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Acrobatic Lloyd key part of Patriots passing game

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Acrobatic Lloyd key part of Patriots passing game

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Needing a deep receiving threat, the New England Patriots signed Brandon Lloyd.

They ended up with an acrobat.

``He moves his body in ways that most people can't,'' Patriots safety Steve Gregory said Friday. ``He makes catches that make your jaw drop.''

Such as his grab on Tom Brady's pass that he caught at waist level while racing down the right sideline Sunday night. It gained 53 yards in a 41-34 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

Or others Lloyd made earlier in the season, twisting his body while airborne and managing to get both feet inbounds.

He's made 67 passes catches - some remarkable, some routine - and has two games left to get the 10 he needs to match his career high. He set it in 2010 with Denver, where current New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was head coach.

Lloyd's first chance comes Sunday when the Patriots (10-4) visit the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12). New England wraps up the regular season at home against the Miami Dolphins.

The 10-year veteran brought the ability to catch long passes that the Patriots had hoped Chad Johnson could contribute last year. But in his only season with the Patriots, Johnson (known as Chad Ochocinco then) struggled to learn the offense and made just 15 catches.

Lloyd had 10 receptions in one game this season, against the 49ers. He also set a career-high with 190 yards receiving in that game and his big play set up the touchdown that completed the Patriots comeback from a 28-point deficit and tied the score at 31.

``He's had a good season. He's been running very good routes,'' Brady said. ``Brandon had a lot of opportunity the other night and really took advantage.''

Just two weeks earlier, he caught only one pass. The Patriots beat the Dolphins 23-16, but there was talk that Lloyd's role was diminishing.

``All the games are different,'' he said. ``The games plans are different. The matchups are different. I prepare every week the same. It's just the way the games shake out sometimes.''

That speculation disappeared the following week in a 42-14 rout of the Houston Texans when Lloyd had seven catches for 89 yards. He was wide open down the middle for a 37-yard TD grab, and also was near enough to recover a fumble by teammate Danny Woodhead in the end zone for another touchdown.

``You want to be downfield blocking and keeping some of those late hits off the ball carrier and being around just in case the ball pops out,'' Lloyd said.

Gregory saw his athleticism while with the San Diego Chargers, where he spent his other six pro seasons. He was in the same division while Lloyd was with the Broncos in 2009 and 2010 and the first four games in 2011 before he was traded to the St. Louis Rams.

``You could be in good position'' covering him, Gregory said, ``but the ball could be thrown in a place where he can move his body to go get it and it kind of takes you out of the play.''

That athleticism was there when Lloyd was on the track team at Blue Springs High School in Missouri. His leaping ability was evident when he competed in hurdles races and the high jump, clearing the bar at a personal-best of 7 feet, 2 inches.

``I was a high jumper in high school and college,'' he said, ``so that shows how much agility that I do have and I think that all factors in.''

Shifting his body to soar over the bar is impressive. Doing it while trying to elude a cornerback, leaping for a pass and staying inbounds is a greater challenge.

``I know when I'm running out of room,'' he said. ``I just try to get my feet down secure the catch and go down.''

It's a challenge Lloyd thinks about a lot.

``I think about the spatial awareness that I want to have when I'm catching the ball, the positions that I'm in,'' he said. ``Those are the things that I think about and I visualize in my personal time.''

His catches have been particularly important because of injuries that have sidelined the Patriots star tight ends.

Rob Gronkowski has missed four games with a broken left forearm but practiced on a limited basis all week and is one of 19 Patriots listed as questionable for Sunday's game. Aaron Hernandez missed six games this season with an ankle injury but has played in the last four with 28 catches in that span, 10 of them against the 49ers.

But none of those catches were as acrobatic as some Lloyd makes.

``The first thing we said when he got here was he was almost like a worm,'' safety Devin McCourty said. ``He could just torque different positions to make some catches.''

At least McCourty was prepared to face that in practice. His twin brother Jason is a cornerback for the Tennessee Titans and had played against Lloyd.

``My brother texted me. He was like, `he's good,' `' McCourty said. ``He said, `not many people talk about him but we played them and it was just tough to cover him all game.' There are definitely other good receivers in this league, but I don't think anyone that's like him.''

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Remembering Kobe Bryant's 55-point game against Michael Jordan, Wizards

Remembering Kobe Bryant's 55-point game against Michael Jordan, Wizards

As the basketball world mourns the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, memories of his career and the highlights that made us fall in love with him are surfacing. One of the most well-told narratives of Bryant’s 20-year career was his pursuit of Michael Jordan as the greatest player of all-time. 

