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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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Capitals reclaim first place with cathartic win over Penguins

Capitals reclaim first place with cathartic win over Penguins

WASHINGTON -- It has been a tough run for the Capitals of late, but for one day at least all of that was cast aside in a cathartic 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday. The win vaults Washington back into first place in the Metropolitan Division and, for the moment, silences all the doubt that has surrounded Washington over the team's recent skid.

Here is how the Caps won.

Vrana's speed

Jakub Vrana gave Washington the 1-0 lead with a tremendous individual effort. On a defensive zone draw, Vrana picked up the puck and turned on the jets. Defenseman Marcus Pettersson wasn't ready for him and Vrana was able to turn the corner to create his own breakaway. Goalie Matt Murray made the initial save, but Pettersson slid in a desperate sweep attempt. He slid into the puck and knocked it into his own net shortly before knocking the net off its moorings.

After a quick review, the play was confirmed as a goal for Washington.

Improved defense

Overall this was one of the better defensive games the Caps have played in a while and it's a good thing because the offense took an extended nap in the first period and into the second.

After Vrana gave Washington the 1-0 lead, the Caps were outshooting Pittsburgh 5-1. They would then go 16:57 before getting another shot on goal, from 7:27 into the first period to 4:24 into the second.

Through two periods, Washington had only 10 shots on goal. And for anyone thinking, well, they had some chances, they really didn't. In addition to having only 10 shots on goal, they also had only 28 total shot attempts.

Heck, the Caps had more hits (31) through two periods than shot attempts.

That allowed Pittsburgh's offense plenty of opportunity to get back into the game, which it did. A bad misplay by Radko Gudas left Patric Hornqvist wide open in front of the net for Pittsburgh's first goal. Brenden Dillon joined the offensive rush on the next shift and the Caps could not recover on the counter-attack by Sidney Crosby, who was able to get in behind the defense and score just 26 seconds after Hornqvist.

Allowing two goals in 26 seconds is bad, but we did not see nearly as many of the egregious turnovers that have been a trademark for Washington throughout its recent cold spell. Had the team that played Saturday's game in New Jersey or Thursday's game against Montreal showed up to this one, Pittsburgh would have torn it to pieces and this one would have been a blowout before the Caps finally got shot No. 6 on the board.

You also have to give credit to Holtby who put up another strong performance in net as he turned aside 33 of the 36 shots he faced on the day.

The third period response

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. 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. The Capitals even responded after Evgeni Malkin made a dazzling play to tie the game at 3.

The Wilson-Backstrom connection

Tom Wilson scored less than two minutes into the second period 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 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 then did the rest, deftly deking Murray and tucking the puck into the back of the net.

A relentless shift by the third line

Washington restored its lead just over three minutes after Wilson's tying goal as Carl Hagelin scored against his former team. 

The third line battled in the offensive zone to keep control of the puck. Richard Panik won it back from Pittsburgh behind the goal line then kicked it out to John Carlson. Carlson fired from the blue line and Hagelin tried to deflect it but missed. His stick was high, however, and likely affected the vision of Murray who missed what should have been an easy glove save. Instead, Lars Eller got to the loose puck and crashed the net. Murray stopped him, but Eller cleared some room for Hagelin who finally poked it past Murray.

Hagelin would add an empty-netter for his second goal of the game.

Another response

You have to tip your cap to Malkin for his game-tying goal. He took the puck in the neutral zone, put it between the legs of Carlson, then shot it past Holtby for the fantastic goal.

Instead of boosting the Penguins, however, it was the Caps who responded less than two minutes later. Oshie took the puck from behind the goal line and would not be denied. He fired a backhand shot on Murray, then found the rebound through traffic and managed to chip it in for the game-winner.

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John Carlson sets record for most points by a defenseman in Capitals history

John Carlson sets record for most points by a defenseman in Capitals history

Saturday was a milestone-filled day for the Washington Capitals. Alex Ovechkin finally tallied his 700th goal, while John Carlson tied Calle Johansson for the most points by a defenseman in Capitals history.

On Sunday, Carlson took his spot at the top.

Just over four minutes into a back-and-forth affair between the Capitals and Penguins, Carl Hagelin found the back of the net to give Washington a short-lived 3-2 lead. On the play, Carlson was credited with the assist. That point for the NHL veteran gave him 475 in his career with the Capitals and gave him the new franchise record. 

The record fittingly comes in what has been a phenomenal season for Carlson. Leading the league in points among defensemen, he now sits at 72 with 20 games left in 2020.

Carlson is also now just 10 points shy of breaking Hockey Hall-of-Famer Larry Murphy's Capitals' record for points in a season by a defenseman (81). 

At 30 years old, the overall franchise record for points by a defenseman will continue to grow for as long as Carlson is on the ice for the Capitals. 

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