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Patriots hold on to beat Jaguars 23-16

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Patriots hold on to beat Jaguars 23-16

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) If the New England Patriots need to accomplish anything before the postseason, it probably should be avoiding sluggish starts.

The AFC East champions had to rally from a double-digit deficit for the second consecutive week, recovering from an early hole and then holding off the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars 23-16 on Sunday.

Tom Brady threw two interceptions in the first quarter but bounced back with two touchdown passes to lead the come-from-behind victory.

``We came out flat and I think it showed out there,'' Patriots receiver Wes Welker said. ``We've got to do a better job of starting fast and doing what we do to take control of the game.''

A week after falling behind 31-3 against San Francisco and tying the game before losing 41-34, the Patriots (11-4) found themselves down 10-0 in Jacksonville.

But the Jaguars faded in the third quarter for the fourth consecutive week, lost for the 11th time in the last 12 games and set a franchise record for losses in a season.

Brady had a lot to do with Jacksonville's latest setback, finding his rhythm after a sluggish start and picking apart Jacksonville's defense.

He completed 24 of 41 passes for 267 yards, his worst outing in six games against the Jaguars. Welker caught 10 passes for 88 yards, passing Jerry Rice and Andre Johnson for the most 10-catch games (18) in NFL history. Stevan Ridley ran 18 times for 84 yards.

But the team's lethargic start got all the attention.

``They got off to that fast start and that kind of caught us by surprise,'' Patriots offensive tackle Nate Solder said. ``I thought we played better as the game progressed. We've just got to avoid the slow starts and get the offense going right from the first quarter.''

Brady hooked up with Welker for a 2-yard score on the second play of the fourth quarter, putting the Patriots up 23-13. That seemed like plenty of cushion against the offensively challenged Jaguars. Jacksonville, though, had two decent chances to tie things in the closing minutes.

Trailing by a touchdown, the Jags faced third-and-goal at the 1 when tight end Zach Potter jumped before the snap. So the short-yardage situation became a passing play, and Chad Henne was sacked, leaving Jacksonville with a fourth-and-goal play at the 10.

Chandler Jones hit Henne as he tried to throw, and Patrick Chung intercepted the floater over the middle.

``It's a bad feeling, obviously,'' Potter said. ``It puts our team in a bad situation there. It's not the one play that cost us the game.''

Potter said he had trouble hearing the snap count because thousands of Patriots fans scoped up tickets and helped give Jacksonville its biggest home crowd since 2004.

``It was really loud, which you don't usually expect at home,'' Potter said.

Coach Mike Mularkey, though, blamed the officials for failing to recognize and penalize New England for yelling out cadence during a hard shift.

``That was disappointing because that was brought up to the officials before the game,'' Mularkey said. ``That was addressed. We practiced it. We practiced it the whole week with those guys shifting with the cadence. ... Obviously they didn't call it and we jumped. Very frustrating.''

Regardless, the Jaguars got the ball back after the Patriots failed to run out the clock.

Henne connected with Toney Clemons on fourth down with 22 seconds remaining and then Jordan Shipley for an 18-yard gain that put them at the New England 12. But Chung intercepted Henne's final pass, essentially a jump ball to the middle of the end zone.

``A win is a win, but we know we've got to play better no matter what,'' Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. ``It's better to come out here when you're not at your best and get a win. I think this team really understands it's all about us. We've got to play our best each week. It's disappointing knowing that we didn't play as good as we could.''

New England avoided consecutive losses in December for the first time since 2002.

The Pats got some help, too.

The Jaguars had the ball inside New England's 25 seven times, but came away with a touchdown and three field goals.

And not scoring touchdowns against the league's most prolific offense is hardly a formula for success.

``We had them on their heels for a while,'' Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. ``They just capitalized, got a few interceptions and a few first downs on us. We held their scoring average down, which is good, and held them to a lot of field goals, which was excellent. It still wasn't enough.''

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Kevin Durant gives his NBA Finals predictions

Kevin Durant gives his NBA Finals predictions

While a number of teams are fighting to be the favorite heading into the NBA Playoffs, the Los Angeles Clippers picked up a key endorsement from Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant.

When asked who he thought will win it all this year, Durant chose the Clippers defeating the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals and upsetting the No. 1 seed Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. 

"They're just so deep," Durant said of the Clippers on “Play For Keeps” podcast. "They haven't had their whole team together at once for a long period of time yet, and that talent is just undeniable. When you have [Paul George] and Kawhi [Leonard] at the wings, that's what you need to win is wings. You got those two at the wings, arguably top three, top four at the wing position on one team."

So far in Orlando, the Clippers have gone 1-2 after defeating the New Orleans Pelicans and falling to the Lakers and Phoenix Suns. As of now, they hold the two-seed in the Western Conference playoff picture and would face the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. However, they are currently just a half a game ahead of the Denver Nuggets with five seeding games remaining.

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The Lakers clinched the one-seed last week and are up six games in the standings over their cross-town rivals.

ESPN’s playoff odds gave the Clippers a 10% chance of winning it all. They ranked third behind the Bucks with a 49.7% chance and the Lakers at 18.7%. 

Durant chose Los Angeles over his own team, the Brooklyn Nets, who are also in a good position to make the playoffs as the current seven-seed in the East Conference. However, the Nets are playing in Orlando without eight players including a number of starters like Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie and Durant, who missed the entire regular season after tearing his Achilles during the 2019 NBA Finals.

If his team retains the seven-seed heading into the playoffs, they would likely face the Toronto Raptors, who Durant projected would fall to Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference Finals.

But regardless of seeding, Durant acknowledged it’s still anyone’s game.

“I hate doing that s---,” he said about predicting a winner. “You never know what could happen – you seen that with us last year.”

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Orioles fans hoping for a Ryan Mountcastle sighting in majors soon as MLB rosters adjust

Orioles fans hoping for a Ryan Mountcastle sighting in majors soon as MLB rosters adjust

Last night, the Orioles sent outfielder DJ Stewart to the team’s alternate training site at Double-A Bowie after an 0-for-14 start to the season. The move got the roster down to 28 players ahead of the deadline.

But even with Stewart now down and the roster full, it’s natural to be curious where the organization's most pro-ready prospect, Ryan Mountcastle, is and why he hasn’t been called up yet. 

The Orioles have four outfielders on the 28-man roster currently: Austin Hays, Dwight Smith Jr., Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander. They’ll have to make another roster move in the coming days, when pitcher John Means comes off the bereavement list, too.

Still, there is a natural curiosity about what the International League’s Most Valuable Player from a year ago could accomplish at the major league level. 

Last year at Triple-A Norfolk, Mountcastle slashed .312/.344/.527 and had 25 home runs in 127 games. While he predominantly played the corner infield spots, he played the outfield for the first time in his professional career.

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Now, the Orioles want to develop him as a corner outfielder. 

What Mountcastle’s time at the development site shows, however, is that they value the camp more so than regular games for him right now. 

With Hays and Santander in center and right field, the two options for left field are Mullins and Smith, who are batting .083 and .167, respectively. Neither is getting on-base at a clip better than .250. In terms of hindrances to Mountcastle’s job in the major leagues, there aren’t many right now. 

The Orioles are carrying three catchers, which is one area the eventual roster move could come from when Means is back on the roster, but until Mountcastle comes up, those questions won’t be quelled. 

The team has already acquired an extra year of club control by keeping Mountcastle down for the first week of the season, meaning the reasons for keeping him down at this point relate strictly to his development. 

That means he’ll be in Baltimore once the Orioles think he’s ready to play major league defense and take major league at-bats. 

As for when that is, however, is solely up to the organization at this point.

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