumps. He had missed his first start in five weeks against Miami the day before.
Hobbs voiced discontent to members of the media, admitting "it's been a tough year for me," dealing with "nicks and scrapes," and even revealed that "nobody even knew if I was going to play (against Miami) until Friday."
Hobbs played sparingly against Miami, contributing mostly on special teams, and although he's still recovering from a September wrist surgery to repair a broken scaphoid bone in his left wrist, he attributed the decreased playing time to a lack of production on his part.
"I'm playing more as an average player at best," said Hobbs on Dec. 11. "Asante [Samuel] and Chad [Scott] are doing a better job right now."
Then again, Hobbs seems to have pretty high expectations of himself.
"What I mean by average is what the average NFL corner can do. I don't want to be the average NFL corner. I want to be Ellis Hobbs," he said a week ago.
"I think we all feel like that," said coach Bill Belichick on Monday. "I don't think any of us feel like we're doing perfectly as a coach or as a player. I just don't think we feel that way. You're just always working to improve. I don't really know what that feeling's like – coming out of a game feeling like everything's perfect, or a practice or anything else. I'd imagine most players who have that same competitive spirit don't feel that way either. I think there's always something you can work on and always something you can do a little bit better job of. I think that speaks to the competitiveness that [Hobbs] has."
Following Sunday's pasting of the Texans, in which Hobbs contributed three tackles, a pass defensed, an interception and a 93-yard touchdown return on special teams, he was singing a slightly different tune.
"It means a lot," said Hobbs in the Pats locker room after the Texans game. "Getting back to my form of ball where I don't think of myself as an average player out there. I want to get back to making plays. [Sunday] we took a step in making those plays. I think we have a long way to go. I'm only in my second year. I don't worry about too much when I'm out there. Bad things happen and it has been a long road this year, personally and on the field. I'm getting my mind focused and just staying focused and fighting through those tough times."
The touchdown was Hobbs' first and marked the first time the Patriots scored a touchdown on special teams or defense all season.
"We've been talking about that for a couple weeks, but we were finally the last Mohican there," said Belichick on Monday, explaining that the Patriots entered the Texans game as the only team in the NFL that hadn't produced a touchdown on special teams or defense.
"The kickoff return was a big play," said Belichick, noting that it came after the Texans built enough momentum to score their only touchdown of the day. "Being able to answer that and kind of take that momentum back from them pretty quickly. That was a big play. Hey, everybody did it at some point this year, so I'm glad we could finally join that group."
Hobbs has returned a kickoff in each of the last two games, and averages 72 yards on those two returns. He contributed in that phase of the game last season as well, according to Belichick.
"He's done well returning kickoffs," said Belichick on Monday. "He's fast. He's tough. He's got good run vision. We could've used him a little bit this year, but with the hand situation, that kind of slowed that down a little bit, but that's been a lot better for him the last few weeks.
"We've seen the last couple of weeks how he can accelerate through an opening. It takes some speed, but it takes some courage, you know, to accelerate in there on those returns. You've got everybody after you and you've got to hit it, but he does. He's very aggressive, and that's what a good kickoff returner does."
Whether Hobbs is able to produce on defense, on special teams, or in both phases, he's said on a number of occasions all he wants to do is contribute. His winning attitude has certainly caught Belichick's eye.
"Ellis is good for this football team," said Belichick fondly.
Notes: The Patriots players had the day off after not losing a turnover, playing excellent coverage on special teams, and notching four interceptions yesterday against the Texans. Coach Belichick met with the press in the afternoon, and the players will have tomorrow off as usual. Don't forget to check back with Patriots.com tomorrow for this week's installment of Ask PFW.