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Patriots have problems aplenty despite 4-3 record

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Patriots have problems aplenty despite 4-3 record

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The game was just six minutes old and the New England Patriots already were getting booed by their own crowd.

As Shonn Greene crossed the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown run on the New York Jets' first series on Sunday, the home fans jeered. They were upset about a 76-yard drive in which the Patriots' shaky secondary allowed two long completions, for 24 and 26 yards, and was flagged for holding.

By the time the game was over - and the Patriots had avoided a second straight loss in which they coughed up a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead - those same fans were cheering. But that noise after a 29-26 overtime win that came down to the last play couldn't drown out the critics, including coach Bill Belichick.

``There are a lot of things we need to work on,'' he said.

Start with the pass defense.

It allowed Mark Sanchez to complete five passes of from 21 to 26 yards. One week earlier, he threw for a total of just 82 yards. So far this season, the Patriots have allowed 35 completions of at least 20 yards, an average of five per game. Tom Brady has just 20 covering that distance.

``No comment,'' starting cornerback Kyle Arrington said of those big gainers. ``We'll go back, see what we can improve. It's all about getting better from here.''

The Patriots were short-handed with both starting safeties Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory sidelined on Sunday. Devin McCourty, who has struggled at cornerback, moved to safety and played better.

``There's no defense that's designed to give up 50-yard pass completions or anything like that,'' Belichick said Monday. ``That's really the worst thing that can happen defensively, is for the offense to get all their yardage or score on one play and not make them drive the ball and execute a number of plays.''

The offense has had its own problems, despite leading the NFL in total yardage. It's scored just two touchdowns in each of the last two games. It's settled for too many field goals that left three games to be decided in the final seconds, including a 24-23 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the Patriots previous game after they led 23-10 in the fourth quarter.

Tight ends Rob Gronkowski (offseason back surgery) and Aaron Hernandez (sprained ankle) have been playing at less than full strength, and Brady completed just one pass for six yards on Sunday to Brandon Lloyd, signed in the offseason as a deep threat.

``It really wasn't our best day in terms of execution,'' Brady said after finally getting the offense going on its last two possessions against the Jets. Each covered 54 yards and led to the tying and winning field goals by Stephen Gostkowski.

``We have to nail those things down,'' Brady said. ``A lot of those inconsistencies, you don't score points.''

Inconsistency also was a problem on special teams, specifically the play of kickoff returner McCourty. He took one back for a 104-yard touchdown after Greene scored, and the Patriots tied the game 7-7. Then he lost a fumble bringing back a kickoff after Nick Folk had tied it at 23 with 2:06 left in the fourth quarter. But the Jets managed just another 43-yarder by Folk with 1:37 remaining.

``My teammates saved my life,'' McCourty said. ``I just have to do a better job on holding the ball.''

Despite the concerns on offense, defense and special teams, the Patriots (4-3) lead the AFC East and are one of just three teams in the conference with a winning record. On Sunday, they'll reach the midpoint of the season when they face the St. Louis Rams (3-4) in London.

Then they'll have a bye to regroup for the second half, the time of the season when they excel.

They were 16-0 in that stretch the past two years after going 11-5 in the first half. In Belichick's first 12 years as coach, the Patriots were 76-20 in the second half and 63-33 in the first half.

In fact, their record has improved in each four-game segment of Belichick's tenure. They were 31-17 in the first four games over the past 12 seasons, 32-16 in the second four, 36-12 in the third four and an impressive 40-8 in the final four.

``There are always things you can learn about your team,'' offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said, ``so that, hopefully, you're playing your best football as you head into the last half to last quarter of the season. So, hopefully, you're really peaking at the right time.''

Belichick knows that how a team is playing going into the playoffs is critical. The Patriots have reached the postseason in eight of the last nine years, missing only in 2008 when Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener. And, despite their shortcomings, they should get there again this year.

``I think we've improved every week,'' Belichick said. ``I think other teams are improving, too. They should be. We're practicing. We're playing. Everybody is getting better. We just have to get better faster than our opponents are getting better.''

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Machado homers as Orioles beat Rangers 6-5

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USA TODAY Sports

Machado homers as Orioles beat Rangers 6-5

For well over six seasons, Manny Machado's value to the Baltimore Orioles has been solely his ability to hit and play the field.

All that has changed, now that the Orioles are looking to receive a huge return for their All-Star shortstop in a blockbuster trade.

Machado homered before being removed on a wet day, Adam Jones hit a three-run double and Baltimore rallied past the Texas Rangers 6-5 Sunday.

Machado was taken out of the game in the fifth inning by manager Buck Showalter after a 26-minute rain delay. The move was designed to get their star player off a sloppy field, because the last-place Orioles are entertaining offers for Machado before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

"Obviously there's a different situation going on with Manny. You all know that," Showalter said. "That had a lot to do with it."

Plain and simple, the Orioles can't afford to have Machado get hurt. Now, more than ever.

"A month ago he wouldn't have come out of the game," Showalter acknowledged. "We know that. You know it."

After being replaced by Jace Peterson, Machado sat in the dugout, wearing a sweatshirt and joking with his teammates.

