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Patriots hoping for return of two key players

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Patriots hoping for return of two key players

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) With six straight victories and their fourth consecutive AFC East title already wrapped up, the New England Patriots are playing perhaps their best football of the season.

And a large chunk of their recent run has come without two of their top players.

So, imagine the big boost the Patriots will receive from having one of their best players on each side of the ball return for what is being billed as the game of the year.

After practicing in a limited capacity all week, starting left guard Logan Mankins and standout rookie right defensive end Chandler Jones are both listed as questionable for Monday night's much-hyped matchup against the first-place Houston Texans (11-1), a game with major playoff ramifications for both teams.

``Just got out there a little bit this week and tried to move around. We'll see where it goes from today,'' said Mankins, who injured his ankle in the second half of New England's victory over Buffalo on Nov. 11 and has missed the last three games. ``We were just trying to do as much as we can. I can't do everything yet, so I guess we might find out Monday.''

Jones, the 21st overall selection in the draft and considered by many to still be a top candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors with six sacks, skipped the last two games with an ankle injury suffered during the first quarter of the Patriots (9-3) win over Indianapolis on Nov. 18.

His status, he said, rests in the hands of coach Bill Belichick.

``Ready to play against the Texans,'' Jones said. ``We went out there and we won a championship and I wasn't out there. But I'm still thankful to be a part of this team.''

Mankins, a four-time Pro Bowl player, has missed five games this season with various ailments, the second-most of his eight-year career.

``It's been a couple games here and then miss a couple and then a couple here, miss a few. It's just one of those years I can't get on track yet,'' he said. ``Every game you want to be out there, you just got to wait until you're ready to get out there.''

The pair couldn't have picked a more perfect time to return, either.

Despite playing a pivotal part in the Patriots' top-ranked offense and valiantly protecting quarterback Tom Brady amid constant change due to injuries, the Patriots offensive line certainly will be bolstered with Mankins out there as they prepare to face their stiffest test of the season.

Houston defensive end J.J. Watt is wreaking havoc on just about every opposing offense he's faced thus far. The second-year standout ranks second in the league with 16 1/2 sacks and has knocked down 15 passes this year.

Watt's sensational season also has overshadowed the strong play of defensive end Antonio Smith, who has five sacks of his own, along with Watt forming one of the most feared pass rushes in the league.

``He's a guy that's getting overlooked down there,'' Mankins said. ``J.J. Watt's getting a lot of attention deservedly, but Antonio Smith's a very good player. He's a slippery guy inside that has good quickness, good power and he really understands how to work blockers, so he does a good job.

``They get ahead and teams have to start throwing it to catch back up, so that plays right into their strength. They're a great pass-rushing team.''

Houston boasts a strong offense, too. In fact, quarterback Matt Schaub, running back Arian Foster and wide receiver Andre Johnson have combined to lead the league's second-highest scoring attack - behind only New England - making Jones' return all the more important.

``They have a great offensive line, they have great wide receivers and they're quarterback's good,'' Jones said. ``Our job is just to bottle those guys up and eliminate the big play.''

Mankins' extended absence has been somewhat of a surprise, though.

Last season he played through a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, something he admitted during training camp this offseason, moments before acknowledging his extremely high pain threshold. So, playing in just more than half of New England's games this year may point more to the severity of the injury.

``There's some injuries you can play through, some restrict your ability to play,'' Mankins explained. ``When it restricts your ability, you can't play. You're just going to hurt the team if you just get beat all the time.

``It's been tough,'' he added. ``But it is what it is. You learn to deal with it. I've been pretty fortunate most of my career. I guess it happens to everyone sooner or later.''?

Of course, Mankins wants to suit up. However, he won't jeopardize the rest of the season to play in a game on Monday night, against one of the best teams in the league, with possible postseason seeding on the line.

``When I'm healthy, I'll come back,'' he said. ``Whether it's this week, next week, the following week, it's up to my body when I'm going to play again.''

Jones, on the other hand, seems ready to roll for his first career Monday night game, and the Patriots lone one this season.

``It's a primetime game. You know, Monday Night Football, you grew up watching Monday Night Football,'' he said. ``And for the Patriots to have the opportunity to go out there and showcase our talent on a Monday Night Football game, that's a great opportunity.''

