FOXBORO -- There's one thing we know to be true about Sunday's AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium: The Baltimore Ravens aren't going to be afraid to take shots down the field.
That aspect of the Ravens' offensive arsenal makes the Patriots' in-season acquisition of cornerback Aqib Talib that much more important.
The timing of New England's defensive improvements and the acquisition of Talib is no coincidence. His presence has improved the Patriots' secondary.
"Very positive," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick on Wednesday of Talib's impact on the defense. "He's a good football player. A good teammate. he's very well respected, because of his professionalism. He studies hard, he prepares well. He's tough, he competes well, both in practice and on Sundays. He's a smart kid. I like him. The team likes him. He's a good guy to be around. But he works hard and he competes well. And I think those are his most impressive qualities."
For a player's viewpoint into Talib's presence on the Patriots' defense, look no further than its longest-tenured starter, Vince Wilfork.
"He definitely made a big difference in what we do defensively," Wilfork said of Talib. "Anytime you can basically say, Hey you got this guy and we are going to cover everybody else, that's a good sign."
Linebacker Jerod Mayo knew Talib was "a football guy" well before Talib joined the Patriots. Both players were drafted in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Mayo selected 10th overall. Talib selected 20th.
"I met Aqib through the whole draft process," said Mayo on Wednesday. "We were on several visits together. I might have met him at the combine, I don't remember. But he was a good guy, a football guy. He enjoys the game, and he's made this team better obviously. His physical abilities -- he's a tall guy, long arms, can do a lot of different things. But like I said earlier, he's a football guy. He's always in the film room, always trying to learn, give tips to guys. He's really improved this defense in the passing aspect."
That improvement will once again have to show on Sunday, because they're certainly going to be tested down the field.