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Bengals' Dalton better since coach's challenge

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Bengals' Dalton better since coach's challenge

CINCINNATI (AP) Andy Dalton's demeanor hasn't changed since coach Marvin Lewis challenged him to become more of a leader, even if it meant going against his character and being a jerk sometimes.

The quarterback's numbers, though, have gotten much better.

The Bengals have won three of the four games since Lewis publicly challenged Dalton to lead the offense and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga to take charge of the defense. Cincinnati has won three in a row by at least 18 points - its best streak of blowouts since 1976 - and the two players have given their finest performances.

Lewis considers his unusual challenge a success.

``Their play is hopefully a byproduct of the reinforcement of their abilities that I gave them, the empowerment of their abilities, and the `at-a-boys' to move forward but take control of it all,'' Lewis said.

The Bengals (6-5) are tied with Pittsburgh for the final AFC wild card berth heading into a game Sunday at San Diego (4-7).

In the four games since Lewis put him on the spot, Dalton has improved his performance significantly. He threw for 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in the first seven games, a passer rating of 87.7 that would be slightly better than average.

Since Lewis' challenge, he has completed 62 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns, only one interception and a 105.7 passer rating. His personality is the same, but the numbers are much different.

``You know what? I don't see Andy as a changed player,'' offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. ``I think Andy is always going to be Andy. He's going to lead by example and he's a very competitive guy, but he's not a very vocal guy. He's not the type of guy that's going to yell at guys for screwing up. He's going to try to correct guys.

``But I just think his sense of urgency has picked up a little bit. He knew he had to play better for us to win, and he's picked up his game considerably.''

So has Maualuga, who was often out of place early in the season. He's become more dependable during the three-game winning streak, during which Cincinnati has allowed only 13, 6 and 10 points.

The two of them have been so good that Lewis has rewarded them with official ``captain'' designations. After calling on them to lead, he started sending them out as captains for the coin flip before each game. He decided to give them a small ``C'' on the front of their uniforms before a 34-10 win over Oakland on Sunday.

Lewis didn't tell them about the designation before they arrived for the game.

``It just came to me one morning running that I should go ahead and put the C's on their jerseys and make it known that way and continue to empower them to do the things I've asked them to do,'' said Lewis, who hadn't designated anyone a captain in two years.

Both players were surprised to see the small letter on the front of their jerseys when they showed up for the game.

``I usually grab my shoulder pads, put them on the ground, get all my clothes lined up, see what I'm going to wear,'' Maualuga said. ``Then I saw it. I took a second to sit there. I don't know - I was in awe. It was sort of like a blessing and an honor. But you've got to put that jersey on and make sure you go out there and lead and do your part.''

Dalton didn't see it coming, either.

``I've been a captain everywhere I've been,'' Dalton said. ``To earn that and get the respect of the coaches and Marvin, it's definitely a cool thing.

``For me and Rey to have the `C' on the jersey, (Lewis) is saying, `These are the leaders of the team.' He challenged us a couple weeks ago and we've responded well. It's a good thing to show that and put the C's on our jerseys.''

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The Wizards dominated Game 3 because everybody ate ... literally

The Wizards dominated Game 3 because everybody ate ... literally

The Wizards returned to Washington, D.C. on Friday down 0-2 to the Raptors in their best-of-seven 2018 NBA Playoffs first-round series

The team lost a close one in Game 1 and was run out of the building in Game 2. Game 3 was must-win, and the Wizards knew what needed to happen in order for them to secure the victory.

"Everybody eats." 

That's the phrase that has defined the Wizards throughout much of the season They are at their best when John Wall is making players and feeding his teammates.

On Friday night, the Wizards beat the Raptors 122-103 to force at least a Game 5. Wall finished with 28 points and 14 assists.

Bradley Beal finally broke out of his slump for 28 points and  Marcin Gortat, Mike Scott and Kelly Oubre all chipped in with at least 10 points.

But the stat sheet wasn't the only place where everybody eats.

