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History on tap, Patriots WR Welker set for Texans

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History on tap, Patriots WR Welker set for Texans

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Jerry Rice never did it. Neither did Marvin Harrison. On Monday night, Wes Welker takes his swing for it.

Just eight more catches and the New England Patriots standout receiver will achieve another of his many milestones that he insists he doesn't dwell on.

He'll break a tie with those retired stars and become the first player with 100 receptions in five different seasons.

Is he looking forward to it? Is he excited for it? Does he even care?

``Maybe when I'm done playing,'' Welker said Friday. ``But right now, I'm just focused on however many catches I need to get to help us win.''

Welker has a decent chance to make those eight grabs on Monday night when the New England Patriots (9-3) face the Houston Texans (11-1) in a marquee AFC matchup.

After all, he's averaging 7.3 receptions per game in his six seasons since being traded from Miami, and he traditionally comes up big in key games.

He could add that mark to a long list of accomplishments on Monday:

- Welker is tied with Rice in NFL history with 17 games of at least 10 catches.

- Welker is on pace to break a tie with Cris Carter as the only player to catch 120 passes in a season twice.

- Welker has the most receptions in the past six seasons (646), by a large margin over Brandon Marshall (565).

And what really matters is this. The Patriots have won six in a row and they are already AFC East champions as they welcome the conference's top team.

``There's nothing more important in Wes's life than being a football player and thinking about football and making the big play and running the right route and getting open when it's most important,'' quarterback Tom Brady said. ``That's what quarterbacks dream about.''

Grabbing 100 passes seemed far from certain early in the season. Getting on the field, in fact, was a bigger issue.

Welker took part in just 70.5 percent of the offensive snaps in the first two games after participating in 88.9 percent of them during the 2011 regular season. Julian Edelman even started in his place in the second game.

``It's a long season so you just keep on battling, keep on working hard,'' Welker said Friday. ``That doesn't change, even now.''

Coach Bill Belichick never explained his reasoning, and Welker said he felt ``fine'' physically.

In the season opener against Tennessee, Welker sat out 25 of the 67 offensive snaps. But in the past four games, he missed a total of just 23 plays.

And in Sunday's 23-16 win over Miami, he had 12 catches for 103 yards, and was thrown to 18 times.

Now, he has an NFL-high 92 snares - one more than Marshall - and is seventh with 1,064 yards receiving.

And because of injuries - Edelman is out for the season with a foot injury suffered last Sunday, and tight end Rob Gronkowski is likely to miss his third straight game with a broken forearm - Brady could be looking for Welker even more than usual.

``There's pressure on everybody,'' Welker said. ``Everybody's got to step up.''

He prefers not to look back at the knee injury he suffered at Houston in the last game of the 2009 season that forced him to miss the playoffs. It's all about moving forward for Welker.

After all, that is the New England way.

``I'm really trying not to think about it too much. (I) appreciate you bringing that up,'' Welker said with a grin. ``I've just moved on from it and just worked hard and tried to get better.

``And, luckily, I'm where I'm at today.''

He also won't look ahead to where he might be next season, once his $9.5 million, one-year deal that came with his franchise tag expires. There will be a time to think about contracts. This weekend is not that time.

``I'm not worried about a contract at all,'' he said.

And when he says that, you get the sense that he means it. His statistics might not be this good otherwise.

In fact, special teams captain and wide receiver Matthew Slater has admired Welker's ``professionalism'' in the five years they've been teammates.

``A guy like that who's been able to accomplish all that he has here, he never loses his sense of urgency. He never loses the respect that you have to have for this game,'' Slater said. ``It would be easy for a guy like that to take a couple of days off or not practice as hard here and there, but he doesn't.''

That can motivate his teammates, of course. Yet another trait synonymous with the Patriots.

``If you see a guy who's caught 100 balls every year working harder than everybody else, you definitely better be working as hard as you can,'' Slater said. ``There's no room for slacking.''

So, as expected, Welker is preparing diligently to face the Texans and a secondary that's banged up. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph was limited in practice Friday after missing the past two games with a hamstring injury and Houston coach Gary Kubiak said a decision on whether he'll play will be made in the next couple of days.

Joseph said he expects to play. But nickel cornerback Brice McCain had surgery on his left foot on Monday and Alan Ball missed the previous game with a sore foot.

``You don't have as much film'' on players who will fill in, Welker said. ``But you can still study the games that they are in there, and really try and get an edge.''

Welker usually does.

As a slot receiver, he catches passes at the line of scrimmage as well as quick slants, then does a good job running after the catch.

