Belichick, Caserio go deep on Ravens receivers

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Belichick, Caserio go deep on Ravens receivers

There was something very obvious about Joe Flacco's play against the Texans. No, not his habit of taking sacks; his happiness in having Anquan Boldin back as a target. The Ravens receiver missed the regular season's final two weeks after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Boldin fell right back into step during last weekend's Divisional playoff, punishing Houston for 132 yards on eight catches.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick couldn't have been encouraged. He spoke Tuesday about the edge a healthy Boldin gives Baltimore.

"Boldin is a tough matchup hes strong, hes really physical, hes got great size, tough guy, tough after the catch. You give him too much space and hes strong and physical and can hurt you with the ball in his hands. You get up there too tight on him and hes big and physical and can throw some of those smaller guys around and get on top of him and go up and get the ball. Hes a tough guy to match up on."

The scope of Belichick's compliments was actually much wider. He said the Ravens have a complimentary offense based on an array of targets available to Flacco. Whether looking to Boldin, Ray Rice -- the NFL's No. 2 regular season rusher, Torrey Smith, or tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, there's someone to step up against the coverage.

Smith, in particular, is someone the Patriots looked over during 2010's pre-draft process. He and Boldin could be a pair to bother New England's inconsistent secondary.

"Torreys probably their top vertical threat," Diirector of player personnel Nick Caserio said this week. "He was an explosive down field player at Maryland; a real productive player. Hes got good size, great kid, and great makeup. Hes come in and has done a nice job and hes given their offense a different dimension.

"They really have players that really can attack all three levels of the field. Smith is maybe a little faster than Boldin, but Boldins ball skills are very, very good, so even if you have him covered they still might throw it up to because the quarterback has quite a bit of confidence in that Anquan is going to go up and make a play."

The message was clear: Neither Belichick nor Caserio is surprised to see Baltimore across the field.

They said it starts at the top. Both men stroked the Ravens' staff, from Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta in the front office, to John Harbaugh down on the front line. While Baltimore's defensive gets most of the attention, its offense did rank in the NFL's top half during the regular season. Nobody will be muttering, "But it's Flacco" in that planning room.

"The bottom line is they have good football players." Caserio said. "Thats really what it comes down to in this league. They find good football players, they bring them in, and they develop them."

The Patriots can afford to underestimate nothing. Especially not for the AFC Championship.

Knicks' Noah suspended 20 games by NBA for drug policy violation

Knicks' Noah suspended 20 games by NBA for drug policy violation

NEW YORK - Joakim Noah of the New York Knicks has been suspended 20 games without pay for violating the league’s anti-drug policy.

The NBA announced the suspension Saturday, saying Noah tested positive for Selective Androgen Receptor Modulator LGD-4033 – something that can be found in over-the-counter supplements.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports first reported the suspension.

Noah has not played since Feb. 4 and was likely to miss the Knicks’ final 10 games this season because of a knee injury. The NBA said Noah’s suspension will begin with the ”first NBA regular season or playoff game for which he is eligible and physically able to play.”

Noah is in the first year of a four-year, $72 million contract. He and the Knicks (27-45) have been a disappointment this season. He averaged 5.0 points and 8.7 rebounds in 46 games this season, and has been limited to 75 games over the past two seasons.

Haggerty: Legacies on the line at edge of another Bruins collapse

Haggerty: Legacies on the line at edge of another Bruins collapse

BRIGHTON, Mass – Let’s start with the straight fact that it’s asinine, apologist drivel to let the Bruins off the hook, and perpetuate an off-the-mark myth there isn’t enough talent on the B's roster to be a playoff hockey team.

They are middle-of-the-road in the talent department to be sure, and the roster depth clearly isn’t what it was in their elite years, as the Bruins balance an aging core group with an influx of youthful talent from the next generation. But this is also a proud, talented group with one of the best all-around centers in the NHL in Patrice Bergeron, a former Norris Trophy winner and future Hall of Fame defenseman in Zdeno Chara, a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate and in-his-prime All-Star left winger in Brad Marchand, an emerging 20-year-old offensive superstar in David Pastrnak and a former Vezina Trophy winning goaltender still in his prime in Tuukka Rask.

That doesn’t even mention high-end players David Krejci, David Backes and Torey Krug that are game-changing talents in their own right.

Combine that with the other players on the Bruins roster and this is a team interspersed with proud Stanley Cup winning players and enough talent to still take care of business in the final eight games and punch their playoff ticket. Winning a Cup in 2011 can never be taken away from Chara, Krejci, Bergeron, Marchand, Rask and Adam McQuaid, and neither can the seven straight seasons in the playoffs under Claude Julien.

But there’s a danger now of some late-in-the-game tarnish on Black and Gold legacies for some of those distinguished, proud players if they once again collapse down the stretch this season and miss the playoffs for the third year in a row with a late-season nosedive. Four consecutive regulation losses have cast doubt into everything for the Bruins and roused all the same old uncomfortable questions from the past three years.

Bergeron and Marchand need to find their best games and dominate the way elite players do in big-game situations like Saturday night vs. the Isles. Pastrnak, Brandon Carlo and Frank Vatrano need to show they're ready for the playoffs.Rask needs to finally show he's ready to shine as a No. 1 goalie and lead his team to victory in a big game rather than buckle under weighty pressure. 

“This is their legacy, those guys. They are Stanley Cup champions and they missed last year. Each year we talk about writing our own story, and I believe that because guys come and go,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “But generally there is a core group of guys and it’s their legacy. I’m sure they want to reach the playoffs and get back to being a Stanley Cup contender every year.

“That’s what they want and to a man I’m sure they would tell you that. I do believe that they believe it’s different [this season]. Until you change the course of your results, those questions are going to come. We have to change the results to make then go away. One week of not getting results that we want doesn’t mean we’re panicking, but we do understand what’s at stake. We want to be playing in April and May.”

If the Bruins can’t pull out a win on Saturday night against the Islanders, who just pushed even with them at 82 points on the season, then their playoff lives will no longer be under their own control anymore. It will become another late-season choke job by a team that will have its character and courage questioned. The highs of six years ago will be matched by the bitter lows of the past three seasons.

People won’t talk about a scrappy, little underdog Bruins team that just couldn’t get over the hump once again. Instead, they’ll lament a formerly proud, tough-minded group of hockey players that somehow turned into NHL tomato cans all too willing to play the victim once the going got tough late in the regular season.

That’s no way to go out if you’ve ever had your name etched on Lord Stanley’s Cup, and the Bruins that know better should be taking that to heart right now.