Nationals

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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Juan Soto's 2-run double carries Nationals past Orioles

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USA TODAY Sports

Juan Soto's 2-run double carries Nationals past Orioles

WASHINGTON -- A teenager among men, Juan Soto has impressed his teammates on the Washington Nationals with his maturity and, even more so, his potent bat.

Soto hit a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth inning, and Washington beat the Baltimore Orioles 4-2 Thursday night in the deciding matchup of a three-game interleague series between neighboring rivals.

Soto, a 19-year-old rookie, is batting .326 with 16 RBIs in 28 games. Starting in the cleanup spot for the first time, he drew a walk and delivered the game's pivotal hit.

"I think we're all amazed every single day," Washington ace Max Scherzer said. "He puts together great ABs. He has antics and has some flair. He's a great young player. He's just enjoying himself."

Bryce Harper led off the eighth with a double off Mychal Givens (0-4) and Trea Turner followed with a single. After Anthony Rendon struck out, Soto hit a liner into the gap in left-center.

"He's got unbelievable poise," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said of Soto. "No matter what the situation is, he goes out there with a game plan."

Whatever that plan is, it's effective.

"I just try to be focused and keep working," Soto said.

Rendon homered for the Nationals, who received seven strong innings from Scherzer and flawless work from their bullpen.

Newcomer Kelvin Herrera (1-0) pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning and Sean Doolittle got three straight outs for his 20th save in 21 tries.

Seeking to end a rare run of two straight losses, Scherzer left a tied game after allowing two runs -- both on solo homers -- and striking out nine.

Afterward, the right-hander heaped praise upon Soto for the manner in which he's adapted to playing in the big leagues.

"He has a great feel for the strike zone," Scherzer said. "To have that type of eye, it's remarkable for him to be able to do that at this time and this age and this level."

Activated from the 60-day disabled list before the game, Colby Rasmus homered for the Orioles in his first at-bat since April 6.

"Me and Max, we go way back, so I felt real good," said Rasmus, who had been sidelined with a hip injury.

In addition, Rasmus made an outstanding throw from right field to the plate, nailing Wilmer Difo on a tag-up play in the seventh inning with the score tied.

Mark Trumbo also homered for Baltimore, his sixth of the season and third in four games.

Baltimore starter Kevin Gausman gave up two runs and four hits over six innings. The right-hander was lifted with the score tied, leaving him winless in his last seven starts.

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How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

While meeting with Oregon's Troy Brown during the pre-draft interview process, evaluators from the Washington Wizards issued him an on-the-spot challenge. Head coach Scott Brooks pulled out a dry-erase clipboard and a pen. He wanted to see Brown draw up a play.

This is a test Brooks has administered before to other players. Some have failed miserably.

"It sounds easy to throw a board at somebody in front of a big group and say 'okay draw a play' and I have seen many plays drawn, and I have seen it where there are not five players on the floor," Brooks said.

That wasn't the case with Brown. He didn't just draw up one play, he drew up several. One in particular came to mind when asked by reporters on Thursday night soon after the Wizards took him 15th overall in the first round of the NBA Draft.

“I think it was a situation where we were down by two or something like that," he said. "It was like a back screen into a slip, and then the fade three and they gave you a lot of various options to cause mismatches on the court for a last minute shot to either go ahead, or even attack the basket for a layup to go into overtime.”

NBC Sports Washington analyst Cory Alexander, a veteran of seven NBA seasons, demonstrated what Brown's play looked like on a whiteboard:

The Xs and Os of basketball flow effortlessly for Brown and Wizards' brass couldn't help but be impressed.

"He really understands the game. I think for a kid that is 18 years old, that is rare but he just has a good feel," Brooks said. 

"We were impressed with his character and the type of person he is and his basketball knowledge," team president Ernie Grunfeld said. "Obviously, like any young player, he has a lot of work to do but he has a lot of the intangibles that I think you need in today's game."

Smarts are a big part of what makes Brown a good basketball player. He isn't a particularly explosive athlete, with a modest 33-inch max vertical leap, but he boasts a 6-foot-10 wingspan and solid agility. Being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to operate an offense helps him make the most of his natural abilities.

Passing is where his basketball IQ comes in handy. Brown is unusually good at distributing for a 6-foot-7 small forward. He averaged 3.2 assists as a freshman at Oregon and nine times had five assists or more in a game.

He can pass like a point guard and the Wizards are excited to implement that skill into their offense.

"Passing is contagious. We’ve been pretty good the last two years and with talking about that how we even want to take another step," Brooks said. "He has the ability to make a lot of quick plays and his ball handling is pretty good for a guy his size. That is one thing I was impressed in his workout last week or when we had him. He is able to take the contact and use his strong frame to get inside the key and make plays.”

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