Nationals

Brady finds a positive in recent struggles

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Brady finds a positive in recent struggles

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Tom Brady found something encouraging in his toughest stretch of the season.

He knows he and his New England Patriots can come back from a huge deficit.

The two-time NFL Most Valuable Player had his three lowest passer ratings of the season in his past four games. His 68.9 on Dec. 16 in a 41-34 loss to the San Francisco 49ers was his worst in his last 49 regular-season games. But at least he rallied them from a 31-3 deficit to tie that game with four touchdowns in 15 minutes.

``If we're down 28 points again, which I hope we're not, at least you can say, `Well, we've come back from this before,' `` Brady said Wednesday. ``So I think you can draw on those experiences, but this week is going to be its own separate game and we're going to have to go out there and earn it.''

The Patriots showed that comeback ability a year ago against the Miami Dolphins, the team they'll meet in the regular-season finale on Sunday. In last season's matchup at Gillette Stadium in the next to last game before the playoffs, the Patriots overcame a 17-0 halftime deficit by scoring the next 27 points and won 27-24.

This year, the Patriots (11-4) have clinched the AFC East title. The Dolphins (7-8) are out of the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

New England can be seeded in any of the conference's top four spots. The Houston Texans, Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens also will finish in the top four with the top two getting first-round byes.

But the Patriots could be eliminated from the No. 1 position by the time their game starts at 4:25 p.m.

Houston (12-3) would clinch it with a win over the Indianapolis Colts (10-5) in a 1 p.m. game. Denver (12-3) is currently in second place in the AFC and is home against the weak Kansas City Chiefs at 4:25 p.m. Baltimore (10-5) is in fourth and visits Cincinnati at 1 p.m.

Coach Bill Belichick isn't focusing on all the possibilities.

``We're doing everything we can to get ready for the Dolphins,'' he said. ``I've been around this league long enough to know that you can't predict how things are going to go on Sundays in the NFL. We'll control what we can control, which is to get ready and play Miami.''

Brady is taking the same approach.

No matter what Houston does, ``I don't think that changes what our goal is for the weekend,'' he said. ``We're trying to win this game regardless. It could be different if some other teams win, but that's really out of our control.''

The Patriots had won seven straight games, capping that stretch with wins over the Dolphins, 23-16, and Texans, who entered that game with the NFL's best record but lost 42-14.

But in the two games since then, New England got off to poor starts in the loss to San Francisco and a 23-16 win over the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday.

``We put a lot into the preparation throughout the course of the week and you'd love for it to go well,'' Brady said. ``Sometimes it doesn't always go very well. But you put as much into it the following week as well.''

In his first 11 games, Brady threw three interceptions and was sacked 15 times. In his last four games, he's had five interceptions and 11 sacks.

``It's about playing consistent football and I think we've got to do a better job of that,'' he said. ``We've still got a chance to improve it. And really, if we're consistent this week, which I hope we are, that's ultimately what's going to help us win this game, not really what happened in the previous month or two months.''

The Patriots have been far from the dominant team they were most of the season. Five of their first eight wins were by 21 points or more. Two of their last three were by seven.

One of those was against Miami on Dec. 2. The Dolphins had cut the lead to 20-13 on Dan Carpenter's 33-yard field goal with 8:28 left in the game. Then the Patriots put together a time-consuming drive that resulted in Stephen Gostkowski's 20-yard field goal with 1:10 remaining. Carpenter kicked a 42-yarder, but the Patriots recovered the onside kick, ending the Dolphins chances.

``It is pretty fresh in our mind of how they played us, the things they do well,'' Brady said. ``Certainly, they gave us everything we could handle. They're a good team. There's nothing easy about this team.''

Win or lose, the Patriots will be heading to the playoffs. They could play in the wild-card round the following weekend. Or, if they're seeded first or second, they'd have the weekend off before hosting a divisional playoff game.

For now, the focus is on the Dolphins.

``Right now what matters is just our performance in this game,'' Belichick said. ``How that affects some other week, I don't know. Right now, we just want to take advantage of our opportunity to prepare and play well and coach well this Sunday. That's really what it's about.''

