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Rams WR Danny Amendola back in walking boot

Rams WR Danny Amendola back in walking boot

ST. LOUIS (AP) Danny Amendola was pretty much a decoy last week, limited by a heel injury. The St. Louis Rams' leading wide receiver was back in a walking boot Wednesday and watching at practice.

Though he limped to the locker room, Amendola, who has 51 catches and an 11.3-yard average, was optimistic about playing Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. He was on the field for just seven snaps in last week's victory at Arizona, with one reception for 38 yards.

``I guess we'll see,'' Amendola told the Associated Press. ``It's getting better each and every day, so it's just a matter of how I feel at the end of the week.

``I'd like to say I'm optimistic. I always say I'm optimistic.''

Amendola says he was injured when a defensive player fell on his right leg near the goal line two weeks ago against the Jets. He aggravated the injury making a cut near the end of the first half of that game and was a surprise starter against the Cardinals after being listed as doubtful.

Coach Jeff Fisher said Amendola convinced him and the medical staff in a pre-game workout that he could play. Amendola did not play in the second half.

``It was a group decision,'' Amendola said. ``I didn't get a whole lot of reps but the more I could find a role to help in any way, that was what I was trying to do.''

Center Scott Wells also did not practice Wednesday, likely helping him ease back into the routine. Wells made his first start last week since breaking his left foot in the opener.

Running back Steven Jackson (foot), defensive end Robert Quinn (concussion) and linebacker Mario Haggan (elbow) also did not practice. Like Wells, Jackson was likely just getting a break.

Wells' return strengthened the Rams at two spots with Robert Turner, the stand-in center while Wells was out, moving to left guard. The Rams had a season-best 173 yards rushing with a 5.1-yard average against the Cardinals, including a season-best 139 yards on 24 carries from Jackson.

``I thought they were really good,'' quarterback Sam Bradford said. ``I think it's a credit to them because they haven't been together for long.

``When you've got that original group out there, it's just a little extra, I guess.''

Bradford was more of a facilitator last week, going 8 for 17 for 205 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. He didn't pass much in the first meeting against Arizona, either, finishing 7 for 21 for 141 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

Prior to last week, Bradford threw at least 30 passes in four consecutive games, including 44 against the Jets.

Rookie Chris Givens stepped up in Amendola's absence with five catches for a career-best 115 yards and a 37-yard score. Givens is the fastest player on the team and was one of the fastest in this year's draft class. Bradford believes the fourth-round pick out of Wake Forest can be among the league's ``elite receivers.''

``I don't think there is a ceiling for him, I think he can be as good as he wants to be,'' Bradford said. ``He can stretch a defense. We can also throw him a quick screen pass and he can turn that into a big play, too.''

Fisher wasn't surprised that the 49ers announced Colin Kaepernick as their starting quarterback ahead of Alex Smith. Earlier in the week, Fisher said on his radio show that he'd be surprised if Kaepernick did not get the nod.

``When he's in the game, you have to be ready for a slightly different offense,'' Fisher said. ``We're going to do the same thing as we did the first time around, prepare for both of them.''

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Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

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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."

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2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

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USA Today Sports

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Pavel Francouz stopped all five shooters and Petr Kouka scored the shootout winner as the Czech Republic eliminated the United States with a 3-2 victory in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

Jan Kovar and Tomas Kundratek scored in regulation for the Czech Republic, which was fresher after winning its group and getting a bye into the quarterfinals. The U.S. looked fatigued after facing Slovakia in the qualification round and was outshot 29-20.

Ryan Donato and Jim Slater scored for the U.S, which again was led by its youngest players, including speedster Troy Terry. U.S. goaltender Ryan Zapolski allowed three goals on 29 shots and one in the shotoout, while Francouz stopped 18 in regulation and overtime.

Koukal was the only player to score in overtime. Chris Bourque, Ryan Donato, Marc Arcobello, Terry and Bobby Butler couldn't beat Francouz.

RELATED: OVECHKIN HAS LITTLE DESIRE TO WATCH 2018 WINTER OLYMPICS