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No Gronk vs. Jets, but Pats still go as Brady goes

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No Gronk vs. Jets, but Pats still go as Brady goes

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) There were no sighs of relief, no jumps for joy when the New York Jets found out they wouldn't have to worry about Rob Gronkowski this week.

Sure, the New England Patriots lost perhaps the league's top playmaking tight end for a few weeks with a broken forearm. But Rex Ryan's team knew better than to celebrate.

``I don't know,'' Ryan said, shaking his head. ``They have five tight ends on their roster, so I don't know if they'll put another guy in that role. I'm not sure how they'll do it.''

If Ryan has learned anything in his nearly four seasons as coach of the Jets, it's that Bill Belichick usually finds a way to win no matter who's out there - or isn't - on the field for the Patriots. Ryan also knows New England can change the personnel, but as long as it's still Tom Brady's bunch, it'll be a tough task.

``When you look at him,'' Ryan said, ``you can almost say he's a machine back there.''

And Ryan is right about the Patriots' glut of tight ends. Aaron Hernandez could return for the game against the Jets (4-6) Thursday night at MetLife Stadium after missing the last three with a sprained right ankle, and New England also has Daniel Fells, Visanthe Shiancoe and Michael Hoomanawanui at the position.

``New England is so multiple, they give you sometimes it could be four wides, five wides, could be a bunch of tight ends and all that,'' Ryan said. ``So, we'll see as the game goes how it affects them.''

Belichick was typically tight-lipped when asked if the loss of Gronkowski will change the offense for the Patriots (7-3).

``Well, we'll see,'' he said. ``I don't know. We'll see.''

Sounds as though Belichick, one win from becoming the eighth NFL coach with 200 victories, has something up his hoodie. Just as he always does. Gronkowski or no Gronkowski, the Patriots still have Brady, of course, and that's enough for anyone in New England to feel confident.

Brady was asked earlier this week if Gronkowski seemed to be in a decent mood when the two spoke.

``I haven't been thinking about his spirits,'' Brady said. ``I've been thinking about the Jets.''

Uh-oh.

A focused and determined Brady is certainly cause for concern for the Jets.

``He's going to be Brady,'' safety LaRon Landry said. ``He's going to complete passes and he's going to be great out there. We are going against a tough quarterback.''

Talk about an understatement. Brady needs one touchdown pass to extend his streak with at least one to 43 straight games - third-longest in league history behind Drew Brees (53 and counting) and Johnny Unitas (47). He has 51 career 300-yard passing games in the regular season, and one more would put him into tie for fifth place with Kurt Warner. Brady also needs 86 yards passing to move past Dan Fouts (43,040) for 10th place on NFL's career list.

``The thing about him is he's a machine, yet he's passionate and a fiery leader and all that type of stuff, so you wish he was just a machine,'' Ryan said. ``His competitive side elevates his team as well. That's what you get in those once-in-a-generation type quarterbacks, that he's just a special guy.''

The Jets know all about it, too. Brady is 4-0 with 10 TDs and one interception in his last four regular-season games against them. He's 17-5 overall when playing New York, including New England's playoff loss in the 2010 postseason.

The Patriots have also been dominant in the second halves of seasons since 2010, going a combined 18-0 so far - including 8-0 in both 2010 and `11, and 2-0 this season. That doesn't bode well for a Jets team trying to get back into the playoff hunt after a miserable start.

``This is a very important game for our season, so I'm not overly concerned with their season,'' Brady said. ``I think about what our season is all about and what we need to do. This is a very good team. It's always very challenging to play them, especially on the road. It's a short week and there's a lot to prepare for, so it will really test our mental toughness and see what we're all about.''

Well, the entire league already knows that the Patriots' top-ranked offense is efficient and explosive, as proven by their 59-24 walloping of Indianapolis on Sunday. Brady leads a steady passing game, and a four-man rotation of Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden gives New England a productive and unpredictable rushing attack.

The Jets handled Brady and the Patriots' offense for much of the game the last time the teams played last month in a 29-26 overtime victory by New England that New York thought was theirs for the taking.

``When it mattered most, he delivered and they got the victory,'' Ryan said. ``We know each other so well. We know enough of Tom Brady to know if he knows exactly what you're in, you're in trouble.''

That game ended when Rob Ninkovich forced and recovered a fumble by Mark Sanchez, moments after Stephen Gostkowski kicked a go-ahead field goal in overtime. It started a string of three straight losses for the Jets, who appeared on the verge of seeing their season slip away until a solid performance last week in St. Louis.

Sanchez was efficient and mistake-free for the first time in weeks, giving the Jets plenty of hope heading into this matchup with the Patriots.

``They played really well against St. Louis if you watched that game,'' Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker said. ``They're a physical team. They got to the quarterback. They forced some negative plays for them and really did some good things. So, they got some momentum coming off that game and we've just got to make sure that we keep our momentum going.''

Both teams are cramming to prepare for their second game in five days, a short work week for such a big game.

For the Jets, a win would get them within a game of .500 and avoid a sweep by the Patriots for the second straight season. For New England, it would put them in control of the division at 4-0 with just two games against Miami left and send New York scrambling to stay in the wild-card hunt.

``You look at this as a chance to separate yourself from the rest of the pack,'' Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo said. ``We handled the Bills and now this is a big game for us to kind of distance ourselves.''

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AP Sports Writer Howard Ulman in Foxborough, Mass., contributed to this story.

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

It doesn't take an expert to tell you players like Alex Ovechkin or Marc-Andre Fleury will play a big role in the Stanley Cup Final.

