Wilfork: 'It's a tough pill to swallow'

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Wilfork: 'It's a tough pill to swallow'

FOXBORO -- Vince Wilfork can be a sore loser. 
More than once the Patriots nose tackle has barreled out the back door rather than deal with the media. Sometimes, when he does talk after a loss, he simply hurls non-answers over a wall of mulishness: 'They made more plays than we did.'   
Sunday night was different. 
Wilfork stood up behind the podium after New England's 28-13 AFC Championship loss to the Ravens. He opened himself up to the questions that were due. With the biggest letdown of the 2012 season looming above, Wilfork let it settle onto his shoulders. 
"When you lose in this game, its tough, because you put so much into it all year: the offseason, the practice, the conditioning, the weight lifting, everything, time away from your family, training camp where you dont see your family but a little bit of the time. 
"So you put a lot into it, so for it to come to an end like this, it hurts. It does hurt, but it happens, you know? We cant do anything now but to get better from this. Its a tough pill to swallow."
The Patriots defense allowed 356 total yards to Baltimore. Quarterback Joe Flacco completed 21 of 36 passes for 240 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions. He completed four passes of 22 or more yards. The Ravens were a perfect 4-for-4 in the red zone. 
Sure, some injuries played a part. Starting defensive tackle Kyle Love left with a knee injury and left cornerback Aqib Talib was sidelined after two series after hurting his thigh. A third starter, rookie defensive end Chandler Jones, played only in goal line situations as he has a bad ankle. 
But what about that 'Next Man Up' gospel the Patriots preach? Talib's absence can't account for 15 unanswered points after the break, can it? 
Wilfork credited some of the defense's second half struggles to Baltimore coming back up-tempo and with some different personnel. He and his teammates didn't adjust, he said. 
"I think at times we had a pretty decent rush and at times we didn't. I don't think we hit them enough. I don't think we pressured them enough."
Not good enough all around. The Patriots defense bent, and bent, and finally broke. And this unit is better than last year's.  
2011 Yards surrendered per game: 411.1 2012 Yards surrendered per game: 373.3.
2011 Passing yards surrendered per game: 293.9 2012 Passing yards surrendered per game: 271.4
2011 Rushing yards surrendered per game: 117.1 2012 Rushing yards surrendered per game: 101.9
2011 Points allowed per game: 21.4 2012 Points allowed per game: 20.7
New England improved, however slightly, in every category of team defense. To fall shorter than last season's Super Bowl appearance had to be crushing. 
Yet Wilfork was surprisingly buoyant. The departure did not escape him: "Im pretty bummed right now. I might not seem like it, but I am."
Maybe the anger can't compete with the playoffs' finality. 
During the regular season, a loss means going back to the war room to reconfigure the battle plan. Frustration is channeled into problem solving; there is a chance to rebound. 
But this Sunday marked the end of it all. The Patriots will have to simmer in their heartbreak and then let it go. There is no next fight. 
Wilfork has been around long enough to know. 
"Taking a loss like this kind of makes you question how long you want to play. But it's just the moment; Ill get over it," Wilfork said. "It's tough, but Ill get over it after the Super Bowl and go through my little spells. My wife will get pissed off at me and throw things at me and Ill get over it and Ill be back to playing and wanting to play, cant wait for the season to start. 
"I love football. I love my teammates. I love the organization, the coaches. I think we have what it takes to be a championship team. When I dont feel that way anymore, Ill call it quits. But I feel good about this team, so Im looking forward to next year and getting this thing rolling again and starting from ground zero and moving forward and trying to get it done the right way."

Celtics report card: Isaiah Thomas gets high marks

Celtics report card: Isaiah Thomas gets high marks

BOSTON -- The first quarter of the NBA season is about over for the Boston Celtics, a team that like so many in the league is far from a finished product.
 
When you look at where this team is versus where they could be if not for a slew of unfortunate injuries to key players, there’s a sense within the organization that they have weathered the early season storm and are in good shape going forward.
 
