Rested Patriots back at practice after bye week

Rested Patriots back at practice after bye week

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) With healthier bodies and refreshed minds, the New England Patriots returned to work on Tuesday after a few days away from the field.

They were back at practice after a bye week that followed a cross-ocean trip to London two weeks after a cross-country journey to Seattle.

The burden of those travels made the time off welcome, even if the break might stifle any momentum the Patriots gained by routing the St. Louis Rams 45-7 in England for their second consecutive win.

``Your body doesn't mind hitting pause for a little bit,'' special teams captain Matthew Slater said Tuesday. ``We understand the things that we were doing well and the things that we need to improve upon, but I think rest is equally important and we were able to get that this past week.''

The Patriots lead the AFC East with a 5-3 record and the remaining schedule shouldn't be as draining.

Only three of the eight games are on the road, and all three on the East Coast - at the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars. Their two toughest opponents, the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers, have to travel the farthest of the five visitors.

``That'll be huge,'' Slater said. ``It'll be nice not to have to travel half way across the world. Obviously, that kind of travel takes a toll on your body.''

Those bodies are feeling better after not being pounded last Sunday. The mental break also was welcome.

``There definitely was a sense of relief from all of us, coaches and players, of just not having to game plan last week,'' coach Bill Belichick said, ``not having the whole mental pressure of coming up with a game plan of each day, thinking of game plans and adjustments and red-area game plans and adjustments and third-down and two-minute and goal-line (plays) and just the weight of studying for a final exam, if you will.

``This week we're back into it and, hopefully, we have a little bit of a freshness or a better approach to it.''

The Patriots are fairly healthy heading into their next game against the Buffalo Bills.

Four starters were sidelined against the Rams - tight end Aaron Hernandez, left guard Logan Mankins and safeties Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory. Hernandez, with a sprained ankle, and Gregory, with an injured hip, have missed four games. Mankins sat out three with calf and hip injuries and Chung missed the last two with a shoulder injury.

But the secondary has improved with cornerback Devin McCourty switching over to safety to start alongside rookie Tavon Wilson. Donald Thomas has filled in well for Mankins and the Patriots have plenty of offense to make up for the loss of Hernandez. Tight end Rob Gronkowski, despite battling his own hip problem, hasn't missed a game and scored two touchdowns against St. Louis.

While the week off certainly helped, it wasn't enough for some players.

``That's just according to the individual,'' wide receiver Deion Branch said. ``I think we all do a great job of trying to stay healthy, take care of our bodies, and I think that's what's important. But as far as how much time an individual needs, it's according to the injury.''

Linebacker Rob Ninkovich tried not to think much about football. He even climbed on his roof to clear leaves from his gutters then called his landlord when he realized how high it was.

``I just said, `hey, I'm going to take two days off, three days off, don't even think about football, just hang around the house,''' he said. ``We're back to football now, so now it's back to work. This is like halftime. You're coming back from halftime. You get a little break and now you're ready for the second half.

``I was kind of sitting around the house saying, `Hey, I need to do something.' So I'm happy to be here and ready to roll.''

The development of young players, particularly on defense, could help avoid any late-season fatigue. At one point against the Rams, five defensive rookies were on the field at the same time.

``Getting some of those guys out there for experience, obviously, is going to help,'' Ninkovich said. ``The more plays you're out there (for), the more comfortable you get in every situation. So it helps the whole team as the season rolls on.''

The injuries at safety that led the Patriots to move McCourty - and the poor pass defense overall - contributed to the Patriots' decision to trade last week for Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib, a former first-round draft choice with a history of off-field problems. His latest is a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Talib will miss Sunday's game, but will be eligible to play the following weekend at home against Indianapolis.

``I think he's a great player,'' Branch said. ``I don't know if we'll use him the same way that they used him. So it's just all about what happens once he gets here.''


NOTES: The Patriots signed rookie linebacker Jerrell Harris to the practice squad. He originally signed with Atlanta April 30 as a rookie free agent, but was released at the end of training camp. The Jaguars added him to their practice squad Sept. 26, then released him Oct. 25. ... Belichick watched Houston's 21-9 win over Buffalo on Sunday and said he doesn't get the RedZone channel on his television. ``I'll have to see if I can get that,'' he said.


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We have ourselves a goalie rotation in Washington


We have ourselves a goalie rotation in Washington

It’s happened. The Caps no longer seem to have a No. 1 goalie anymore, they have a No. 1 and 1a.

That’s right, we have a goalie rotation in Washington.

“There's no sense riding one,” Barry Trotz said after practice on Monday. “[Braden Holtby] is coming back and looking better every game and [Philipp Grubauer] played pretty well for a long stretch so why not have both of them going?”

Grubauer got the start Sunday in Philadelphia and Holtby is slated to get the start Tuesday against the Dallas Stars. After that we will have to wait and see.