Here's Marcin Gortat from Game 3. 

But if pantomiming isn't your thing, here is Bradley Beal actually eating popcorn during Game 3.

So what did we learn in Game 3? Well, for starters: "Everybody Eats" is not just a motto, it is a way of life.

MORE FROM WIZARDS-RAPTORS SERIES:

GORTAT DITCHES MOHAWK, TEAMMATES APPROVE

MUST-SEE MOMENTS FROM WILD GAME 3

BEAL GOT AN APOLOGY FROM SCOTT BROOKS

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With Playoff Beal back, the Wizards are revitalized in playoff series vs. Raptors

With Playoff Beal back, the Wizards are revitalized in playoff series vs. Raptors

The Toronto Raptors were only going to hold Bradley Beal down for so long. After two so-so games to begin the Wizards-Raptors playoff series, the All-Star shooting guard was bound to find his way offensively and that arrival came in a Game 3 win on Friday night.

Beal was brilliant and much more in line with what he's shown in the postseason throughout his career. Game 2 was his worst playoff game as an NBA player, he scored only nine points. Game 3 was one of his best on the postseason stage, or at least one of his most timely and important.

The Wizards needed more from Beal to give themsevles a chance in this series. An 0-3 deficit would have been a death sentence. His production is so key to their success that head coach Scott Brooks and point guard John Wall met with Beal in between Games 2 and 3 to figure out how to get him going.

Whether that was the catalyst or not, the results followed. Beal poured in 28 points in 10-for-19 shooting with four rebounds, four assists and three steals. He hit four threes, more than he had in the first two games combined.

Beal wasted no time to make an impact scoring the ball. His first points came on a quick burst to the basket where he stopped on a dime, turned around and banked it in. By the end of the first quarter, he had 12 points in 11 minutes.

“I just wanted to be aggressive, get shots that I wanted which is what they were going to force me to take," Beal said.

After Game 2, Brooks and Beal described how physical the Raptors were defending him. They were holding on to him and staying close, even when he wasn't moving off the ball.

Brooks saw a difference in how Beal responded to that in Game 3.

"Brad came out and was looking to go towards the basket and not just letting them hold him and going along with it. He didn’t want to dance with his opponent, he wanted to get away from them. That was a critical part of his success," Brooks said.

Beal's 28 points were as much as he scored in Games 1 and 2 together and just about what he averaged through four games against the Raptors during the regular season (28.8). By halftime of Game 3, Beal had 21 points on 8-for-11 from the field.

Beal hit two threes in the first quarter and another two in the second quarter. Several of those threes were set up by Wall, who used the meeting with Brooks and Beal to ask how he can set him up better as the point guard.

In Game 3, they were on the same page.

"I do think this man [John Wall] next to me, he creates and facilitates for the whole team and gets everybody easy shots," Beal said. "I talk to you guys all the time and I can’t tell you the last time I actually got a regular catch and shoot three just in a regular half court set. When he came back, I got like three or four off the bat."

What Beal did in Game 3 is what the Wizards are used to seeing from him this time of the year. Despite being only 24 years old, he has a strong track record in the playoffs.

Through 37 career postseason games, Beal is averaging 22.3 points, more than his career average of 18.7 in the regular season. In each of his previous three postseason runs, he has averaged more points during the playoffs than he did in the regular seasons leading up.

That production has earned him the nickname 'Playoff Beal' and when he goes off like he did in Game 3, good things usually happen. The Wizards are 10-6 in the playoffs during his career when he scores 25 points or more.

Wall also boasts impressive career numbers in the playoffs. When the Wizards have both of their stars playing at their best, they are hard to beat. With peak Beal on board, this series looks a lot different than it did not that long ago.

MORE FROM WIZARDS-RAPTORS SERIES:

GORTAT DITCHES MOHAWK, TEAMMATES APPROVE

MUST-SEE MOMENTS FROM WILD GAME 3

BEAL GOT AN APOLOGY FROM SCOTT BROOKS

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