Nationals

Patriots prepare for Texans, toughest foe of year

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Patriots prepare for Texans, toughest foe of year

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Tom Brady walked into his weekly news conference and glanced at the unusually large media crowd.

``Packed house,'' he said with a smile. ``Big game.''

It's about time.

On Monday night, the New England Patriots face the Houston Texans, their toughest opponent in a season in which they've rolled over mediocre teams. They're 9-3 with seven wins against teams with losing records.

The Texans (11-1) are a different animal.

``They're a great football team,'' Brady said Wednesday, ``so any time you play the best, you want to see how you match up.''

The Patriots did rout the Indianapolis Colts 59-24 on Nov. 18. And the Colts are 8-4 with a chance to gain a wild-card berth, although they must play the Texans in two of their last three games. The Patriots also beat the Denver Broncos (9-3) in the fifth game of the year, 31-21.

But, overall, they're just 2-2 against teams with winning records.

So, this game is ultra-significant - a Monday night national audience, the top team in the AFC and a need to avoid falling three games out of the conference lead - to a franchise that takes pride in first-round byes and home games in the postseason.

``This is a big game for us, a game where we're able to make up some ground that we lost early in the season,'' linebacker Jerod Mayo said. ``It's hard to win any game in the NFL. I would be lying if I said we weren't pumped for the game. But, at the same time, we're approaching this like any other.''

They know it does no good to put pressure on themselves by attaching extra importance to the game.

``Every week is different in the game of football,'' safety Steve Gregory said. ``You see upsets, you see things like that. So, in order to win a football game in the NFL, you have to bring your `A' game every week.''

Buffalo and Miami are just 5-7, but were both competitive in their most recent games against the Patriots. New England held on for a 37-31 win over the Bills with a last-minute interception in the end zone by Devin McCourty Nov. 11. And last week, the Patriots squeezed past the Dolphins, 23-16, despite gaining their fewest yards of the season.

And don't forget: The Patriots even lost to Arizona, 20-18, in the season's second game. The scuffling Cardinals (4-8) have lost their last eight games.

But coach Bill Belichick doesn't worry much about an opponent's record. Even when it's 11-1.

``We know Houston is a good team,'' he said. ``Whatever their record is, if it was 12-0, 11-1, 9-3, whatever, we know they're a good team. It doesn't really matter what happened against some other team they might have played, whether they won or lost. It's how we match up against them this week and how we do against them.

``We play good players, good coaches, good teams every week. These guys, they've had a great season. I can see why their record is what it is.''

The Texans have a well-balanced offense with quarterback Matt Schaub, running back Arian Foster and wide receiver Andre Johnson. Defensive end J.J. Watt is second in the league with 15 1/2 sacks. At 6-feet-5, he has a knack for batting down passes, as well.

``Coach Belichick likes to bring guys with racquetball paddles and stick those up in the air,'' Brady said, as the Patriots prepare for Watt and Co. ``I'm sure there will be a whole bunch of those there this week, which doesn't always make me very happy, but that's probably a good way to prepare for it.''

Those paddles may not be all Belichick will bring out.

``Maybe brooms, get it a little longer,'' the coach said. ``(They) knock down a lot of balls. It's not just knocked-down balls, it's tipped balls for interceptions and everything else. They're a very disruptive front.

``They're tough to handle.''

If the Patriots can overcome that, and win, they'll be one game closer to becoming the AFC's top seed. They had that label last season as well, and landed in the Super Bowl.

``You always want to play against the best,'' cornerback Aqib Talib said. ``We get to play one of the best teams in the AFC, so I'm looking forward to it.''

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NOTES: WR Donte' Stallworth, re-signed on Tuesday, participated in the team's walkthrough. ... RB Brandon Bolden is eligible to be activated this week after completing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Orioles weather long rain delay in 3-0 win over Nationals

Orioles weather long rain delay in 3-0 win over Nationals

WASHINGTON -- The rain was heavy and relentless. As the puddles grew deeper on the tarp at Nationals Park, the Baltimore Orioles were left to wonder if their bid for a rare road victory would be thwarted by, of all things, the weather.

