Talib to play a crucial role Sunday

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Talib to play a crucial role Sunday

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.

Friday, Jan. 20: Canes’ Bickell tries to carry on after MS diagnosis

Friday, Jan. 20: Canes’ Bickell tries to carry on after MS diagnosis

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while simply skating my lane today.

*A terrific piece on Carolina Hurricanes forward Bryan Bickell getting on with his life after an MS diagnosis, and pushing to see if he can return to the ice.

*If the New York Islanders botch the hirings for people guiding the franchise, then John Tavares could be one of the next figures gone from Brooklyn.

*It’s been a rough go of it for St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen over the past few weeks and that continued on Thursday night.

*Top NHL Draft prospect Nolan Patrick’s value comes from his two-way play, and that’s what teams are focused on rather than the injury issues.

*Mike Babcock talks a wide range of subjects with James Duthie during a 1-on-1 with the Toronto Maple Leafs head coach.

*In his never-ending odyssey on the fringes of the NHL, Seth Griffith has been claimed by the Maple Leafs on waivers for the second time.

*Veteran forward Clarke MacArthur won’t be playing this season for the Ottawa Senators amid his concussion issues.

*For something completely different: Bill Belichick just being Bill Belichick at his press conference on Friday and that’s something we can all be reassured about.

 

Patriots have perfect attendance at final practice of AFC Championship week

Patriots have perfect attendance at final practice of AFC Championship week

FOXBORO -- The Patriots had perfect attendance at Friday's practice, meaning they had all 53 players on their active roster present and accounted for at all three practices this week. 

Contrast that with how things have gone for the Steelers this week, and there is a stark difference. Star running back Le'Veon Bell missed each of his team's first two on-the-field workouts this week, and several Steelers players are dealing with a bug that seems to have circulated the locker room. 

The Patriots could have an interesting game-day roster decision to make should Chris Hogan (thigh), Malcolm Mitchell (knee) and Danny Amendola (ankle) both be healthy enough to play on Sunday. They have not entered a game with five receivers in uniform this season but could potentially dress Mitchell, Amendola, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Michael Floyd.

Other players listed as limited participants in practice this week are Brandon Bolden (knee), Martellus Bennett (knee), Dont'a Hightower (shoulder) and Jabaal Sheard (knee).