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Proud Patriots push forward after easy victory

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Proud Patriots push forward after easy victory

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The Patriots insist that their rout of the Texans was not a ``statement'' game to show they could excel against the team with the NFL's best record.

They made one - loud and clear - nevertheless.

Tom Brady and company let the dwindling group of doubters know that they can dominate even their best opponents and are still improving as they head toward the playoffs.

``It needs to come together now,'' Brady said after throwing four touchdown passes in New England's 42-14 win over Houston on Monday night. ``This is the perfect time for it. We can't wait any longer.''

There was plenty of pregame focus on the Texans' big playmakers - J.J. Watt with an AFC-high 16 1/2 sacks, Arian Foster with an NFL-leading 15 touchdowns, Andre Johnson with 74 receptions. And Houston was the only NFL team with a perfect road record at 6-0.

Not anymore.

The Patriots (10-3) took command quickly, scoring on passes in their first three possessions. Whether or not they wanted to deliver a message that the hype about Houston (11-2) was overblown, it couldn't be missed.

``Any competitive person is going to use whatever motivation best motivates himself,'' defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said Tuesday. ``In the end, our motivation is going to be to go out there to try to play the best we can, get better and do our job to the best of our ability.''

But ``statement'' game?

``Not at all,'' defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. ``I'm not big on that.''

That's the real message coach Bill Belichick tries to deliver - treat every game as a difficult challenge, no matter how well or poorly the opponent has been playing. That emphasis has helped them win their past seven games.

``We don't really worry too much about records around here,'' he said.

Just as he professes not to think much about making a statement with a lopsided victory over an opponent that had won six consecutive games.

``I don't think we put a whole lot of relevance or spend any time talking about that type of thing,'' Belichick said. ``We talk more about what we need to do to win each week.''

Still, the Patriots often contribute to the hype. They make each opponent sound like a huge obstacle, no matter how poorly it's been playing.

The New York Jets had lost five of seven games, but Brady still called them ``a very good team'' before a Thanksgiving night matchup. Then the Patriots went out and rolled to a 35-0 lead in the second quarter and a 49-19 victory.

But when the lavish praise of an opponent comes from the media and other outsiders, the Patriots say they try not to listen. Sometimes, though, all the chatter comes through. And that gives some players extra incentive - like when plenty of pre-game talk centered around Watt and the Texans defense.

``Obviously, we came into this game with a chip on our shoulders, everyone talking about the Houston Texans,'' Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo said. ``We always talk about ignoring the noise, but you hear it. You hear it walking down the street. It was a little bit of a motivational factor, for me at least. I'm sure the rest of the guys felt the same way.''

Early in the season, the defense was giving up big plays.

Now, it's making them.

Devin McCourty intercepted Matt Schaub's pass into the end zone on the Texans' second series. The Patriots sacked him on the third. They forced a three-and-out on the fourth. And they made fourth-down stops on the Texans' fifth and sixth possessions.

New England's defense was outstanding. Houston's was overwhelmed.

``What everyone says (is) what everyone's got to say,'' McCourty said. ``We know we're a good defense here. We know we've played really well the last couple of weeks and the biggest focus for us is just trying to build on that.''

The Patriots have clinched the AFC East and, with three games left, have a chance for home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. They still must overtake Houston and finish with at least the same record as the Denver Broncos (10-3).

But all that can wait.

Now the Patriots are concentrating on their second straight highly touted opponent, the San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1) on Sunday night.

Only this time, most of the attention could focus on how dominant the Patriots are, especially after the way they handled the Texans.

Might the 49ers use that as motivation as they head into a stadium where the Patriots have won their last 20 games in December?

``We're just getting ready to play them,'' offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. ``Extra this or that, I'm not sure that anybody needs it this time of the year. We're all fighting to win each and every game that we can.''

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

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Wizards have talked to the Spurs about Kawhi Leonard, report says

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards have talked to the Spurs about Kawhi Leonard, report says

After already making significant changes to their roster, the Wizards may not be done this offseason, as they have been in talks with the San Antonio Spurs about a potential trade for superstar Kawhi Leonard, according to a new report by ESPN

Read this from Adrian Wojnarowski:

Still, the bidding war among Boston, Philadelphia and the Lakers never materialized. The Los Angeles Clippers, Denver, Phoenix, Portland, Toronto and Washington are among teams who've talked with San Antonio, league sources said.

The Wizards certainly make sense as a Leonard suitor. They are in the East, meaning the Spurs could trade Leonard to them and not have to worry about facing him as often. Plus, they have a solid group of tradeable assets and ones that seem to fit the Spurs model.

Otto Porter is a versatile, young player under team control who plays an unselfish style and would likely embrace playing in a small market. He also has a salary ($26M in 2018-19) that isn't far off from Leonard's ($21M in 2018-19), so the money could be easily matched.

The Wizards also have Tomas Satoransky and Kelly Oubre, Jr., two young and up-and-coming players. Plus, they have draft picks, though ones that are unlikely to convey as lottery selections.

The Spurs have reportedly been more interested in getting players that can help now rather than draft picks to rebuild. That makes sense, as they still won 47 games last year despite Leonard only playing in nine of them due to injury.

The question in any Wizards and Spurs talks would be whether they would want one of Washington's All-Stars in John Wall and Bradley Beal. It would be tough to imagine the Wizards parting with either guy for Leonard, who carries some risk not only because of his quadriceps injury but also because he can opt out of his contract and leave after next season.

Just because the Wizards have talked to the Spurs doesn't mean they are serious contenders for Leonard, but it does show they are serious about improving their roster this summer. If they got Leonard and didn't part with Wall and Beal, that would be some team.

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Orioles reportedly have deal in place to trade Manny Machado to Dodgers

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Orioles reportedly have deal in place to trade Manny Machado to Dodgers

When Manny Machado returns from the 2018 MLB All-Star Break, he will not be donning a Baltimore Orioles uniform. 

The All-Star shortstop is expected to be traded from Baltimore to the Los Angeles Dodgers, barring any last-minute changes, according to multiple media reports. 

That being said, the Machado trade talks remain fluid and both the Phillies and Brewers are still trying to work a trade for the 26-year-old third baseman, according to Jon Heyman. The Diamondbacks are also reportedly trying to lure the four-time All-Star to the desert, while the Yankees decided to pull out of the Machado sweepstakes just prior to the All-Star festivities in Washington, D.C. 

While the details of the trade have yet to be revealed, the Dodgers will reportedly include top outfield prospect Yusniel Diaz in the Machado trade, according to Heyman.

According to Jim Bowden, when regular-season play returns, Machado will be in the National League, although which team he plays for is still up in the air.

With the Orioles sitting a historically awful 39.5 games out of first place at the All-Star Break, trading Machado is the first major step toward a complete overhaul. The Orioles drafted Machado out of Brito High School in Miami, Fla., with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft. Since then, Machado has drawn comparisons to iconic third basemen Brooks Robinson and Alex Rodriguez, despite being moved to shortstop full-time this past season, and is widely considered one of the three best position players in professional baseball.

Machado is currently batting .315 with 24 home runs and 65 RBIs.

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