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Texans, Bengals meet in wild-card game again

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Texans, Bengals meet in wild-card game again

HOUSTON (AP) The Houston Texans were looking forward to enjoying a bye this week before beginning their work in the playoffs as the AFC's top seed.

Instead, a terrible month in which they lost three of four games dropped the Texans to the third seed. It has them in the exact same spot as year ago, hosting the Cincinnati Bengals in a wild-card playoff game Saturday.

The Texans wasted little time this week lamenting their missed opportunities, though, instead focusing on their next task.

``Would we like to be in a different situation? Yeah, but at the same time, it's the playoffs. It's the start of the playoffs. Everything you've done up to this point, it doesn't really matter,'' Houston's Andre Johnson said. ``It only matters what you do now ... we just have to take advantage of the opportunity we have now.''

They'll face a Cincinnati team that enters Saturday having won three in a row and seven of its last eight games. The Bengals are in the playoffs for consecutive seasons for the first time since 1981-82. Their last playoff win came Jan. 6, 1991 against the Oilers, the team the Texans replaced in Houston.

Cincinnati offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said he isn't worried about the more than 20-year streak of playoff futility. He wants to focus on the improvement this young team has made.

``Last year, we did what it took to get into the playoffs when a lot of people predicted us to be 0-16,'' Whitworth said. ``This year, we got back in to the playoffs when a lot of people didn't think we could. We're here. The next step is winning a playoff game. Hopefully, we can let that be a chip on our shoulder.''

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked four times and threw three interceptions in last year's 31-10 postseason loss to the Texans. Houston defensive end J.J. Watt returned one of those interceptions 29 yards for a touchdown that gave the Texans a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Dalton, who grew up in suburban Houston, believes he's grown since that game and learned from the mistakes he made.

``I definitely feel like I'm a better quarterback this year,'' he said. ``I've got more control of the offense. There's a lot more stuff that I'm doing at the line of scrimmage, and making checks and doing different things this year than I was doing last year. But that's helped me become a better player.''

Another player who has certainly improved in Year 2 is Watt. The defensive end led the NFL with 20 1/2 sacks this season, has 107 tackles, including 39 for losses, 16 passes defended and has forced four fumbles.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis got creative this week when asked how he planned to stop Watt.

``I wrote a letter to the commissioner to petition for 13,'' Lewis joked. ``I figure if we put a guy on each side of him and a guy in front of him, we've got a good opportunity.''

Then Lewis got serious.

``He's been an incredible player and he's fun to watch if you're not preparing to play the Texans,'' Lewis said. ``He's a great model for young players to look at and be like. He really is something.''

Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who has been coaching in the NFL since 1976, couldn't say enough about Watt's performance this season.

``This is the best defensive line play of anybody since I've been in football,'' Phillips said. ``He is by far the best defensive player. He should obviously be the defensive player of the year in the league.''

The AFC South champion Texans are also in the playoffs for the second straight year, the only two times in franchise history. Houston lost to the Ravens in the second round after beating the Bengals last January.

The Texans believe that experience will help them this time.

``I feel like we've come a long ways,'' Watt said. ``Obviously, this isn't new to us. This is something we've been through before. We're excited. We can't wait. We had a taste of the playoffs last year and we're really excited to get back in it this year and to go to work.''

Third-string quarterback T.J. Yates was behind center last year after injuries knocked out Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart. Now, Schaub, a nine-year veteran, will get his first postseason start.

He's looking to bounce back from a tough month in which he threw three interceptions with just one touchdown pass. He'll try to do it with two big weapons in Johnson and Arian Foster. Johnson led the AFC with a career-high 1,598 yards receiving, and Foster finished second in the AFC in rushing with 1,424 yards.

``They have three or four guys who have been playmakers in this league for a while,'' Bengals cornerback Leon Hall said of the Texans. ``It starts with Foster. Obviously, they have Johnson outside. It starts with knowing that we have to stop the run. If you don't stop the run, you're on your heels for the rest of the game.''

Schaub and Houston's offensive line will have their hands full with a defense that boasts two solid pass-rushers in tackle Geno Atkins and end Michael Johnson. The pair has combined for 24 sacks this season, and the Texans have given up three or more sacks in each of the last three games.

``Pressure and those types of things, we have our work cut out for us,'' coach Gary Kubiak said. ``We're going to have to play better than we have the past few weeks.''

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3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

After a rough start, the Caps battled back to make a game of it against Tampa Bay, but ultimately fell 4-2 to the Lightning. Here's why.

The first period

To put it simply, this game was lost in the opening period. Washington was the better team for the second and third but they could not overcome the 3-0 lead they spotted the Lightning in the first. Beyond the goals, the Caps just did not play well. Even the simplest of plays looked difficult as Washington struggled to get the puck out of their own zone, gave up numerous turnovers and scoring chances and just looked overmatched. Braden Holtby also looked shaky allowing three goals on just eight shots. Usually he is able to cover up some of the mistakes the defense makes it front of him, but he was not there to bail the team out on Tuesday in what was a really rocky start.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Taking a penalty 34 seconds into the game

Entering Tuesday’s game, Tampa Bay boasted the second best power play unit in the league. Playing a disciplined game is part of every game plan, but that is especially true against such a dominant unit. Giving up a penalty just 34 seconds into the game was not an ideal start. The call itself was debatable. Brett Connolly was called for interference when he knocked over Dan Girardi in the offensive zone. The puck was just behind Girardi as he had lost control of it in his skates. The sticking point here is that Girardi no longer had possession and Connolly could have played the puck instead of the player. Most referees would probably let that go with the puck so close, but Connolly was not so lucky. Whether it was a good call or not, the Caps found themselves down a man and down a goal soon after as Brayden Point scored the power play tally.

A missed opportunity from Kuznetsov on one end, a goal for Nikita Kucherov on the other

Even after spotting the Lightning a 3-0 lead, the Caps made a game of it. Lars Eller struck on the power play in the second period and Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington to within one with about nine minutes left to play. Just over a minute later, Evgeny Kuznetsov stole the puck away from Nikita Kucherov, the frontrunner for league MVP this season, at the Tampa blue line giving the Caps a short 2-on-1. Defenseman Andrej Sustr was textbook on the play forcing Kuznetsov as far wide as he could go while still covering the passing lane and Kuznetsov elected to shoot from the faceoff dot rather than attempt the pass to T.J. Oshie.Andrei Vasilevskiy made a routine blocker save to deny what looked like a great opportunity to tie the game. As always happens in hockey, a failed opportunity on one end led to an opportunity in the other direction. Less than a minute later, Kucherov made up for his mistake by scoring a breakaway goal to put the game out of reach at 4-2.

MORE CAPITALS: KEMPNY EXCITED TO MOVE FROM LAST PLACE CHICAGO TO FIRST PLACE WASHINGTON

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3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

The first 20 minutes of Tuesday's game did not go well for Washington. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three times in the opening frame and rode that lead all the way to the 4-2 win.

With the game heading towards a repeat of their blowout loss to Chicago, the Capitals rebounded in the second period to make a game of it as Lars Eller scored on a power play. Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington within one in the third period, but Nikita Kucherov slammed the door shut with a breakaway goal to extend the lead back to 2.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Brayden Point: Tampa Bay won this game in the first period when they took a 3-0 lead. Point scored two of those three goals. His first came only 2:30 into the game. He retreated to the blue line on the power play believing Jay Beagle would clear the puck. When Beagle turned the puck over, he recognized it and immediately crashed the net, taking a Ryan Callahan pass in the slot and shooting it through the five-hole of Braden Holtby.

On his second goal, Anton Stralman saw an opportunity on the Caps’ line change and passed the puck up to Point at the blue line. Point turned on the jets to get behind the defense and went five-hole again on Holtby to make the score 3-0.

2. Alex Ovechkin: After the first period, Washington slowly took this game over for much of the remaining 40 minutes. Ovechkin was a big part of that as he totaled an incredible 19 shot attempts for the game. Nine of those shots were on goal and he found the back of the net in the third period for career goal No. 594.

3. Tom Wilson: Through the first period, the Caps looked well on their way to a repeat of the 7-1 debacle they suffered Saturday in Chicago. They had nothing going in this game until Wilson drew a trip from Vladislav Namestnikov in the second period. Eller would score on the resulting power play giving Washington some much-needed life.

The Namestnikov penalty was the 29th drawn penalty of the season for Wilson, which moves him into a tie with Matthew Tkachuk for the most drawn penalties in the NHL.