FOXBOROUGH - Ellis Hobbs wouldn't bite. Like a pump-faking quarterback, questioners were trying to draw him into responding to the guarantee offered last week by Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Anthony Smith.
The third-year cornerback wouldn't be cornered into saying something that, in his words, "could get me cussed out in the next [team] meeting." Hobbs has maintained an even lower profile this week with the New York Jets on tap. The Patriots and Jets meet Sunday for the first time since the Jets turned in the Patriots for illicitly videotaping signals in the first meeting Sept. 9.
"I'm just more calculated as far as what I say and how I want to be portrayed in the media," said Hobbs. "You see a lot of write-ups in the past about the cocky arrogancy. '[He] has no care about anyone else. [He] is going to say what he wants to say.' And I still have a sense of that where you can't make me . . . I'm going to say what I want to say, but at the same time just kind of have a more mature level about it and just kind of handle it as a professional."
Critics might claim that Hobbs's newfound maturity off the field hasn't been matched by growth on it. While Asante Samuel has established himself as one of the game's best cornerbacks and ranks third in the NFL with six interceptions, Hobbs has yet to pick off a pass and has come under fire for his play.
Previously, Hobbs, 24, might have chafed at such a notion and impetuously lashed out. Instead, he simply dismissed it as uninformed.
"When you see it from an outside perspective, that's how you're going to see it," he said. "You don't know what's going on in there. All you see is me in the end zone or you see me on TV and the ball is being caught right there, not knowing that I might be trying to save some other guy's tail or whatever.
"This is a profession. This is the NFL. In saying that, the coaches are professionals also. We take our jobs very seriously. They wouldn't have me on the field if I wasn't doing my job. We wouldn't be 13-0 if I wasn't doing my job. So, how can you talk about a weak link in something that strong?"
Hobbs was the last defender on Najeh Davenport's 32-yard touchdown reception last week, but a quick review of the play shows that a scrambling Ben Roethlisberger froze other Patriots defenders, leaving Hobbs to scramble to try to prevent the Pittsburgh score.
Hobbs, who is second to Samuel with nine passes defended, doesn't feel he's regressed. Just the opposite. He said what doesn't show up on the stat sheet are him getting jams at the line of scrimmage or showcasing a better understanding of the Patriots' scheme.
"Obviously, the season is not over, but I think just as far as me understanding everything, playing, making plays and things, I think we're headed in the right direction, moving forward," he said. "The interceptions and everything will come. Just doing my job and going above and beyond that, not only on defense, but on special teams as well, I think it's headed in the right direction as far as my best season personally."
While the perception that Hobbs has tailed off is up for debate, what isn't is that teams are throwing more balls in his direction.
"It's a tough job and it's a tougher job when you have a corner like Asante on one side because you know week in and week out they're going to look at you, and he's held up his end of the bargain so far," said former NFL cornerback and current NFL Network analyst Rod Woodson.
Still, Hobbs's biggest impact has come on special teams. His signature play of the season came Sept. 9, when he scored on an NFL-record 108-yard kickoff return. He currently ranks third in the league in kickoff return average at 27 yards.
That's why it was surprising last week that he was temporarily relieved of his kickoff duties against the Steelers. Coach Bill Belichick said the move was made to lessen Hobbs's workload.
Hobbs said that with the Patriots coming off a short week, having played the Baltimore Ravens the previous Monday night, the pounding of returning kickoffs and playing defense - he played 66 of a possible 68 snaps against Pittsburgh - adds up on his 5-foot-9-inch, 195-pound frame.
"It was more of just getting some rest," he said. "These last couple of weeks, I got banged up a little bit here and there. Just kind of easing up on that a little bit where we have the capability with guys to do more than one job, not just me, but other people. Chad Jackson filled in and did a great job on that, but it wasn't nothing of having me focus more on defense. It was just having some rest and getting your body back because we still have a long season to play."
Hobbs was noncommittal when asked if he would resume his kick-return role against the Jets.
But he does have a big commitment coming up, one that possibly has sparked his newfound maturity. He's engaged to be married in March, and his fiancee, Monique Sevigny, has a 6-year-old son, Evan Burns, turning Hobbs into a father figure.
"Maturity is a sense of responsibility and owning up to that responsibility," said Hobbs. "I was responsible for myself, but I wanted to take another life into my hands, asking her to marry me. She has a son, but I consider him my son also, another responsibility. Those type of things you have to learn how to handle. There are ups and downs, but you have to grow, understanding that you have a responsibility to yourself and other people."
Hobbs was speaking about his personal life, but he just as easily could have been talking about his professional one. Either way, he couldn't have said it better.
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com.