Trotz has no layout for which goalie he wants to start and when in the remaining ten games. He is not thinking about each goalie splitting five games or which one he wants to use more.

Nope. Trotz has just one thing on his mind. It is all about who starts the next game, that’s it.

“I think you just go with a guy that's hot at the time and your team feels comfortable with and go from there,” Trotz said.

So where does this leave the goaltending situation when it comes to the playoffs? A goalie rotation is all well and good in the regular season, but he has to have one starter for the postseason, right?

Not necessarily.


When Trotz was asked if he philosophically believed in having one starter for the playoffs, Trotz initially said he would not answer, but then said, “Why don't you ask Mike Sullivan what he thinks.”

Sullivan, of course, is the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins who has led his team to a Stanley Cup in each of the past two seasons despite turning to both goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray in both seasons.

While Pittsburgh’s goalie rotation was largely based on injury, however, it still provides an example of how using both goalies can work in the playoffs and that seems to be the path the Caps are headed on at the moment.

Said Trotz, “You just have to go with your gut who you think is going to get the job done.”

UMBC's NCAA Tournament hopes end vs. Kansas State, but its Cinderella run was unforgettable


UMBC's NCAA Tournament hopes end vs. Kansas State, but its Cinderella run was unforgettable

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — UMBC's improbable run through the NCAA Tournament was brief. The statement the Retrievers made and their place in history is forever.

For one weekend in March, the tiny commuter school from Baltimore known for its academics and championship-winning chess team captured the hearts of the college basketball world and beyond. UMBC became the first No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 in March Madness, a victory over Virginia that made the Retrievers the ultimate Cinderella.

The fairytale came to an end Sunday night in a 50-43 loss to No. 9 Kansas State -- heartbreaking because it was a game UMBC could have won, but still satisfying because the Retrievers touched so many people by accomplishing what many thought was impossible.

"We put our name on the map. We gave hope to teams that come to the tournament with lower seeds," said senior guard K.J. Maura. "I think we gave hope to guys that are not even that tall like me. People that feel like they are underdogs in their life, I think we gave hope to everything they want to do in life."


Stephen Curry noticed the team and sent UMBC the sneakers the team wore against Kansas State. The Golden State Warriors had his Curry 5s, which are in limited release, and other swag sent to the team. U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams declared the Retrievers "Surgeon General approved" and posted a photo of himself on Facebook wearing a sweatshirt from his alma mater.

NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers tweeted to UMBC guard Joe Sherburne, who claims to be Rodgers' biggest fan. And for a team addicted to the video game "Fortnite," their dreams were made when Ninja, a popular gamer who recently played against rapper Drake and JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Pittsburgh Steelers, FaceTimed with the team early Sunday.

"They play with passion, they play with heart, they play together," coach Ryan Odom said. "We do things together for one another, and obviously when you have a big win like that (over Virginia) and it's so shocking, you know, people love to see that. They love to see the upset.

"And our guys handled it with grace and understood the circumstances. They weren't pounding their chests or anything. They expected to be here and expected to compete."

When UMBC returned to the locker room following its ouster, Odom had written just one word on the whiteboard. The Retrievers needed a buzzer-beating 3 against Vermont to win their conference title and make the NCAA Tournament, but they showed up believing they could beat Virginia, and the same about Kansas State.


So Odom simply penned "Proud" on the board for his players.

"Just very proud of these kids and what they've been able to do as the representatives that they are for our university," Odom said. "Just captured our country and beyond, to be honest, from a sporting perspective and it's really, really neat to see."

Sherburne said Odom relayed stories from friends who had texted or called from outside the country to rave about UMBC. Near tears after an 0-for-9 shooting night, Sherburne found consolation in the joy UMBC brought to so many.

"From when we beat Vermont until the last two hours were the greatest time of my life," Sherburne said. "What we did, everyone in here, it's the greatest time of our lives."

Odom arrived at UMBC two years ago and inherited a team accustomed to losing. He told them he was going to get them to .500 that first year; they thought he was joking. But slowly the culture changed and the Retrievers did everything Odom told them they could accomplish.

And then some.

"When I got here, first we were a four-win team that year, and then the next year we went on to win seven games," said graduate student Jairus Lyles. "Then Coach Odom and his staff came in, we won 21 games and this year we had a tremendous season."

Odom doesn't know how far the UMBC program can grow. Those four letters are now synonymous with the biggest upset in college basketball history, but it's a long way from becoming a basketball school.

"UMBC is a unique place -- lot of high achieving kids on campus," Odom said. "We want guys that want to be great from a basketball perspective and want to play after college. But, at the same time, we want folks that are highly motivated academically that want to do great things past basketball. Because the air goes out of the ball at some point for everybody."