Redskins

49ers withstand comeback, top Patriots 41-34

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49ers withstand comeback, top Patriots 41-34

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) LaMichael James awaited the kickoff, determined to regain the momentum for the 49ers after they quickly lost all of a 28-point lead.

``We need a boost,'' he said. ``That's what I was thinking. I was thinking I got to take it to the house.''

He didn't get all the way there, but close enough to set up the decisive touchdown - going 62 yards before Colin Kaepernick's 38-yard pass to Michael Crabtree with 6:25 left - that helped San Francisco reach the playoffs with a 41-34 win over the New England Patriots on Sunday night.

``We faced adversity,'' James said. ``Nobody flinched.''

Now the 49ers have at least a wild-card berth with a 10-3-1 record, knowing a win against division rival Seattle (9-5) next Sunday clinches the AFC West title.

The Patriots (10-4) already had locked up first place in the AFC East with a chance to improve their chances for a first-round bye. They began the day in second place in the race for the two byes but fell behind the Denver Broncos (11-3). The Houston Texans (12-2) hold the top spot.

``We haven't thought about that yet,'' Tom Brady said. ``What's in our control is winning football games.''

Doing that on Sunday night seemed almost impossible after the 49ers rolled to a 31-3 lead on Kaepernick's 27-yard touchdown pass to Crabtree five minutes into the third quarter. Only one team in NFL history had won a regular-season game after trailing by 28 - a 38-35 win by the 49ers over the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 7, 1980.

But with 25 minutes left and Brady at quarterback, the 49ers weren't comfortable.

``Tom is a good quarterback and we knew some adversity was going to come and they were going to make plays sooner or later,'' linebacker NaVorro Bowman said.

They did - time after time - until they had tied the score at 31 on Danny Woodhead's second touchdown, a 1-yard run with 6:43 remaining.

Woodhead began the comeback with a 6-yard touchdown run, Brady scored on a 1-yard sneak on the first play of the fourth quarter and then threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez less than three minutes later. And when Woodhead scored again, the Patriots had their fourth touchdown in 14 minutes, 16 seconds.

But two plays later - James' kickoff return and Crabtree's catch - the 49ers were back on top. And this time they stayed there.

David Akers made it 41-31 with a 28-yard field goal with 1:56 to go, Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 41-yarder for New England with 38 seconds remaining and San Francisco sealed the win when Delanie Walker caught the onside kick.

``We just spotted them 28 points,'' Brady said. ``We fought hard, but you can't play poorly against a good team and expect to win. We can't miss plays that we have opportunities with.''

For Kaepernick, a second-year pro starting just his fifth game, it was a chance to remain calm even as the big lead disappeared. He finished with 14 completions in 25 attempts for 216 yards and a career-high four touchdowns.

``This is my 17th year of football,'' he said. ``I've been playing since I was eight years old. So, to me, I am going to go out there and I'm going to throw to the guy who is open and you try to keep football simple so your mind can be clear when you're on the field.''

It was clear enough for him to throw a short pass to Crabtree then watch him race by cornerback Kyle Arrington for the go-ahead touchdown. That gave the team that had allowed the fewest points this season enough to beat the team that had scored the most.

``We can win a shootout,'' said Crabtree, who had 107 yards receiving. ``Whatever it takes, that's our motto. ... We feel like we can do anything, sky's the limit.''

New England, which had won seven straight games, lost for the first time at home in December in 21 games. The Patriots also had won 21 in a row in the second half of the schedule before San Francisco somehow regrouped late in a game it seemingly had clinched long before.

The 49ers forced four turnovers, matching the number of giveaways the Patriots had at home all season.

``I don't think they faced a physical defense like us all season,'' said San Francisco cornerback Carlos Rogers, who intercepted Brady midway through the first quarter and ran 53 yards to the Patriots 5.

The 49ers were leading 7-0 at the time on Kaepernick's 24-yard touchdown pass to former Patriot Randy Moss. Gostkowski's 32-yard field goal made it 7-3, but San Francisco scored on Kaepernick's 34-yard pass to Walker and David Akers' 20-yard field goal for a 17-3 lead at intermission.

