Patriots

Democrats getting involved in NFL drug-testing

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Democrats getting involved in NFL drug-testing

From Comcast SportsNet
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Three Democratic congressmen are urging the House Energy and Commerce Committee to hold hearings on the impasse between the NFL and players union on testing for human growth hormone. California Rep. Henry Waxman, the top Democrat on the committee, and two others made the request in a letter Tuesday to chairman Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican. The NFL and the players agreed to begin blood testing for HGH as part of their new collective bargaining agreement reached in late July -- but only if the union agreed to the methods. The union has delayed implementing the test, asking for more scientific data to prove it is reliable. "This delay is a cause for concern," wrote Waxman, along with G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina and Bobby Rush of Illinois, both of whom chair subcommittees on the panel. The lawmakers cited a recent letter to the union and NFL from nearly two dozen scientists and lab directors from around the world stating the current test is scientifically reliable; and noted that the test has been used in the Olympics. "There appear to be few questions about the validity of the HGH test," the Democrats wrote. They also noted that CBS football analyst Boomer Esiason, a former NFL quarterback, said that the union is "backing off because they have players guilty of using this substance," and said that many believe at least 20 percent of players are using it. "We hope that this is not the case," the congressmen wrote. "Committee hearings will allow us to learn about these issues, hearing from top scientists about the validity of HGH testing and from the NFL and the NFLPA about the extent of HGH use in the league and their plans for testing to eliminate such use." In an email to The Associated Press, union head DeMaurice Smith said that players' health and the safety and integrity of the game go hand-in-hand. "I applaud the members in their request for a hearing and look forward to fully discussing all of these issues as soon as possible," he said. "We are sending letters to the teams immediately in order to assist Congress in its fact finding mission." NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league appreciated the lawmakers' commitment to the issue, "but there should be no need for this hearing if the union would simply live up to its agreements." A spokesman for Upton's committee, Sean Bonyun, said lawmakers on the committee are in bipartisan agreement that "it is well past time for the NFL and Players Union to live up to their HGH testing agreement." "Each day that goes by without rigorous HGH testing tarnishes the image of the NFL and sends the wrong message to the nation's youth," Bonyun said. Earlier this month, the chairman and ranking member of another panel, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, emerged from a meeting with the NFL and players union and announced a deal to begin collecting blood for testing. But the union demurred, and last week, told the NFL to hold off collecting the blood. The union is seeking data from the athletes who were used to originally set thresholds as to what constitutes a positive test, so it can compare that data with a population study on football players. The union believes players could have naturally higher HGH levels than those of other athletes.

'Man, why do we continue to do this?' Patriots FG block work finally pays off

'Man, why do we continue to do this?' Patriots FG block work finally pays off

FOXBORO -- Stay low. Drive off the tight end's inside shoulder. And whatever you do, keep your feet. You don't want to be falling into kicker and picking up a penalty. 

Those were the kinds of things that were bouncing around somewhere in Cassius Marsh's subconscious as he lined up to try to block Falcons kicker Matt Bryant's field-goal attempt from 37 yards away at the end of the first quarter. Swimming past his blocker off the snap, Marsh got both arms extended and into the path of Bryant's kick, knocking it down and giving his team a boost. 

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"Guys work hard on that every week," Bill Belichick said after his team's 23-7 win. "Cassius has gotten some opportunities in practice. It’s hard to block Steve [Gostkowski]. Steve gets good height on the ball, gets the ball off quickly. I think this one with not quite as much height maybe as Steve's ball, or at least what Steve's balls were in practice, Cassius got a hand on it. 

"It was a big play for us because, again, we worked so hard on that and that’s everybody across the board. That’s all 11 guys, not just the guy that blocks it. The other guys have to do their job and if they block Cassius and take him away then that gives somebody else an opportunity so we never know how that’s going to go. We just want everybody to come hard and do their job right and wherever the opening is it is. That was a big play for us . . . 

