Pats clinch AFC East title by beating Miami 23-16


Pats clinch AFC East title by beating Miami 23-16

MIAMI (AP) Savoring victory in the visitors' locker room, the New England Patriots wore division champion caps and T-shirts. Lately they get new ones every year.

With a quarter of the regular season still to go, the Patriots clinched their fourth consecutive AFC East title Sunday by beating familiar foil Miami 23-16.

The Patriots (9-3) improved to 5-0 in the division this year and defeated the Dolphins for the fifth time in a row. They won their 12th consecutive December game, and they're assured of their 12th winning season in a row.

They believe they're just getting going.

``This is when the best teams really start to separate themselves,'' quarterback Tom Brady said. ``You have to continue to get better and better and better.''

While a playoff berth is assured, the Patriots trail Houston by two games in the race for the No. 1 conference seed.

``We have a bigger goal than this,'' tight end Aaron Hernandez said. ``This is a start, but we've got to keep going.''

New England's on a roll with six consecutive victories, but there was nothing dazzling about the latest win.

Instead, Dolphins mistakes proved pivotal. A botched punt, a roughing-the-punter penalty and a fumble by Miami resulted in 17 New England points, and another penalty negated a Dolphins touchdown. In addition, Ryan Tannehill twice missed an open Brian Hartline deep.

As a result, the Dolphins (5-7) hurt their already slim playoff chances.

``Too many mistakes,'' coach Joe Philbin said. ``To beat a good opponent in December, you have to play better.''

The Patriots finished with a season-low 321 yards. Brady went 24 for 40 for 238 yards with four sacks, and even threw an interception for the first time during the winning streak.

But with New England nursing a 20-13 edge midway through the fourth quarter, Brady led a 16-play drive that took more than seven minutes and set up Stephen Gostkowski's third field goal.

``It's always good to win,'' coach Bill Belichick said. ``It's not about the stats, it's about wins.''

The drive that sealed the victory included 10 rushes by Stevan Ridley for 46 yards.

``We pounded away on a great defense, and they finally gave in a little,'' Ridley said.

Miami defensive ends Cameron Wake and Jared Odrick spent an extended time together on the sideline during the decisive drive. They declined to second-guess their coach.

``There was a different rotation this game, just the way we scheduled it,'' Odrick said.

Brady was intercepted for the first time in 203 attempts, and for only the fourth time this season. His passer rating was a season-low 74.8.

``We got after him, just not good enough,'' Odrick said.

Trevor Scott led New England's stout defensive effort with two sacks, including one to force a fumble that set up a field goal. Jerod Mayo sacked Tannehill on third down midway through the fourth quarter, forcing the Dolphins to settle for a field goal.

The Patriots' Wes Welker tied Jerry Rice's NFL record by making at least 10 receptions for the 17th time. He had 12 catches for 103 yards and a score.

Tannehill went only 13 for 29 for 186 yards, and twice he failed to connect with Hartline for potential long gains.

``We just didn't hit the shots that were there,'' Tannehill said. ``I'm still kicking myself.''

NOTES: Dolphins T Jake Long left the game in the first half with a left triceps injury. ... Patriots G Dan Connolly left in the first quarter with a back injury. ... Welker has 1,064 yards receiving. He surpassed the 1,000-yard milestone with the Patriots for the fifth time, a team record. ... Ridley rushed for 71 yards and has 1,010 this season. ... Dolphins reserve S Jonathon Amaya was inactive after being charged with battery Monday in a confrontation with a taxi driver.


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The 2018 salaries of five Redskins become fully guaranteed today

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The 2018 salaries of five Redskins become fully guaranteed today

It may be the 18th of March but today could be like Christmas for five Redskins players.

The Redskins decided to use today, four days after the start of the league year, for some contract triggers. In this case, the triggers are all 2018 salary guarantees (some teams will pay out roster bonuses on trigger dates, but the Redskins rarely use that type of structure).

Here are the players whose have guarantees that kick in today 4 p.m. All data is via Over the Cap.


CB Josh Norman, base salary of $13.5 million becomes fully guaranteed—This was a window for the Redskins to move on from Norman if they were not happy with his performance after two seasons. He is 31 and he had no interceptions last season, leaving some to wonder if the Redskins might think about releasing him. But it never was a consideration.

TE Jordan Reed, $8 million of his $8.25 million salary becomes fully guaranteed—No, I’m not sure why they are leaving that $250,000 out there non-guaranteed. Fans thought that the Redskins might move on from Reed due to his injury issues. But, as with Norman, it never was a consideration.

S D.J. Swearinger, $3 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed—This is a mere technicality, Swearinger wasn’t going anywhere after helping to solidify the safety position.


