QB Freeman wants slumping Bucs to finish strong


QB Freeman wants slumping Bucs to finish strong

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Tampa Bay's postseason hopes have slipped away during a four-game losing streak that's also raised questions about whether Josh Freeman is the Buccaneers' quarterback of the future.

The fourth-year pro is closing in on becoming the first 4,000-yard passer in franchise history. Still, his inconsistency has created concerns about whether there is a limit to how good the Bucs can become with Freeman running an offense that sputtered again during a mistake-filled 41-0 loss to New Orleans.

The current skid ensures Tampa Bay (6-8) will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight year, yet Freeman said Monday there's still plenty to play for in the final two games of the team's first season under coach Greg Schiano.

The Bucs host St. Louis on Sunday, then finish at Atlanta.

``After every game we talk about just sticking together as a team,'' said Freeman, who threw four interceptions and also lost a fumble in his worst performance of the year against the Saints.

``You hate to see it come down to a game like that, but I think this is going to be a great time for our team to come together. We had a rough one. We dropped the ball, but now how do we respond to adversity? ... It's times like these when you really forge the nucleus of your team.''

Before Sunday, the Bucs had not lost a game by more than eight points. Schiano gave players Monday off in hopes that an extra day away from the practice field will help them get refocused for the Rams.

``I think our team is disappointed in what we did,'' Schiano said, explaining the decision to give the players the day following a game off for the first time all year.

``Thirteen games, every one of them either we won or it came down to a one possession game where we could have won if we had a possession to do it. That's competitive football,'' the coach added. ``And then we go out and throw our first clunker. ... But the sky's not falling. We've got a lot of good young players. We have some experienced really good players. We threw a clunker. Now, we've got to get over it.''

Freeman, who has one season remaining on a five-year contract that will pay him $8.43 million in 2013, said the remaining two weeks are about getting better.

He vowed to clean up the mistakes he made against the Saints, miscues he attributed mostly to some ``miscommunication'' between him and his receivers.

``I've got to communicate better, I've got to make sure everybody's on the same page, make sure everybody's doing exactly what they need to do,'' Freeman said, adding that he's also committed to making sure the team's preparation and effort doesn't suffer now that Tampa Bay is out of playoff contention.

``As a quarterback that's what I do every day. Everybody has their own style of leadership, but to the best of my ability I try to convey the message of do your job, sacrifice for your brothers,'' Freeman said.

``Even late in the game, guys were still trying to do everything they could to get something going. It says a lot about the character of the guys on our team. Even when the game's out of hand and things aren't going great, guys are still giving effort,'' Freeman added. ``There's no quit in this team. As the quarterback, as the captain, as a leader, it's great to see that. It makes it that much easier to motivate guys and lead.''

Schiano reiterated that while Freeman can play better than he has the past month, he's not concerned about his young quarterback, who's completed just 54.8 percent of his passes for 3,471 yards, 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Two years ago, Freeman led the Bucs to 10 wins in his first full season as a starter, throwing for 25 TDs against six interceptions and narrowly missing the playoffs.

The 24-year-old took a step back in 2011, throwing for 16 TDs and 22 interceptions en route to a 4-12 record that included a 10-game losing streak to end the season.

``If Josh Freeman wasn't coming in and just spending all kinds of time, and I wasn't getting texts ... asking questions at 10 o'clock at night about coverages and things like that, then yeah I'd have reason to be concerned,'' Schiano said.

``But I know everybody goes through better times and lesser times. I also know that those who persevere, those who work and tend to their knitting, are going to be fine,'' the coach added. ``Josh is tending to his knitting, so we're going to be fine. Just collectively we've got to fight our way out.''


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We have ourselves a goalie rotation in Washington


We have ourselves a goalie rotation in Washington

It’s happened. The Caps no longer seem to have a No. 1 goalie anymore, they have a No. 1 and 1a.

That’s right, we have a goalie rotation in Washington.

“There's no sense riding one,” Barry Trotz said after practice on Monday. “[Braden Holtby] is coming back and looking better every game and [Philipp Grubauer] played pretty well for a long stretch so why not have both of them going?”

Grubauer got the start Sunday in Philadelphia and Holtby is slated to get the start Tuesday against the Dallas Stars. After that we will have to wait and see.


Trotz has no layout for which goalie he wants to start and when in the remaining ten games. He is not thinking about each goalie splitting five games or which one he wants to use more.

Nope. Trotz has just one thing on his mind. It is all about who starts the next game, that’s it.

