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Patriots offense on pace for record-setting season

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Patriots offense on pace for record-setting season

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The New England Patriots set team records last season for first downs and yards gained.

Those marks may not last long.

After five games, the Tom Brady-led offense is on pace to break both of them and he's getting plenty of help from a revived running game with a deep group of backs who combine power, speed and elusiveness.

That's been evident in the past two games. The Patriots rushed for 251 yards in Sunday' 31-21 win over the Denver Broncos one week after gaining 247 in a 52-28 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

``All our backs ran hard and were productive,'' against the Broncos, coach Bill Belichick said. ``We're confident in all of them.''

The challenge figures to be tougher next Sunday when the Patriots visit the Seattle Seahawks, who have given up the fewest yards in the NFL, 258.6 per game. But the Patriots have gained the most, an average of 439.4, an increase of 11 yards over last year's club record.

On Sunday, they set a team record with 35 first downs against the Broncos after picking up 33 in each of their previous two games. If they maintain their pace of 30.2 first downs a game, they'll finish with 483, shattering the NFL record of 416 set last year by the New Orleans Saints and the club mark of 399.

The Patriots used a no-huddle attack for most of the first three quarters, making it tough for the Broncos to make substitutions and get in the proper positions.

``It takes a lot of concentration,'' tight end Rob Gronkowski said. ``You've got to have all 11 guys working at the same pace and you've got to make sure you're doing your own job out there.''

They did on Sunday when running backs Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen followed outstanding blocking. They accomplished a rare feat - gaining more yards on the ground than Brady, with 223, did through the air.

It marked the first time since 1978 that the Patriots had consecutive games in which they rushed for at least 200 yards.

``We're getting a lot of nickel defense,'' Brady said. ``When they put little guys out there (in the secondary), we have to take advantage of it. I think we're playing definitely a more physical style and controlling the tempo of the game by running the football. We have to keep doing it. It's only been five games.''

Against Denver, Ridley rushed for a career-high 151 yards, Bolden had 54 and Woodhead gained 47. The previous Sunday, Bolden led the team with 137 and one touchdown and Ridley added 106 yards and two touchdowns.

``A lot of people key on (Brady) and our running back group has to get some pressure off him so he can be the quarterback he can be,'' Ridley said. ``If they're sitting back there staring Brady in the face every play, we can't be a one-dimensional offense.''

The Patriots are averaging 165.4 yards rushing this season after picking up 110.3 per game last year when BenJarvus Green-Ellis, now with the Cincinnati Bengals, led them with 667 yards and Ridley was second with 441. Ridley already has 490 this year.

They've also improved in the red zone. In the first three games, they scored on 11 of 12 trips inside the 20-yard line with six touchdowns and five field goals. In the last two games, they're 11 for 11 with nine touchdowns and two field goals.

And they're getting better in third-down situations with more than 5 yards to go for a first down.

Brady hit Woodhead for a 25-yard gain on a third-and-14 that kept alive a drive that ended with a field goal that gave New England a 17-7 lead with two seconds left in the first half. Then Woodhead ran 19 yards on third-and-17 in the third quarter to help set up Brady's 1-yard touchdown run that made the score 24-7.

``It's hard to make those, but we were able to convert a few,'' Belichick said. ``You'd like to think you can make the third-and-one and third-and-twos, but the third-and-17s, those are little bit tougher.''

Brady has passed effectively but has thrown just eight touchdown passes with one interception. His ability to understand defenses and the best way to attack them remains exceptional.

``You can't just throw it all day. You can't just run it all day. You have to be able to do both,'' Brady said. ``It's been pretty good the last few weeks.''

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3 things to watch for improved Wizards vs. Cavs

3 things to watch for improved Wizards vs. Cavs

The Washington Wizards still have John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. The Cleveland Cavaliers no longer employ LeBron James. That makes Wednesday’s first meeting of the season between the Eastern Conference foes curious. The radical change for the visitors also requires a preview. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Sustaining the surge

Monday’s 117-109 victory over the Orlando Magic extended the Wizards’ winning streak to a season-high two. Don't knock the modest uptick after a 2-9 start. John Wall’s stat line took a big leap over the last three games: 24.0 points, 10.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 45.5 percent on 3-pointers. Beyond the numbers, the point guard appears to have knocked off the remaining rust physically. We’re used to his aggressive end-to-end pushes, but now Wall is firing up the court immediately after makes or misses, helping Washington quickly enter its offensive sets. Another strong outing from the five-time All-Star could propel the Wizards to their first three-game winning streak since Feb. 10-22.

