Novak Djokovic ... greatest athlete in the world

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Novak Djokovic ... greatest athlete in the world

From Comcast SportsNetPARIS (AP) -- What a horrific dilemma this could be. The men's 100 meter sprint final and men's tennis final fall on the same day, Aug. 5, at the London Olympics. If forced, which of those would you choose to miss: Usain Bolt possibly becoming the first man since Carl Lewis to win the 100 dash at consecutive games or Novak Djokovic perhaps putting a golden sheen on what promises to be another astounding year? Until Sunday, Bolt would have been a comfortable winner. But now? Impossible choice. And what a memorable day it could prove to be for those with time to rush from one event to the other or to tune into both. Like Bolt, Djokovic is becoming one of those special athletes who transcends the confines of their sport, a figure whose achievements on the field of play teach us not only new things about sporting endeavor but also about the bottomless well of human possibility. Bolt's 100, 200 and relay golds at the 2008 Beijing Games made the Jamaican more than just an Olympic champion sprinter but one of the greatest sportsmen of all time because he redefined our understanding of how fast humans can run. Likewise, in outlasting Rafael Nadal for 5 hours and 53 minutes in the longest ever Grand Slam final, Djokovic played far more than a mere tennis match to win the Australian Open. He tested our definition of human endurance. How, just how, did he find those last drops of energy to first reel in and then finish off the Spaniard who, with a 4-2 lead in the fifth set, looked as though he might wriggle free? It was the incredible will Djokovic demonstrated that made this feat immortal. Like Muhammad Ali flooring George Foreman with a left, then a right in the eighth round of the Rumble in the Jungle or Lance Armstrong picking himself up from a crash at the 2003 Tour de France and powering up a climb with cold-eyed fury on his broken bike, this was epic because it was as much about heart as it was about physical ability. "You're going through so much suffering, your toes are bleeding," Djokovic said. "Everything is just outrageous, you know, but you're still enjoying that pain." At the end, he ripped open his shirt with a primal scream. It wouldn't have been that much of a shock if Djokovic had also ripped open his hairy chest to show us just how fiercely his ticker beats. What a terrifying sight for Andy Murray and Roger Federer. Is Djokovic the most impressive athlete in activity? Certainly, he is part of the debate that that question provokes. We would have to forgive Djokovic if he started to wear his underpants outside of his trousers. The hypochondriac Djokovic who in years past looked unlikely to ever match Nadal's physicality, the joker Djokovic who seemed unlikely to equal Federer's cool professionalism, has been body-snatched and replaced by Superman on a gluten-free diet. Murray, the world No. 4, came away from his five-set, 4 hour and 50-minute Australian semifinal loss to Djokovic feeling that he is edging closer to the No. 1. Maybe. But two days later, on Sunday, Djokovic and Nadal then shifted the benchmark yet further forward. The ferocity of their contest made the idea that Murray could beat first one of them and then the other in a Grand Slam semifinal and final look fanciful again. Same goes for Federer, the No. 3. As long as Nadal and Djokovic are fit, it's only going to get ever harder for the 30-year-old Swiss to get his hands on a 17th Grand Slam title by toppling those men five and six years his junior. From Nadal, Sunday's final offered some evidence that the No. 2 no longer looks in trepidation across the net at Djokovic and that the deep hurt done to his confidence by losing six finals to the Serb last year may not be permanent. In becoming the first man to lose three consecutive Grand Slam finals, all to Djokovic, at least Nadal this time pushed his nemesis to five sets. But as positive as Nadal sounded about this defeat -- "I always said is good suffer, enjoy -- enjoy suffering, no?" -- will the scabs on his psyche simply flake right off the next time they meet? One hopes not. Because, like the very best Hollywood blockbusters, this epic cried out for a sequel and left us hungry for more. Some, including 7-time major winner Mats Wilander, are already talking up the possibility of a calendar Grand Slam for Djokovic this year. That is premature, but won't be if Djokovic wins the French Open -- the only major he let slip away in 2011 -- this June. After that, Wimbledon's Center Court will be calling, with the men's final on July 8 and the Olympic final a month later. Just imagine if those produce a Djokovic-Nadal double-bill. If that happens, then the Aug. 5 dilemma won't seem so quite knotty anymore. Anyone want tickets for Bolt?

Patriots-Rams notes: Brady and the defense have record-setting days

Patriots-Rams notes: Brady and the defense have record-setting days

FOXBORO -- Notes from the Patriots' 26-10 win over the Rams Sunday, courtesy of the Pats' P.R. department:

TEAM NOTES

A DEFENSIVE FIRST : The Patriots allowed just 25 total first-half yards to the Rams, the lowest total in a half in team history. The previous low was 28 yards by the Jets in the first half on Dec. 26, 2005 in a 31-25 New England win.

A DEFENSIVE SECOND: The Patriots yielded just 36 yards rushing to the Rams, the second time this season New England has held its opponent to fewer than 40 rushing yards. Cleveland rushed for only 27 yards in Week 5.

BY THE NUMBERS DEFENSIVELY: The Patriots have now held the opposition to less than 20 points in 8 of their 12 games this year, and are allowing just 17.3 ppg.

