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Pats clinch AFC East title by beating Miami 23-16

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Pats clinch AFC East title by beating Miami 23-16

MIAMI (AP) Savoring victory in the visitors' locker room, the New England Patriots wore division champion caps and T-shirts. Lately they get new ones every year.

With a quarter of the regular season still to go, the Patriots clinched their fourth consecutive AFC East title Sunday by beating familiar foil Miami 23-16.

The Patriots (9-3) improved to 5-0 in the division this year and defeated the Dolphins for the fifth time in a row. They won their 12th consecutive December game, and they're assured of their 12th winning season in a row.

They believe they're just getting going.

``This is when the best teams really start to separate themselves,'' quarterback Tom Brady said. ``You have to continue to get better and better and better.''

While a playoff berth is assured, the Patriots trail Houston by two games in the race for the No. 1 conference seed.

``We have a bigger goal than this,'' tight end Aaron Hernandez said. ``This is a start, but we've got to keep going.''

New England's on a roll with six consecutive victories, but there was nothing dazzling about the latest win.

Instead, Dolphins mistakes proved pivotal. A botched punt, a roughing-the-punter penalty and a fumble by Miami resulted in 17 New England points, and another penalty negated a Dolphins touchdown. In addition, Ryan Tannehill twice missed an open Brian Hartline deep.

As a result, the Dolphins (5-7) hurt their already slim playoff chances.

``Too many mistakes,'' coach Joe Philbin said. ``To beat a good opponent in December, you have to play better.''

The Patriots finished with a season-low 321 yards. Brady went 24 for 40 for 238 yards with four sacks, and even threw an interception for the first time during the winning streak.

But with New England nursing a 20-13 edge midway through the fourth quarter, Brady led a 16-play drive that took more than seven minutes and set up Stephen Gostkowski's third field goal.

``It's always good to win,'' coach Bill Belichick said. ``It's not about the stats, it's about wins.''

The drive that sealed the victory included 10 rushes by Stevan Ridley for 46 yards.

``We pounded away on a great defense, and they finally gave in a little,'' Ridley said.

Miami defensive ends Cameron Wake and Jared Odrick spent an extended time together on the sideline during the decisive drive. They declined to second-guess their coach.

``There was a different rotation this game, just the way we scheduled it,'' Odrick said.

Brady was intercepted for the first time in 203 attempts, and for only the fourth time this season. His passer rating was a season-low 74.8.

``We got after him, just not good enough,'' Odrick said.

Trevor Scott led New England's stout defensive effort with two sacks, including one to force a fumble that set up a field goal. Jerod Mayo sacked Tannehill on third down midway through the fourth quarter, forcing the Dolphins to settle for a field goal.

The Patriots' Wes Welker tied Jerry Rice's NFL record by making at least 10 receptions for the 17th time. He had 12 catches for 103 yards and a score.

Tannehill went only 13 for 29 for 186 yards, and twice he failed to connect with Hartline for potential long gains.

``We just didn't hit the shots that were there,'' Tannehill said. ``I'm still kicking myself.''

NOTES: Dolphins T Jake Long left the game in the first half with a left triceps injury. ... Patriots G Dan Connolly left in the first quarter with a back injury. ... Welker has 1,064 yards receiving. He surpassed the 1,000-yard milestone with the Patriots for the fifth time, a team record. ... Ridley rushed for 71 yards and has 1,010 this season. ... Dolphins reserve S Jonathon Amaya was inactive after being charged with battery Monday in a confrontation with a taxi driver.

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Capitals are the class of the Metropolitan Division for fifth year in a row

Capitals are the class of the Metropolitan Division for fifth year in a row

You know what’s fun? Winning Metropolitan Division titles. 

No, it’s not as good as the big prize. The Capitals will never top their 2018 Stanley Cup championship. But winning a competitive division against their biggest rivals five years in a row? Pretty, pretty good. 

Washington took its fifth in a row officially on Tuesday when the NHL announced that the regular season had concluded thanks to the ongoing coronavirus. The Capitals just outlasted the Philadelphia Flyers with 90 standings points to 89. The difference over 69 games? One extra Caps game going into overtime for a single point. 

Credit to the Flyers for making a late run. No one was playing better in the NHL than Philadelphia just before the season was halted. Whether that carries over into the Stanley Cup Playoffs remains to be seen. 

But the Capitals should take pride in that streak. It’s hard to do in an age of parity. They play in a division where the Pittsburgh Penguins won two Stanley Cups in the previous four seasons. The two teams slugged it out three times in the second round. That’s the luck of the draw, and so four straight division titles -- and two Presidents’ Trophies -- meant just one Cup for Washington. 

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It’s also rare to dominate a division the way the Capitals have for five years. The Anaheim Ducks won the Pacific Division title every year from 2013 to 2017. Prior to that, the Detroit Red Wings won the Central Division an astounding eight times from 2001 to 2009. It doesn’t get you a championship -- Washington won the expired Southeast Division from 2008 to 2011 -- but it does mean you played great hockey year after year.

And to do it in the reconstituted Patrick Division, where long-time rivals like the Penguins, Flyers, Rangers, Islanders and Devils joined with newer rivals Carolina and Columbus, makes it even sweeter. Add another banner to the rafters at Capital One Arena. The Caps are the class of the Metropolitan Division yet again. 

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Nationals will not lay off full-time business or baseball employees amid coronavirus pandemic

Nationals will not lay off full-time business or baseball employees amid coronavirus pandemic

The Washington Nationals decided to use “partial furloughs” to keep their baseball and business employees at work through the end of their contracts or the calendar year.

The road map works like this:

All full-time business and baseball employees will receive a reduction in pay and hours ranging from 10 to 30 percent. If the employee’s contract runs to the end of baseball season -- typically Oct. 31 -- then these parameters apply from now until then. If the employee is not on contract, these reductions persist until Dec. 31.

No full-time employee is being laid off because of the economic impact from coronavirus.

An example: If a person works a 40-hour week, and has the 10 percent reduction in pay and hours, they are down to a 36-hour week at 10 percent pay cut.

The reduction scale slides. The highest-paid employees, like Mike Rizzo, are taking the largest reduction in pay. Then on down the line.

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The Nationals deciding to do this now allows their staff to know what the future holds as opposed to wondering month-to-month what decision the organization will make in regard to their job status.

Major League Baseball organizations remain uneasy about their financial future in 2020 since the season has stalled. The league and its team owners are in the midst of negotiations with the MLBPA while attempting to find a safe, revenue-satisfactory path back to the field.

Meanwhile, teams across the league are assessing their non-player finances, and the approach varies. For instance, the Anaheim Angels decided last week to furlough some non-playing employees.

In Washington, no full-time employee will be laid off because of this salary adjustment.

USA Today was first to report the Nationals’ overall decision.

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