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49ers lead Patriots 31-17 early in 4th quarter

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49ers lead Patriots 31-17 early in 4th quarter

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Colin Kaepernick threw three touchdown passes and the San Francisco 49ers led the turnover-prone New England Patriots 31-17 early in the fourth quarter on a rainy Sunday night.

Six days after the Patriots' 42-14 win over the Houston Texans, who had the NFL's best record, they were on the other end in another game against one of the league's top teams.

Kaepernick, making his fifth start after replacing Alex Smith as San Francisco's starting quarterback, threw scoring passes of 24 yards to Randy Moss, 34 yards to Delanie Walker and 27 yards to Michael Crabtree.

The game was going so well for the 49ers that they even scored after Kaepernick fumbled on first-and-goal at the Patriots 3 after a 66-yard fumble return by Dashon Goldson. Frank Gore got the loose ball and ran 3 yards for the touchdown.

The Patriots turned the ball over again on the second play of the next series when Tom Brady threw his second interception of the game and just his seventh of the year. Aldon Smith got it, setting the 49ers up at the Patriots 27. Kaepernick hit Crabtree on the next play for a touchdown as the 49ers went ahead 31-3 with 10:21 left in the third quarter.

The Patriots had committed four turnovers to that point after entering the game with an NFL-low 10.

Danny Woodhead scored on a 6-yard run with just under six minutes left in the third, and New England closed to 31-17 when Brady scored on a 1-yard sneak on the first play of the final period.

The 49ers (9-3-1) would clinch a playoff berth with a victory. They lead the NFC West over the second-place Seattle Seahawks (9-5), who beat the Buffalo Bills 50-17 in Toronto earlier in the day.

The Patriots (10-3) have clinched the AFC East title and are going for home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. They trail Houston (12-2) for best record in the AFC. The Texans clinched the AFC South on Sunday with a 29-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

The Patriots have won their last 20 December games at home since losing on Dec. 22, 2002.

New England entered the game ranked first in the NFL in points scored and yards gained but struggled against a 49ers defense that has allowed the fewest points and second fewest yards in the league.

The Patriots were held to a 32-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski in their lowest halftime output of the season. They had six points at intermission during a 20-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the second game of the season.

Moss, who scored 23 touchdowns with the Patriots in 2007, filled in for starting wide receiver Mario Manningham, who missed his second game with a right shoulder injury. Moss got behind Alfonzo Dennard and made the touchdown catch in the left side of the end zone. The grab moved him into third place in NFL history with 15,219 yards receiving, passing Isaac Bruce's 15,208.

Kaepernick wasted no time moving the ball through the air. His first three plays all resulted in first downs - completions of 11 and 13 to Crabtree and 12 yards to Moss. Frank Gore then ran for 3 yards and, after an incompletion, Kaepernick hit Moss for the TD.

The 49ers outgained the Patriots 249 yards to 113 in the first half. New England struggled on its first five series with three punts, an interception and a lost fumble before Gostkowski cut the lead to 7-3 with 8:31 left in the second quarter.

The 49ers needed just three plays - plus a 35-yard defensive pass interference call - to respond. After the penalty gave them a first down at the Patriots 45, Gore ran twice for 8 and 3 yards before Kaepernick hit Walker in the right side of the end zone with Dennard covering,

San Francisco added a 20-yard field goal by David Akers on the last play of the half.

The game was slowed by officiating confusion that led to several lengthy conferences, including a delay of about 10 minutes while deciding whether 49ers punt returner Ted Ginn Jr., muffed a second-quarter kick. Officials ruled he didn't touch the ball and the 49ers got possession.

In the first quarter, Brady was hit twice by NFL sacks leader Smith while trying to pass, then was intercepted by Carlos Rogers when he overthrew Wes Welker. Rogers returned the interception 53 yards to the Patriots 5, where he was tackled by Brady.

But on the second play, Walker fumbled after a 1-yard catch and Aqib Talib recovered for the Patriots. They couldn't get a first down and punted.

