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Bengals flub chance to lead AFC wild card chase

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Bengals flub chance to lead AFC wild card chase

CINCINNATI (AP) The Bengals flat-out flubbed a chance to put themselves in better shape for a playoff berth.

Penalties. Dropped passes. A game-turning interception. A defensive letdown at the end. They reviewed all of those on Monday as they did a fast-forward to their next game, one that they now feel an urgency to win in order to stay in the race.

A 20-19 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday left them tied with Pittsburgh at 7-6 for the second AFC wild card. The Steelers and the AFC North-leading Ravens (9-4) both lost on Sunday, giving Cincinnati an opening to improve its chances.

Instead, the Bengals gave up 10 points in the closing minutes, ending their four-game winning streak.

``We have the opportunity to still control our own end, from now until the end,'' coach Marvin Lewis said on Monday. ``We still have an opportunity to win the division. We still have an opportunity to qualify for the playoffs in a couple of ways. That's all we can ask for.

``We let a huge opportunity get away based upon what happened with a couple of other clubs yesterday, and that's the shame of it. We had a lead, and we didn't protect the lead very well on offense nor defense. That's what's disappointing.''

Not much time to dwell on it.

The Bengals play in Philadelphia (4-9) on Thursday night. Their season is likely to come down the following week, when they play at Pittsburgh. The Steelers won their game earlier this season in Cincinnati. If the Steelers sweep the series, they'd have the head-to-head tiebreaker for the wild card berth.

There's still an outside chance to win the division if both Baltimore and Pittsburgh fade down the stretch and the Bengals win out.

The loss to Dallas punctured their sense of being a team on the rise.

``Guys are saying `we've got to get over it quickly,''' cornerback Leon Hall said Monday. ``One thing some guys said was: `don't splinter as a team.' Sometimes when you have a tough loss, you sometimes splinter, which would create bigger problems.

``That was probably one of the messages from yesterday and even today - sticking together, staying with the team like we've been doing all year.''

Lewis had his team report for an afternoon meeting, then held a light practice at Paul Brown Stadium in the evening, getting ready for the night game in Philadelphia. Having to move onto the next opponent so quickly seemed to be a benefit.

``I'm not the biggest fan of Thursday games, but I think it does (help),'' Hall said. ``You don't have Monday, Tuesday to sit around and think about it, the would-of, could-of, should-of type of things. We're already onto the Philly game plan.''

What stung the most was how the Bengals let one get away. Dallas put together an eight-play drive that concluded with Tony Romo's 27-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant with 6:35 left. The Bengals got the ball back with a chance to put it away, but managed only one first down before Andy Dalton was sacked, forcing a punt.

Cincinnati ran five plays on its final possession, all of them passes. Dalton was sacked on a third-and-4 play.

The Cowboys then went 50 yards in 13 plays, winning it on a last-second field goal.

``The bottom line is that we've got three games left in the season and we still have a chance to control our destiny, win out and give ourselves an opportunity to be in the playoffs,'' offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. ``That's got to be the key goal. We've got to store this in, let it eat at us and make people pay for it.''

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

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Bradley Beal thinks Rui Hachimura will be a small forward long-term

Bradley Beal thinks Rui Hachimura will be a small forward long-term

Whether it actually matters is debatable, but what position Rui Hachimura best profiles for long-term has been a point of contention among fans and media members ever since he was drafted by the Wizards ninth overall last summer. He is what not long ago would be described as a 'tweener,' or somewhat of a cross between a small forward and a power forward.

Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal has put some thought into it and has now weighed in. He thinks Hachimura will be a small forward.

"Honestly, I think Rui is going to end up being a three. When his career is over with, he's going to end up playing the three," Beal explained during Sunday's Wizards-Nets broadcast on NBC Sports Washington.

"I don't know what that's going to look like next year or what we're going to jump to, but you can see spurts of it. You can see he can handle the ball, he's comfortable with handling the ball. Obviously, we can improve that and make that better. He shoots the three comfortably."

That last point could probably be picked apart a bit and it does hold some importance in the argument. If Hachimura is indeed going to be a small forward, he will need to add some perimeter skills to his game.

Three-point shooting would be included in there and so far there certainly seems to be room for improvement. This season, he is shooting just 27 percent from three on 1.7 attempts per game. 

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In the three games the Wizards have played in Orlando, Hachimura is 0-for-1 from long range. He didn't attempt any threes at all in their first two games of the restart.

