Maryland Terps

After rough start, Packers near division title

201212092115765119963-p2.jpeg

After rough start, Packers near division title

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) A month into the season, few people outside of Green Bay would have given the Packers a shot at the NFC North title.

Heck, even the folks in Green Bay could have been forgiven for feeling a little pessimistic.

The injuries were already starting to pile up, and the Packers had been the victims of the Inaccurate Reception. With a losing record five weeks in and the Chicago Bears off to a blazing start, a wild card seemed about the best the Packers could do.

Now look at them. One of the NFL's hottest teams over the past two months with seven victories in eight games, Green Bay (9-4) can clinch the division title with a win Sunday in Chicago. The No. 2 seed, and the first-round bye that goes with it, is still a possibility, too.

``We're excited about the opportunities that we continue to create,'' coach Mike McCarthy said. ``You get what you put into it and our guys have a great frame of mind. It's a good locker room, it's a steady locker room. We don't swing with the highs and lows.

``Special, that's what we're in it for,'' he added. ``We're not in it just to get to the playoffs or to have a winning season.''

Players and coaches on pretty much every team talk about resiliency, and how they can't let injuries or losses turn into a distraction.

Or, worse, an excuse. But talk is cheap - just look at some of the records out there - and it's tough to continue looking ahead week after week.

The Packers, though, have turned it into something of an art form. Few teams have been hit harder by injuries, with the Packers losing more than a dozen starters or projected starters for two or more games. That includes No. 1 receiver Greg Jennings (eight games), perennial Pro Bowler Charles Woodson (six games), sackmaster Clay Matthews (four games) and C.J. Wilson (three games), a cornerstone of their run defense.

Running back Cedric Benson is on injured reserve, as is offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga.

Yet the Packers simply fill the holes and move on. In Sunday night's 27-20 win over Detroit, it was a rookie, Mike Daniels, who had the fumble return for a score that swung momentum Green Bay's way.

The go-ahead touchdown was scored by DaJuan Harris, who'd been elevated from the practice squad eight days earlier.

``You can't sit around and invest a lot of time in guys that you're not going to have out there,'' defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. ``You've got to focus all your attention on the guys you do have.''

The Green Bay resolve starts with McCarthy. Low-key and humble - he joked Monday that his players take their cue from his ``boring'' press conferences - he is not one for histrionics on the sideline or drama anywhere else.

Circumstances are what they are, and there's no sense wasting time on anything else. When the Packers lost that game in Seattle on a controversial call, not only did McCarthy refuse to whine or complain, he called the replacement referee who made the wrong call to offer his support.

That attitude has filtered down to the players.

``It says a lot about the locker room leadership,'' McCarthy said. ``We've accomplished some things in the past that we can maybe look back on. What are you to do with your energy? What are we going to do with our time? How are you going to apply it? I think our guys do a good job of it.''

It helps that the Packers have some practice at this. Two years ago, they had so many injuries they were practically pulling guys off the street to fill the lineup.

They wound up winning the Super Bowl.

``They know there's an expectation level ... that they've got to be not only accountable to themselves, but accountable to everybody in that room,'' Capers said. ``So if their number's called, then they owe it to the guy sitting next to them to be ready to go out and do their job.''

Green Bay's recent run hasn't always been pretty; the Packers struggled against Jacksonville, and trailed in both games against Detroit. But aside from a blowout by the Giants, Green Bay has managed to find ways to win.

``I don't get caught up in statistics,'' McCarthy said. ``We've got nine wins. That's only statistic I worry about.''

The Packers could make it 10 wins - and a division title - against the Bears, adding extra buzz to a rivalry that's already the NFL's best.

And it's the rivalry, not the spoils that could come with it, that will get Green Bay's full attention this week, McCarthy said.

``You start to get voice mails from Willie Davis, people like that, early this morning, you know it's a big game,'' McCarthy said. ``So we're focused on beating the Bears down there. It's a tough place to play. Yes, we'd love to wrap up division and hopefully be playing for more the next two weeks. But this is about the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears.''

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

Maryland doesn't lose any ground in Big 10 standings after loss to Ohio State

Maryland doesn't lose any ground in Big 10 standings after loss to Ohio State

Maryland suffered a frustrating loss to Ohio State on the road Sunday in a game that featured their best player fouling out thanks to a more than questionable technical foul. 

The bad news for the Terps? They missed a chance to gain ground on Baylor, Gonzaga and San Diego State, who all lost on Saturday, for a top seed in the NCAA tournament. 

The good news is that Penn State lost, too, so Maryland didn't lose any ground in its quest to win the Big 10 regular-season championship for the first time. With four games to go, it still holds a two-game lead over Penn State, Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin in the conference standings. 

For the Terps to lose this regular-season title, it would have to be a monumental collapse over the next few weeks.

But the schedule still features some tough games so it isn't over quite yet. Maryland must shake off this most recent loss in Columbus and refocus on a 13-13 Minnesota team. The Terp's final three opponents after that are Michigan State at home, Rutgers on the road and Michigan in College Park. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

MORE NCAA NEWS:

Quick Links

Dillon fits right in, Carlson hits a milestone and is it problem solved for Brian MacLellan?