"You can see the whole team – we were all excited. Sideline, players, guys on the field. That was a big moment for us. Our special teams units work very hard. They take a lot of pride in their job. The return teams, the coverage teams, the field goal and the field goal block team. It’s good to see that hard work pay off in a big play like that."

It was a big enough play that it earned Marsh a high-five from his coach. Marsh laughed about his reception on the sideline, remembering that the last time he got that kind of recognition from Belichick it came after a Week 4 sack.

"That's pretty much it that I can remember," Marsh said, beaming. "He only really smiles in situations like that so you've gotta cherish those moments."

The Patriots recovered at their own 26-yard line and embarked on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to get them on the scoreboard.

"With the defense playing as well as they were, to be able to preserve the shutout at the time was big," said special teams captain Matthew Slater. "Those are huge momentum plays when you're able to block a kick. It's not a traditional play that happens every game. Huge play. A UCLA guy stepping up, who would've thought? 

"You gotta tip your hat to those guys because they coach that, they work that and sometimes it seems like, 'Man, why do we continue to do this?' But it paid off for us tonight. You tip your cap to not only Cash but the rest of the guys on that unit." 

While Marsh's block was the highlight, it was a strong night overall for New England's special teams units. Every Falcons drive started inside their own 30-yard line, and Gostkowski had kicks returned to the 12, 19 and 18 before they were stopped.

Slater called it the most complementary game the Patriots played all season. Offense, defense, special teams. They all worked together to make Sunday perhaps their most dominating performance of the year. 

"That's the effort that we've been looking for and striving for all year," Slater said. "I think that's a good starting point for us. Lot of football left. Nine games left so we're going to have to continue to do it and be consistent week in and week out."

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Butler credits improved Patriots defense for 'playing smarter'

Butler credits improved Patriots defense for 'playing smarter'

As safety Duron Harmon emerged from the showers following the Patriots 23-7 win over the Falcons, he noticed a crowd gathered by his locker. As one of the captains of the team - and a man nicknamed by teammates as “The Voice” because of his ability to articulate the right words at the right time, the affable safety is a must listen postgame. But for a change, Harmon knew the mass gathering of media wasn’t there for him - at least not yet. We were there for Malcolm Butler, who had just played his best game of the season.

“You all want to talk to Malcolm?” Harmon sang. “I’d want to talk to Malcolm too.”

Devin McCourty got in on the act as well with some good-natured chirping in Butler’s direction. Both safeties were energized by the victory but also, it seemed, by the performance of a player they’ve come to rely on in games just like this. 

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“Awww man, Malcolm. . . Malcolm was great for us,” said Harmon later. “We need that.”

It's hard not to draw the parallel between Butler having his best performance of the season a week after making two of the biggest plays in the game against the Jets. He did all this while the man who indirectly caused so much of the 28-year old’s troubles - Stephon Gilmore - hasn’t been able to play because of a concussion. Meanwhile, an undrafted player in his 6th year, Johnson Bademosi, has emerged opposite Butler to play very sound football.

“Communication,” said Butler of the team’s defensive improvements. “Just playing smarter and better. That’s all.”

Butler himself didn’t want to spend much time analyzing his own performance. That’s usually not his thing. And it wasn’t as if that performance was perfect. Far from it. But Butler’s energy was evident right from the jump. He stuck his nose in there on running plays to his side, including a terrific submarine tackle of Tevin Coleman in the opening quarter. Butler also got his fair share of Julio Jones over the course of the night. Even though he surrendered that late touchdown to the Falcons wideout, he showed not only a willingness to play the big dog, but to go right at him. That is - after all - a Butler trademark. 

“Just competing,” said Butler. “Great player; you just got to compete.”

It’s not just competing, but it’s playing with confidence, something Butler said was an issue for him in the aftermath of his snap reduction in New Orleans. But now? That seems long gone and hard to find.

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