The reason why it is an interesting debate is Hachimura doesn't fit the traditional norms for either the three or four position. And that could be a good thing, as former teammate C.J. Miles pointed out in November. When you don't match up perfectly with opponents in any specific position, sometimes that means you are a mismatch for anyone who is guarding you.

Beal himself went on to rave about Hachimura's versatility.

"He's super athletic, so he can use his size to post up. So, the versatility is there. It's just a matter of what we want to mold him into," Beal said. "I think the sky's the limit. He has the ability, he has the work ethic, so I'm definitely excited to see."

RELATED: NBA PLAYERS BRING UP KAWHI COMPARISONS DESPITE RUI'S ROUGH GAME

Hachimura not having a true position could be an advantage. What the Wizards will need to determine, however, is how to complement his skillset with other players as they continue to build their roster. 

Whether Hachimura is a three, a four or even a small-ball five, the best way to maximize his strengths will be to fill in the gaps around him. Putting a rim protector alongside him, for instance, would allow him to roam and switch on defense. Having teammates who space the floor will create openings in the midrange, where he is very effective scoring the ball.

Those involve more important questions than what position Hachimura will ultimately be defined by. But it's still a fun debate to have and now even Beal has been drawn into it.

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If the Capitals want to go far in the playoffs, they have to get physical

If the Capitals want to go far in the playoffs, they have to get physical

The first half of Monday's game was a struggle for the Capitals. While both Washington and the Tampa Bay Lightning were initially feeling out one another, the Lightning seemed to get their legs first and jumped out to a 2-0 lead. It looked like the game was headed in the wrong direction...and that's when things got physical. Up to that point, the Caps were playing without any intensity to their game at all. When T.J. Oshie dropped his gloves against Yanni Gourde, however, the goals soon followed. This game was a good reminder for Washington that if they want to go far in the playoffs, they will have to get physical.

"I think that’s what we pride ourselves on," Brenden Dillon said. "When we’re playing our best hockey, we’re playing physical."

There are a lot of ways to win in the playoffs. If there was only one formula for it, everyone would just do that. For this Washington team, however, the key is to be physical.

In 2018, the Capitals came up against a Tampa Bay team in the conference final that was better. Momentum from beating the rival Pittsburgh Penguins carried the Caps to a 2-0 series lead, but the Lightning took over to win the next three and push the Caps to the brink of elimination. Washington responded with one of the most physical games I have ever seen. Not recklessly physical, but purposeful. In my estimation, Game 6's 3-0 win over the Lightning was the greatest playoff game in franchise history. It was a complete victory, but the key was the way in which the Caps bullied Tampa Bay. They pushed them around. The Caps battered, bruised and beat them into submission, outscoring Tampa Bay 7-0 in the final two games of the series.

Washington has incredible skill, they have speed, but at their core, this team is at its best when it is playing physical hockey.

"That’s a big part of our identity as a team, no fun to play against and yet still have the ability to execute skill plays when we get in those situations," head coach Todd Reirden said. "But for us, the physicality that we can bring on a nightly basis, we feel that really allows us to have success and tilt the ice in our favor."

RELATED: OBSERVATIONS FROM THE CAPS' LOSS

This isn't just about 2018, it was evident again on Monday.

When it comes to just pure talent, the Caps are a little behind Tampa Bay. When the game was being played with little intensity and skill was able to take over, the Lighting had the edge. From the first shift of the second period, Tom Wilson clearly came in trying to change the momentum and spent his first shift hitting everything that moved. It did not stick, however, until Oshile's fight.

Down 2-0, Oshie dropped the gloves with Gourde. Less than five minutes later, the game was tied at 2.

"We started to create some momentum in probably the second half of the second and then really took it to a different level after T.J.'s fight really inspired our group and then we just built on that," Reirden said.

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He added, "I just felt like as we got going now we were finding our stride a little bit more and then eventually we were able to wear them down a little with our physical play. I thought the more we invested physically, then we were able to see some benefits of it."

For the Caps to win a Stanley Cup, several factors will be important. Alex Ovechkin will have to continue to be elite, the defense will have to improve from what we saw in the regular season, Braden Holtby will have to be at the top of his game, etc., etc. But the key to all of it, just like in 2018, will be the Caps playing a physical game and wearing down their opponents.

"When we’re playing our best hockey, we have the skill to go with it and the speed as well," Dillon said. "Come playoff time, we know we’re built for this style of game."

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