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Talib, Pats secondary seek consistency, stability

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Talib, Pats secondary seek consistency, stability

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The Patriots' pass defense has been very consistent.

It's one of the worst in the NFL for the third straight year.

But now the secondary is striving to develop a different kind of consistency - a better kind. And, with the shuffling of starters apparently at its conclusion, it appears that the Patriots are headed that way.

``The more you play, the more you mesh,'' cornerback Aqib Talib said Tuesday. ``The more time you get together, it definitely helps.''

Talib is the newest, and possibly final, piece of a puzzle that finally seems to be fitting well after 10 games in which New England has allowed the third most yards passing in the NFL. That's an improvement over last season, when the Patriots gave up the second most. And in 2010, they permitted the third most.

Not that big a deal, safety Steve Gregory said.

It didn't keep the Patriots from reaching the Super Bowl last season, losing 21-17 to the New York Giants on a last-minute touchdown. And it hasn't stopped them this season from leading the AFC East by three games with a 7-3 record heading into Thursday night's visit to the New York Jets.

``Figures lie,'' Gregory said after the Patriots allowed 329 yards passing but routed the Indianapolis Colts 59-24 on Sunday.

``We don't pay attention to too many stats. We just focus in on playing good, hard-nosed football and winning football games. At the end of the day, when that clock strikes zero, if we're on the winning edge, we're happy.''

Against the Colts, they capitalized on two overthrown passes by Andrew Luck and returned both for touchdowns - 87 yards by rookie Alonzo Dennard and 59 yards by Talib.

``You talk about going out and trying to stop an offense and getting turnovers and all those good things,'' Devin McCourty said, ``but when you score points, that really lifts your team up.''

For the first four games, McCourty and Kyle Arrington started at cornerback with Gregory and Patrick Chung at safety. Rookie second-round pick Tavon Wilson started for the injured Gregory the next two games. Then, with Chung sidelined for the seventh game, McCourty moved to safety and Dennard started at cornerback.

Gregory returned for the ninth game when the Patriots had their fourth different starting secondary of the season. Then coach Bill Belichick acquired Talib from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and he made his Patriots debut last Sunday after completing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

``As if they need another great player,'' Jets coach Rex Ryan said. ``With Belichick, he does a lot of different things on defense to take advantage of players' talents. It's going to be really interesting to see what he does with Talib because, if his first game is any indication, that's not bad. You know, get an interception for a touchdown. I really thought (Belichick) should have waited until after we played to play this young man, though.''

Talib knows he made mistakes. He gave up two touchdown receptions by T.Y. Hilton, in fact.

On the second, ``I had my eyes in the wrong spot, eyes exactly where they shouldn't be,'' he said, ``on the quarterback. So I watched him throw a touchdown on me.''

But after sitting out more than a month with the suspension and trying to adjust to a new team, he expects to improve as he gets used to Belichick's system.

``Aqib did some good things in the game. There are other things that he'll work on,'' Belichick said. ``I think as our group plays together this week and the next game and so forth, hopefully our overall execution as a (defensive) unit can improve. Obviously, we haven't had a chance to do that with him other than a couple days last week.''

Gregory expects the secondary to get better as Talib gets more experience in it.

``It was good to get out there with him, get the communication things going on with him, understand how he plays in a game atmosphere,'' Gregory said. ``Practice is one thing, but when you get out there in live action you kind of get a feel for each other. So that was a great experience for us.''

The Patriots have allowed 47 completions of more than 20 yards this season, nearly five a game. Seventeen came in their three losses And they lost to Baltimore 31-30 on Justin Tucker's 27-yard field goal on the last play after a 27-yard pass interference call against McCourty gave the Ravens new life.

But two weeks ago, McCourty made the big play in the final minute. He intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick's pass in the end zone with 23 seconds left when receiver T.J. Graham ran to the wrong spot, allowing the Patriots to hang on for a 37-31 win over Buffalo.

``If the offense doesn't score,'' McCourty said, ``and the (opponent) comes back out and they're trying to punch another one in, that's the time when someone really has to step up.''

A week later, Talib did that with his interception for a touchdown. That gave the Patriots the lead for good, 21-14, and they outscored the Colts 38-10 the rest of the way.

It was the start of something big on defense.

In that game and, perhaps, for the rest of the season.