"I don't know why (Showalter) did it or not," Machado said. "He just told me, `I'm going to take you out. You had a good first half and go represent us well in the All-Star Game.'"

Machado is Baltimore's lone representative for Tuesday's showcase. He has spent his entire career in Baltimore, but his contract expires after this season and the Orioles don't appear interested in locking him up with a long-term deal.

"I'm going to the All-Star Game as an Oriole and as a shortstop. It's just always a blessing," Machado said. "I thank God. I thank my family for always supporting me, my teammates, the fans, the organization. I mean it's just been very incredible."

In a matchup between two teams staggering into the break, Texas got a first-inning grand slam from rookie Ronald Guzman but quickly gave the lead away in losing for the seventh time in nine games.

Machado ignited the comeback with his 24th homer, and Jones' bases-clearing double in the third off Mike Minor (6-6) put Baltimore ahead to stay.

"I'll be fine," said Minor, who yielded five earned runs in 2 2/3 innings. "I'll reflect a little bit and then get back to it."

The game ended when Texas pinch-runner Carlos Tocci was thrown out at the plate on a double by Elvis Andrus. Running from first base, Tocci was tagged out by catcher Caleb Joseph following throws by right fielder Mark Trumbo and second baseman Jonathan Schoop.

"Textbook," Showalter said.

Texas manager Jeff Bannister called it a "situation where they had to throw it on line to throw Tocci out. They executed well."

Tanner Scott (1-1), the first of four Baltimore relievers, earned his first big league win.

Zach Britton, another Oriole supposedly on the trading block, worked the ninth for his fourth save, the second in two days.

Texas broke on top when Miguel Castro issued three straight walks and Guzman sent a one-out drive over the right-field wall for his first career grand slam.

It was 4-1 in the third when Joseph hit an RBI double and Jones doubled down the left-field line following a walk to Machado.

Shin-Soo Choo homered in the seventh to get the Rangers to 6-5.

STREAKY

Choo opened the game with a walk, extending to 51 his single-season club record streak of games reaching base via a hit, walk or HBP. ... Texas' Delino DeShields went 0 for 3, stretching his hitless drought to 28 at-bats. ... Jones snapped a 1-for-16 skid with his third-inning double.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Rangers: RF Nomar Mazara was given the day off after hurting his hand Saturday night in the outfield.

Orioles: RHP Chris Tillman (back) was set to make his final rehab start Sunday for Triple-A Norfolk. ... INF Steve Wilkerson (oblique) and OF Craig Gentry (rib fracture) likely won't come off the DL before August, Showalter said. ... RHP Andrew Cashner (neck strain) will be activated from the DL on Saturday or Sunday to face Toronto, Showalter said.

UP NEXT

Rangers: The rotation after the All-Star break, beginning Friday against visiting Cleveland: Martin Perez, Bartolo Colon, Cole Hamels, Yovani Gallardo and Minor.

Orioles: After the All-Star break, Dylan Bundy will start at Toronto on Friday night.

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Murphy's big hit helps Nats beat Mets 6-1

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Murphy's big hit helps Nats beat Mets 6-1

Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner each hit a two-run single in Washington's five-run seventh inning, helping the Nationals beat the New York Mets 6-1 on Sunday.

Matt Adams added two hits and scored a run as Washington salvaged a split of its four-game set against New York. A preseason favorite to win the NL East and contend for a World Series championship, the disappointing Nationals hit the All-Star break with a 48-48 record, good for third in the division.

Jeremy Hellickson (4-1) pitched six crisp innings in his second straight win. The veteran right-hander allowed one run and two hits, struck out six and walked two.

Jose Reyes drove in Michael Conforto with a fielder's choice in the second, tying it at 1, but Washington grabbed control in the seventh.

Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon opened the inning with walks against Anthony Swarzak (0-2). Tim Peterson then came in and surrendered singles to Adams and Murphy, who came off the bench to hit for Michael A. Taylor.

Jerry Blevins replaced Peterson with two out and runners on second and third. But he hit Wilmer Difo and Adam Eaton before Turner's single gave Washington a 6-1 lead.

New York wasted a solid start by Corey Oswalt, who allowed two hits in five innings. The Mets got off to a fast start this year, but hit the break last in the division with a 39-55 record, a percentage point behind fourth-place Miami.

WAITING

A steady drizzle delayed the start by 47 minutes.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) pitched 5 2/3 innings in a rehab start for Class A Potomac. He allowed three runs, struck out seven and walked one. Strasburg has been on the disabled list since June 10.

Mets: Yoenis Cespedes is scheduled to play five simulated innings in left field at the team's facility in Florida on Monday. Mets manager Mickey Callaway said the 32-year-old outfielder, who has been sidelined by a right hip flexor and strained quadriceps, could return as the designated hitter next weekend against the Yankees If he is able to play on consecutive days.

MAKING MOVES

The Nationals recalled right-hander Trevor Gott from Triple-A Syracuse. Right-hander Austin Voth, who took the loss in his big league debut Saturday, was sent back to Syracuse.

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