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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 stars of the game: Caps save their season in physical win over Lightning

3 stars of the game: Caps save their season in physical win over Lightning

This one is going to go the distance.

The Washington Capitals staved off elimination on Monday with a 3-0 Game 6 win to force a Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Andrei Vasilevskiy looked unbeatable for much of the game, but T.J. Oshie finally got one past the Lightning netminder on the Caps' first power play since the second period of Game 4. Devante Smith-Pelly finished them off with a third-period tally.

Game 7 will be on Wednesday with a spot in the Stanley Cup Final on the line.

Here are the three stars of Game 6.

1.  T.J. Oshie: Oshie scored the goal that saved Washington's season.

The Caps were doing everything right, but they just could not get one past Vasilevskiy. Finally, Oshie struck with a one-timer from the high-slot that just managed to beat Vasilevskiy.

Oshie also added an empty-netter to ice the game away.

We will never know how close frustration came to really wearing down Washington, but it probably came closer than you think. Just seconds before Oshie's goal, John Carlson rang a blistering slap shot off the inside of the post. It was so close, the horn went off briefly, but play continued. Had Washington not been able to finish off the power play, would they have recovered or would Vasilevskiy officially have Halaked them?

2. Andrei Vasilevskiy: Don't let the score fool you, Vasilevskiy was absolutely brilliant. He really stood out in the first period when he denied great chances again and again to keep the score locked at 0-0. You knew he was on his game when he denied a great chance from Alex Ovechkin from the slot with the blocker. His best save, however, was saved for Evgeny Kuznetsov when he was on the ice and desperately extended the arm just in time to deny Kuznetsov.

Vasilevskity made a total of 32 saves in the losing effort.

3. Braden Holtby: Though he was not tested as much as his counterpart, Holtby was equally as brilliant in his 24 save performance for his fifth career playoff shutout.

The Lightning made a real push in the second and third period and some key saves by Holtby ensured the Caps did not give up the first goal or the game-tying one. The most critical save came on Anthony Cirelli in the second period with the game still tied at 0-0. A Lightning 2-on-1 resulted with Cirelli coming in all alone on Holtby, but the Caps' netminder just managed to extend the toe for the save.

Smith-Pelly had seven goals in the regular season. he has four in the playoffs. Smith-Pelly put the exclamation point on the game with his third period goal to extend the Caps' lead to 2-0.  He was set up by a phenomenal pass by Chandler Stephenson.

It was clear from the outset that the Caps wanted to be very physical in this game and Smith-Pelly really took that message to heart with 

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

Juan Soto, the highly-regarded 19-year-old Nationals' prospect, got his first major league start of his career tonight. 

How did it go, you ask? Surely it would take Soto - who was in Single-A less than two weeks ago - some time to adjust? 

What were you doing at 19??

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.