Bryant idolized Jordan and was relentless in his pursuit of at least matching Jordan’s six championships. He competed like Jordan, scored like Jordan, berated teammates and opponents alike like Jordan and came up one title short of his idol’s total.

On one night, however, Bryant did get the best of His Airness -- in their last of eight head-to-head matchups. 

On March 28, 2003, a Friday night in Los Angeles, Bryant put on a show, scoring 55 points in what would stand as his highest scoring total ever against the Washington Wizards.

The Lakers defeated the Wizards, 108-94. Jordan, who had just turned 40 that February and was less than a month from ending his legendary career, finished with a team-high 23 points in over 40 minutes.

Bryant was in a different zone, though, dropping 42 points in the first half alone. Through the first two quarters, he made 14 of 19 shots from the field, including 8 of 11 three-point attempts. While he cooled off in the second half, shooting just 1-for-10, he added to his point total by knocking down 10 free throws. The performance stands as the ninth-highest scoring total of Bryant’s career, and his three-point shooting that night -- 9-of-13 -- is the biggest reason the Wizards are the only team he shot over 40 percent from three against in his career.

Going into that game, Bryant was already a three-time NBA champion at 24 years old and seemed to have gained Jordan’s respect as a player. But Jordan may have inadvertendly fueled Bryant's performance that night. Ex-Wizard Gilbert Arenas told a story on "The No Chill Podcast" of MJ telling Bryant he could never fill his shoes after the Wizards defeated the Lakers earlier in the season. Arenas claims Bryant didn't talk to his teammates for two weeks leading up to the rematch -- he internalized the jab from Jordan and turned it into the 55-point game he put up against the Wizards.

After learning of Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash on Sunday, Jordan released a statement through his spokeswoman saying Bryant was like a little brother to him.

“I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe’s and Gianna’s passing. Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling," the statement read. "I loved Kobe -- he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply -- and took pride in his daughter’s love for the game of basketball. Yvette joins me in sending my deepest condolences to to Vanessa, the Lakers organization and basketball fans around the world.”


Jordan and Bryant exchanged some fun and memorable banter in not only that game but in several of their meetings towards the latter part of Jordan’s career. Just a month earlier, the two went head-to-head in the 2003 All-Star Game. Each started, and clocked 36 minutes, in the double-overtime game, Bryant scoring 22 points for the winning Western Conference, Jordan scoring 20 for the East.

Bryant actually finished his career with a 5-3 head-to-head record against Jordan -- four of those matchups coming against the Wizards. Jordan averaged 24.5 points in those games and Bryant averaged 22.8 points. Whether Bryant actually surpassed Jordan or other legends as the greatest basketball player is debatable, but most agree that Bryant’s style and how he approached the game was as close to Jordan as any other player.

There was no better example of this than that March night in 2003.

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Rui Hachimura says, 'Kobe was a hero for me'

Rui Hachimura says, 'Kobe was a hero for me'

Kobe Bryant's popularity stretched far beyond the United States. He was a global icon and especially loved in Asia. 

Following the NBA star's shocking death on Sunday, the entire sports world grieved and shared fond memories of Bryant all over social media. 

Rui Hachimura grew up in Japan idolizing Bryant, so he took to Twitter a day after the accident to share his thoughts on his hero.  

"I was very shocked to hear of this incident," Hachimura said. "I really can't believe it. I can't speak. Kobe is also a hero to me, and I've seen [him] a lot since I was little. I have met him only once.

"Three years ago, during [the] Final 4, [Bryant gave] a special pair of shoes as a surprise to the team," he said. "Not only that, he talked about what Mamba Mentality is and what people should be before basketball players. 

"He was more than just a basketball player," he said. "It is really sad that this accident was like this. I wish good luck to his family and those who have been involved in this accident. Thanks, Kobe."

After Michael Jordan retired, Bryant became the most popular player in Japan. Along with Hachimura, he inspired players like Grizzlies forward Yuta Watanabe to play the game of basketball in the first place. 

Similar to what made Bryant so popular in the United States, Japan loved him for his tireless work ethic and killer instinct on the court. That's what earned him 15 All-NBA selections and five NBA titles, and along with his efforts off the court post-retirement, earned him the love and respect of so many people around the world. 

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