Talib says life is 'better' since he landed with Pats

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Talib says life is 'better' since he landed with Pats

FOXBORO - The importance of Aqib Talib to the Patriots is shown by the responsibilities he shoulders.

On Sunday, playing in his first career playoff game, he was manned up with the great Texans receiver Andre Johnson. The Patriots don't often sic a corner on one specific receiver but Talib has been asked to do it twice now against the Texans - December 10 and Sunday.

Both times, Talib fought Johnson to a draw. Sunday, Johnson finished with eight catches for 95 yards. In today's NFL, that's about as well as you can do in a game where the quarterback throws it 54 times and is playing catch-up most of the game.

"It was a great battle; its two good football players," Bill Belichick said after the Patriots 41-28 win. "Johnson is a great receiver. Hes arguably one or two all-time (ed. note: I don't think he meant that...), hes tremendous. Hes big, fast, has great hands, good route runner. Aqib competed with him every down, just like he did the first half of the first game. Thats two good football players and thats a battle. We didnt give him a lot of help. Johnson caught a few but Aqib battled him pretty well there. It was a good matchup."

"It's football, man," answered Talib in his twangy cadence. "As a corner, a lot of time you draw that job. I'm definitely honored."

The 26-year-old Talib was traded to New England in October because the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were sick of dealing with him. Since joining Tampa as a first-rounder in 2008, he'd been in frequent trouble both with the law and within the league.

When New England acquired Talib, he was still on suspension after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

For a player whose career was headed off a cliff, Talib has - at least for now - grabbed onto a branch and it climbing back up.

"This is what you play for, man.. You don't play to play 16 and go home, you play to get in the tournament you know and try to win it all," Talib said when asked to reflect on where he's gotten. "Bill gave me a chance to come here and I got a chance to play in the tournament, man, so I'm very thankful."

Asked if life has gotten simpler since he's been in New England, Talib said, "It's a lot better. I wouldn't say simplified. I'd say it's a lot better. It's a lot better, man, getting to work for Mr. Kraft, Coach Belichick, it's a lot better."

At the end of this season, Talib will be a free agent. His work here has showcased that he's a very capable corner. The market for his services will likely be high. Whether New England is the right fit for him for the long-term, Talib wouldn't say.

"Right now I'm a Patriot, man," he said. "I'm a Patriot and next week we got the Ravens. I put (the future) in God's hands. He's the best planner, man, that's what my momma told me."

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Patriots DT Branch wins appeal of four-game suspension

Patriots DT Branch wins appeal of four-game suspension

FOXBORO -- Alan Branch knew he had a good case, otherwise he wouldn't have appealed. It was just a question of when that appeal might be heard. 

As of Wednesday, the Patriots defensive tackle hadnt heard anything as it related to the appeal of his four-game suspension. But by Saturday morning, according to Field Yates of ESPN, Branch had won the appeal and been cleared of the league's ban. 

Branch's agent later confirmed the news on Twitter.

Word of Branch's punishment, which stemmed from what was reported as a positive marijuana test, became public when reported by ESPN on Nov. 21. Per the league's substance abuse policy, appeal hearings are typically scheduled for the fourth Tuesday after a player has been informed of his penalty. The policy notes that it is possible for appeals to be heard on another date should the two sides be able to work out different schedule, but Branch was not optimistic that would be the case earlier this week. 

Good news came quickly, though. 

Had Branch been forced to miss any time, it would have docked the Patriots arguably their top interior defensive lineman. Branch has started every game, and he leads all Patriots defensive tackles with 457 snaps played. 

The Patriots recently waived running back DJ Foster and signed defensive tackle Darius Kilgo, seemingly as a way to build some depth on the roster if Branch had been suspended. 

By having his four-game suspension wiped away not only are the Patriots saved from having to deal without one of their top players in the trenches, but Branch saved himself a relatively hefty financial penalty.

A four-game ban would have cost him nearly $300,000 in base salary as well as four game-day bonuses adding to $100,000. He also stood to lose as much as $750,000 in season-long playing-time incentives. In all, had the suspension stood, it could have cost him about $1.1 million. Patriots salary-cap expert Miguel Benzan goes into more detail about the potential financial impact of Branch's suspension here

Thankfully for Branch, he doesn't have to worry about that any longer. With this situation in the rear view, he can now focus on helping the Patriots win games during the stretch run of the regular season and into the playoffs.