And while there’s plenty of fodder that would help explain away some of the team’s early season issues, the bottom line is the Celtics have been an inconsistent bunch at times regardless of who has been healthy enough to play.
 
Still, they Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season, third in the Eastern Conference and by all accounts are nowhere close to being as good as they should be this season. Which is why the evaluation of this team has to be about their sum parts as well as their individual success. 

And with this group returning so many key performers from a year ago along with adding Al Horford to the mix, expectations were realistically high.
 
So naturally, how close they have come to achieving those expectations is a factor in both their collective and individual grades as well.
 
Here’s a grade breakdown for the Celtics’ guards, wings and bigs at the quarter-way mark of the season.
 
GUARDS’ OVERALL GRADE: B
 
ISAIAH THOMAS: Showing last season’s all-star appearance was no fluke, Thomas has made a strong case to be considered among the top guards in the NBA. His 26.3 points per game ranks ninth in the league, and he’s at his best in the fourth quarter (his 7.9 points which trails only Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard) – a trait that often separates good players from great ones. He’s the star of this team, without question. GRADE: A-

AVERY BRADLEY: The season began with Avery Bradley putting together a legit campaign to be a first time all-star. He’s still playing at a relatively high level, but he’s no longer deeply entrenched in that conversation in part because the Celtics haven’t won more games and his numbers have tailed off. After averaging 18.5 points and 8.6 rebounds through the first 10 games, Bradley’s numbers since then have been 16.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. But to Bradley’s credit, this was yet another season in which he came back and showed tremendous growth in a specific facet of his game. That would be rebounding. The 6-foot-2 guard is currently the Celtics’ leader with 7.9 rebounds per game. GRADE: B
 
MARCUS SMART: He is the Celtics’ best defender not named Avery Bradley, and before his career is over he will be named to one of the NBA’s all-Defensive teams. His shot-making remains sporadic, although he has shown a knack for hitting big 3s late in games. Shooting struggles aside, his defense and much-improved playmaking have been good for the Celtics this season. GRADE: B- 
 
TERRY ROZIER: He was so impactful this summer and in training camp, it created expectations that he could easily slide in and fill the void left by Evan Turner who signed a four-year, $70 million deal with Portland during the offseason. Rozier has a ridiculously high assists-to-turnover ratio, but he doesn’t make as many impactful plays as the Celtics would like. The second-year guard hasn’t been bad out there, but the difference-making talent he showed earlier has not materialized yet. GRADE: B-
 
DEMETRIUS JACKSON: My initial thought was the sample size is too small to give Jackson a grade. But looking back at the three games he has played in for the Celtics as well as those stints in the D-League, Jackson has a bright future in this league. To his credit, he has made the most of his opportunities to play whether it’s with the Celtics or the Maine Red Claws. Still, he hasn’t done enough to knock any of the team’s more seasoned guards out of the rotation … yet. GRADE: B-

WINGS’ OVERALL GRADE: B-
 
JAE CROWDER:
This is one of the tougher players to grade (see Al Horford). I absolutely love the fact that Crowder is such a jack-of-all-trades kind of player who is all about helping teams win. But the fact that he has missed eight games has to be factored into his grade thus far. Aside from missing games with injuries, there’s a lot to love about Jae Crowder and his role on this team: B+

JONAS JEREBKO: Aside from Isaiah Thomas, Jerebko is probably the most improved player who was on the roster a year ago. He doesn’t take many shots, but when he does he makes them at a ridiculously high rate. And his overall effort defensively and on the boards has solidified a spot in Brad Stevens’ regular rotation. GRADE: B+
 
JAYLEN BROWN: There are always off-the-charts expectations when you’re a high draft pick, and Brown is no exception. But he joined a playoff-ready team which means getting on the floor as a rookie has not been easy. Brown has shown tremendous athleticism and a willingness to learn, but like most rookies he hasn’t been as consistent as he needs to be and does more thinking than just playing when he’s on the floor. But he has shown progress on that front of late.  GRADE: B-

