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Texans defense healthier for rematch with Patriots

Texans defense healthier for rematch with Patriots

HOUSTON (AP) The first time Houston faced the Patriots, top cornerback Johnathan Joseph played while still struggling to get healthy, and outside linebacker Brooks Reed sat out with an injury.

That game turned into an embarrassing 42-14 loss to New England. Now both are back to full strength, and the Texans believe that makes their defense much stronger this time around.

``Right now, I can probably say this is the best I've felt all year,'' Joseph said.

He was slowed by a hamstring injury that kept him out the two games before the first matchup against the Patriots.

``Obviously, back then I was good enough to play but I wasn't at my best,'' he said. ``Right now I can say I'm 100 percent.''

Joseph, who often shadows the opponent's best receiver, knows that he and the rest of the secondary will have their hands full. Not only must they deal with New England's wide receivers, but also its tight end duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski didn't play in the first game against Houston.

``They can place the ball on his back side or throw it up top and those guys both have great hands where they can make the difficult catch in traffic,'' Joseph said. ``For us, it will be a task, but I think that we have the guys here that are up for the challenge. It's just about making plays.''

Reed, a second-year player, started 12 games in the regular season. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips called him a ``physical force.''

``He's obviously a good player, but I think just his physicality really helps us as far as our mental toughness overall as a defensive unit,'' Phillips said.

A frustrated Reed had to watch the team struggle against the Patriots and not be able to help out.

``Now, it's a little bit different,'' he said. ``So I'll be out there and try to make plays of my own.''

Reed had a sack last week against the Bengals; he now has at least one in each the three postseason games in Texans history. His best playoff performance came last season against the Ravens when he had 2 1/2 sacks.

Joseph appreciates Reed's versatility.

``He can play the run and the pass, so he's a two-sided guy,'' Joseph said. ``I think he had just experience from last year coming in ... so just having Brooks back and those guys rotating and whatever they're doing up front, I think it just helps those guys from a health standpoint and just being fresh all the time.''

Houston is hoping to build on last week's dominant defensive performance in its 19-13 wild-card win over the Bengals. The Texans limited them to 198 yards, which was the lowest yardage total in the first round of the playoffs, and only 53 before halftime.

They also cleaned up their problems on third down, not allowing Cincinnati to convert any of its nine third-down chances.

This week the Texans know they must get pressure on Tom Brady and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. They'll look to defensive star J.J. Watt to lead that charge. Watt led the NFL with a franchise-record 20 1/2 sacks in the regular season. He also had 107 tackles, including 39 for losses, 16 passes defended and forced four fumbles.

In Watt's rookie season, the Texans lost to the Ravens in the divisional round.

``We were happy to make it as far as we did, but this year, new year, new goals,'' he said. ``Biggest goal of them all, Super Bowl, and this is a big step for us, and we're really excited about the challenge.''

Phillips, who began coaching in the NFL in 1976, believes Watt is clearly the best defensive player in the NFL this season.

``He had the best season ever,'' Phillips said. ``I mean, nobody has had a season like that. Nobody has made that many tackles, that many sacks, that many pass breakups and that many tackles for loss or tackles for no gain in the history of football. Nobody has had a year like that. It's the best I've ever seen, sure.''

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Fellow dance student of Ravens' Alex Collins fatally shot in Florida school shooting

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USA Today Sports

Fellow dance student of Ravens' Alex Collins fatally shot in Florida school shooting

On Wednesday, February 14, a horrific school shooting claimed the lives of 17 innocent people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. 

The tragic event impacted people far and wide, and hit especially close to home for Ravens running back Alex Collins.

The former Arkansas star was born in Plantation, Fla., a suburb of Fort Lauderdale and went to high school just 15 miles south of Douglas High School. 

In the offseason, Collins took Irish dancing lessons to improve his footwork, and following the act of terror, the Ravens' tailback learned that one of his dance partners had been killed in the mass shooting.

17-year-old Cara Loughran attended The Drake school of Irish Dance with Collins in addition to two other Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and was fatally shot by the gunman on Wednesday afternoon. 

Collins took to his Twitter account to issue this heartfelt message.

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“The school shooting yesterday hit home,” Collins wrote.

“We received confirmation a few hours ago we lost one of the girls, Cara Loughran. Two other girls saw and experienced unspeakable tragedy. My heart goes out to these girls, all their families and their teacher Chrissy.”

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Baltimore Ravens to take on Chicago Bears in Hall of Fame game

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USA Today Sports

Baltimore Ravens to take on Chicago Bears in Hall of Fame game

BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears will launch the NFL's 99th season by playing in the annual Hall of Fame game on Aug. 2.

The Ravens' first appearance in the Hall of Fame game, which launches the league's 2018 Enshrinement Week. Former Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis is among the inductees, along with former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.

Lewis, who played 17 seasons with the Ravens, and Urlacher, who played all of his 13 seasons with Chicago, both were elected on the first ballot.

Lewis joins Jonathan Ogden as the only Ravens in the Hall of Fame. Both were selected by Baltimore in the first round of the 1996 draft.

The other members of the Class of 2018 include Bobby Beathard, Robert Brazile, Brian Dawkins, Jerry Kramer, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. All will be inducted on Saturday, Aug. 4.

This will be the record-tying fifth time that the Bears will play in the Hall of Fame game. They won the previous four, most recently 27-24 over Miami in 2005.

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