Both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights will need their best players to be at their best to take home the Cup. But who will be the unexpected heroes? Who are the players no one is talking about who will have a big hand in their team's success or defeat in this series?

Here are five players you should be watching in the Stanley Cup:

1. Devante Smith-Pelly: Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 79 games in the regular season. Now he has four goals in just 19 playoff games.

Smith-Pelly has been one of those unlikely playoff heroes for the Caps this postseason with very timely performances such as scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Columbus Blue and scoring the goal that put the game away in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The physical play has really stood out as well for him, which fits well on the fourth line role he has settled back into now that the team is healthy again. Barry Trotz tried moving him to the top line in the absence of Tom Wilson and the results weren't great. He is best suited for the role he currently has and that will allow him to thrive.

2. James Neal: Neal came up just short of the Stanley Cup last season as a member of the Nashville Predators. He totaled nine points in 22 games during that run, a number he has already matched in just 15 games this postseason.

There are very few players on either team that boast the kind of postseason experience Neal has. He will be leaned upon this series for his leadership.

Vegas is a young team and their unprecedented success in the playoffs may make this feel like the first run of many for the Golden Knights, but not for Neal who is on the last year of his contract and came tantalizingly close to the Cup last season. He will play like there is no tomorrow because, for him, there may not be in Vegas.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky was one of the heroes of Game 7 with two goals to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning. That marked just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys for the young winger. Just two games before, Burakovsky was a healthy scratch and spoke to the media about his plans to speak with a sports psychologist in the offseason.

The talent is there and it certainly appears that the injury that kept him out earlier in the playoffs is largely behind him. Burakovsky’s issues have always been mainly between the ears. In a series against a fast team with strong depth, he can be an absolutely critical piece for the Caps. Hopefully, his Game 7 performance gave him the confidence he needs to continue to be effective.

4. Ryan Reaves: Vegas acquired both Reaves and Tomas Tatar around the trade deadline. If I were to tell you that through three rounds of the playoffs, both players were healthy, had played the same number of games (6) and had the same number of points (1), you’d think I was crazy. Yet, here we are.

Reaves was largely an afterthought in a complicated trade between Vegas, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, but he has carved a nice role for himself on the Golden Knights’ fourth line and even scored the goal that sent Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final against the Winnipeg Jets.

Reaves is also an agitator on the ice, but what do the Caps do against a player like that when their normal fighter plays on the top line? We may see Reaves and Wilson come to blows this series, but it won't be very often because that is a bad tradeoff for the Caps.

5. Brooks Orpik: The elder statesman of the blue line, Orpik is the only player on the Caps with a Stanley Cup to his name and is the only one who has any idea what this experience is going to be like for the team.

Orpik is very diligent about keeping in shape which has allowed him to play in 81 games this season and all 19 playoff games despite being 37 years old, but you do have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Despite being the favorite whipping boy for the proponents of analytics, his physical play has been effective this postseason. The focus he placed on the skating in the offseason has paid dividends so far in matchups against the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Golden Knights will be the fastest team they have played yet. There is no denying Orpik is much more suited towards a physical style of game. Wil he continue to be effective or will Vegas exploit the Caps' third defensive pairing?

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Tim Frazier

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Tim Frazier

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Tim Frazier's season...

Player: Tim Frazier

Position: Point guard

Age: 27

2017-18 salary: $2 million

2017-18 stats: 59 G, 14.2 mpg, 3.0 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 3.3 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.1 bpg, 39.5 FG%, 30.4 3P%, 76.7 FT%, 44.5 eFG%, 105 ORtg, 107 DRtg

Best game: 1/27 at Hawks - 4 points, 14 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks, 2-for-5 FG

Season review: The Wizards tabbed Tim Frazier to be their backup point guard nearly a year ago when they sent a second round pick to the New Orleans Pelicans on the eve of draft night. They viewed Frazier as the solution to their years-long search for a capable backup behind John Wall. Frazier had thrived as a replacement starter in New Orleans and the Wizards saw him as worth a draft pick, even though he had just one year left on his contract.

Frazier began the season as the primary backup point guard, but ultimately lost the job to Tomas Satoransky once Wall went out with a left knee injury. Frazier became the starter and Satoransky the backup, but through two weeks Satoransky outplayed him and became No. 2 on the depth chart once Wall returned. Then, when Wall went down for months late in the season, Satoransky started and Frazier backed him up.

Frazier never found consistency as he moved back and forth between roles. His minutes, points and assists averages were all career-lows.

The Wizards added competition to their roster for Frazier and Satoransky midseason, first by signing Ramon Sessions in March and then adding Ty Lawson just before the playoffs began. That led to Frazier being inactive for four of the Wizards' six postseason games.

All in all, it was a frustrating year for Frazier. He even had to deal with a broken nose and surgery to repair it after getting inadvertently kneed in the face by Bobby Portis in a game against the Bulls in February.

Frazier has been part of small group of Wizards players continuing to work out at the team facility this summer. He has been there along with Wall, Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith. That said, it does seem likely Frazier returns given how the Wizards used him this season. He was completely out of the rotation for extended periods of time.

Helping his cause in that regard is that the Wizards have his Bird rights, meaning they can re-sign him while going above the salary cap. They currently have five open roster spots and not much money to spend. Frazier could represent a cheap option and help them fill out their roster.

Potential to improve: Shooting, on-ball defense, consistency

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Markieff Morris, PF

Marcin Gortat, C

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

Tomas Satoransky, PG

Ian Mahinmi, C

Ty Lawson, PG

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