Patriots, Commanders enter matchup with confidence in spite of recent results

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — At the bottom of the AFC standings and in the throes of his worst start since his first season in New England, Bill Belichick and the Patriots could have easily been sellers at the trade deadline.

They weren’t.

“We’re getting ready for Washington,” Belichick said this week regarding his team’s lack of trade activity.

The Commanders (3-5) were open for business, dealing top pass rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat in moves that stockpile draft picks for a rebuilding effort but do nothing to help them this season.

Though, coach Ron Rivera also insisted they haven’t given up on the season.

“It’s an opportunity to see what else we have,” Rivera said. “It’s an opportunity to go out and win football games using different guys.”

One team will walk out of Sunday’s matchup feeling at least a little better about the remainder of the season.

The Patriots (2-6) certainly could use a confidence boost coming off another humbling loss at Miami just a week after seemingly figuring some things out offensively.

Mac Jones threw two touchdowns in the loss to the Dolphins to bring his season total to nine, but also tossed his eighth interception which stifled his team’s fast start.

As he continues to look for consistency, he said he has tried to put everything — including worrying about the week’s result — out of his mind.

“It’s really hard, but focus on what you can do better as a player. Young guys, old guys, everybody,” Jones said. “It’s all about striving for getting better and working together and communicating and figuring out how to win by week versus looking at the grand picture.”

MOVING ON

As they prepare for their first game since trading Young and Sweat, Rivera said he’s excited to see who will step up to fill their spots.

The list includes 26-year-old James Smith-Williams and rookies K.J. Henry and Andre Jones, who are likely to get a look along with veteran Casey Toohill. Rivera compared the situation to 2014 when he and the Carolina Panthers infused youth into their lineup late in the season and made the playoffs.

“I think it’s the same kind of an opportunity,” Rivera said.

SLINGIN’ SAM

The development of young quarterback Sam Howell has become the central focus for Washington’s future. The 2022 fifth-round pick out of North Carolina is coming off setting career highs with 397 yards passing and four touchdowns in the 38-31 loss to Philadelphia.

Howell most notably wasn’t sacked for the first 57-plus minutes of that game. He entered as the most sacked quarterback in the NFL and felt he did well at getting rid of the ball quickly.

“I just thought as a whole offensively we were very efficient and did a good job in first and second down, which made the third downs more manageable,” Howell said. “That’s probably our best game on third down so far this year. We did some good things. We just got to find a way to finish and find a way to win.”

CALLING ALL RECEIVERS

The Patriots enter Sunday very thin at receiver following the season-ending knee injury to Kendrick Bourne and uncertainty surrounding the availability of DeVante Parker, who was knocked out last week’s loss to Miami with a concussion.

Bourne has been New England’s most targeted receiver this season. His 37 catches for 406 yards and four touchdowns are all team highs.

The most likely players to fill their spots are 2022 second-round draft pick Tyquan Thornton, who has appeared in just two games this season, and speedy rookie Demario Douglas (19 catches, 222 yards). Top free agency addition JuJu Smith-Schuster is also coming off catching his first touchdown of the season last week.

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AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL