Patriots back home after routing Rams in London


Patriots back home after routing Rams in London

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The toughest part of New England's trip to Old England might have been getting home, and even that journey wasn't as rough as feared.

The Patriots beat the brunt of Hurricane Sandy into Boston on Monday one day after routing the St. Louis Rams 45-7 in London. They landed at Logan Airport at about noon, having moved up their departure before the heaviest rain and wind struck the area.

``I can't believe we got on that bird,'' linebacker Brandon Spikes tweeted.

They did and returned safely, and in first place in the AFC East, with the best offense in the NFL.

``We knew how important this was to us,'' defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said of the win. ``Going into the bye week at 5-3 and winning two key games to get us going, we are right where we want to be.''

The Patriots had a good time in London, some of it centered around Rob Gronkowski.

At a fan event in Trafalgar Square on Saturday, the fun-loving tight end spiked a microphone at the urging of a voice in the crowd. On Sunday, he imitated the stiff-legged walk to mimic a local tourist attraction - ``a British palace guard,'' he said - after one of his two touchdowns, then spiked the ball on the Wembley Stadium grass.

All nice memories for the Patriots as they head into their bye week.

Then they'll prepare to play another team they crushed away from home, the Buffalo Bills. That was a 52-28 win in the fourth game of the season in which they scored touchdowns on six straight second-half drives.

On Sunday, the Patriots scored on their first six drives - five touchdowns followed by a field goal.

They also dealt another blow to St. Louis, breaking its NFL record with their 17th consecutive game with at least 350 yards on offense. The Rams set that from 1999-2000. The next season, the Patriots beat St. Louis 20-17 for the first of their three Super Bowl championships.

If they match their league-leading 447.5 yards per game for the rest of the season, they'll overtake the Rams again, this time for second most yards in a season with 7,160. Only the New Orleans Saints, with 7,474 last year, gained more.

New England rolled over St. Louis even though tight end Aaron Hernandez missed the game when his right ankle injury flared up after playing the last two games following three games on the sidelines.

The defense was pretty good, too, much better than in its previous two games - a 24-23 loss to the Seattle Seahawks and a 29-26 overtime win over the New York Jets.

It allowed another big play in a rash of them this season - a 50-yard touchdown pass from Sam Bradford to Chris Givens on the game's first series, covering 80 yards.

``I think early in the season, that kills us, giving up a big play. Then we (would) put our heads down, give up another one,'' safety Devin McCourty said. ``I thought we did a good job (Sunday) of putting that play past us, then playing great defense after that.''

The Patriots held the Rams to no points and 246 yards the rest of the way as they avoided late-game problems that have plagued them.

``Everybody stuck together,'' Wilfork said. ``It feels good finally to put one game together as a team, doing a lot of things correctly, just playing good football all the way around. It is just a stepping stone. Guys can see that when we play together, and don't hurt ourselves, we can be a dangerous football team.''

The Patriots, throughout Bill Belichick's previous 12 years as coach, have been a better team in the second half of the season; they were 16-0 the last two years.

``We blocked well. We threw the ball well,'' he said. ``We gained some yards in the running game, scored in the red zone, didn't turn the ball over. So it's good execution offensively. A lot of good things there.''

With quarterback Tom Brady near the top of his game, a much improved rushing attack led by Stevan Ridley, a dangerous pass-catching corps and a young offensive line that's getting better, the offense is humming.

The defense remains mediocre. The pass rush is a problem, but the move for the last two games of McCourty from cornerback, where he struggled, to safety, where he's been solid, has helped.

``They put me back there, put me in charge of making sure everyone knows what they're doing,'' he said. ``I felt I did a better job this week than last week. Things started to slow down for me back there.''

Two rookies, safety Tavon Wilson and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, also are progressing with increased playing time. The Rams' 219 yards passing were the second fewest the Patriots have allowed this year.

They only face two of the top 10 rated quarterbacks, Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers and Matt Schaub of the Houston Texans, the rest of the year.

For now, the Patriots can get a breather during their bye week, enjoy their lead in the AFC East and hope to play even better after their 38-point victory.

``Obviously we're disappointed in our record so far. We have a high standard,'' linebacker Jerod Mayo said. ``If we play our best football, we feel we can win any game.''


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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.


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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did


Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.


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