Redskins

Patriots truly displaying 'special' teams of late

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Patriots truly displaying 'special' teams of late

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Derrick Martin has built a championship career out of playing on special teams.

The seven-year veteran earned Super Bowl rings the past two seasons - first with the Green Bay Packers and then with the New York Giants. Now he has a shot at a third straight title with the New England Patriots.

He offers no apologies for making his mark on special teams rather than on the higher profile offensive or defensive units.

``You look for guys to step in and contribute,'' Martin said Wednesday of special teams. ``Don't be out there just because you have to, but take it as a serious job, make sure you're making the plays that you're supposed to make.''

The Patriots (8-3) have made some big ones during their five-game winning streak with touchdowns on a 104-yard kickoff return by Devin McCourty, a 68-yard punt return by Julian Edelman and a 22-yard fumble return by Edelman after McCourty jarred the ball loose on a kickoff return.

Plays like that can energize the Patriots and deflate their opponents.

``You feed off of it,'' Martin said. ``When you see somebody else making a play, you're like, `Man, it's probably my turn to make that play,' and everybody's competing to make that play, but they're all doing their job. So everybody's working well as a team.''

His next chance comes Sunday in Miami where a win would give the Patriots their fourth straight AFC East title. The Dolphins (5-6) also have made some big plays on special teams with Marcus Thigpen scoring on a 72-yard punt return and a 96-yard kickoff return this season.

``It's not going to be an easy task going against them, and it's not going to be easy for them going against us,'' said Marlon Moore, Miami's second-leading tackler on special teams. ``It's going to be a long day on both sides of the ball for special teams, and that's going to be a big difference in the game.''

In their last two games, the Dolphins have allowed touchdowns on a 79-yard punt return and a 98-yard kickoff return. But Miami's special teams have improved since the 2010 season when they were especially poor against New England.

In two games against the Patriots that season, the Dolphins allowed three special teams touchdowns, one each on a punt and kickoff return, as well as a blocked field goal. Another blocked field goal set up a touchdown two plays later.

If the Patriots can keep making big plays - and scoring touchdowns - on special teams it will result from the seasonlong focus on the importance of that phase.

``Our hard work and preparation throughout the week is starting to show itself in the games,'' special teams captain Matthew Slater said. ``We haven't changed anything. We just continue to approach things the same way we always have and sometimes you're fortunate enough for things to happen in your favor, the ball to bounce the right way in your favor.

``And we've been able to have that the last two weeks.''

In a 59-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts, Edelman's punt return for a touchdown and the extra point tied the game 14-14 and the Patriots never trailed again. Four days later, on Thanksgiving night, McCourty's hit on kickoff returner Joe McKnight knocked the ball into the air and Edelman caught it and ran in for a touchdown that gave the Patriots a 28-0 lead in their 49-19 win.

McCourty was chosen for the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2010 and anchors the secondary at safety after shifting from cornerback after the sixth game. He takes his special teams responsibilities just as seriously.

``You can make a lot of big plays on special teams and I'm on a couple of them,'' McCourty said. ``It's key for me to do my role on that special team and try to make plays as well.''

Scoring on special teams also can give the offense more time on the sideline to rest and plan. If a player returns a punt or kickoff for a touchdown, Tom Brady can watch his defense go right back out on the field.

``It's a great thing to happen for a team,'' he said. ``We've been fortunate the last few weeks. I don't think there's really an advantage for our offense sitting over there. I'd prefer to be out there playing. But if we're scoring points, that's a great thing.''

Making contributions on special teams is important for players, whether they score or not. It can lead to long careers they wouldn't have if they had to get by only on their offensive or defensive talents.

Slater has just one reception in five seasons with the Patriots but leads the team with 14 special teams tackles and has 72 in his five pro seasons, all with New England. Martin has five in three games with the Patriots and 62 in his career that began with Baltimore in 2006.

``We're a very close knit group of guys,'' Slater said. ``We understand how we're going to keep jobs in this league and we take a lot of pride in what we're doing.''

Especially when the emphasis the Patriots put on special teams leads to big plays and victories.

``You're not counting on the special team to score every game. It's just not realistic for that to happen,'' Slater said. ``But when it does happen, it brings a huge momentum swing to the game. In the case of the last two weeks, it's been huge for us.''

And the teams that don't stress special teams as much?

``Those are usually teams,'' Martin said, ``that are losing.''

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Jay Gruden shown no love in preseason coaches ranking

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USA Today Sports

Jay Gruden shown no love in preseason coaches ranking

Yahoo! Sports ranked all 32 head coaches in the NFL and Washington Redskins fans may not be too happy with where Jay Gruden ended up.

Entering his fifth year as head coach, Gruden was ranked as the No. 27 head coach in the NFL. Here's Yahoo!'s rationale behind his ranking:

"Four years, one playoff berth, one plus-.500 season, one franchise quarterback run out of town."

