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Georgia upbeat after 45-31 win over Nebraska

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Georgia upbeat after 45-31 win over Nebraska

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) For each of its previous two bowl trips, Georgia left the field shrouded in the uncomfortable feelings of a season-ending loss.

While this offseason could certainly feature some big changes to its roster, it will at least begin on a high note.

A month removed from missing a berth in the BCS title game because of a narrow loss to Alabama, the sixth-ranked Bulldogs rode junior quarterback Aaron Murray's five touchdown passes to a 45-31 victory over No. 23 Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl on Tuesday.

Murray and fellow underclassman Jarvis Jones could certainly jump to the NFL this offseason, but for one more game Bulldogs' fans got to see a championship-caliber team intact.

``Last year we went 0-2 and win 10 in a row, but we can't finish that season out. And this year we had another really good season, win the East, and we didn't win the SEC championship, but we certainly performed a lot better,'' Bulldogs' coach Mark Richt said. ``So now we wanted to win this bowl, to just maybe prove to ourselves that we are one of the better teams in the country.''

Murray's five touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter, set a Georgia bowl record.

He shook off a pair of first-half interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, and passed for 427 yards - also a Bulldogs' bowl record - against the nation's top-ranked passing defense. He was the game's most valuable player on the way to earning his first bowl victory at Georgia.

Georgia (12-2) also reached 12 wins for the third time in school history.

``I don't know what it's like to head into an offseason with a win,'' Murray said. ``It's a great feeling to get a win. It's great for the seniors, who have meant so much to this team. They've done a great job of leading this team the whole season.

``To get 12 wins. ... That's something special.''

He downplayed questions about his future.

``The future - I don't know what's going to happen,'' he said. ``I'm just enjoying the moment right now.''

Jones said any regrets about the Alabama loss are gone now.

``I think it speaks for itself,'' he said. ``The SEC game was a couple of weeks ago. We did what we can and we lost. We came up kind of short. And it was definitely a game that we had the opportunity to win. But you can't take away from the day. We came out here and we executed.

``We gave our seniors the opportunity to leave here with a win and a bowl game, and it's definitely something we look forward to and something we'll remember for a long time.''

Nebraska (10-4) lost its third consecutive bowl game, and finished the season with two straight woeful defensive performances, losing the Big Ten championship game 70-31.

The Cornhuskers led 24-23 at the half, but committed two of their three turnovers in the final 30 minutes.

Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez had two interceptions and two touchdown passes and Rex Burkhead rushed for 140 yards in his final college game.

But Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said the efficiency of Murray and Georgia in converting 12 of 17 third-down opportunities was too much to overcome.

``I thought the plan was good,'' Pelini said of his team's defensive scheme. ``Third down hurt us, obviously. When were in position, it was man-on-man down the field. We needed to make some of those plays and we didn't. And, you know, again, that cost us a football game.''

Nebraska drops to 12-7 against SEC opponents in bowl games.

Richt, trailed by questions about his team's focus following its loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game, thinks his team made a statement.

``We wanted to win this game to prove to ourselves that we are one of the better teams in the country,'' he said. ``I think our guys did a good job of sucking it up when they were tired. ... But when you make a big play here and there, it gives you a little more energy as well. ... We made enough big plays at the right moment.''

Nebraska finished with 443 yards of total offense, but the Bulldogs' defense was stingy when it needed to be.

They sacked Martinez five times, with junior All-American linebacker Jarvis Jones notching two to finish with a record 14.5 for the season. Damian Swann had both of Georgia's interceptions.

Murray found Keith Marshall free near the sideline for a 24-yard touchdown pass that gave Georgia a 38-31 lead with 14:52 to play in the game.

Following a Nebraska punt, Murray then hit Chris Conley for a short pass over the middle and he outran the Cornhuskers defenders for an 87-yard score.

Conley also scored on a 49-yard touchdown catch that tied the game in the third quarter.

Nebraska clung to a 24-23 lead at the half, taking back the advantage late in the second quarter on a 16-yard strike from Martinez to Burkhead.

After a pair of early turnovers, Murray seemed to be getting Georgia's offense back on track, as the Bulldogs punctuated a four-play, 38-yard drive with a 24-yard touchdown run by Todd Gurley to make it 23-17.

Both Bulldogs' turnovers came on Murray interceptions as the nation's top-ranked passing defense crowded Georgia's receivers and disguised its coverage schemes.

Gurley helped open things up, though, rushing for 81 yards in the opening 30 minutes.

Nebraska also allowed Georgia three sacks, thwarting some promising drives.

Nebraska's defense didn't need long to force the game's first turnover, picking off Murray on Georgia's opening drive of the game.

The Cornhuskers went three-and-out on their first possession.

But Brett Maher's punt was blocked by the Bulldogs' Shawn Williams. There was a scramble for the ball in the end zone before it trickled out of the back for a safety.

The Bulldogs then went up 9-0 their ensuing possession following the free kick, capping an 80-yard drive on Murray's 29-yard touchdown pass to tight end Arthur Lynch.

Nebraska's offense finally got going on its next possession, scoring on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Martinez to Jamal Turner.

The Cornhuskers' defense made it 14-9 when linebacker Will Compton came up with their second interception of Murray and returned it 24 yards for the score.

``I'm real proud of Aaron and job he did,'' Richt said. ``(He) had a couple of things go not exactly the way he wanted them to go. Had a couple of picks early. Just hung in there, very resilient and finished.''

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Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter athttp://www.twitter.com/khightower .

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New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft charged with soliciting prostitution

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New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft charged with soliciting prostitution

JUPITER, Fla. -- Police in Florida have charged New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft with misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution, saying they have videotape of him paying for a sex act inside an illicit massage parlor.