``Everything'' went wrong in the first half, Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker said. ``A lot of bad football.''

Frank Gore then recovered Kaepernick's fumble and ran 9 yards for a touchdown. Two plays later, Aldon Smith intercepted Brady's pass and Kaepernick struck on the next play with his 27-yard pass to Crabtree for a 31-3 lead with 10:21 remaining in the third quarter.

Still plenty of time for Brady.

``I had a feeling we'd be able to come back,'' he said.

But when the Patriots tied it, a poor job by the kickoff team proved costly.

``I did as much as I could to help the team win,'' James said.

It was just enough.

NOTES: The 49ers allowed 520 yards after entering the game second in the NFL in fewest yards allowed, 275.5 per game. ... Welker had five catches, giving him 100 and making him the first player in NFL history with that many in five seasons. ... Gore led all rushers with 83 yards on 21 carries. ... Brady was 36 for a career-high 65 for 443 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

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Need to Know: Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense

Need to Know: Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, June 19, 37 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense 

It may still be early to project the roster, but things are coming into focus after the round of practices in helmets and shorts. Here is my look at who I think will make it on defense; the offense was posted yesterday.

Defensive line (7)
Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Matt Ioannidis, Anthony Lanier, Stacy McGee, Tim Settle, Ziggy Hood

I don’t think that McGee’s groin injury will be an issue, but it seemed that Jay Gruden was very tight-lipped about the whole thing, so we will have to wait until training camp starts. This is one more than they normally carry here and Hood’s presence on the roster could be in danger if injuries force the team to carry more players at another position. 

Outside linebacker (4)
Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Ryan Anderson, Pernell McPhee

Anderson is certain to make the roster, but he was mostly invisible during the offseason practices that were open to the media. The spotlight will be on last year’s second-round pick in training camp. After a zero-sack rookie season, Anderson will be under pressure to produce this season. 

Inside linebacker (5)
Zach Brown, Mason Foster, Zach Vigil, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Shaun Dion Hamilton

The player I have on the wrong side of the bubble here is Martrell Spaight. If he does work his way on, the spot most in jeopardy is Vigil’s. Harvey-Clemons got a lot of reps with the first team in OTAs and the team thinks he can help in nickel situations and perhaps more. And Gruden called Hamilton a potential future starter. So the two younger players seem safe, leaving Vigil vulnerable.

Cornerback (6)
Josh Norman, Quinton Dunbar, Fabian Moreau, Orlando Scandrick, Josh Holsey, Greg Stroman

As is the case with the running backs that I looked at yesterday, this group seems to be pretty well set. It’s not that it’s an exceptionally strong group, but there isn’t a lot of real competition. Behind these six are three undrafted free agents, and while Danny Johnson, Kenny Ladler, and Ranthony Texada all have had flashes in the offseason practices, they are extreme long shots to make the roster at this point. 

Safety (4)
D.J. Swearinger, Montae Nicholson, Deshazor Everett, Troy Apke

If there are concerns about Nicholson’s health—to be clear, as of now there are none—Fish Smithson could make it as a fifth safety. 

Specialists (3)
K Dustin Hopkins, P Tress Way, LS Nick Sundberg

It looks like the Redskins will have the same trio of specialists for the fourth straight year. I will look it up at some point but for now, I’ll say that it’s been a while since they had such stability here. 


Defensive players: 26
Rookies (5): 
Payne, Settle, Hamilton, Stroman, Apke
New to the Redskins in 2018 (7): Rookies plus McPhee, Scandrick
Not on 2017 Week 1 roster (13): Rookies plus new players plus Vigil (released in the final cut, re-signed later in the season). 

On the 53-man roster:

24 offense, 26 defense, 3 specialists
Rookies: 8
New to the Redskins in 2017: 12
Not on 2017 Week 1 roster: 16

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 37
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 51
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 74

The Redskins last played a game 170 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 82 days. 

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5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C. 

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