Wizards

NFL Capsule: Broncos at Bengals

NFL Capsule: Broncos at Bengals

DENVER (4-3) At CINCINNATI (3-4)

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

OPENING LINE - Broncos by 3 1/2

RECORD VS. SPREAD - Denver 4-3; Cincinnati 2-4-1

SERIES RECORD - Broncos lead 18-8

AP PRO32 RANKING - Broncos No. 8; Bengals No. 21

LAST MEETING - Broncos beat Bengals 24-22, Sept. 18, 2011

LAST WEEK - Broncos beat Saints 34-14; Bengals had bye

BRONCOS OFFENSE - OVERALL (3), RUSH (14), PASS (4)

BRONCOS DEFENSE - OVERALL (8), RUSH (15), PASS (8)

BENGALS OFFENSE - OVERALL (17), RUSH (23), PASS (11)

BENGALS DEFENSE - OVERALL (21), RUSH (22), PASS (16)

STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES - Last time Broncos played at Paul Brown Stadium, Brandon Stokley caught deflected pass and went 87 yards for touchdown with 11 seconds left for 12-7 win, longest game-winning TD play from scrimmage in final minute of game in NFL history. ... QB Peyton Manning 7-0 career against Cincinnati with 17 TD passes and three INTs. He has thrown for at least three TDs in four of those games. ... Manning has thrown for at least 300 yards and three TDs in each of his last four games, the first player to do so since Steve Young in 1998. ... Manning has thrown for at least 300 yards in five straight games, matching personal best from 2009 with Indianapolis. .. Manning has thrown for 300 yards in 68 regular-season games, an NFL record. Including postseason, he has 76 games with 300 yards, also a record. ... WR Eric Decker has caught TD pass in four consecutive games. He can become fifth player in franchise history to do it in five straight games with TD catch Sunday. ... K Matt Prater 9 of 9 on field goal attempts. ... Broncos have outscored opponents 89-13 in fourth quarter, a 76-point differential that is most in NFL history through seven games in season. ... Manning leads AFC with 119.6 passer rating in fourth quarter. Bengals QB Andy Dalton second at 105.3. ... Dalton has thrown an interception in each of Cincinnati's seven games. He has thrown 10 INTs overall, including six in last three games. ... Bengals have lost three in row for first time since 2010, when they dropped 10 straight and finished 4-12. ... Coach Marvin Lewis publicly challenged Dalton and MLB Rey Maualuga to become more vocal leaders this week, underscoring that team's season is on line. ... WR A.J. Green has caught TD pass in six straight games, tied for third-longest streak in franchise history. Carl Pickens holds team record of 10. T.J. Houshmandzadeh caught TD pass in eight straight. ... In loss at Denver last year, Green caught 10 passes for 124 yards and touchdown. It was most completions by rookie QB-and-WR tandem in NFL history. ... Rookie CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Bengals' top pick, expects to get in game for his NFL debut. He hasn't played because of knee injury over summer.

---

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

Quick Links

Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

usatsi_10580786.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

The Wizards entered the All-Star break having won seven of their previous nine games since John Wall went down with an injury, so a natural question to head coach Scott Brooks looking ahead to their first game back on Thursday was how he and his team can keep that momentum going in the second half.

Brooks immediately pointed to the Wizards' schedule, which gets notably more difficult in the coming weeks. They have a stretch of games over the next month-plus that features the best teams in basketball and Brooks knows that will be a big factor in whether they can sustain what they have going.

"Definitely the schedule gets tougher," Brooks said. "We've got a lot of good teams coming up starting with the first one in Cleveland. It's five games in seven nights against really good teams."

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

In the next five weeks, the Wizards will play 15 of 17 games against teams currently holding playoff spots. That includes the Cavaliers, Warriors, Celtics, Spurs (twice), Raptors and Timberwolves. 

That will represent a marked shift for the Wizards, who to this point have the weakest strength of schedule. Though they boast impressive wins over the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors and Timberwolves, they are about to play teams of that caliber more frequently with few nights off to rest. They have four back-to-back sets all in the next three weeks.

The upcoming stretch has been on the Wizards' minds for a while. Several players referenced their tough schedule before the All-Star break, knowing those wins leading up to the time off could prove extra important in hindsight.

The Wizards return to action on Thursday night against the Cavaliers, a team that has already beaten them twice. Both of those games were against the old version of the Cavs before they traded much of their roster at the deadline.