After three plays, the 49ers set up to punt but faked as Goldson took the snap and ran 31 yards to the New England 28. Again, the 49ers failed to capitalize as Akers' 39-yard field goal went wide to the left with 2:14 left in the quarter.

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3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Penguins in Game 1

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Penguins in Game 1

If you had to boil down the playoff history of the Washinton Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins into one game, Game 1 certainly seemed to fit the bill. The Capitals had their chances, they got good performances from star players and all of it came to naught as they were once again foiled by the Penguins in a 3-2 loss.

Here's Washington let this game slip away.

Missed chances

The Caps were buzzing in the first period. Already up 1-0, Dmitry Orlov and Alex Ovechkin had an opportunity to add a second goal early on a 2-on-1. Orlov faked the shot then passed to Ovechkin who had a wide open net to shoot at…but he missed. Ovechkin doesn’t miss too many of those shots. Despite how good the Caps looked in the first period, they got only six pucks through to goalie Matt Murray and took only a 1-0 lead into the dressing room. In the second period, Devante Smith-Pelly was denied an empty net rebound by Murray (more on that later). We all knew the push was coming. We’ve seen this all play out before. Simply put, Washington did not convert on its opportunities when they had control of the game. A two-goal cushion was not enough to take the wind out of Pittsburgh's sails nor was it enough to survive the three-goal flurry that was to come.

A five-minute snowball in the third period

When the push finally came, it came fast. In a stretch that lasted for less than five minutes, Pittsburgh scored three times to turn a 2-0 Caps lead into a 3-2 deficit. Patrick Hornqvist deflected in a shot from Justin Schultz at 2:59, Sidney Crosby netted a pass from Jake Guentzel at 5:20 and Guentzel got a deflection goal of his own at 7:48. That is a span of 4:49. Pittsburgh’s momentum snowballed into three quick goals which carried them to the win. Braden Holtby was brilliant for 55:11, but those 4:49 were enough to doom the Caps.

Matt Murray

As good as Holtby was, Murray was better. Despite allowing a goal just 17 seconds in, he recovered very well in what was a 32-save performance. You can put some of this game on Washington’s inability to convert on its chances, but you also have to give credit to the Penguins’ netminder as well who came up with some big-time saves to keep his team in it. The biggest was in the second period when he extended the arm and blocked what looked like an easy goal for Smith-Pelly with the glove of his blocker. As hard as it was to beat Murray when the Caps were ahead, he was unbeatable when his team finally gave him a lead to work with.

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The Redskins fill a need with Da'Ron Payne as their first-round pick

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The Redskins fill a need with Da'Ron Payne as their first-round pick

The Redskins went into the draft with everyone talking about their need to upgrade their defensive line. And despite the presence of two other intriguing defenders on the board, they went with the big guy. 

Da’Ron Payne, a defensive lineman from Alabama, was the name that Roger Goodell read off of the card when the Redskins’ turn came up with the 13thoverall pick in the draft. 

Here is our analysis of Payne from an earlier NBC Sports Washington post about him:

Stuff the run in the middle of the line? Check. Get outside to stop stretch plays? Check. Get after the passer? Check. Yes, Alabama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne checks all the boxes the Redskins are looking for on the D-line.

He can be the immovable object, taking on double and triple teams, and he also can chase down the quarterback. At 311 pounds he could be the Redskins’ nose tackle in base and move outside in nickel.

At 6-2, 311, the Redskins likely will use Payne in the middle of the line as their nose tackle in their base defense. Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula will work with him to improve his pass rushing ability. 

Payne has been talked of as the Redskins pick since early in the draft process. As the draft unfolded, it turned out that there were two defenders, safety Derwin James and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who most analysts had rated considerably above Payne, still on the board. As it turns out, the Redskins apparently made the need pick and went with Payne. 

The Redskins draft an Alabama defensive lineman for the second straight year. Last year they took Crimson Tide defensive tackle Jonathan Allen with the 17th pick in the draft. 

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Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.