No Gronk vs. Jets, but Pats still go as Brady goes


No Gronk vs. Jets, but Pats still go as Brady goes

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) There were no sighs of relief, no jumps for joy when the New York Jets found out they wouldn't have to worry about Rob Gronkowski this week.

Sure, the New England Patriots lost perhaps the league's top playmaking tight end for a few weeks with a broken forearm. But Rex Ryan's team knew better than to celebrate.

``I don't know,'' Ryan said, shaking his head. ``They have five tight ends on their roster, so I don't know if they'll put another guy in that role. I'm not sure how they'll do it.''

If Ryan has learned anything in his nearly four seasons as coach of the Jets, it's that Bill Belichick usually finds a way to win no matter who's out there - or isn't - on the field for the Patriots. Ryan also knows New England can change the personnel, but as long as it's still Tom Brady's bunch, it'll be a tough task.

``When you look at him,'' Ryan said, ``you can almost say he's a machine back there.''

And Ryan is right about the Patriots' glut of tight ends. Aaron Hernandez could return for the game against the Jets (4-6) Thursday night at MetLife Stadium after missing the last three with a sprained right ankle, and New England also has Daniel Fells, Visanthe Shiancoe and Michael Hoomanawanui at the position.

``New England is so multiple, they give you sometimes it could be four wides, five wides, could be a bunch of tight ends and all that,'' Ryan said. ``So, we'll see as the game goes how it affects them.''

Belichick was typically tight-lipped when asked if the loss of Gronkowski will change the offense for the Patriots (7-3).

``Well, we'll see,'' he said. ``I don't know. We'll see.''

Sounds as though Belichick, one win from becoming the eighth NFL coach with 200 victories, has something up his hoodie. Just as he always does. Gronkowski or no Gronkowski, the Patriots still have Brady, of course, and that's enough for anyone in New England to feel confident.

Brady was asked earlier this week if Gronkowski seemed to be in a decent mood when the two spoke.

``I haven't been thinking about his spirits,'' Brady said. ``I've been thinking about the Jets.''


A focused and determined Brady is certainly cause for concern for the Jets.

``He's going to be Brady,'' safety LaRon Landry said. ``He's going to complete passes and he's going to be great out there. We are going against a tough quarterback.''

Talk about an understatement. Brady needs one touchdown pass to extend his streak with at least one to 43 straight games - third-longest in league history behind Drew Brees (53 and counting) and Johnny Unitas (47). He has 51 career 300-yard passing games in the regular season, and one more would put him into tie for fifth place with Kurt Warner. Brady also needs 86 yards passing to move past Dan Fouts (43,040) for 10th place on NFL's career list.

``The thing about him is he's a machine, yet he's passionate and a fiery leader and all that type of stuff, so you wish he was just a machine,'' Ryan said. ``His competitive side elevates his team as well. That's what you get in those once-in-a-generation type quarterbacks, that he's just a special guy.''

The Jets know all about it, too. Brady is 4-0 with 10 TDs and one interception in his last four regular-season games against them. He's 17-5 overall when playing New York, including New England's playoff loss in the 2010 postseason.

The Patriots have also been dominant in the second halves of seasons since 2010, going a combined 18-0 so far - including 8-0 in both 2010 and `11, and 2-0 this season. That doesn't bode well for a Jets team trying to get back into the playoff hunt after a miserable start.

``This is a very important game for our season, so I'm not overly concerned with their season,'' Brady said. ``I think about what our season is all about and what we need to do. This is a very good team. It's always very challenging to play them, especially on the road. It's a short week and there's a lot to prepare for, so it will really test our mental toughness and see what we're all about.''

Well, the entire league already knows that the Patriots' top-ranked offense is efficient and explosive, as proven by their 59-24 walloping of Indianapolis on Sunday. Brady leads a steady passing game, and a four-man rotation of Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden gives New England a productive and unpredictable rushing attack.

The Jets handled Brady and the Patriots' offense for much of the game the last time the teams played last month in a 29-26 overtime victory by New England that New York thought was theirs for the taking.