``There's a lot of, hopefully, room for growth and more consistency and better execution on all levels,'' Belichick said. ``When you add a new player in there, hopefully that will get better.''

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Ravens' Benjamin Watson named finalist for Walter Payton Man of the Year

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USA Today Sports

Ravens' Benjamin Watson named finalist for Walter Payton Man of the Year

Ravens' tight end Benjamin Watson is among three finalist for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award which "recognizes an NFL player for his excellence on and off the field."

The 14-year veteran is being recognized for his One More Foundation, which Watson and his wife Kirsten created in 2008. According to their website, the foundations purpose is "devoted to spreading the love and hope of Christ to One More soul by meeting real needs, promoting education and providing enrichment opportunities through charitable initiatives and partnerships." This is the second time in Watson's career he has been nominated. 

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In addition to this nomination, Watson was awarded the 2017 Bart Starr Award which is given annually to a NFL player who "best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field, and in the community." 

Some of Watson's charitable efforts through the One More Foundation include participating in #MyClauseMyCleasts to bring awareness to human sex trafficking, playing secret Santa to 25 families from Building Families for Children and partnering with the New Orleans Family Justice Center- where he used to play- helping survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.

Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen is a finalist for his Receptions for Research Foundation which focuses on cancer research and programming. Olsen and his wife Kara also started the HEARTest Yard Fund, a family service program that "provides families of babies affected by congenital heart disease with services including in-home, private nursing care, physical therapy and speech therapy, all at no cost to the families or hospital."

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Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is a finalist for the $37 million he raised for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in addition to his already established Justin J. Watt Foundation

The winner will be announced at NFL Honors airing February 3rd at 9 p.m ET on NBC. 

The winner will receive a $500,000 donation with $250,000 of it going to their foundation of choice and the other $250,000 going in his name to help expand Character Playbook nationwide.

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Don Martindale wondered if he would ever get a second chance to be an NFL defensive coordinator after his one-and-done disaster with the Denver Broncos in 2010.

The Broncos went 4-12 that season and gave up more points (29.4 per game) and yards (390.8) than any team in the league. Those miserable numbers, not surprisingly, cost Martindale his job.

He latched on with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 as linebackers coach. After working diligently with several stars, including Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Zachary Orr and C.J. Mosley, the 54-year-old Martindale last week was promoted to defensive coordinator.

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To say he's pleased to be in charge of an NFL defense again would be a profound understatement.

"Without a doubt," Martindale said Thursday. "My family knows it. Everybody knows it. My players know it. I can't wait."

His performance in Denver eight years ago is hardly worth putting on a resume, but Martindale believes it was a worthwhile experience.

"Even though the stats were what they were, I was really proud with how we played," he said. "I'm glad I went through that process because I think that makes me a better coach today. It's like I tell my guys: You either win or you learn."

Martindale's new job with the Ravens carries the responsibility of overseeing a unit that has long been among the best in the NFL, thriving under notable leaders such as Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan, Chuck Pagano and Dean Pees, who retired on Jan. 1.

"I've been preparing for this job all my life," Martindale said. "It's very humbling, but I understand the pressure and I look forward to the challenge."

Martindale takes over a defense that this season ranked 12th in net yards allowed, first in takeaways (34) and sixth in fewest points allowed (18.9). He has no plans to revamp the unit or change the philosophy, especially since head coach John Harbaugh stressed the need to retain continuity before launching his search for Pees' replacement.

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Martindale will, however, put his own stamp on the unit.

"I think personality-wise, and just calls, there's going to be some things that are the same. And then there are going to be sometimes where I'm going to pressure more," Martindale said. "I just think I have a more aggressive personality in calling the game. Sometimes, too aggressive. That's some of the things I've learned from the past."

His most daunting task will be finding a way to make the defense to come up big late in the game. In 2016, a fourth-quarter collapse in Pittsburgh cost Baltimore a playoff berth. This season, a fourth-down touchdown pass in the final minute by Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton bounced the Ravens from the postseason chase.

"Our mantra has always been to finish," Martindale said. "We're close. Obviously, the last two years, it's been the last play that's knocked us out of it. We are going to work diligently -- all of us -- with our package and situational football.

"That's going to be the next step, I think, that will skyrocket us. That's the big thing that I see. We were really good. Let's make it great."