He also can take advantage of certain defensive formations and break down the field. And he makes key contributions even when the ball is thrown to someone else. He doesn't give up on plays.

That's not likely the change.

``He busts his butt harder than anybody to make sure he's doing his job to clear out on a certain route or to take some coverage with him so another guy can get the ball,'' Brady said. ``I think that's what makes Wes really special, is his selflessness as a player.

``But the ball always seems to find a way to him.''

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That time Antonio Brown and Kyler Murray practiced together

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That time Antonio Brown and Kyler Murray practiced together

Thanks to Antonio Brown, we have the hopes and dreams of a splashy off-season for the Washington Redskins in one tidy four-second video.

Brown, the NFL’s best receiver, is angling for a trade out of Pittsburgh.

Kyler Murray is the reigning Heisman Trophy quarterback and a projected 2019 first round pick.

During the NFC Championship game, the Steelers wide receiver tweeted out a clip of him hauling in a deep pass from the University of Oklahoma product. Yes, that’s going to draw some eyeballs, perhaps especially from fans of a team with quarterback uncertainty and lacking offensive playmakers.

Another OU standout, wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown”, joined his cousin Antonio and Murray for the workout. This isn’t the first time all three shared a field.

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The best rolled thru today, appreciate you @ab 📞

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Marquise Brown, a true speed threat, could become the first wide receiver selected in the 2019 draft.

There’s no way for the Redskins to land all three. Even two seems highly unlikely considering the two prospects are projected first-round selections and acquiring Brown would cost a No. 1 and plenty more. It’s still cool to dream. Considering the quarterback concerns with Alex Smith, Jamison Crowder entering free agency and the need for more pieces regardless, even landing one of them would work.

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Defense optional as Caps handed 8-5 loss in Chicago

Defense optional as Caps handed 8-5 loss in Chicago

The Chicago Blackhawks handed the Capitals their fifth straight loss on Sunday in an ugly 8-5 defeat. All five of Washington's goals came from defensemen as the team's top forwards continued to struggle.

Here are five reasons the Caps lost.

Missed early opportunities

The game got off to a great start. Tom Wilson fed Jakub Vrana in the middle for a great early opportunity and Lars Eller had another shot with the rebound. Washington also got a power play less than two minutes into the game and was brilliant with the setup, keeping the puck in the zone for the full two minutes and getting a number of high-quality opportunities.

But they didn’t score and that soon loomed very large.

Brandon Saad put Chicago on the board 6:36 into the first and Patrick Kane scored 80 seconds later to make it 2-0, thus erasing the Caps’ strong start.

The goals have been hard to come by for the Caps so when they had the opportunity to take the early lead, they absolutely had to finish. They didn’t and the game got away from them as a result.

A bad play by Madison Bowey

Bowey will be cringing at the replay of the Saad goal for a while. Saad broke the puck out of the defensive zone and carried it into the neutral zone. Bowey had a bead on him until Saad cut to the center. Suddenly Bowey was caught flat footed. He reached for Saad with a weak stick check which Saad easily fought through with no real resistance and he was in on net. He finished the play with the game’s first goal.

 An own-goal

This was really the moment when you realized this was not going to be a good day for Washington.

Down 2-0, Brooks Orpik managed to sneak a softy through goalie Colin Delia to make it 2-1. Just 28 seconds later, however, bad luck struck the Caps yet again.

Dmitry Orlov and Jonathan Toews battled for the puck right in front of the crease and it bounced into he air. Orlov swiped at it with his glove to try to clear it from danger, but instead knocked it right over Holtby and into the net. The own goal made it 3-1 and signaled that Washington was in for a long day.

An ill-advised penalty

This game felt like it quickly was getting out of hand. Somehow, however, the Caps managed to keep things close. Dmitry Orlov snuck another squeaker through Delia in the second and John Carlson fired a one-timer early in the third to make the score 4-3. All of a sudden, the Caps had signs of life. With all the momentum on their side, however, Nicklas Backstrom was whistled for hooking Toews just 23 seconds later.

You could tell what was about to happen.

Sure enough, Kane scored 13 seconds into the power play to restore the Blackhawks’ two-goal lead.

The Toews hat trick

Once again, Washington tried to battle back. Matt Niskanen scored with just over six minutes remaining in the game, the fifth goal from a Caps’ defenseman, to pull the score to 6-5. Toews provided the coffin nail just over a minute later with an absolutely brutal play on Orlov.

Toews entered the offensive zone and Orlov took an awful approach. Toews finessed the puck right in front of Orlov which he should have been able to easily sweep away. Instead, he whiffed completely allowing Toews to regain the puck, step past Orlov and fired it under the pad and into the net.

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