``When it mattered most, he delivered and they got the victory,'' Ryan said. ``We know each other so well. We know enough of Tom Brady to know if he knows exactly what you're in, you're in trouble.''

That game ended when Rob Ninkovich forced and recovered a fumble by Mark Sanchez, moments after Stephen Gostkowski kicked a go-ahead field goal in overtime. It started a string of three straight losses for the Jets, who appeared on the verge of seeing their season slip away until a solid performance last week in St. Louis.

Sanchez was efficient and mistake-free for the first time in weeks, giving the Jets plenty of hope heading into this matchup with the Patriots.

``They played really well against St. Louis if you watched that game,'' Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker said. ``They're a physical team. They got to the quarterback. They forced some negative plays for them and really did some good things. So, they got some momentum coming off that game and we've just got to make sure that we keep our momentum going.''

Both teams are cramming to prepare for their second game in five days, a short work week for such a big game.

For the Jets, a win would get them within a game of .500 and avoid a sweep by the Patriots for the second straight season. For New England, it would put them in control of the division at 4-0 with just two games against Miami left and send New York scrambling to stay in the wild-card hunt.

``You look at this as a chance to separate yourself from the rest of the pack,'' Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo said. ``We handled the Bills and now this is a big game for us to kind of distance ourselves.''


AP Sports Writer Howard Ulman in Foxborough, Mass., contributed to this story.


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Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game


Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game

You thought the Caps had a goalie rotation before, but now they have added a third netminder in the mix.

Pheonix Copley has been recalled from the Hershey Bears and will backup Philipp Grubauer for Washington's game in Detroit, the team announced Thursday.

The move comes in response to an injury concern for Braden Holtby.


Dallas Stars forward Remi Elie collided with Holtby midway through the third period on Tuesday as Holtby was extending to make a save. Holtby reacted awkwardly to the collision and could be seen skating and flexing his leg during the next stoppage.

With only nine games remaining in the regular season, Holtby's injury is a major concern. Given his recent struggles, the final few weeks of the season offered a chance for Holtby to get his game back to form. Just where his game will be when he is 100-percent healthy again is certainly a storyline to watch.


The good news for Washington, however, is that Grubauer is perhaps more ready this season to lead the team than he ever has been and confidence in him around the team should be high.

Since Thanksgiving, Grubauer has played in 22 games with a 17-11-4 record, a .939 save percentage, 1.85 GAA and two shutouts. No goalie who has played in 20 games or more has registered a better save percentage or GAA. He will certainly be looked upon to carry the load until Holtby returns. Whether this means he now has the inside track on starting in the playoffs, however, remains to be seen. That will depend largely on just when Holtby is ready to return and how Grubauer plays down the stretch.

Copley, 26, has gone 14-16-6 with two shutouts, a .898 save percentage and 2.86 GAA in 38 games in Hershey this season. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Washington in 2014. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues in the package that netted the Caps T.J. Oshie, but was reacquired by Washington in Feb. 2017 in a trade deadline deal that included Kevin Shattenkirk.

At the time, it was believed Copley would be the team's backup for the 2017-18 season with Grubauer likely headed to Vegas in the expansion draft. Vegas, however, took Nate Schmidt instead which led to Copley spending the season in Hershey. The Caps now will be happy for the extra goalie depth for as long as Holtby's health remains a concern.

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Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

This weekend was already going to be special for Washington Wizards fans. Now they will get souvenirs to remember it.

As part of their celebration of Phil Chenier's legendary career and the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship, the Wizards are handing out emoji signs on Friday night and commemorative t-shirts on Sunday. All fans in attendance will receive a giveaway.


The emoji sign has Chenier's face on it and will be handed out for the March 23 game against the Nuggets. Chenier will have his jersey retired at halftime during the game. 

The emoji sign is presented by NBC Sports Washington. You're welcome, Authentic Fans.


The shirts will be given out on Sunday when the Wizards host the New York Knicks. 

Here's the front...

And the back...

Let's take a closer look at that back...

As a reporter who has received many giveaways over the years at pro sports stadiums, these are uniquely awesome. Should be a great weekend for Wizards fans. See you at the arena.


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