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Sean Doolittle, Nationals rethinking things after another rough outing

Sean Doolittle, Nationals rethinking things after another rough outing

WASHINGTON -- Jack White and his band, The Raconteurs, found their faces on the center field video board around 7:20 p.m. They waved sheepishly as the crowd murmured, somewhat confused by what they were looking at.

Finally, a graphic went up with their name and mild I-think-I-know-that-band clapping began. Their visit to Nationals Park was brief because they had to head a mile up the street to play an 8 p.m. concert at The Anthem.

Almost five hours later, right at midnight, Christian Yelich’s fly ball landed just above the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center field. He zipped around the bases with little admiration for his 41st homer. Javy Guerra bent at the waist when looked toward the fence from the pitcher’s mound.

The Nationals trailed, 13-12, heading into the bottom of the 13th inning. Sitting behind home plate? White and The Raconteurs. They had returned for plenty of post-concert baseball because the Brewers and Nationals spent the night pulverizing each other in a 14-inning, 15-14 Milwaukee win. 

However, they missed the most important part because closer Sean Doolittle suffered another disastrous night. When he’s flat this season, he’s all the way down to ground level, incapable of recording almost any outs.

Saturday’s line was a garish: ⅓ of an inning, four hits, four earned runs, three home runs, depleted velocity, increased dejection. Saturday was Doolittle’s third outing this season where he allowed four runs. It was his second such monstrosity in just more than a week.

Now the team has to figure out what to do with him.

“I felt great [Friday],” Doolittle said. “That was the best I felt in the last several weeks. And then [Saturday] man, I just didn’t have anything. So, yeah, we’re going to have to figure something out. I’m going to have to figure something out because this team, they deserve better right now.”

Doolittle has allowed seven home runs since July 29. His fastball typically runs around 94 mph. Saturday, Ryan Braun hit a 90-mph fastball into the seats. Doolittle’s arm appeared sapped on Aug. 17 with his team hanging on to a wild-card spot and tracking first-place Atlanta.

He’s downtrodden as much as frustrated after changing his pregame routine, postgame routine and bullpen warmup. No alteration has re-energized his sagging left arm.

So, he and Davey Martinez will talk Sunday about what to do. Unlike earlier in the season, the Nationals have authentic options to handle the ninth inning. Daniel Hudson appears to be the top candidate if anyone is going to give Doolittle a night off or temporarily replace him if he has to go on the 10-day injured list. Hunter Strickland could also be used. Fernando Rodney is a fall-back plan, as well as a way to close the gap created by moving another reliever to the ninth.

“I’m not saying anything definitive, but I definitely want to have a conversation with Doo, and figure something out,” Martinez said. “What best for him, what’s best for the club and just make sure that he’s ready.”

Asked directly if Doolittle is healthy, Martinez said Doolittle told him pregame Saturday he was able to pitch. In the bullpen, Doolittle started to learn he was not.

After Christian Yelich’s second-pitch home run, Doolittle’s first instinct was to attribute the damage to Yelich’s greatness. That was until the video board showed his fastball traveled just 92 mph. Keston Hiura doubled. Mike Moustakas homered. Braun homered. Doolittle scratched his head.

“I just...I don’t know,” Doolittle said. “It just wasn’t coming out tonight. That part of the order, that team? There’s really nowhere to hide.”

He tried sliders as a salve, but his second pitch is more for blindsiding than problem-solving. Eventually, Martinez removed Doolittle from the mound once Hudson was ready. Doolittle conceded postgame his workload would have to change in some manner.

“I think so at this point,” Doolittle said. “I’m giving everything I got, but, I don’t really...I don’t know. It’s really, really tough. It’s frustrating. This time of year, with whole well we’ve been playing lately, with everything’s that at stake, everything this team can still accomplish, you want to be out there. You want to help the team. But, I haven’t been pulling my weight here these last couple weeks.”

Sunday, how his weight is distributed could change.

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Stephen Strasburg gets a visit from living legend, Jack White

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Stephen Strasburg gets a visit from living legend, Jack White

Two days after claiming his 15th victory of the season, Nationals' pitcher Stephen Strasburg received a visit from a very special fan.

The legend. Jack White.

Strasburg has sported the walk-up song, Seven Nation Army, since 2010; the song was created by rock duo "The White Stripes," which was made up of Jack White and Meg White. 

With the amount of success Strasburg has seen in his career don't expect him to change his walk-up song anytime soon. 

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