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."

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.