McCourty very familiar with Rice's skills


McCourty very familiar with Rice's skills

FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty wasn't with the Patriots when Ray Rice stomped on New England's plans to make the AFC title game two seasons ago.

Rice rumbled for an 83-yard touchdown on the Ravens' first play from scrimmage against the Patriots in their AFC Wild Card Playoff game that year. The run took the wind out of Gillette Stadium and kick-started the Ravens' 33-14 win.

McCourty, who was drafted by New England the following spring, wasn't in the secondary or on the sideline for that Patriots gut punch. But he still knows just how dangerous Rice can be. He knew long before that 83-yard score.

McCourty and Rice were teammates at Rutgers University for three seasons (2005-2007), and McCourty became well acquainted with Rice's skills while going up against the compact running back in practices.

"In practice he made play after play," McCourty said of Rice. "It's his versatility. He plays hard. He has good balance. I see the same things watching film on him now that I used to see up close in practice. I always knew he was going to be a great player."

Few could have known just how great Rice would be. He's become one of the NFL's premier running backs, and perhaps its most versatile. He had 1364 yards and 12 touchdowns rushing, 704 yards and 3 touchdowns receiving this season.

Still, McCourty emitted confidence on Friday when he remembered their one-on-one battles in college.

"A couple times we went against each other," McCourty said with a smile. "I won them all."

If McCourty has to make many tackles on his former teammate, it's not a great sign for the Patriots defense. In all likelihood, they would like to keep Rice bottled up somewhere closer to the line of scrimmage than McCourty's area in the secondary.

Rather, McCourty will be more concerned with limiting Baltimore through the air. The Ravens have receivers who can go downfield -- Lee Evans and Anquan Boldin are two guys who have done that in the NFL for years. But Torrey Smith, a rookie receiver from Maryland -- the Patriots actually scouted him and ran him through a private workout -- has emerged as their most consistent big-play guy.

He made 50 catches for 841 yards and 7 touchdowns over the course of the season, and the Patriots have taken notice. His 16.8 yards per catch average trails that of only Lee Evans (18.5), who made just four regular-season grabs.

"He flies down the field and runs by guys," McCourty said. "I think the biggest thing, why Joe Flacco has confidence with him, is that he comes down with the catch. We really gotta be ready to cover himdown the field, but he also makes plays after the catch. He's dangerous with the ball in his hands. We just have to be ready."

They'll have to be ready from the very beginning, ready to guard against that game-opening gut-punch, or else they could be staring at a repeat of their 2009 nightmare.

Kusnierek: Lack of NFL discipline on Josh Brown disgraceful

Kusnierek: Lack of NFL discipline on Josh Brown disgraceful

Trenni Kusnierek is outraged, and rightfully so, by the actions - or lack thereof - by the NFL regarding domestic violence by Giants kicker Josh Brown.

Tom E. Curran details the NFL's botched investigation here.


Haggerty: Early returns good for Bruins, but still plenty to prove

Haggerty: Early returns good for Bruins, but still plenty to prove

BOSTON – There’s little question that the Bruins are, at least partially, hanging 10 on a giant World Cup of Hockey wave right now.

Zdeno Chara is playing much tighter and stronger hockey than he did a year ago at this time and some of that is probably carryover from his Team Europe stint as well as enjoying the benefits of impressive rookie Brandon Carlo as his defensive partner.

Tuukka Rask has played very well in two of his three games thus far after starring for Team Finland and is 3-0-0 with a .947 save percentage in a stunning turnaround from the embattled goaltender under siege a year ago. Rask is also doing all of this while very clearly dealing with some kind of lower body issue, or as he called it, “something” that’s causing him discomfort when he extends for certain saves in the butterfly position. Brad Marchand shares the NHL scoring lead with nine points (three goals, six assists) in four games, and has been carrying the B’s offense in the early going every time they require an important shift to get the team going.

David Pastrnak has a four-game point streak to start the season after his time playing for the Czech Republic and has four goals in those four games while generating a team-leading 18 shots on net and blossoming into an offensive star at 20 years old. David Backes has two goals and a plus-7 in four games, and was a shooting (team-high six shots on net) and hitting (team-high seven hits) machine in his first home game as a member of the Bruins.

