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Patriots hoping for win before bye week

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Patriots hoping for win before bye week

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The New England Patriots have one major mission before their bye week. Go to London and bring back a win.

That would be a fine souvenir of the first half of the season and, they hope, a momentum booster for a team that has been inconsistent on offense and generous on defense.

``It would feel really good for that two-week stretch,'' quarterback Tom Brady said on Wednesday.

The Patriots leave on a red-eye flight Thursday night for Sunday's game with the St. Louis Rams after squeaking by the New York Jets 29-26 in overtime after losing to the Seattle Seahawks 24-23 when they squandered a 23-10 lead in the fourth quarter.

A win would give the Patriots a 5-3 record and undisputed possession of first place in the AFC East, the same record they had midway through last season when they finished at 13-3 and lost the Super Bowl 21-17 on a last-minute touchdown by the New York Giants.

The Patriots historically have improved over the second half of the season, especially the last two seasons when they went 16-0. That should give them confidence once they return from the bye.

``It does,'' wide receiver Deion Branch said. ``We wish we'd have played a lot better the first half. We don't want to go out and go 4-4 and then try to win the last eight games.''

Brady would love to see the Patriots string some wins together. Their only winning streak this season lasted just two games.

``Part of the mental toughness is putting what happened (behind) and moving forward to next week without wasting any time or energy spent thinking about last week,'' he said. ``That's how you string wins together. That's why you don't win one, lose one, win one, lose one, because at the end of the day, you're mediocre and you're watching all the good teams play.

``The good teams win, win, win, win, win and if you lose you (still have to) win, win, win, win. That's just how it is.''

In Bill Belichick's previous 12 years as coach of the Patriots, they were 8-4 in the week preceding their bye, although Brady has won his last five. They're 9-3 in their first game back, though they lost two straight games after the bye last year.

A loss to the Rams (3-4) could prompt Belichick to give the team a bit more work in their two weeks before returning on Nov. 11 for a home game against the Buffalo Bills.

``It's never good going in with a loss, especially with the coach we have,'' tight end Aaron Hernandez said, ``but I'm sure we'll be fine. And as long as we follow the game plan, work hard and play Patriot football, we should be fine.''

Part of Patriot football is piling up yardage. Last Sunday, they tied the NFL record of 16 consecutive regular-season games with at least 350 yards, set by the Rams in 1999-2000.

``You don't call plays that aren't designed to gain significant yards,'' Brady said. ``If you execute them the right way, they're productive and there aren't a lot of negative plays. I think last week we had 80 plays. There were only two negative plays out of 80, which is pretty good. So, if you're not going backwards and killing yourself with penalties and turnovers and really not beating yourself, you can usually put yourself in a good position to win the game.

``Gaining yards is certainly important, but scoring points is more important.''

The Patriots gained 387 yards against the Arizona Cardinals, 396 against the Baltimore Ravens and 475 against the Seattle Seahawks - and lost to all of them. They lead the NFL with 436.1 yards per game after finishing second with 428 last year.

``We have a good quarterback and a lot of good players,'' Hernandez said. ``You could get the ball out to a lot of different players and as long as some of them come to play, then we're going to have a lot of yards.

``We have enough players, enough athletes and enough dominant players to win every game.''

To do that Sunday, they'll have to overcome the 10th-rated defense in the NFL with an aggressive attitude instilled by new coach Jeff Fisher.

``The trip will be fun with a victory,'' Branch said. ``We've had five road games the first eight. So I think it would be good for us to go out here and play our best football, come back, enjoy this bye week and get ready to come back for the last stretch of the season.''

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NOTES: Brady appeared surprised when told that the team's game notes said he was one of several Patriots, along with Belichick, scheduled to appear Saturday at the NFL's fan fest at Trafalgar Square. ``We're not doin' that,'' Brady said ``Is that what it says? Don't believe everything you read. Not me. Have fun, though.'' ... Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe was born in Birmingham, England, and came to the United States as an infant. ``I didn't stay too long, so I don't remember too much.'' ... Devin McCourty was named AFC special teams player of the week for his 104-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. He also lost a fumble that led to the Jets' go-ahead field goal with 1:37 left in regulation last Sunday.

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All signs point to T.J. Oshie returning to Capitals lineup vs. Red Wings, not official yet

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USA TODAY Sports

All signs point to T.J. Oshie returning to Capitals lineup vs. Red Wings, not official yet

ARLINGTON, Va. -- As the Washington Capitals took to the ice Monday at MedStar Capitals Iceplex for the first time since returning from a three-game road trip, T.J. Oshie joined them, but he did so wearing a red jersey. The color Oshie was wearing is significant not because of his fashion but because of what it means for his status.