PATS HIT 10-VICTORY MARK FOR 14TH CONSECUTIVE SEASON: The Patriots are now 10-2 and have won 10 or more games for 14 consecutive season, the second-longest streak in NFL history. The 1983-98 49ers had a 16-year streak

RECORD-SETTING PERFORMANCE: Tom Brady did not throw an interception Sunday and Patriots QBs have been picked off just once in the first 12 games of the season, an NFL record. The previous record for fewest interceptions thrown in the first 12 games was three, held jointly by the 2016 Vikings, 2015 Chiefs, 1993 Cowboys and 190 Chiefs. The NFL record for fewest interceptions in a season is five.

INDIVIDUAL NOTES

THE GOAT: As noted elsewhere, Brady became the winningest QB in NFL history with his 201st career victory.

HOME BODY: Since 2007, Brady is 62-6 overall at home in the regular season. That is more wins than five teams (home and away) have combined during that span. (60 by the Bucs, 57 by the Raiders, 52 by the Jaguars, 47 by the Browns and 46 by the Rams).

GETTING CLOSER: LeGarrette Blount scored on a 43-yard run in the first quarter and is now one rushing TD away from the tying the franchise record for rushing touchdowns in a season. He has 13, one behind Curtis Martin (who scored 14 in both 1995 and 1996).

SOME FIRSTS:
-- CB Logan Ryan sacked Rams QB Jared Goff for a loss of 12½ yards in the second quarter for his first sack since 2013.
-- LB Kyle Van Noy recorded his first NFL interception when he picked off a QB Jared Goff pass in the third quarter.
-- WR Julian Edelman finished with 8 receptions for 101 yards, his first 100-yard game of the 2016 season. (He now has eight 100-yard games in the regular season and two in the postseason.)

Sources: Bruins engaged in trade talks involving Ryan Spooner

Sources: Bruins engaged in trade talks involving Ryan Spooner

This probably won’t come as a complete shock to those watching the way things have played out with him this season, but the Bruins have engaged in discussions with multiple teams about a Ryan Spooner trade, per multiple sources with knowledge of the situation. 

The 23-year-old Spooner was mentioned casually a few months ago as possible fodder in a Jacob Trouba deal with the Winnipeg Jets, but that deal never really materialized prior to the Jets signing their young, frontline D-man to a two-year deal. The Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders and San Jose Sharks have all expressed interest in Spooner, per one hockey source, as it appears that things simply aren’t going to work out for him in Boston. 

It’s been a challenging year for Spooner with pedestrian numbers of three goals and eight points in 24 games, but there are plenty of mitigating circumstances behind the slow start. Spooner has been pushed into playing left wing for the bulk of the season rather than his natural, preferred center position, and he’s been dropped to the fourth line by Claude Julien over the last few weeks. At times he’s also been pulled from the Bruins power play where he racked up six goals and 17 points working off the half-wall last season.  

Julien talked about the former second round pick in frank terms after this week’s win over the Carolina Hurricanes, which featured a Spooner snipe to the top corner during a successful shootout for the Black and Gold. 

“I think at times that [David Krejci] line goes quiet, other times it’s better. We’ve tried different guys on the left side right now and one [Spooner] might give them speed but doesn’t win as many battles,” said Julien of his search for stability at left wing alongside Krejci and David Backes. “The other way [with Tim Schaller] guys are a little harder right now, and they spend more time in the O-zone. So we’re really trying hard to find the right balance there.”

Trade talks have increased the past few weeks because A) the situation has worsened recently with Spooner’s prolonged stint as a miscast fourth line winger and B) the speedy, skilled forward will most likely be a man without a spot when 22-year-old left winger Frank Vatrano returns sometime around the mid-December range. 

According to one source, the Bruins are asking for a “top six forward” in exchange for a package including Spooner, and it’s a lead pipe certainty they’re looking for some goal-scoring given their 24th ranked offense this season. That represents a bit of an organizational sea change after the Bruins searched low and high for a top-4 defenseman in trade over the summer. The emergence of 20-year-old Brandon Carlo, and the Boston defense’s performance across the board, has lowered the Black and Gold’s priority list need to trade for a D-man. 

The Bruins have scored two goals or fewer in 18 of their 25 games this season and badly need somebody that can put the puck in the net from one of the wing positions. Unfortunately for the Bruins, there aren’t a lot of top-6 forwards readily available that could make an immediate impact. It’s highly doubtful any team is going to fork one over for an asset like Spooner that’s been downgraded due to the way he’s been utilized by the Bruins this season. He hasn't played with the same creativity or confidence this season after posting 13 goals and 49 points as their third line center last season. 

So it remains to be seen what the Bruins will get for Spooner after they offered him and a draft pick to Buffalo for rental forward Chris Stewart a couple of years ago. That was a deal Sabres GM Tim Murray turned down before trading Stewart for considerably less at the trade deadline.

The bottom line: the Bruins are working the phones discussing possible Spooner deals, and it feels like there is some motivation from B’s management to move a player that doesn’t seem like he'll ever be a proper fit in Julien’s system.