All that is ... not false, but the whole franchise quarterback being run out of town thing is at least debatable. And even if the ranking is fair, it's still okay to be upset because it's the middle of July, training camp hasn't started yet and the offseason is the perfect time to get irrationally angry about things like these.

Elsewhere in the NFC, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur checks in at No. 23, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett is No. 17 and the Eagles' Doug Pederson is No. 2.

Unsurprisingly, Bill Belichick was ranked No. 1; he may be the greatest of all time when all is said and done, if not already. The top five rounds out with Pederson at No. 2, New Orleans's Sean Payton at No. 3, Minnesota's Mike Zimmer at No. 4 and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin at No. 5.

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

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Stroman pitches 7 sharp innings as Blue Jays beat Orioles 4-1

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USA Today Sports

Stroman pitches 7 sharp innings as Blue Jays beat Orioles 4-1

TORONTO (AP) -- Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman gave up hits to the first three Baltimore batters Saturday.

The Orioles got just two more hits the rest of the afternoon.

Stroman pitched seven sharp innings for his second win in three starts and Toronto beat Baltimore 4-1 for its sixth straight victory over the struggling Orioles.

"He started working both sides of the plate with his sinker and I think that threw them off a little bit, especially late in counts," Blue Jays catcher Luke Maile said. "Overall it was just kind of vintage Stroman."

Baltimore right-hander Alex Cobb picked up his major league-worst 13th loss. The Orioles dropped to 1-8 against Toronto this season.

"I absolutely hate seeing that win-loss in parentheses next to my name," Cobb said. "It's sickening."

Stroman (3-7) allowed one run and five hits. He threw a season-high 107 pitches, the first time this season he has topped 100.

Stroman is 3-2 with a 3.03 ERA in five starts since returning from a shoulder injury that caused him to miss more than a month. He went 0-5 in seven starts before the injury.

"Since he's come back from the DL he's been really good," manager John Gibbons said. "I just think he's pitching like he's always pitched."

Stroman said he's focused on forgetting his early season struggles.

"I know I didn't have the first half I wanted but I've always been someone who prides myself on the second half and finishing strong," Stroman said. "That's something I'll look to continue to do this year."

Friend and teammate Devon Travis likes what he's seen from Stroman since the right-hander returned from injury.

"He's got that fire back," Travis said. "He's really under control. I think he's locking in on every single pitch."

Seunghwan Oh worked the eighth and Ryan Tepera finished for his seventh save in 12 opportunities.

Baltimore scored one run or fewer for the 27th time, the most in the majors.

The first three Orioles batters all singled, although Jonathan Schoop was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double. After Adam Jones gave Baltimore a 1-0 lead with an RBI hit to right, Mark Trumbo grounded into an inning-ending double play.

The Blue Jays answered with a three-run fourth against Cobb, taking advantage of a key Orioles error.

Justin Smoak opened the inning with a walk and, following a video review, was ruled safe at second after Cobb's high throw pulled shortstop Tim Beckham off the base on at attempted force play.

"That's not it in a nutshell but I can understand why that's the focus, a play we haven't been making," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.

Randal Grichuk followed with an RBI double, a second run scored on Diaz's double play grounder, and Maile capped the rally with an RBI single.

Diaz had four hits Friday, including the game-winning single in the 10th. He went 2 for 3 Saturday with a pair of singles.

The Blue Jays made it 4-1 in the fifth when Teoscar Hernandez doubled, advanced on a fly ball and scored on Cobb's balk.

Cobb (2-13) lost his sixth straight decision, allowing four runs, one earned, and four hits in five innings. Showalter said Cobb was removed to avoid worsening a blister on his pitching hand.

"I was only going to have a few more pitches going into the sixth so he felt like the risk-reward was not really worth it," Cobb said.

Grichuk made the defensive play of the game, a running catch on the warning track in left center to retire Trumbo for the first out of the ninth.

GOING DOWN?

Jones and Chris Davis got stuck in an elevator at the team's downtown hotel following Friday night's defeat. Jones documented much of the saga on Instagram. The players and fellow passengers were eventually rescued by Toronto Fire Services staff. The sound system at Rogers Centre played a few bars of Aerosmith's `Love in an Elevator' before Jones batted in the fourth inning Saturday.

NO HOMERS

Toronto won without hitting a home run for just the third time in 26 games this season.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Orioles: Baltimore is expected to demote a reliever when RHP Andrew Cashner (neck) is activated off the 10-day disabled list Sunday.

UP NEXT

Cashner (2-9, 4.56) last pitched July 10, when he allowed five runs and five hits in 6 1-3 innings against the Yankees. Blue Jays LHP J.A. Happ (10-6, 4.29) is 0-3 with a 9.75 ERA in three July starts.