Quick rematch

Starters Wall, Bradley Beal, Dwight Howard and Markieff Morris had solid games against the Magic, but the Wizards’ second unit played above previous season norms. All five reserves finished with a plus-minus of plus-8 or better. Jeff Green continued his sizzling shooting, sinking 4 of 5 from beyond the arc en route to 18 points. The 6-foot-9 forward is 9 of 13 from beyond the arc overall during the last four games, and 21 of 28 overall. Backcourt partners Austin Rivers and Tomas Satoransky, slow to develop chemistry this season, showed increased comfort during the winning streak. Washington needs more from the pair to help keep minutes for Wall and Beal at reasonable levels.

Cleveland doesn’t rock

From four consecutive NBA Finals appearances to the NBA’s worst record (2-11, tied with Phoenix). Yeah, the Cavaliers miss LeBron James just a little. They also are down Kevin Love (toe surgery), leaving Jordan Clarkson (15.2) and Rodney Hood (12.9) as Cleveland’s top scorers. That’s not ideal. The Cavaliers are 27th in scoring (103.3) while giving up 113.1 points per game, which is better than Washington’s league-worst 118.5. Rookie point guard Collin Sexton, the No. 8 overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft, is filling in for the injured George Hill. Sexton is averaging 17.0 points over the last three games.

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With 2 TDs in 2 games, Josh Doctson headlines Redskins stock report

With 2 TDs in 2 games, Josh Doctson headlines Redskins stock report

After an important road win in Tampa, the Redskins stock is soaring. The team is 6-3 and two games up in the NFC East.

For individual players, Josh Doctson headlines the stock surge but a pair of defenders are moving the other way. Let's dig into the Redskins stock report.

Stock up - Josh Doctson - The third-year wide receiver has scored in two straight games and has caught seven of 10 balls thrown his way. The yardage numbers don't jump off the page, but all four catches in Tampa were important. Further, Doctson rebounded from a tough game against Atlanta where he dropped two passes and got flagged for a (wrong) taunting penalty. Most impressive with Doctson? The touchdown in Tampa came off schedule and showed that he kept working back to his QB once the play broke down. That will garner more trust from Alex Smith, and maybe more chances for big plays down the backstretch of the year.

Stock down - Danny Johnson - For an undrafted free agent out of Southern, Johnson has had a remarkable season. In Tampa, he did not have a remarkable game and got replaced on the field by Greg Stroman. Let Jay Gruden explain, "Danny had a good week of practice. He filled in for Stroman when Stroman had the hip issue last week and we thought we'd give Danny a shot to start. Danny was playing a little soft [coverage] there for a little while, so we decided to give Stroman a crack at it." Once Stroman got in, he grabbed an interception and had a nice pass breakup downfield. Johnson has a firm roster spot - the Redskins just released Josh Holsey - but looks like he fell behind Stroman on the depth chart. 

Stock up - Kapri Bibbs - With Chris Thompson on the shelf and a murky timetable for his return, Bibbs is getting more and more chances on the field. And increasingly, he's delivering when he gets looks. Against Tampa, he ran the ball three times for 28 yards and added two catches for 13 yards. He also had a huge gain just before halftime, the Redskins first big chunk play in weeks that Bibbs took after a screen pass, but it got called back on a holding flag. 

Stock down - Pernell McPhee - No player wants to be a healthy scratch, but that's just what happened to McPhee last week in Tampa. Jay Gruden explained: "Unfortunately I had to sit McPhee, not performance related, but just I had to get another body on the offensive line because we're banged up." It was mostly a work of roster construction that landed McPhee on the inactive list, but still, Cassanova McKinzy made the active roster after being on the practice squad. McKinzy showed some ability rushing the passer, and he can play special teams. This could be a situation worth monitoring. 

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