GERALD GREEN: Having signed a veteran’s minimum contract at a time when the salary cap exploded should have been the first sign that Green wasn’t going to make much of an impact. He has a very simple job with this team and that’s to be an adequate defender and a shot-maker. Unfortunately, he has struggled on both fronts in his second tour of duty with the Celtics to the point where he has not played in eight of Boston’s last 11 games. GRADE: C-
 
JAMES YOUNG:
He barely beat out R.J. Hunter for the final roster spot and frankly, hasn’t done much since. From the time he arrived in Boston until now, there’s no question he’s a better player. But the former first round pick still hasn’t done enough to secure a spot in the rotation. And barring a couple injuries, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. GRADE: C-
 
BIGS’ OVERALL GRADE: C+
 

AL HORFORD: There was a tremendous amount of hype surrounding Boston signing Al Horford in the offseason. And to the surprise of many, the Celtics have been exceptional when he has played. But that’s the problem. He has missed half of the still-young season primarily due to a concussion. There’s an old saying that one’s availability can be their best ability. And with Horford missing so many games, those absences have to be factored into his grade thus far this season. GRADE: B+
 
AMIR JOHNSON: If there’s one player whose impact can’t be measured in statistics alone, it’s Johnson. His job is to defend at a high level, score once in a while, and grab a few rebounds when he’s not sealing off his man so that Avery Bradley and the rest of the team’s guards can come in and scoop them up. There’s no glory in what he’s tasked with doing other than the knowledge that it’s important to winning. And to some degree his impact on games is limited due to him playing limited minutes because of Boston’s desire to spread the floor with long-range shooters – something that’s definitely not a strength of Johnson’s game. GRADE: B-
 
KELLY OLYNYK: Olynyk missed the first six games while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He has had some really impressive moments (19 points vs New York; 16 the following night at Indiana), but far too often he doesn’t make the most of what sets him apart from most players and that is being a 7-footer with legit 3-point shooting range. He has been solid, but he’s not having the kind of breakout year the Celtics could really benefit from this season. GRADE: B-
 
TYLER ZELLER: There were some who were surprised the Celtics signed Zeller to a 2-year, $16 million contract (team option on second year), but that’s actually below the going rate these days for a backup center. Zeller today isn’t all that different than he was when the Celtics acquired him via trade a couple years ago. And that’s kind of the problem. He’s looking to shoot the ball more facing up and from the perimeter, but that’s very much a work in progress. To his credit, he stays ready and when he does get a chance to play he usually gives good effort. But effort can only take you so far. GRADE: C
 
JORDAN MICKEY: Viewed by many (self-included) as a draft-night steal for the Celtics, Mickey’s growth has been OK but not great. He has great instincts defensively as a shot-blocker and his offensive game is definitely trending upwards. But he doesn’t do enough of the little things to get on the floor with consistency just yet, which is why his most recent D-League stint probably won’t be his last this season. But again, he still has legitimate upside and in time should get more opportunities to help. GRADE: C

Boston College to play Maryland in Quick Lane Bowl

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Boston College to play Maryland in Quick Lane Bowl

Boston College has accepted an invitation to play Maryland in the 2016 Quick Lane Bowl, the school announced Sunday. The game will be played at Ford Field in Detroit at 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 26. 

"We are excited to continue our season and play in the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit,” BC director of athletics Brad Bates said in a press release sent out by the school. “This is great opportunity for our program to continue to develop and gives our players one final opportunity to play together to close out the season."

The game presents a matchup of schools looking to end unimpressive seasons on a high note, as both BC and Maryland went 6-6 this season. 

This will mark the 12th meeting between BC and Maryland. They last faced one another in 2013, before Maryland had departed the ACC for the Big Ten.