Dillon fits right in, Carlson hits a milestone and is it problem solved for Brian MacLellan?

Boy did they need that. The Capitals snapped a four-game losing streak on Sunday with a 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins to reclaim first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

He's kind of a big Dill

This was Brenden Dillon's best game thus far with the Capitals and it's not just because of his fight with Evgeni Malkin, though that helped. He played less than 14 minutes in Saturday's game against New Jersey and did not play at all on the penalty kill. On Sunday, he played 20:38 and 3:34 on the penalty kill. He was very physical, played the body well. There was one goal where he was caught too high, but that was because he joined the offensive rush which defensemen are allowed to do in the team's system. That goal wasn't on him, the team was just caught on the counter-attack with him in the offensive zone.

"I thought he had a really strong game," coach Todd Reirden said. "We've been kind of easing him into it, his minutes weren't as high as we would've liked yesterday and then today I thought it was really noticeable, his play. Just settles things down and obviously penalty kill, using him more in that situation today. You could see his experience and then, when he has a chance to play against the other team's top players, he's not going to be fun to play against."

Dillon is a very good defensive player with a lot of snarl to his game. This was the best reflection of what the Caps really got when they acquired him.

Kempny-Gudas wasn't a disaster

Michal Kempny and Radko Gudas were paired together in Thursday's game against the Montreal Canadiens and there is no way to sugarcoat it: They were awful together. Surprisingly, the pair was reunited for this game and it actually wasn't the disaster I anticipated it to be. At 5-on-5 play, Kempny and Gudas had a 54.55 Corsi-For percentage. Well, they must have played sheltered minutes, right? They actually didn't. They had zero on-the-fly offensive zone starts and only 16.67-percent offensive zone faceoff starts. They were being played primarily in defensive situations.

Perhaps, in a way, that actually was sheltered for them considering they have been responsible for several of the breakaway chances the team has given up the past few games. Maybe the best way to shelter Kempny-Gudas is to keep them out of a position in which the offense can get behind them.

Wearing down the Penguins?

The Caps have outscored Pittsburgh 6-2 in the third period this season. Clearly Washington is trying to wear down the Penguins physically and that seems to be working in the third, though Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan isn't buying it.

When asked if he was concerned that the Caps were physically wearing down his team, Sullivan responded bluntly, "No."

Problem solved?

Had Washington gotten crushed this game, I don't see how Brian MacLellan could have justified standing pat on Monday. Clearly a change would have been needed. It's just one game, but did Sunday's win change MacLellan's approach to the trade deadline?

Let's consider what we saw. The Caps had almost zero offensive net-front presence on Saturday. Tom Wilson got a power play goal from providing maybe the only screen of the entire day. That was very different on Sunday where the goals by Carl Hagelin and T.J. Oshie came on plays the team seemed incapable of making on Saturday.

Defensively, while the team may have given up three goals, this was actually one of the better defensive performances we have seen from the Caps in quite some time. We did not see the type of egregious mistakes and turnovers that have been killing them of late.

So of the issues the team has been dealing with of late, Sunday's game showed they are indeed correctable. In that sense, perhaps MacLellan won't feel compelled to make any further moves or, if he does, just some minor tweaks to the roster.

The question MacLellan has to ask himself is whether Sunday's win is the beginning of the turnaround or if it was just the team getting up for a big game and a big opponent? Sunday's win will mean nothing if they revert back to how they have been playing lately. How much will MacLellan regret not trying to do something on Monday if the Caps walk away with one point against Winnipeg and Minnesota over the next three games?

Turning point

With the way things have gone for Washington of late, it had every reason to collapse after Pittsburgh took a 2-1 lead in just 26 seconds in the second period. The first two periods were not good and the Penguins were in complete control. But a different team took the ice in the third period and took back the game with three goals. Tom Wilson scored less than two minutes into the third on a 4-on-4 breakaway opportunity. The goal was a great play by both Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom.

Wilson first forced the neutral zone turnover by defenseman Marcus Pettersson. Backstrom hit the loose puck up to Wilson and then quickly turned his body into the path of Pettersson, holding him up slightly to allow Wilson to get the breakaway. Wilson did the rest, deftly deking Murray and tucking the puck into the back of the net.

Play of the game

It's not really a play, but Dillon beat the snot out of Malkin.

And here's a bonus Caps fans will enjoy.

Stat of the game

With one assist, John Carlson passed Calle Johnasson for the most points by a defenseman in franchise history with 475. Carlson tied that mark on Saturday and was honored earlier in the game with a video tribute.

"Yeah, it's not my favorite thing," he said of the tribute, which is very in-tune with his personality.

Quote of the game

It didn't take long for Dillon to adjust to the Caps-Penguins rivalry.

"I like to play hard, especially against those top-end guys. Malkin's a heck of a player. He plays a physical game, too, sometimes. With these rivalry-type games, tempers run high and it was great."

Fan predictions

Just had to include this one because I love that it came from "Cautiously Optimistic."

The defense was much more sound in this game, though Sidney Crosby got a short breakaway goal in the second.

Could be, but so far so good!

Maryland was leading at the time of writing.  I feel your pain. I have only one kid and sleep is limited. Mine broke my toe though.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: