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Brady throws 4 TD passes, Pats lead Texans 28-7

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Brady throws 4 TD passes, Pats lead Texans 28-7

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes as the New England Patriots turned their much-hyped game against the Houston Texans into a mismatch, leading 28-7 after the third quarter on Monday night.

The Texans (11-1) entered with the NFL's best record. The Patriots (9-3) had the AFC's third-best mark.

But New England, with plenty of big-game experience with five Super Bowl appearances and three championships in the past 11 seasons, confused and dominated the Texans, who reached the playoffs last season for the first time since joining the NFL in 2002.

Taking advantage of disorganization and poor coverage by the Texans, Brady threw scoring passes on his first three possessions - 7 yards to Aaron Hernandez, 37 yards to Brandon Lloyd and 4 yards to Hernandez, for a 21-0 lead 4 minutes into the second quarter.

The Texans tried to whittle the deficit at halftime by going for it twice on fourth down in the second quarter. They fell short both times with 4:44 and 1:52 left in the half.

Then, on the Patriots' second series of the third quarter, Brady connected on a 63-yard touchdown pass to Donte' Stallworth, who was signed last week after wide receiver Julian Edelman was placed on injured reserve. It gave Brady his 18th game with at least four touchdown passes, moving ahead of Johnny Unitas into fourth place in NFL history

The Texans finally scored on a 1-yard run by Arian Foster with 6:12 left in the third quarter.

Brady finished the third quarter with 18 completions in 31 attempts for 269 yards and threw a scoring pass for the 45th straight game, the third-longest streak of all-time. Schaub was 19 for 32 for 232 yards.

Hernandez and Houston's Andre Johnson both had eight catches.

Both teams have clinched playoff spots and were on six-game winning streaks. They are the highest-scoring teams in the NFL with the Patriots averaging 35.8 points per game and the Texans 29.3.

The Patriots have clinched the AFC East, while the Texans have locked up a playoff berth in the AFC South but have two games left with the Indianapolis Colts (9-4), who are second in the division.

Houston entered as the NFL's only unbeaten team on the road at 6-0. But the Patriots haven't lost at home in December since 2002.

The Texans hurt themselves with an illegal formation penalty that wiped out Foster's 11-yard run on the first offensive play of the game, a defensive holding penalty against Brandon Harris that gave the Patriots a first down at the Houston 29 and an interception by Devin McCourty on Schaub's pass into the end zone.

The Patriots scored on their first possession after a 31-yard punt return by Wes Welker, replacing Julian Edelman, set them up at their 44-yard line for their first series.

Stevan Ridley ran for 18 yards on the first three plays for a first down at the Houston 38. After an incompletion, Harris was called for defensive holding on third-and-6, giving the Patriots a first down. Brady then completed a 25-yard pass to Welker, his 107th consecutive game with a reception.

And two plays later, Brady found Hernandez for his 7-yard scoring pass on the left side.

Schaub then led the Texans to a second-and-8 at the Patriots 21. But when he tried to throw down the middle into double coverage, McCourty picked the ball off and returned it 19 yards, another takeaway by the team that leads the NFL in turnover differential.

That gave Brady the ball at his 18 and he covered the next 82 yards in just 2 minutes, 41 seconds. After an incompletion and a run for no yards by Ridley, Brady completed four consecutive passes. On the last one, Lloyd sprinted away from cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who returned after missing two games with a hamstring injury, and was wide open as he caught the touchdown pass cutting from the right side to the left.

On his second touchdown catch, Hernandez took advantage of a mixup in the Houston secondary and was open on the left side of the end zone, capping an eight-play, 70-yard drive.

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Five baseball books to read while in quarantine

Five baseball books to read while in quarantine

The Nationals Talk podcast has been on a book run lately. Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post stopped by last week to discuss his book, “Buzz Saw”, about the 2019 Nationals season. Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal, and author of “Swing Kings”, joined us for Tuesday's episode. We’re a veritable baseball library.

So, in keeping with the book theme -- and the lack of baseball coupled with extra time -- here’s a list of five baseball books to read during quarantine. The list could include 20 other titles. But, many of these books are the reason this was a personal pursuit in the first place. Feel free to add some in the comments. And happy reading.

The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn

I don’t remember how old I was when I first read Kahn’s book, but I do remember it presented this fairy tale view of baseball in my mind.

Kahn covers his Brooklyn childhood, early reporting days at the New York Herald Tribune and follows the Dodgers to the end of the 1955 World Series. For a kid growing up in the sticks three hours north of New York City, everything about the situation delivered the grandeur you would associate with such a life. And the team was loaded with legendary names: Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Don Newcombe, Johnny Podres (who was from upstate New York).

The era has striking differences to our current baseball one. Kahn was working in a time of baseball-player-as-hero, where emotion, personal interaction and unfettered access colored the presentation of the sport and its players as much as analytics does now. Kahn also knew those players could be incomplete humans, like anyone else, and presented them as such.

This book is part nostalgia, part writing master class and part memoir. Do yourself the favor.

Ball Four by Jim Bouton

What Kahn held in eloquence, Bouton held in -- how to say this -- chutzpah.

The subtitle of the book goes like this: “The controversial bestseller that tears the cover off the biggest names in baseball.” Corny? Yes. Oversell? A bit, or so it seems now. But any time a book written about a specific sports league leads to the league’s commissioner, in this case Bowie Kuhn, speaking out against it, the book clearly sent a jolt.

Bouton’s diary of his 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots (great throwback jerseys) and Houston Astros is also a look back at his time with the Yankees. He spent seven years (1962-1968) in the Bronx, pitched well (3.36 ERA), and paid attention. What distinctly set Bouton’s book apart was his willingness to tell the truth about what happened behind closed doors. From his personal clashes with management to Mickey Mantle’s drinking, Bouton spilled secrets which were -- and would remain -- significant breaches of any “circle of trust.”

For that, Bouton was reviled and revered. Players despised him for it. Critics adored the insight. The book became a hit. Time magazine once listed it among the 100 greatest non-fiction books of all-time.

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Three Nights in August by Buzz Bissinger

This hops us into a more modern look at baseball. Beyond that, it also gives a look into what baseball is built on: the three-game series.

When writers travel to cover the NFL, it’s an in-and-out experience. You arrive in the city on Saturday and sometimes leave as soon as Sunday night. For the NBA, you drop in one place, then go directly to another, easily losing track. Baseball provides a temporary chance to unpack.

And during the settling teams blast through three games. Bissinger chose the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry to write about. Tony La Russa was still running things in St. Louis at the time, and became the central figure of the book. He’s intriguing for the obvious reasons of brand recognition, but also because his bullpen strategy in the late 1980s became the standard and remains paramount today.

Bissinger became famous for “Friday Night Lights” and his background knowledge here about La Russa allows the access to deliver even more insight. Good writing, good figures, good story.

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

This is on the list because if you somehow have not read it, why not?

We won’t spend too much time on one of the most-famous baseball books in history, if not the most well-known, period.

Quickly: The low-budget A’s force math into the equation in order to find a way to win without significant cash resources. General manager Billy Beane is the architect of this approach (and apparently good-looking enough Brad Pitt plays him in the movie).

At its core, the book is about old-school versus new-school thinking and is (gasp) already 16 years old.

The Only Rule Is it Has To Work by Ben Lindbergh

Lindbergh took the Moneyball concept a step further and crossed it with baseball kookiness.

The Sonoma Stompers, part of the independent Pacific Association, allowed Lindbergh and Sam Miller to run baseball operations strictly on advanced analytics.

The book is a functional, real-world application of a consistent baseball argument: do everything by the numbers in order to maximize outcome. So, does it work?

No spoilers here beyond saying the experiment combined with those who populate independent baseball produces a compelling read.

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The Vault: Looking back at Bullets-Sixers Game 5 of the 1986 NBA Playoffs

The Vault: Looking back at Bullets-Sixers Game 5 of the 1986 NBA Playoffs

After a two-week break for paternity leave, it's time to spin the dial, line up the combination numbers and re-open the vault. Earlier in the NBA's hiatus, we looked back at Bullets playoff games from the 1970s and the 1990s. Today, we go to the 1980s and revisit Game 5 of the 1986 first-round playoff series between the Washington Bullets and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Now, this is a game that older Bullets fans likely wouldn't want to relive. The Bullets not only lost the game, they got blown out, and it ended their season.

But it was also an interesting snapshot into an era of the NBA and of Bullets basketball and, in a way, it encapsulated what the Bullets were in the 1980s. They made the playoffs five straight years from 1983 to 1988 and lost in the first round each time. 

In 1986, the Bullets won only 39 games, yet they were the sixth seed. It was an especially bad year in the Eastern Conference, so bad that the Chicago Bulls set an NBA record that still stands as the worst team to ever make the playoffs. They were 30-52.

The Bullets won Game 1 against the Sixers, but fell on the road in Game 5 when basically all of their best players didn't show up. It was a major letdown.

But it was still a basketball time capsule worth looking back on. Here are five takeaways including pictures and GIFs of the best moments...

Bol's network debut

The NBA back then was not even close to what it is now in terms of worldwide reach. It was not far removed from the NBA Finals playing on tape delay and very few games were broadcast nationally. Usually, those national games featured teams like the Lakers and Celtics, not the Washington Bullets.

So this particular game marked the first time Manute Bol played on network television. The Bullets rookie was a person of intrigue because at 7-foot-6, he was the tallest player in NBA history at the time. Remember, this was before Gheorghe Muresan, Shawn Bradley and Yao Ming. 

Bol was also a fascinating player because as a rookie he led the league in blocked shots with a ridiculous average of 5.0 per game. He averaged more blocks than he did points (3.7). 

Bol playing in his network debut was a big part of the broadcast with color commentator Tommy Heinsohn remarking pregame that "when [Bol] first joined the NBA, a lot of people thought it was for freak value." Heinsohn, though, went on to twice compare Bol's rim-protecting prowess to Bill Russell.

Heinsohn also said later in the game the Bullets training staff put the roster through a strength exam and Bol tested at the level of "a child." He was tall, but extremely skinny, listed at just 200 pounds. And his thin frame was a major disadvantage against Sixers superstar Charles Barkley.

Despite being a foot shorter, Barkley absolutely dominated Bol in this game with his strength and low center of gravity.

Bol had zero points, two rebounds and one block in the game.

Bol had a song

To further illustrate the spectacle that Bol's network debut was, CBS aired a music video for him at halftime. It was called 'Bol-tending' and it was the type of video that was for some reason commonplace around sports in the 1980s and 90s.

Custom rap songs about teams and players were all the rage back then and even as a rookie, Bol had one complete with a killer saxophone solo.

The 80s were in full force

The Bol video was just one example of the remarkable 80s-ness of this game and the broadcast. There were so many things that may have been cool at the time that just aren't that cool anymore.

Like, this starting lineup graphic. It looks like a Prince album cover.

There were also a few hairstyles you just never see in today's NBA. There was the let-it-flow male pattern baldness of Gus Williams:

There was also Jeff Ruland's full and glorious mustache, which made him look like a cop who went undercover as an NBA player:

And you had Tom McMillen's moppy gray hair that made him look like a middle school science teacher:

It seems worth noting that Just For Men didn't come out until 1987, the year after this game was played. And this was actually McMillen's final NBA game. He had already announced his retirement and made it known he was going to run for U.S. Congress as soon as his playing career was over. They mentioned it twice on the broadcast.

Imagine a current NBA player's farewell tour including that as his next step. McMillen, who was a Rhodes Scholar before playing in the NBA, would win that election and two more to serve three terms in the House of Representatives hailing from Maryland's 4th District.

Sixers were loaded with stars

The Sixers had one of the most star-studded NBA teams ever assembled in 1985-86, though some of those stars were up there in age and not the players they once were. They had a whopping five Hall of Famers. That included Barkley, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Bob McAdoo and Maurice Cheeks. 

Malone and McAdoo didn't play in this game due to injuries, Malone because of a fractured eye socket (ouch). But the other three had their way with the Bullets in Game 5.

Barkely, in particular, was unstoppable. He had a triple-double with 19 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists. And he just jumped off the screen as the best player on the floor.

This was a different era where a lot of the players weren't athletic or skilled enough to hang in today's game. But it is pretty obvious Barkley would still be a star. He was just unbelievably powerful and fast in the open floor.

Dr. J still had it

Erving may have been 35 years old, but he was still one of the best athletes on the court. He made a series of plays that were reminiscent of the ageless wonder we see these days in LeBron James.

Erving had a few vicious dunks that did not look like a guy at the end of his career:

And this one play where he leapt over the press section really stood out:

The NBA has come a long way since the 80s, but Barkley and Dr. J were both before their time. And the Bullets may now be the Wizards, but they are still waiting to break through in the playoffs, even decades later.

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