Even Patrice Bergeron got into the act on Thursday night with the winning goal after missing the first three games of the season with a lower body injury that may, or may not, have been caused by the wear and tear of starring in the high-intensity World Cup tournament during the preseason.

That doesn’t even count the impressive contributions of young players Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen, or new faces Dominic Moore, Riley Nash and Tim Schaller, who have contributed right out of the starting gate as mere hockey mortals that had to endure the full NHL training camp.

So, with all that going for them it was the proper way to start the season on the TD Garden ice with a win after so many home-game stinkbombs thrown last season and that’s exactly what they did coming-from-behind in a 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night.

“I think that we are all disappointed with our record here last year and it was important to get off to a good start,” said Claude Julien. “You know you want the fans to come and watch. Well, you have to give them a reason to do that and you’ve got to pay the price and play some exciting hockey and show that you are competing hard. This is a fan base that loves players to compete hard and get their nose to the grind and that’s what we needed to do tonight.”

With nearly all of the B’s key players off to strong starts, it’s really no wonder the Bruins are off to a 3-1 start in contrast with the Black and Gold dumpster fire of a three-game homestand to open last season. It’s plain to see there’s a much better feeling around this group and that’s been obvious from the first moments of the preseason.

“I think we’re growing as a team, but I think right off the bat when everybody showed up, we looked like we were ready to go and everybody seemed to have that right mindset,” said Rask. “So, that’s a good thing to have. I think guys should show up to work and we get a game plan and we go out there and execute it and it pays off. It’s a clich√© but that’s how it isand now we have the guys to do it.”

More important, they showed it on Thursday night while leaving the home fans happy after bitterly disappointing everybody on home ice so many times last season. There was no big-game anxiety or home jitters in the opener. Instead, it was a solid, focused effort against a Devils team that was going to make them earn everything they received.

“It’s good to get that one at home, especially your home opener. Feeling good about yourselves and get the fans excited. We don’t always want to play from behind,” said Marchand, who scored the tying goal in the third period on a sensational individual play and shot through the legs of Jersey D-man Andy Greene. “But coming from behind tonight and getting the win, it just shows that the guys have a lot of character this year. We’re going to bear down when things aren’t going well.”

It’s impossible to argue Marchand’s point because there’s been only one stinker in the first four games and there are plenty of things happening on Causeway Street that should inspire encouragement.

There are also still Bruins things to be worked on, of course.

The second and third lines still aren’t kicking in offensively like they need to, even if David Krejci looked much more like himself with Backes on his right side on Thursday night. The Bruins are 1-for-14 on the power play to start the season and really looked lost on the man-advantage without No. 37 around. The Bruins have allowed their opponents to score the first goal in each of the four games and that's the kind of over-the-top largesse that prevents sustained success if it’s not addressed.

More than anything, it’s about the competition. The Bruins have played four teams that didn’t qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs last season and Boston has taken care of business in three of those four games. Granted, three of those games were also played with the B’s missing their best player in Bergeron, but the point stands that the Bruins still haven’t been tested by anything approaching the top players in the league.

Maybe, just maybe, the Bruins are exhibiting encouraging signs that they’re going to be better than the unfortunate editions that collapsed the past two seasons while failing to make the playoffs. Certainly it looks like this year’s group plays with a more exciting, emotional and inspired brand of hockey, buoyed by enthusiastic young players and core veterans riding the momentum after their World Cup experiences.

That might just be the magic formula to get the Black and Gold off to the strong start they absolutely needed with so much stuff swirling around them after two disappointing seasons.

Six of their next seven opponents are playoff teams from last season. That should show just how improved the B’s truly are at this early point, with the only exception being the new-look Canadiens, who should recharge the rivalry atmosphere with Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw now in the Montreal mix.

Once the dust has settled on the next few weeks, we’ll know a lot more about these Bruins, but the straight truth is this: The B’s buzz has been good thus far with only the early precincts reporting in this arduous, 82-game election cycle.