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Patriots truly displaying 'special' teams of late

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Patriots truly displaying 'special' teams of late

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Derrick Martin has built a championship career out of playing on special teams.

The seven-year veteran earned Super Bowl rings the past two seasons - first with the Green Bay Packers and then with the New York Giants. Now he has a shot at a third straight title with the New England Patriots.

He offers no apologies for making his mark on special teams rather than on the higher profile offensive or defensive units.

``You look for guys to step in and contribute,'' Martin said Wednesday of special teams. ``Don't be out there just because you have to, but take it as a serious job, make sure you're making the plays that you're supposed to make.''

The Patriots (8-3) have made some big ones during their five-game winning streak with touchdowns on a 104-yard kickoff return by Devin McCourty, a 68-yard punt return by Julian Edelman and a 22-yard fumble return by Edelman after McCourty jarred the ball loose on a kickoff return.

Plays like that can energize the Patriots and deflate their opponents.

``You feed off of it,'' Martin said. ``When you see somebody else making a play, you're like, `Man, it's probably my turn to make that play,' and everybody's competing to make that play, but they're all doing their job. So everybody's working well as a team.''

His next chance comes Sunday in Miami where a win would give the Patriots their fourth straight AFC East title. The Dolphins (5-6) also have made some big plays on special teams with Marcus Thigpen scoring on a 72-yard punt return and a 96-yard kickoff return this season.

``It's not going to be an easy task going against them, and it's not going to be easy for them going against us,'' said Marlon Moore, Miami's second-leading tackler on special teams. ``It's going to be a long day on both sides of the ball for special teams, and that's going to be a big difference in the game.''

In their last two games, the Dolphins have allowed touchdowns on a 79-yard punt return and a 98-yard kickoff return. But Miami's special teams have improved since the 2010 season when they were especially poor against New England.

In two games against the Patriots that season, the Dolphins allowed three special teams touchdowns, one each on a punt and kickoff return, as well as a blocked field goal. Another blocked field goal set up a touchdown two plays later.

If the Patriots can keep making big plays - and scoring touchdowns - on special teams it will result from the seasonlong focus on the importance of that phase.

``Our hard work and preparation throughout the week is starting to show itself in the games,'' special teams captain Matthew Slater said. ``We haven't changed anything. We just continue to approach things the same way we always have and sometimes you're fortunate enough for things to happen in your favor, the ball to bounce the right way in your favor.

``And we've been able to have that the last two weeks.''

In a 59-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts, Edelman's punt return for a touchdown and the extra point tied the game 14-14 and the Patriots never trailed again. Four days later, on Thanksgiving night, McCourty's hit on kickoff returner Joe McKnight knocked the ball into the air and Edelman caught it and ran in for a touchdown that gave the Patriots a 28-0 lead in their 49-19 win.

McCourty was chosen for the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2010 and anchors the secondary at safety after shifting from cornerback after the sixth game. He takes his special teams responsibilities just as seriously.

``You can make a lot of big plays on special teams and I'm on a couple of them,'' McCourty said. ``It's key for me to do my role on that special team and try to make plays as well.''

Scoring on special teams also can give the offense more time on the sideline to rest and plan. If a player returns a punt or kickoff for a touchdown, Tom Brady can watch his defense go right back out on the field.

``It's a great thing to happen for a team,'' he said. ``We've been fortunate the last few weeks. I don't think there's really an advantage for our offense sitting over there. I'd prefer to be out there playing. But if we're scoring points, that's a great thing.''

Making contributions on special teams is important for players, whether they score or not. It can lead to long careers they wouldn't have if they had to get by only on their offensive or defensive talents.

Slater has just one reception in five seasons with the Patriots but leads the team with 14 special teams tackles and has 72 in his five pro seasons, all with New England. Martin has five in three games with the Patriots and 62 in his career that began with Baltimore in 2006.

``We're a very close knit group of guys,'' Slater said. ``We understand how we're going to keep jobs in this league and we take a lot of pride in what we're doing.''

Especially when the emphasis the Patriots put on special teams leads to big plays and victories.

``You're not counting on the special team to score every game. It's just not realistic for that to happen,'' Slater said. ``But when it does happen, it brings a huge momentum swing to the game. In the case of the last two weeks, it's been huge for us.''

