Nationals

Patriots shake loss to 49ers, focus on Jaguars

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Patriots shake loss to 49ers, focus on Jaguars

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The New England Patriots claim they don't think about playoff seeding. They say the only games they focus on are the next one or two. Win and their postseason position will take care of itself.

Winning their remaining two regular-season games, though, may not help this time around. Not after Sunday night's 41-34 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

The Patriots (10-4) went into it in second place in the AFC and in strong position to snare one of two conference byes. They came out in third place with the likely prospect of having to play a wild-card game. After that - should they win and move on - a road game in the divisional round might be next. Not easy.

Not that it's on their minds, though.

``I'm not even thinking about the playoffs right now,'' linebacker Rob Ninkovich said Monday. ``I'm just focusing on the next two games.''

It was a day-after-game reality the Patriots don't face very often - coping with a loss.

They had won seven straight since losing 24-23 at the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 14. They had a streak of 20 consecutive home victories in December, dating back to 2002, snapped. And they had won 21 games in a row in the second half of the schedule starting at the midpoint in 2010.

But, for coach Bill Belichick, Monday was just another day to wrap up the Patriots' latest effort and look ahead to the next one.

``I'd say we pretty much do the same thing we always do,'' he said. ``We'll look and talk about the game. We'll talk about the things that we did right and reinforce those. We'll talk about the things we did wrong and correct those. Once that's over with, we'll put this game to rest and move on to Jacksonville.''

Ah, Jacksonville.

The Jaguars (2-12) are far less formidable than the 49ers (10-3-1). Their 24-3 loss to Miami on Sunday was their seventh by at least 16 points, and guaranteed that they would have at least a tie for the worst record in franchise history (1995, 4-12).

The Patriots finish the regular season a week later against the Dolphins (6-8). If New England wins its remaining games, Denver (11-3) would have to lose one of its games - against struggling Cleveland (5-9) or Kansas City (2-12) - for the Patriots to take the No. 2 spot.

The Texans (12-2) lead the AFC and have games left vs. Minnesota (8-6) and Indianapolis (9-5).

``The seeding and all that will play out how it plays out,'' safety Steve Gregory said. ``We've still got a few games left here, so we'll just grind away and get on to the next game.''

The last one was memorable, even if the Patriots lost.

One week after routing the Texans, 42-14, the Patriots were on the other end of a lopsided score, trailing 31-3 five minutes into the third quarter. Then they scored 28 points in just over 14 minutes, a stunning comeback that tied the game at 31-31 with 6:43 left.

Only one team had won a regular-season game after trailing by 28 points and it was the 49ers. They overcame a 35-7 halftime deficit and beat New Orleans, 38-35, on Dec. 7, 1980.

But today's 49ers needed just two plays on Sunday - a 62-yard kickoff return by LaMichael James and a 38-yard touchdown pass from Colin Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree - to take the lead for good.

``The way we played, we can't beat anybody,'' New England defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. ``We played a brutal first half and then, all of a sudden, in one quarter we came out and everything clicked. So we just have to be more consistent.''

And more careful. The Patriots had an NFL-low 10 giveaways going into the game but committed four against the 49ers.

``We did enough things to make it a competitive game in the end,'' Belichick said, ``but we had too many things that weren't good enough.''

The Patriots did show an ability to rally from a huge deficit, though. They may need to show that skill again, later on.

``I love the way that we fought the whole game and, again, you can't put yourself in a hole like we did early in the game and expect to win those games,'' Ninkovich said. ``Obviously, you don't want to have that feeling of a loss, but, again, I just go back to taking this as a learning experience.''

Of course, it might come at the expense of a bye.

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Max Scherzer leaves start against Mets after one inning

Max Scherzer leaves start against Mets after one inning

WASHINGTON -- Something didn't look right from the start Wednesday night when Max Scherzer took the mound.

He walked Mets leadoff hitter Brandon Nimmo on five pitches. Seven of his first eight pitches were balls. All told, he needed 27 pitches -- just 14 were strikes -- to make it through the first inning against the Mets.

His velocity was also down in the 92-94-mph range.

After the inning was over, Erick Fedde began to throw in the Nationals bullpen. Scherzer stood in the dugout with his hands on hips and talking to athletic trainers. Fedde came in to start the top of the second.

Scherzer made 27 starts last season, five fewer than normal, because of neck and back problems which put him on the injured list. He said at spring training he thought he figured out the reason for the problems.

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Injuries have been pervasive this season since Major League Baseball resumed July 23. That includes fellow Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg, who has missed his first two starts of the season while dealing with a nerve issue in his right hand. Strasburg threw a simulated game on Wednesday.

Scherzer was 0-1 with a 2.84 ERA in two starts in 2020 coming into the game.

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Lars Eller departs the bubble for birth of his second child

Lars Eller departs the bubble for birth of his second child

Capitals forward Lars Eller has left the NHL bubble in Toronto to be with his family for the birth of his second child, the team announced Wednesday. Eller had made it known he intended to do so before even arriving in Toronto so the news of his departure is no surprise.

Eller is actually not the first player to voluntarily leave the bubble for the birth of a child. That honor goes to Ivan Barbashev of the St. Louis Blues who departed on Tuesday.

Eller’s departure means he will miss Thursday’s game, Travis Boyd is expected to step into Eller’s position at third line center. Boyd has largely been an extra for much of the season in Washington and played in only 24 games, but still managed 10 points. Boyd also has experience playing the third-line center role in the playoffs as he did it in 2018 during the team’s Cup run. An injury to Nicklas Backstrom pushed Eller into the second line, which allowed Boyd to get into the lineup.

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Eller’s return will be complicated. It is not just a matter of rejoining the team, but also being able to re-enter the NHL’s bubble which will mean a period of quarantine and testing. That means that even upon returning to Toronto, he will not be available to join the team right away. Eller will almost certainly miss the team’s final round robin game as well against the Boston Bruins on Sunday.

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