During a season in which very little has worked in their favor, the Orioles withstood a long rain delay to beat the Washington Nationals 3-0 Wednesday night.

Baltimore led 2-0 after four innings when play was stopped. After a wait of 2 hours, 43 minutes, the game resumed with a few hundred fans from the announced crowd of 32,153 sprinkled around the lower seating bowl.

Mark Trumbo homered for Baltimore, and Andrew Cashner and four relievers combined on a five-hitter in a game that ended long after midnight.

"It was nice," Trumbo said. "I'm glad that we actually kept the game going. Had we not been able to, it might have been a wash. But it ended up being pretty big for us."

Baltimore ended a six-game losing streak to Washington that began last May, won for only the fourth time in 20 games and improved the majors' worst road record to 10-28.

This one was worth the wait.

"It's never easy, especially when you get over the hour mark, two-hour mark," Trumbo said. "Then you have to restart. It's almost two games in one, so, great job by our guys tonight."

The Nationals managed only two hits following the delay, both in the ninth inning.

"It happens. You can't do anything about the rain," manager Dave Martinez said. "You've got to come out and get yourself ready to play. I'm not going to make any excuses."

The rain delay cut short a solid pitching performance by Cashner, who allowed three hits and no walks over four innings in his return from an 11-day stay on the disabled list with back spasms.

Miguel Castro (2-2) followed with two hitless innings, Darren O'Day pitched a perfect seventh and Zach Britton got four outs.

Brad Brach allowed the Nationals to load the bases with two outs in the ninth before striking out Mark Reynolds .

Trumbo hit a two-run homer in the second inning off Gio Gonzalez (6-4), and for a while it appeared the drive would be washed out by the rain.

"One pitch. That was the whole game," Gonzalez lamented. "That was it."

Indeed, it all ended well for the Orioles, who added a run in the sixth when Adam Jones doubled off Shawn Kelley and scored on a sacrifice fly by Danny Valencia .

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Need to Know: Five Redskins on the bubble who could make the roster

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Need to Know: Five Redskins on the bubble who could make the roster

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, June 21, 35 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The first five off of the roster

Here are five players who are not on my projection of the Redskins’ 53-man roster (offensedefense) but who are one injury or a few strong preseason game performances away from making it. 

G Kyle Kalis—Last year he lined up with the second team during most of training camp and he nearly made the roster as an undrafted free agent. The team did re-sign him after injuries struck the O-line in the middle of the season. He will push Tyler Catalina for a backup guard spot. 

RB Byron Marshall—He got a few touches last year before ending up on injured reserve. Marshall has looked good in practices so far, especially catching out of the backfield. Jay Gruden likely will play Chris Thompson sparingly in the preseason and that could give Marshall a chance to shine. Don’t sleep on him. 

WR Cam Sims—Right now, the undrafted rookie out of Alabama looks like the eighth wide receiver on the roster and they are only going to keep six. But if he continues to get the attention of Gruden with his play in practice and makes the most of his opportunities in preseason games, Robert Davis and Maurice Harris should look out. 

S Fish Smithson—The Redskins liked him a lot after they signed him as an undrafted free agent last year. But they didn’t like him enough to keep him on the 53-man roster; he spent the year on the practice squad, getting a late-season cup of coffee on the roster. He will push both Deshazor Everett and Troy Apke for a backup safety spot. If the Redskins have reason to be concerned about the health of Montae Nicholson they might figure out a way to keep Smithson on as a fifth safety. 

ILB Martrell Spaight—It looks like Spaight’s three-year tenure with the team essentially came to an end when they drafted Sean Dion Hamilton in the fifth round. But his play in offseason practices indicates he’s not going to go out without a fight. 

Next five off: OT T.J. Clemmings, QB Kevin Hogan, RB Kapri Bibbs, NT Phil Taylor, CB Danny Johnson

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

Timeline 

Redskins running back Derrius Guice was born on this date in 1997. 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 35
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 49
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 72

The Redskins last played a game 172 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 80 days. 

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