And the teams that don't stress special teams as much?

``Those are usually teams,'' Martin said, ``that are losing.''

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Ravens reportedly agree to a deal keeping John Harbaugh in Baltimore long term

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USA Today Sports

Ravens reportedly agree to a deal keeping John Harbaugh in Baltimore long term

The Ravens have reportedly agreed in principle to a new contract extension with head coach John Harbaugh, a move already being praised by national pundits everywhere. 

It was nearly a month ago that the Ravens announced Harbaugh would be returning as the team’s head coach in 2019, which was noteworthy considering his status as a potential lame duck head coach.

In the same release, the team announced they were working towards a contract extension with Harbaugh, whose current deal was set to expire next year.

Despite reports from national NFL insiders, including Jason La Canfora and Peter King, that Harbaugh might prefer to hit free agency as a highly sought-after head coach after the 2019 season, it appears the Ravens will keep him in Baltimore for the foreseeable future. 

This news comes on the heels of a busier-than-usual coaching carousel, with a quarter of the 32 NFL teams changing head coaches in the last month, including two AFC North rivals. Harbaugh almost certainly would have been the cream of the crop among coaching free agents no matter when he became available, so the Ravens were looking to lock him up long term.

After a tough November home loss to the Steelers that put the team at 4-5, Harbaugh was asked about his job security, and he remained steadfast and confident.

"I've never been someone who's worried about keeping a job," Harbaugh said. "It's always been, for me, [about] doing the job. I've got a bunch of great coaches and a bunch of great players that bust their tails every day to do the best job they can. I feel really good about the way this team has been coached for the last 11 years, and for the last number of weeks we've been in the season. So, there are no regrets. Never been any regrets here with me."

After that game, the Ravens rattled off six wins in seven games to make the playoffs, and many players credited Harbaugh with keeping the team together. It was prior to Week 16 when the front office announced Harbaugh would be returning no matter how the season ended, but the strong finish and AFC North title certainly made the decision easier.

A coach with a special teams background, Harbaugh is an anomaly in the current era of young, offensive-minded head coaches. He won Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, and holds a 104-72 career record in Baltimore.

The terms of the new deal have not yet been released, but it will be interesting how many years the team is committing to Harbaugh.

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Bradley Beal's agent says guard's not looking for a trade: 'He wants to win'

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Bradley Beal's agent says guard's not looking for a trade: 'He wants to win'

Bradley Beal, his agent Mark Bartlestein told Bleacher Report, would like to stay in Washington - even as he's a hot topic among front offices as the trade deadline approaches.

From Bleacher Report:

His agent, Mark Bartelstein, is not looking for a trade. "Brad wants to win, Bartelstein told B/R. "He wants to win at the highest level, and he wants to compete for championships. I think he's seeing progress, and he's going to do everything he can to lead this team. They got themselves into a huge hole, and he's going to do his best to get them out of it.

The Wizards are facing tough decisions when it comes to the future of the franchise as this season's trade deadline approaches. Beal, as NBC Sports Washington's Ben Standig detailed this week, is among the most tradable assets they have, especially when it comes to their three major contracts. But owner Ted Leonsis took a firm stance against tanking while speaking to reporters in London, and Beal is integral to their playoff hopes with John Wall sidelined. 

This isn't the first time this season that Beal has denied wanting to be anywhere but DC. When drama swirled around the team earlier this season, Beal denied a report that he had requested a trade.

"That's nonsense," he said at the time. "I heard it earlier before the game and I was like, 'If it didn't come from the horse's mouth, it wasn't me.' I got this Washington jersey on and I come here and work everyday, you know, until otherwise. This is where I wanna be."

Earlier this season, it was reported that the Raptors were interested in Beal but couldn't afford what the Wizards were asking for him. According to the latest report on Beal from Bleacher Report, there are a number of teams who may still be interested. 

Again, from Bleacher Report:

There are so many teams in the mix trying to make that extra push that want Beal," a Western Conference executive told B/R.

But even if some fans are clamoring for a big trade at the deadline, the price tag for Beal - who had 26 points in the Wizards' comeback win over the Knicks this week - only seems to be rising. 

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