Talib to play a crucial role Sunday


Talib to play a crucial role Sunday

FOXBORO -- There's one thing we know to be true about Sunday's AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium: The Baltimore Ravens aren't going to be afraid to take shots down the field.

That aspect of the Ravens' offensive arsenal makes the Patriots' in-season acquisition of cornerback Aqib Talib that much more important.

The timing of New England's defensive improvements and the acquisition of Talib is no coincidence. His presence has improved the Patriots' secondary.

"Very positive," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick on Wednesday of Talib's impact on the defense. "He's a good football player. A good teammate. he's very well respected, because of his professionalism. He studies hard, he prepares well. He's tough, he competes well, both in practice and on Sundays. He's a smart kid. I like him. The team likes him. He's a good guy to be around. But he works hard and he competes well. And I think those are his most impressive qualities."

For a player's viewpoint into Talib's presence on the Patriots' defense, look no further than its longest-tenured starter, Vince Wilfork.

"He definitely made a big difference in what we do defensively," Wilfork said of Talib. "Anytime you can basically say, Hey you got this guy and we are going to cover everybody else, that's a good sign."

Linebacker Jerod Mayo knew Talib was "a football guy" well before Talib joined the Patriots. Both players were drafted in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Mayo selected 10th overall. Talib selected 20th.

"I met Aqib through the whole draft process," said Mayo on Wednesday. "We were on several visits together. I might have met him at the combine, I don't remember. But he was a good guy, a football guy. He enjoys the game, and he's made this team better obviously. His physical abilities -- he's a tall guy, long arms, can do a lot of different things. But like I said earlier, he's a football guy. He's always in the film room, always trying to learn, give tips to guys. He's really improved this defense in the passing aspect."

That improvement will once again have to show on Sunday, because they're certainly going to be tested down the field.

Horford-Celtics partnership gives both stability, chance to win


Horford-Celtics partnership gives both stability, chance to win

BOSTON –  This is not where Al Horford thought he would be right now.
Back in May, the Atlanta Hawks had just been swept out of the playoffs by the soon-to-be NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
Disappointed with the outcome obviously, Horford was a free agent-to-be who was confident that he would be back in Atlanta and the Hawks would retool by adding to their core group which he was a major part of, and they would be back to making another run at it this season.
First there was the draft night trade of point guard Jeff Teague to the Indiana Pacers. 
And during Horford's negotiations with the Hawks in July, they were also negotiating with Dwight Howard and ultimately signed the Atlanta native to a three-year, $70.5 million contract. 
Before the Howard deal was complete, the Celtics had already made a strong impression on Horford during their presentation to him. 
So the choice was pretty clear.
Return to Atlanta and potentially have a major logjam up front with himself, Howard and Paul Millsap, or join a Celtics team that’s on the rise where his five-tool skillset – passing, rebounding, defending, scoring and making those around him better – could be put to great use on a team that’s clearly on the rise. 
Horford chose the latter, giving both himself and the Celtics exactly what they wanted – stability and a chance to win at the highest of levels.
The first shot to see how this basketball marriage looks on the floor will be tonight when the Celtics kick off the 2016-2017 season at the TD Garden against the Brooklyn Nets. 
The preseason isn’t the best indicator of what’s on the horizon now that games count, but Horford’s presence was undeniable.
Boston’s starters which includes Horford, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson, each finished with a positive, double-digit plus/minus in the preseason. 
“He just makes the game so much easier for all of us,” Johnson told CSNNE.com. “He can do so many things out there at both ends of the floor. He’s going to be big for us this season.”
And his impact can be felt both on the floor and inside the locker room, similar to what he brought to the Atlanta Hawks.
“With the way that I go about it is, I’m trying to win,” Horford told CSNNE.com. “I’m gonna work, put in my work, try to help guys get better not only on the court but off the court as well. That’s how I carry myself.”
 And it is that approach to the game that has made his transition to the Celtics a relatively seamless one. 
Horford holds many fond memories of his time in Atlanta, a place that will always be near and dear to his heart. 
But he’s a Celtic now, coming in with the same single-minded focus that drives this organization to continue pursuing the only thing that truly matters to them – an NBA title. 
"Even though I’m leaving a lot behind, as a player you always want to be in the best position you can,” Horford said. “I felt for me being on this team would put me in a position to be able to contend and win an NBA championship. That’s my ultimate goal.”

Report: Patriots RB Lewis expected to return to practice this week


Report: Patriots RB Lewis expected to return to practice this week

FOXBORO -- The Patriots will have a familiar face back on the practice field, it appears. 

According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, running back Dion Lewis is expected to begin practicing this week. Lewis has been on the physically unable to perform list since the start of the regular season. 

Lewis tore his ACL in a Week 9 win over the Redskins last season, landing him on season-ending injured reserve. He was able to participate on a limited basis during OTAs but then experienced a setback that required surgery before the start of the season. 

Once Lewis hits the practice field, the Patriots have a three-week window to place him on the active roster. The team currently has an open roster spot and could, in theory, activate him as early as this week. 

When healthy last season, Lewis as a dynamic all-purpose back whose quickness allowed him to make defenders miss both in tight spaces between the tackles and in the open field as a receiver. The Patriots have used James White as their primary sub back in Lewis' absence, and he's on pace for a career year, with 27 receptions for 244 yards and three touchdowns.