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Trade to Caps potentially offers Jerabek what he never got in Montreal

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USA TODAY Sports

Trade to Caps potentially offers Jerabek what he never got in Montreal

Defenseman Jakub Jerabek is really happy about the opportunity to play with the Washington Capitals, but it could have come at a better time. The trade came with his parents already on their way from the Czech Republic to visit him.

“It was crazy days past three days because I had my parents on the way to Montreal and they didn't know so it was a big surprise for them,” Jerabek told reporters Saturday after his first skate with the team.

A native of the Czech Republic, Jerabek signed his first NHL contract with the Montreal Canadiens in May 2017. After spending some time in the AHL and struggling to consistently earn a spot in the Canadiens’ lineup, he knew a trade was possible.

“My family, maybe we expected some trade. When its come with Caps and it was Washington, I was really happy.”

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Jerabek said he came into the NHL with no expectations and was simply happy for the opportunity, but it is fair to wonder if he was not just the least bit frustrated with how he was utilized by Montreal.

For a player with experience playing for the national team, the Czech league and the KHL, getting only 25 games with a bad Montreal team seems a bit low.

“In first two weeks, I didn't know what's going on because the coaches just told me that I played well, but we just make some competition between the [defensemen] and that I have to wait for my next chance,” Jerabek said. “It was hard, but now I'm happy down here.”

Washington now offers a very different opportunity. In need of help on the blue line, Jeraebek has the chance to earn consistent playing time for a team on pace to reach the postseason.

Jerabek will not play in Saturday’s game against Buffalo, but he was hopeful he would be in the lineup for Monday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

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For now, Jerabek and head coach Barry Trotz are unclear as to what his ultimate role on the team will be. With eight defensemen now on the roster, Trotz cautioned any lineup decision could not be rushed because of the trickle-down effect it will have on the other players.

“You always look at chemistry and all that with your group depending how high that player goes up the lineup, it affects different people,” Trotz said. “In a forward group, if you get a guy that you all of a sudden stick on the first line, there's four other guys that are bumped down and one guy's bumped out.”

The addition of Jerabek, however, offers the Caps another defenseman who can quickly move the puck out of the defensive zone, something the team has struggled with immensely throughout the season. Though he shoots left, he also said he is comfortable playing on the right said and has played there regularly over the past few years. That provides the lineup with some flexibility on the third pair behind Matt Niskanen and John Carlson.

As for Jerabek’s parents, they will be arriving in Washington on Saturday.

“I tried to figure out the situation with them to get them to here and they will come today,” he said. “So I'm really happy.”

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Warriors will visit D.C. kids instead of White House when they play Wizards

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Warriors will visit D.C. kids instead of White House when they play Wizards

Instead of visiting the White House when they come to Washington this week to play the Wizards, the defending-champion Golden State Warriors plan to hold an event with D.C.-area kids.

Their invitation was rescinded by president Donald Trump following a back-and-forth between the two sides last year. After the Warriors won the title, they openly questioned whether they should follow the tradition given many of the players and coaches disagree with his policies. Trump took the opportunity away before they came to a final decision.

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The Warriors' event will be closed off to the media and held at an undisclosed location. It is set for Tuesday, the day before they play the Wizards at Capital One Arena. The Warriors had the option of holding a ceremony with other politicians in the Democratic party, but decided that would send the wrong message. 

"It's their championship. They got disinvited to the White House, so it's up to them what they wanted to do. So they made their plans," coach Steve Kerr said. "I want the players to have a good day and to do something positive and to enjoy what they're doing."

The Warriors are the first NBA team to make this choice since Trump was elected president. Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers held their celebration with president Barack Obama in November. They did so just days after Trump was elected and LeBron James questioned at the time whether he would visit the White House with Trump in office.

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Sports teams visiting the White House goes back to the mid-1800s. The first World Series title team to visit was the 1924 Washington Senators. By the 1960s, NBA teams were going and by the 1980s NFL and NHL teams made it a tradition.

Entire teams snubbing the White House is unusual, but many players have turned down the opportunity. In the NBA, some famous cases include Larry Bird in 1984 and Michael Jordan in 1991, according to Rolling Stone.

Perhaps the Warriors start a trend, or maybe it will be a one-off thing. Regardless, the alternative they chose is a respectable one. 

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