Patriots

Wakeup Call: Culliver's anti-gay remarks a Super distraction

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Wakeup Call: Culliver's anti-gay remarks a Super distraction

Here's your wakeup call -- a combination of newsworthy andor interesting tidbits -- for Friday, February 1:

AUTO RACING
Ex-NFL (and Boston College) linebacker Bill Romanowski's a NASCAR owner now. (AP)

That'll teach the No. 60 Ford Riley of Michael Shank Racing to make mechanical adjustments to the engine that result in "performance levels outside the documented maximums." (AP)

BASEBALL
Want to know why everyone expects the Orioles to fall back to the pack -- and perhaps behind it -- this year? Things like pondering the additions of Arthur Rhodes and Fernando Tatis are part of it. (Hardball Talk)

The Diamondbacks welcome Martin Prado to Arizona with a four-year, 40 million contract. (AP)

Looks like Scott Rolen might come back, after all. But with who? (NBC's Hardball Talk)

Not Omar Vizquel; he's giving up the chase for 3,000 hits -- stopping 123 hits short -- and, at age 45, becoming a roving infield instructor for the Angels. (AP)

LaTroy Hawkins is still around? (AP)

Mark Grace is going to jail. (AP)

COLLEGE BASKETBALL
No. 9 Butler says Saint Louis "just out-toughed us" in the Billikens' 75-58 upset, their largest victory margin ever against a ranked opponent. (AP)

The difference between playing at home and playing on the road: The seventh-ranked Penn State women beat Wisconsin by 44 at Happy Valley two weeks ago, but lost to the Badgers in Madison, 63-61, last night. (AP)

The sixth annual Jimmy V Week for Cancer Research raised a record 1.6 million this time around. (AP)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL
Amen. (CSN Chicago)

Seniors of the world, rejoice: 73-year-old Bill Snyder gets a five-year contract at Kansas State. (AP)

GOLF
With the controversy over his admission that he used deer-antler spray still swirling, Vijah Singh withdraws from the Phoenix Open, Because of a bad back, he says. (AP)

What controversy, you ask? Well, Mark O'Meara thinks Singh should be suspended "for a couple of months". (AP)

How about Bob Charles, then, who not only used the stuff for more than 20 years but was a spokesman for it? (AP)

And while all this was going on, Phil Mickelson -- no doubt happy that his own tax-talk brouhaha is now all but forgotten -- shoots a 60 and takes the first-round lead in Phoenix. (AP)

HOCKEY
The Penguins continue their domination of the Rangers in New York with a 3-0 win. (AP)

John Tortorella's excitable in the best of times, and these aren't the best of times for the Rangers. (NBC's Pro Hockey Talk)

There's only one way to celebrate being 7-0-0, and that's by Kaepernicking. (CSN Bay Area)

The Predators beat the Kings in an eight-round shootout. (AP)

Old friend Zack Hamill is on the move again. (CSN Washington)

In hockey, even the coaches are tough. (Pro Hockey Talk)

PRO BASKETBALL
The Rudy Gay-less Grizzles were no match for the Thunder . . . (AP)

. . . who won despite a little intramural squabbling, courtesy of Russell Westbrook. (NBC's Pro Basketball Talk)

Ricky Rubio's not happy about the way he's being treated in Minnesota, and he's also not happy about the way Pau Gasol's being treated in Los Angeles. (AP)

Doug Collins wants everyone to curb their enthusiasm about Andrew Bynum's alleged return. (CSN Philly)

And do the same for Derrick Rose's, while you're at it. (CSN Chicago)

Just make that 25,000 check out to the NBA, Dwane Casey. (AP)

Your All-Star captains: Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul. (AP)

Brandon Roy has another setback in his recovery. (AP)

Nick Van Exel's 22-year-old son is convicted of murder. (AP)

PRO FOOTBALL
Chris Culliver's backpedaling from those anti-gay-teammate comments faster than he backpedals when covering the quickest of receivers. (AP)

Bill Belichick's mantra to the Patriots is "Ignore the noise." But what happens when one of your players made the noise? (CSN Bay Area)

Adding to the noise: Seahawks punter Jon Ryan demanding that Culliver be suspended. (NBC's Pro Football Talk)

The Ravens? They'd welcome a gay teammate, says Terrell Suggs. (Pro Football Talk)

Thankfully for the 49ers, the Ravens' Ed Reed is making some noise of his own. (CSN Baltimore)

Looks like the Harbaughs learned to share at an early age. (CSN Bay Area)

Joe Flacco's contract is up after the Super Bowl, but Ozzie Newsome says "as long as I'm general manager in Baltimore, hopefully he's the quarterback in Baltimore." (Pro Football Talk)

Flacco, meanwhile, says his impending free agency is not an issue. (AP)

The 18-game-season talk is circulating again, and Bernard Pollard wishes it would stop. (CSN Baltimore)

Jerry Rice says he doesn't "need to talk about being the best receiver" -- something Randy Moss has been yapping about this week -- but he will talk about the fact that, uh, unlike Moss, he "never took any plays off," he "always gave 100 percent" and that there's "a big difference" between "my body of work compared to" Moss'. To steal from Robert DeNiro in 'Goodfellas': You gonna take that, Randy? (AP)

Three black ex-head coaches -- Tony Dungy, Herm Edwards and Jim Caldwell -- say the Rooney Rule isn't working when no minority candidates were hired for the eight vacancies that popped up this year. (AP)

The NFL and NFLPA are squabbling again, this time over the issue of player safety. (AP)

And in a step in that direction, the union wants the Chargers' team physician -- who lost a malpractice lawsuit last summer -- replaced. (AP)

Mike Holmgren? Coach again? Nah. (Pro Football Talk)

Donald Driver? Play again? Nah. (AP)

Arian Foster may have surgery to correct the irregular heartbeat that forced him out of a game this year. (Pro Football Talk)

With the New York Post nipping at the story, Dan Marino comes clean: He admits he has a 7-year-old child with a production assistant he worked with at CBS, but that he's taken full financial responsibility for the child, and that his wife of 30 years and the six children he has with her are aware of it all. (Pro Football Talk)

Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill is being held on 150,000 bail after his arrest on domestic assault charges. (AP)

The judge rejected his "post-concussion syndrome which left me mentally impaired" defense, so ex-NFL cornerback Will James -- who also went by the name Will Peterson during his years in the league -- is headed to jail for failing to file a federal income tax return in 2005, when he earned 5.5 million. (AP via CSN Philly)

TENNIS
John Isner is recovered from a knee injury and ready to lead the U.S. against Brazil in the first round of the Davis Cup. (AP)

X GAMES
Snowmobiler Caleb Moore dies of injuries suffered in a crash at the Winter X Games. (AP via nbcsports.com)

'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."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

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.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE