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Tuesday's Sports in Brief

Tuesday's Sports in Brief

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Finding fault with nearly everyone tied to the New Orleans Saints' bounty case, from the coaches to Roger Goodell, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue tossed out the suspensions of four players Tuesday and condemned the team for obstructing the investigation.

In a surprising rejection of his successor's overreaching punishments, Tagliabue wrote that he would ``now vacate all discipline to be imposed upon'' two current Saints, linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith, and two players no longer with the club, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove.

Tagliabue essentially absolved Fujita, but did agree with Goodell's finding that the other three players ``engaged in conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football.''

It was a ruling that allowed both sides to claim victory: The NFL pointed to the determination that Goodell's facts were right; the NFL Players Association issued a statement noting that Tagliabue said ``previously issued discipline was inappropriate.''

Vilma has filed a defamation lawsuit against Goodell, and his lawyers said by email to The Associated Press that they would ``pursue the defamation action vigorously.''

WASHINGTON (AP) - A lack of action by the NFL and players' union in the two years since they signed a labor deal paving the way for testing for human growth hormone has prompted Congress to look at the science behind the tests.

The NFL Players Association won't concede the validity of a test that's used by Olympic sports and Major League Baseball, and the sides haven't been able to jointly pick a scientist to help resolve that impasse.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is holding a hearing Wednesday to take a look at the science behind tests for human growth hormone, a substance that is hard to detect and believed to be used by athletes for a variety of benefits, whether real or only perceived - such as increasing speed or improving vision.

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Steelers suspended the running back Rashard Mendenhall for their game Sunday at Dallas for conduct detrimental to the team. Pittsburgh promoted running back Baron Batch from the practice squad to take his place.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) - The New England Patriots placed wide receiver Donte' Stallworth on injured reserve with an ankle injury.

The move ended his season after just one game, a 42-14 win over the Houston Texans on Monday night in which he scored on his only reception, a 63-yarder from Tom Brady. The Patriots, who had released Stallworth following training camp, re-signed him on Dec. 4 after wide receiver Julian Edelman went on injured reserve with a foot injury.

The Patriots did not give details of Stallworth's injury and he did not mention it as he talked with reporters after the game.

DALLAS (AP) - The Dallas Cowboys paid tribute to Jerry Brown at a private memorial that included Josh Brent, the player charged with intoxication manslaughter in the one-car accident that killed his teammate.

Quarterback Tony Romo, owner Jerry Jones and other players, executives and staff members arrived at the service on a sunny but chilly afternoon at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas. Brent arrived earlier than most in a van with several other people and hugged an unidentified woman before walking into the building.

NEW YORK (AP) - Braylon Edwards is back with the New York Jets - a week after bashing them.

The veteran wide receiver was awarded to New York off waivers from Seattle as the Jets try to bolster their injured receiving corps with a familiar face. Edwards, waived by Seattle on Monday, developed a good rapport with Sanchez in helping New York to consecutive trips to the AFC title game in 2009 and 2010.

Edwards reiterated his feelings for Sanchez last week when he took to Twitter and criticized the Jets organization.

BASEBALL

NEW YORK (AP) - Kevin Youkilis is about to get a different look at the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry.

The hard-nosed Youkilis, who helped personify Boston's championship teams over the past decade, became the latest former Red Sox star to switch sides and land in Bronx. The free agent reached a deal that filled New York's immediate need for a third baseman to fill in for injured Alex Rodriguez.

The one-year contract for $12 million is pending a physical. A person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press about the agreement under condition of anonymity because no announcement had been made.

Youkilis, who turns 34 in March, is expected to play third base while Rodriguez recovers from hip surgery. A-Rod plans to have the operation in mid-January and could be sidelined until the All-Star break or beyond.

CLEVELAND (AP) - The Indians traded outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to the Cincinnati Reds and acquired prized pitching prospect Trevor Bauer from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-team deal.

Center fielder Drew Stubbs was sent from Cincinnati to Cleveland as part of the nine-player swap.

In addition to Stubbs, the Indians received Bauer, the No. 3 pick in the 2011 draft, and right-handers Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw from the Diamondbacks.

Cleveland shipped Choo, infielder Jason Donald and about $3.5 million to the Reds, while sending left-handed reliever Tony Sipp and first baseman Lars Anderson to Arizona.

The Diamondbacks also received shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius from Cincinnati.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

NEW YORK (AP) - Second-ranked Alabama placed four players on The Associated Press All-America team. Among them was center Barrett Jones, who became a two-time first-team selection.

No other team had more than one player selected to the first team. The Tide also led with six players chosen to all three teams.

Notre Dame and Texas A&M were second with four players on the three teams, though linebacker Manti Te'o was the only Fighting Irish player to make the first team. Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel was the first-team quarterback.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez will earn $118,500 for returning to the sidelines to coach the Badgers in the Rose Bowl and a win against Stanford will mean a $50,000 bonus.

The executive committee of the university Board of Regents on Tuesday agreed to the terms following the surprise departure last week of head coach Bret Bielema to take the same job at Arkansas.

PRO HOCKEY

TORONTO (AP) - NHL labor negotiations will resume Wednesday, with mediators rejoining the talks at an undisclosed location in an effort to save the hockey season.

The Canadian Press reported the restart of bargaining between the league and union, citing unidentified people on both sides of the lockout.

U.S. federal mediators Scot Beckenbaugh and John Sweeney are to return to the process. They took part in sessions Nov. 27 and 28 before deciding they couldn't help.

GOLF

The PGA of America is bringing a mystery guest to the ``Today'' show - its next Ryder Cup captain. Golf Digest reported on its website Tuesday night that it would be Tom Watson.

An organization that is not shy about giving rock-star treatment to the Ryder Cup, the PGA of America said it would reveal the next U.S. captain during a segment Thursday of NBC's morning show, followed by a news conference in the Empire State Building. NBC is the longtime broadcast partner of the Ryder Cup.

Golf Digest cited sources it did not identify in reporting the PGA of America planned to pick Watson.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Colleen Walker, the former LPGA Tour player who won nine times during her 23-year career, died Tuesday night after her second battle with cancer. She was 56.

The LPGA Tour said Walker died at her home in Valrico.

CYCLING

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Lance Armstrong resisted turning over records sought by U.S Postal Service investigators, then tried to keep the inquiry under seal and out of the public eye, according to recently released court documents.

In 2011, Postal Service officials investigating Armstrong and his teams for doping wanted records from his team management groups, financial statements, training journals and correspondence with former training consultant Michele Ferrari. Armstrong eventually complied with the subpoena but as recently as October was still asking the courts to keep the inquiry private.

The Postal Service was Armstrong's main sponsor when he won the Tour de France from 1999-2004. The team was sponsored by the Discovery Channel for Armstrong's seventh victory in 2005. Armstrong was stripped of those titles this year.

Last week, federal Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson in Washington ordered the subpoena and Armstrong's efforts to keep it private released to the public. But by Tuesday night, the federal court's online case tracking system was again showing the case as sealed from public view. The documents Robinson had ordered released had been available online for several hours earlier in the day.

SOCCER

LONDON (AP) - Arsenal was eliminated in the League Cup quarterfinals with an embarrassing loss to fourth-tier Bradford, falling 3-2 in a penalty shootout.

TENNIS

MADRID (AP) - Rafael Nadal confirmed that he'll return to tennis at an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi at the end of the month following a six-month break to recover from a knee injury.

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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

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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

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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."