RELATED: WIZARDS HAVE BIG QUESTIONS TO ANSWER IN SECOND HALF

Gone are Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Iman Shumpert, Jae Crowder and Channing Frye. But they still have that guy LeBron James.

"Shoot, they looked good the other time, right? They beat us twice with the other group," Brooks noted. "LeBron is going to go down as one of the best ever. They are younger and more athletic. They're a good team and they still have an All-Star in [Kevin] Love who hasn't played because he's hurt."

The Cavs haven't lost in three games since the All-Star break and that includes road wins over the Celtics and Thunder. They look rejuvenated and, at least so far, improved from the aging, incongruent roster they had just weeks ago.

The Wizards have also been playing better lately, of course, and this upcoming stretch will be a major test for them. Wall has been out three weeks since he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He is likely to miss another three-to-five weeks. The Wizards will have to get through this without him.

If they can remain competitive and even beat some of these elite teams, they will only gain more confidence in their potential. That's the way Brooks plans to approach the schedule.

"We still want to be a better team when John comes back," Brooks said. "But the schedule definitely gets a lot tougher."

RELATED: 2018 NBA MOCK DRAFT HAS LOADED CLASS

Quick Links

Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

usatsi_10635504.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

The mood in the Capitals locker room following a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday was one of frustration. Forty minutes of strong play from Washington amounted to nothing because of a disastrous opening first period in which the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

No one in the locker room was more frustrated than Braden Holtby.

"Obviously you don't want to go down three," he told reporters after the game. "That's on no one else but me. The third goal, especially the third, fourth goal, that's the difference in the game. I thought we played a really strong game against a really good team. We should have got a better result and that's on me why we didn't."

Tampa scored three goals in the first off of only eight shots. For the game, the Lightning managed to pierce Holtby four times off of only 19 shots.

RELATED: WHY THE CAPS LOST TO THE LIGHTNING

Frustration seemed to boil over on the fourth goal when a normally stoic Holtby was visibly upset after allowing Nikita Kucherov to beat him on a breakaway in a play similar to what we saw in the All-Star Game.

See for yourself:

"The key to getting better is learning from your mistakes and obviously I didn't do that," Holtby said. "I was just trying to play it patient. I wasn't trying to cheat towards that move and he came at it a different way. That's on me for not recognizing it. That's not a goal I can give up in that situation after our team battled the way they did, especially in the third."

The frustration Holtby feels likely is not the result of one goal, but the culmination of a recent slump that continues to plague the Vezina winner.

Holtby has lost four straight starts and has given up at least four goals in each of those games.

While Holtby was quick to take the blame for Tuesday's loss, head coach Barry Trotz was quick to defend his netminder.

"No one takes the loss," he said. "We all take a loss. I take a loss, the group takes a loss and Braden's part of the group. ... He's had a little tough stretch. It's no different than, we've got guys that haven't scored in 15, 20 games. It's no different than a player."

The challenge now is overcoming that slump.

For a slumping skater, Trotz could try different line combinations or play someone in different situations over the course of the game. Getting a starting goalie out of a slump, however, is more difficult. Most of the work has to be done in practice with the hope that it will carry over into the next game.

"You analyze how the goals are going in, what you're doing differently," Holtby said. "There's always some stuff that you can't control and stuff that you can and it's focusing on those contrallables that you can make a difference at. Like the first goal in Chicago, the last two goals here, those are goals that I could and should stop. You get to practice the next day and you focus on that and work hard until you figure it out so you don't do it again."

MORE CAPITALS: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Part of the problem in Washington is that team defense is the Caps' biggest weakness. For most of the season, and even in years past, Holtby has made up for much of the team's mistakes on the backend. Now that he is slumping those mistakes become much more glaring and costly.

"The goaltenders in this league are erasers," Trotz said.

Lately, Holtby has not been able to erase those mistakes.

But the team has already moved to address the defense. Brian MacLellan added a puck-moving defenseman in Michal Kempny to help the team get the puck out of the defensive zone more quickly. Waiving Taylor Chorney could also signify another move may be coming before Monday's trade deadline.

As for Trotz, even during the slump, he made clear his confidence in Holtby has not wavered.

"He has been a rock since the day I've been here the last four years and he's been an elite goaltender and I look at him that way."