RB Chris Thompson, $1.996 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed—His rehab is going well and after last year Thompson’s two-year, $7 million contract extension signed last September looks like a good deal for the team.

DE Terrell McClain, $3.25 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed—If the Redskins sign a top free agent D-lineman or draft on early in the draft they could be in a numbers crunch. That new acquisition would be guaranteed a roster spot along with Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis, Stacy McGee, and Anthony Lanier. That makes five and the Redskins kept six last year. Ziggy Hood is a favorite of the coaching staff but he has no guaranteed money left on his contract. That could tip the sixth spot in favor of McClain if he is on the roster at the close of business today. If they release McClain after today, they would take a cap charge of over $2 million. It seems unlikely that anything will happen but it’s something to keep an eye on.

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


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It's hard to tell after three games how the Wizards and Pacers would match up in the playoffs

It's hard to tell after three games how the Wizards and Pacers would match up in the playoffs

The Wizards crossed off an important goal on Saturday night by beating the Indiana Pacers and therefore securing the season series. If the teams tie with the same regular season record, the Wizards will get the higher playoff seed. As of today, that would mean home court advantage in the first round.

Though the Wizards have beaten the Pacers in two of their three matchups this season, we only know so much about how they would match up in the playoffs. The first game between them didn't feature Pacers All-Star Victor Oladipo and John Wall didn't play in any of the three games. The Pacers were without both Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis on Saturday night.

Given the Pacers underwent so much change over the summer, there is no real data to go off of from before this season. They are a completely different team with Oladipo leading the way and Paul George now in Oklahoma City.


There are reasons to believe, however, that the Wizards would fare well against the Pacers over the course of a seven-game series. For one, they figured out how to slow Oladipo and his teammate Bojan Bogdanovic on Saturday night. Both had killed the Wizards in previous matchups.

Oladipo was held to 18 points, over five points below his season average of 23.5. He had four turnovers, shot 7-for-16 (43.7%) and finished a -18 in a game the Pacers lost by seven.

The Wizards had some success with Tomas Satoransky guarding Oladipo. Satoransky is 6-foot-7 with long arms. He was able to recover on several occasions to alter Oladipo's shots.

Satoransky and Bradley Beal also did a good job keeping pace with Oladipo on the fastbreak. The Pacers had only four fastbreak points in the game. Oladipo is especially dangerous in the open court.

“We just made sure that we were aggressive with him and made sure he saw a lot of bodies in the paint," Beal said. "The last game, he got a lot of easy ones in transition. We just made sure that we got back on the shot, loaded to the ball and forced the other guys to attack.”

For Bogdanovic, it was about limiting open shots from the perimeter. Bogdanovic had 11 points, three below his season average and had four turnovers. Beal and Otto Porter stripped Bogdanovic for steals and Marcin Gortat took a charge on one play in the third quarter.


But it was all about taking away the outside shot. Bogdanovic only hit one shot in the first half and it was a three. The only reason he got it off is because Kelly Oubre, Jr. lost his balance backing up. That gave Bogdanovic the window he needed. Otherwise, Oubre helped frustrate the former Wizards small forward. So did Gortat and Ian Mahinmi, who did a good job covering their teammates off screens.

The Pacers are an average offensive team, ranking 16th in points per game and 14th in offensive rating. They are better defensively, ranking ninth-best in opponents points per game and 12th in defensive efficiency.

If the Wizards can limit Oladipo and Bogdanovic, the Pacers' two leading scorers, they should have a good shot at beating the Pacers in the playoffs. Beyond them, the Pacers are thin in the scoring department. Turner only averages 13.6 points and no one else beyond him can consistently make an opposing defense pay for mistakes. Conversely, several Wizards players have given the Pacers major trouble through three games this season.

Gortat, who had 18 points and eight rebounds on Saturday, has averaged 13 points and eight rebounds on 57.7 percent shooting against Indiana. Kelly Oubre, Jr., who had 16 points in 18 minutes, has averaged 15.5 points and is shooting 50 percent from the field.


In addition to those guys, Markieff Morris, Porter, Mike Scott, Mahinmi and Satoransky are all shooting over 50 percent against the Pacers. Satoransky is shooting 71.4 percent through three games.

The Wizards have the pieces to counter what the Pacers do best. Indiana is seventh in three-point percentage, but the Wizards are the best team in basketball in opponents three-point percentage. The Pacers are built around an All-Star guard, but the Wizards have two All-Star guards. The Pacers have a collection of talented wing players, but so do the Wizards.

"Hypothetically, I do like Indiana," Beal said. "I like how we match up with Indiana and I feel like there is a lot of stuff that we can take advantage of. In a lot of categories, I think we can win them."

Add it all up and the Wizards have every reason to feel confident if they see the Pacers in the posteason. Keep that in mind because they very well could meet up in the spring.

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