Jupiter police told reporters Friday that the 77-year-old Kraft hasn't been arrested. A warrant will be issued and his attorneys will be notified.

The charge comes amid a widespread crackdown on sex trafficking in the area surrounding Palm Beach County. About 200 arrest warrants have been issued in recent days and more are expected.

The Patriots won the Super Bowl earlier this month in Atlanta. The team did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Update: A spokesperson for Robert Kraft issued a statement, denying Craft's involvement. "We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity," a spokesperson said, via Michael Del Moro. "Because this is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further. 

This is a developing story. Visit NBC Sports Boston for the latest Robert Kraft news and updates. 

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Radio silence from Bryce Harper hasn't quieted Mark Lerner's confidence in Nationals

Radio silence from Bryce Harper hasn't quieted Mark Lerner's confidence in Nationals

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Fans on the sidewalks at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches are held back by wire fence, just a few feet away from players clicking past in spikes on concrete. It emulates two priorities: access and the idea the team’s managing principal owner, Mark Lerner, had when he was a kid at spring training.

“You want to be able to see your favorites,” Lerner said Friday.

When Lerner, 65, comes to West Palm Beach, he still does that. He stops in the clubhouse to distribute handshakes and hugs. Running into Anthony Rendon on a crosswalk near the fields really lit up Lerner, who is still using a cane following an amputation of his lower left leg in 2017 necessitated by the diagnosis of spindle cell sarcoma, a rare form of cancer.

Not in West Palm Beach is a player Lerner had a close relationship with. On the day Manny Machado was introduced in San Diego, Bryce Harper remained, to the astonishment of many, unemployed. 

Lerner last addressed Harper’s free agency when he sat for radio interviews, Dec. 10, the day Patrick Corbin was introduced. He said the Nationals were no longer in the mix for Harper. The Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, $300 million contract which had an expiration date: when free agency began, it would be retracted. Harper declined, vaulting the baseball world into a months-long saga filled with tension, misinformation and growing exasperation.

“Nothing’s certainly changed on our end; we’ve moved on, as I said back then,” Lerner told NBC Sports Washington. “We had to. There was no way we could wait around. Bryce I’m sure will make his decision, hopefully in the next few days. But, we filled out our roster and like I said, we wish him nothing but the best. There’s always that -- the door’s cracked a little bit. I have no clue at this point what they’re up to. I mean, we really haven’t heard from them in a couple months.”

The prospect of a wait was of prime concern before the season ended. Washington used its personal window to negotiate with Harper, producing a lucrative baseline offer, with the aforementioned end date. Not long after, Corbin received a six-year, $140 million from the organization, which stood throughout the offseason as the benchmark in both length and total value prior to Machado’s decision. If Harper accepted the Nationals original offer, they would not have been able to pay Corbin, according to a source.

The organization moved forward plugging holes at catcher, second base and in the bullpen. It deemed the current outfield foursome as more than satisfactory. Also looming was the possibility of another year over the competitive balance tax, something that prompted the team to start shuffling finances late last season when it was clear the playoffs were not an option.

“It’s a pretty severe penalty if you go over and it’s been our goal all year to stay under that,” Lerner said.

Which complicates the future. Anthony Rendon is entering the final year of his contract. Rendon and the team are open to an extension, which has been discussed here and there for 18 months. Rendon reiterated his position when speaking with reporters earlier this week. Lerner turned his visual affection for Rendon into words Friday. 

“We love Tony to death,” Lerner said. “He’s certainly one of the greatest players in the game today. He’s an even finer person. His activities with the youth baseball academy back in D.C. are phenomenal. He does it under the radar. It’s very important to him. Just a great example of the way a professional athlete should conduct himself. Like I said, he’s one of my favorites for a reason.”

Washington rose perennial losers upon coming to Washington to an organization with annual prominent expectations. It chose not to retain manager Dusty Baker, instead hiring Dave Martinez in an attempt to push the team beyond the first round. Martinez’s arrival came with the edict that something more than division titles and first-round bow outs were now necessary for the team. The Nationals finished 82-80 last year during a season filled with injuries, under-performance and often mediocre fundamental baseball. Lerner suffered through with the irritation of a typical fan.

“I have my routine [following losses]. I go into a closet and scream a little after,” Lerner said with a laugh. “No, no. That’s one thing that’s good about baseball. You’re going to play the next day. But I go home. I’m totally depressed. I won’t turn on the sports news or anything and get up the next morning, it’s a new day, get up and go after it again today. When I’m sitting down there, I’m very passionate as a fan. I’m yelling at the umpires like everybody else. I want to win. I hate losing exhibition games let alone regular-season games.”

Enter 2019. The Nationals are amid the favorites in a taught National League East. Short-term fixes frame the team’s mainstays. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Corbin possess the three long-term commitments in the clubhouse. Rendon may be next. The Nationals want to retain that talent level, avoid the tax and put together a team with a chance to win the division or more. Harper’s talent made that possible when here. His price made it difficult going forward. They decided to try it without him. 

“Our goal every year is certainly to make the playoffs,” Lerner said. “In reality, we look back where we are in the world and where our needs are. It’s not just…certainly, we don’t want to go crazy with free agency. But we said when we first got the team, we’re going to build up the minor leagues, we’re going to get to a point where we can start to dabble in free agency, which we did with Jayson Werth, and when we find a need or a special player, we’re going to go after that player if it makes monetary sense for us. Our philosophy has never changed but, certainly, our goal is to make the playoffs and hopefully deep into the playoffs.”
 

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