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Titans celebrate much-needed win with weekend off

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Titans celebrate much-needed win with weekend off

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Now that the Tennessee Titans finally have the win they so desperately needed they get a couple of days to rest before trying to prove they've turned this season around.

Coach Mike Munchak gave his Titans (2-4) the weekend off after Thursday night's 26-23 win over Pittsburgh, and they don't play again until visiting Buffalo on Oct. 21.

``Obviously, winning is huge for us because we needed it so badly and it's something we can build off of,'' Munchak said Friday. ``Now we have these four games coming up, and we have another break. Let's see if we can suck it up and put a winning streak together.''

The Titans showed some glimpses of the team that went 9-7 last season beating the Steelers. They blocked a punt to set up their first rushing touchdown this season, and the defense that had given up an NFL-worst 181 points through five games allowed a season-low points in forcing Pittsburgh to settle for four field goal attempts with the last one short in the final minute.

It would be easy for the Titans to think of what might have been if not for their struggles the first five weeks.

``We've already given away four games,'' cornerback Jason McCourty said after the game. ``At this point, it's a matter of trying to win out now.''

The schedule certainly eases up for Tennessee.

The weekend off provides a mini-break before visiting Buffalo (2-3), hosting Indianapolis (2-2) and Chicago (4-1) and going to Miami (2-3) before the Titans' bye week. Munchak said they then will have a six-game run to the finish, and Houston is the only team currently with a winning record in that stretch.

The Titans return to work Monday still needing to gear up the offensive and deal with tackling issues on defense. Doctors will check Jake Locker's left, non-throwing shoulder Monday to see if he can return to practice. If Locker isn't ready, then Matt Hasselbeck would start his third straight game.

``If Jake's healthy and we feel he's ready to play, he'll play,'' Munchak said.

If Locker isn't ready, Munchak said they are lucky to have Hasselbeck. The 14-year veteran was intercepted once and got lucky at least twice against Pittsburgh, including once on the tying touchdown drive. But Hasselbeck also had his best game ever against the Steelers throwing for 290 yards and the 5-yard TD to Kenny Britt.

Tennessee held the ball for 30 minutes, 3 seconds - the longest time of possession by the Titans since a win over Jacksonville on Dec. 24 last season. The Titans' improved offense might have been helped by offensive coordinator Chris Palmer moving to the box for the first time with receivers coach Dave Ragone on the field.

Palmer had worked from the sideline since joining the staff last season, intially to better coach a new offense during games. It worked well enough last season as Tennessee went 9-7 that Palmer stayed on the sideline the first five weeks this season before making the switch with Ragone.

``I'm sure we'll keep it that way,'' Munchak said.

The Titans also got just the second start this season for Britt, who tore his right ACL in September 2011 and has had three knee surgeries since then. His timing remains a bit off as he works himself back into shape.

Chris Johnson has been criticized heavily for his poor start this season. The Titans still can run better, but Johnson's 91 yards on 19 carries was his best game ever against the Steelers. Johnson credited the offensive line for his performance, saying they need each other to play well.

Munchak said both Johnson and the offense benefited from being having more time on the field to get into a better rhythm together. Winning the game by scoring 10 points in the final 4:19 against the NFL's fifth-best defense also gave a glimpse of what the Titans believe they have on offense.

``We have some very good talent here,'' Munchak said. ``It's just a matter of us now week in, week out proving that.''

The Titans still must fix tackling woes. Ike Redman got 10 extra yards on one catch because the Titans were too busy trying to punch the ball out rather than take him to the ground. Munchak said they must wrap up before trying to force a turnover.

``It's a work in progress,'' Munchak said.

And Tennessee has 10 games left to show what they can do.

Notes: DT Jurrell Casey hurt his shoulder and didn't finish the game. Munchak said the tackle should back for Buffalo. Defensive back Tommie Campbell, who hurt his left ankle covering a punt, will be checked and could miss some time.

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Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Whenever a playoff series ends, the analysis begins soon after. Why did this team win? Why did this team lose? Why did this player perform while this one did not?  This is an exercise performed by media, players and coaches alike, especially for teams that walk away from a series believing they let an opportunity slip away.

The Columbus Blue Jackets fell to the Washington Capitals in six games despite taking a 2-0 series lead by winning both opening games in Washington. Head coach John Tortorella will have all summer to think about what he could have done differently and what went wrong for his team, but it sounds like he already has at least one theory as to why they lost.

In a series that featured four overtime games, Game 4 stands out as being far more one-sided than the others. Washington turned in the most dominant performance of the series in a 4-1 win that knotted the teams at two wins apiece.

That game stood out to Tortorella too and he thinks he knows why the Blue jackets laid an egg that night: Travel.

"I think we should’ve stayed in Washington after that second overtime game, the second game there," Tortorella said. "I think that comes back and gets you later on in the series. We should’ve stayed in Washington and let them get a good night sleep. They got in here so late. I don’t think it affected us in Game 3. It comes the next days, so that falls on me."

When analyzing why the Caps won the series, chances are travel is not going to be a reason many people consider. Perhaps there is some merit to this. After all, as the father of an infant, I can certainly vouch for how much of a difference one good night of sleep can make.

But perhaps there is another message being sent here by Tortorella.

Tortorella is a master at using the media to his advantage. He uses the media to send messages to his team or draw attention on himself and away from the players.

Tortorella just saw his young team give up a 2-0 series lead and lose four straight games. Those are the kind of losses that can stick with a player and create doubt in the mind of a team the next time they reach a tough spot in the postseason.

So what did Tortorella do? He came out and put the worst loss of the series on his own shoulders. Why was it his fault? Uh...travel? Yeah, let's go with travel.

The Blue Jackets are not the first team to play overtime on the road or the first team to deal with travel concerns. To hear a coach say it was a reason they lost a game and not even the next game after the travel? Well, that's a first.

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Nats give up monster HR, drop series-opener with Giants

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USA TODAY Sports

Nats give up monster HR, drop series-opener with Giants

SAN FRANCISCO  -- Mac Williamson hit a two-run homer in the sixth to lead the Giants past the Washington Nationals 4-2 on Monday night.

Chris Stratton (2-1) struck out five over 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs and four hits.

Williamson, playing his first home game at AT&T Park this season after being called up during the recent road trip, connected with a deep drive to right-center off Shawn Kelley after he relieved starter Gio Gonzalez (2-2). Gonzalez walked Brandon Belt to end his day before Williamson crushed the first pitch he saw from Kelley.

The 464-foot shot by Williamson is the furthest homer by the Giants this year, topping his previous 434-foot homer Friday after he was promoted to face the Angels in Anaheim. Earlier Monday, Williamson drove in his team's initial run on a fielder's choice in the fourth.

Only three home runs have travelled further in 2018, according to MLB StatCast: Franchy Cordero (489), Avisail Garcia (481) and Marcell Ozuna (479)

San Francisco kicked off a 10-game homestand by winning back-to-back games for only the second time this season and first since April 4-7. The Giants were coming off their first series victory of the season against the Angels.

The Nationals' runs came on a pair of sacrifice flies, by Howie Kendrick in the third and pinch-hitter Andrew Stevenson in the seventh.

Gonzalez allowed three runs and four hits, struck out four and walked three in five innings.

In his only other start against Washington, Stratton threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts last Aug. 13.

Hunter Strickland, who brawled with Bryce Harper during Washington's last visit to AT&T Park in late May 2017, finished for his fourth save in six chances. Harper didn't bat in the ninth.

NATS TRADE COLE

Washington traded right-hander A.J. Cole to the New York Yankees for cash. The 26-year-old Cole was 1-1 with a 13.06 ERA in four games for the Nationals and was designated for assignment last week.

BAKER REUNION

Ex-Nationals manager Dusty Baker, who guided Washington to back-to-back NL East titles before his firing after last season, visited the ballpark to see his former club.

Did he plan the visit in advance?

"Maybe," Baker said, grinning.

Nats pitcher Stephen Strasburg hustled out to give Baker a big hug behind the batting cage.

"What's up Dusty, how you doing?" Strasburg said.

Baker also visited with third base coach Bob Henley, the loan holdover from his coaching staff.

Baker is now working in an advisory role to Giants CEO Larry Baer while getting to watch son, Darren, play his freshman college season at California in Berkeley.

"I am good," Baker said. "How bad can it be between Cal, San Francisco and Sacramento?"

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: OF Adam Eaton, on the disabled list retroactive to April 9 with a bone bruise in his left ankle, won't be rushed back until he is completely pain-free. "When you see him in the lineup he'll be ready," manager Dave Martinez said. "He's coming along. When we get him back this time we don't want any issues." ... OF Brian Goodwin remains in Florida with pain in his bruised left wrist.

Giants: LHP Will Smith is eagerly anticipating his return from Tommy John surgery that cost him all of last season, and he could come off the DL as soon as Tuesday. He pitched twice for Class-A San Jose and three times so far for Triple-A Sacramento. He is scheduled to throw consecutive days for Sacramento on Wednesday and Thursday then another short outing Sunday. "We're close. We're getting there," Smith said, noting it will be "awesome. I'm ready to go." ... RHP closer Mark Melancon (flexor strain in pitching elbow) is scheduled to play catch during Thursday's off day. There is no timetable for his return, manager Bruce Bochy said. ... LF Hunter Pence (sprained right thumb) did some hitting and is scheduled for early batting practice Tuesday.

UP NEXT

Giants lefty Ty Blach (1-3, 4.10 ERA) will face the Nationals for the first time in his career when he pitches the middle game of the series opposite right-hander Tanner Roark (1-1, 3.24).