“I think you just go with a guy that's hot at the time and your team feels comfortable with and go from there,” Trotz said.

So where does this leave the goaltending situation when it comes to the playoffs? A goalie rotation is all well and good in the regular season, but he has to have one starter for the postseason, right?

Not necessarily.


When Trotz was asked if he philosophically believed in having one starter for the playoffs, Trotz initially said he would not answer, but then said, “Why don't you ask Mike Sullivan what he thinks.”

Sullivan, of course, is the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins who has led his team to a Stanley Cup in each of the past two seasons despite turning to both goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray in both seasons.

While Pittsburgh’s goalie rotation was largely based on injury, however, it still provides an example of how using both goalies can work in the playoffs and that seems to be the path the Caps are headed on at the moment.

Said Trotz, “You just have to go with your gut who you think is going to get the job done.”

UMBC's NCAA Tournament hopes end vs. Kansas State, but its Cinderella run was unforgettable


UMBC's NCAA Tournament hopes end vs. Kansas State, but its Cinderella run was unforgettable

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — UMBC's improbable run through the NCAA Tournament was brief. The statement the Retrievers made and their place in history is forever.

For one weekend in March, the tiny commuter school from Baltimore known for its academics and championship-winning chess team captured the hearts of the college basketball world and beyond. UMBC became the first No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 in March Madness, a victory over Virginia that made the Retrievers the ultimate Cinderella.

The fairytale came to an end Sunday night in a 50-43 loss to No. 9 Kansas State -- heartbreaking because it was a game UMBC could have won, but still satisfying because the Retrievers touched so many people by accomplishing what many thought was impossible.

"We put our name on the map. We gave hope to teams that come to the tournament with lower seeds," said senior guard K.J. Maura. "I think we gave hope to guys that are not even that tall like me. People that feel like they are underdogs in their life, I think we gave hope to everything they want to do in life."


Stephen Curry noticed the team and sent UMBC the sneakers the team wore against Kansas State. The Golden State Warriors had his Curry 5s, which are in limited release, and other swag sent to the team. U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams declared the Retrievers "Surgeon General approved" and posted a photo of himself on Facebook wearing a sweatshirt from his alma mater.

NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers tweeted to UMBC guard Joe Sherburne, who claims to be Rodgers' biggest fan. And for a team addicted to the video game "Fortnite," their dreams were made when Ninja, a popular gamer who recently played against rapper Drake and JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Pittsburgh Steelers, FaceTimed with the team early Sunday.

"They play with passion, they play with heart, they play together," coach Ryan Odom said. "We do things together for one another, and obviously when you have a big win like that (over Virginia) and it's so shocking, you know, people love to see that. They love to see the upset.

"And our guys handled it with grace and understood the circumstances. They weren't pounding their chests or anything. They expected to be here and expected to compete."

When UMBC returned to the locker room following its ouster, Odom had written just one word on the whiteboard. The Retrievers needed a buzzer-beating 3 against Vermont to win their conference title and make the NCAA Tournament, but they showed up believing they could beat Virginia, and the same about Kansas State.


So Odom simply penned "Proud" on the board for his players.

"Just very proud of these kids and what they've been able to do as the representatives that they are for our university," Odom said. "Just captured our country and beyond, to be honest, from a sporting perspective and it's really, really neat to see."

Sherburne said Odom relayed stories from friends who had texted or called from outside the country to rave about UMBC. Near tears after an 0-for-9 shooting night, Sherburne found consolation in the joy UMBC brought to so many.

"From when we beat Vermont until the last two hours were the greatest time of my life," Sherburne said. "What we did, everyone in here, it's the greatest time of our lives."

Odom arrived at UMBC two years ago and inherited a team accustomed to losing. He told them he was going to get them to .500 that first year; they thought he was joking. But slowly the culture changed and the Retrievers did everything Odom told them they could accomplish.

And then some.

"When I got here, first we were a four-win team that year, and then the next year we went on to win seven games," said graduate student Jairus Lyles. "Then Coach Odom and his staff came in, we won 21 games and this year we had a tremendous season."

Odom doesn't know how far the UMBC program can grow. Those four letters are now synonymous with the biggest upset in college basketball history, but it's a long way from becoming a basketball school.

"UMBC is a unique place -- lot of high achieving kids on campus," Odom said. "We want guys that want to be great from a basketball perspective and want to play after college. But, at the same time, we want folks that are highly motivated academically that want to do great things past basketball. Because the air goes out of the ball at some point for everybody."