A light blue jersey indicates a player is a non-contact participant in practice. The fact that Oshie was in his regular red means that he was full-go on Monday, and it is a good sign that he could be able to return for Tuesday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings.

Oshie has missed 11 games after suffering a concussion after a takedown by Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey on Nov. 14. It was the fifth concussion of Oshie’s career.

“I feel like each time it gets more and more frustrating,” Oshie said to reporters after practice. “But I stuck with it. Some good workouts and skates with [strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish] and [Brooks Orpik] was here all week, so I had some company. I had a lot of support from the guys behind me asking me, texting me seeing how I'm doing, so those kind of things kind of get you through it. Plus, the holidays, family in town, I spent time with the girls at home and [my] wife. It was a good little break.”

When an injury keeps a player from skating, their typical progression starts goes from off-ice workouts, to on-ice workouts, to being a limited participant in practice, to a full participant and then to returning to the game lineup. Oshie had been skating with Nemish during the team’s road trip and has evidently progressed to the point that he was able to step right into practice on Monday without the need for the non-contact jersey.

Not only was Oshie a full-participant, but head coach Todd Reirden was seemingly not concerned about easing him back in. Oshie skated on the top line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. He also took part in drills on the team’s first power-play unit.

“He's a special player in all aspects of the game, but certainly in the power play for us in that diamond spot,” Reirden said. “He does a really good job on the entries in terms of controlled entries. When we do have to dump pucks in, he's great on recoveries. His work ethic and instincts to be able to win puck battles, I just think it increases our whole intensity of the way our power play recovers pucks.”

Everything that happened on the ice Monday was a positive sign for Oshie’s recovery, but both he and Reirden said only that he was a “possibility” to play in Tuesday’s game.

“I've been hoping to play for a week,” Oshie said. “I'm hoping to play [Tuesday]. We'll see, see what the training staff says, see what the doctors say, see what the coaches say.”

Reirden added: “The plan was for him to go through practice today, and we'll see how he does later this afternoon and re-evaluate [Tuesday] morning as he continues to get closer to getting cleared to play."

Based on how Oshie progressed directly to full practice and by how much he was utilized during practice, every indication is that Oshie will be back in the lineup Tuesday at Capital One Arena.

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The Redskins' offense is a mess on its opening drive and a total disaster coming out of halftime

The Redskins' offense is a mess on its opening drive and a total disaster coming out of halftime

A game-opening drive in the NFL represents a chance to capitalize on days of practice, film study and play-scripting by moving the ball and scoring points early in that week's contest.

A game-opening drive for the 2018 Redskins represents, for the most part, a chance for fans to show up a few minutes late if needed and still not feel like they missed much of anything.

Through 13 games this season, Washington's offense has generated two touchdowns on their first possessions and punted on the other 11. Seven of those possessions have been three-and-outs, which is a very discouraging number considering a lot of the plays they're running are, in theory, what Jay Gruden and his staff feel most confident in.

Those clunky starts are a major factor in the team ranking 26th in the league in first quarter scoring at 3.7 points per game.

The group is getting worse as the year progresses, too. The initial drives in their past seven games have all ended with Tress Way kicking the ball to the opponent. The last time they first took the ball and scored points was Week 7 at home against the Cowboys.

Still have an appetite for some painful stats? Perfect, because the Redskins are awful coming out of halftime.

Their 13 possessions to begin the third quarter have resulted in one field goal, two turnovers and 10 punts. The 'Skins' offense has had 13 chances to come out of the locker room after resetting and making adjustments from the first half of action. Those 13 chances have added up to three points.

Let's repeat something: The Redskins are awful coming out of halftime. The dreadful beginnings to the second half help explain why only the Cardinals are averaging fewer third quarter points (1.8) than Washington (2.2) so far this season.

As a whole, the offense has been a struggle for the Burgundy and Gold week in and week out. And, sure, you can blame some of those struggles on the injuries that have broken down the O-line and quarterbacks.

So you can put a fraction of the abysmal first and second half opening-drive production on the injuries, too. But only a fraction.

The vast majority of the blame should be directed toward the players and coaches. Whether it's the former not executing or setting the effort back with penalties, the latter not being creative enough or attentive enough to come up with a better plan, or a horrific combination of the two, the team is stumbling far too often when it should be at its most prepared.

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