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Bengals trying to get up and running for playoffs

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Bengals trying to get up and running for playoffs

CINCINNATI (AP) BenJarvus Green-Ellis didn't suit up for the Cincinnati Bengals' practice on Tuesday. He wore black sweatpants and a gray hooded sweatshirt, running by himself at one end of the University of Cincinnati's covered football field while everyone else ran plays.

It's another challenge for an offense that's hit the wall.

Green-Ellis had a sore hamstring during pregame warm-ups and sat out a 23-17 win over Baltimore on Sunday, leaving Cincinnati with questions about its top runner heading into a playoff game Saturday at Houston.

Coach Marvin Lewis wouldn't discuss the status of Green-Ellis, who spent most of the open locker room period away from the media in the trainer's room.

``We're going to prepare to run the ball like we do every week and hopefully BenJarvus is healthy,'' offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said after practice. ``He's got a little twinge right now, but it looks like he's going to be fine. It will be important to us.

``We have other backs also that can run the ball. We're not going to change our plan at all. It never varies. We have a good run plan going in, but Houston's a good run defense as we all know. It's going to be important to try to force the issue.''

Lately, other defenses have forced the issue and forced the Bengals to find other ways to score.

The Bengals managed only 14 yards on 16 carries during a 13-10 win in Pittsburgh, one of the most feeble showings in franchise history. With Green-Ellis watching from the sideline on Sunday, Cincinnati ran for only 47 yards during the win over a Baltimore team resting most of its stars for the playoffs.

Asked about the state of the running game on Tuesday, left tackle Andrew Whitworth paused a few seconds before answering.

``Well, I think we've made strides throughout the year to make it better, and we've had ups and downs with it,'' Whitworth said. ``But that's the nature of the NFL. I think every week every team has ups and downs with it.

``I think the key in the playoffs, honestly, is to score points. I don't care if it's the running game, the passing game or running the ball backward. That will be the ultimate goal: Be able to run the ball efficiently and throw and catch the ball and be able to put up enough points to win.''

Cincinnati doesn't want to repeat what happened in its playoff game at Houston last year. The Bengals had to rely heavily on then-rookie quarterback Andy Dalton during a 31-10 loss. Dalton threw three interceptions, including J.J. Watt's 29-yard return for a touchdown just before halftime.

One problem was that Cincinnati had trouble running the ball. Cedric Benson managed only 14 yards on seven carries, and Dalton finished as the second-leading rusher with 17 yards on three scrambles. He wound up throwing 42 times.

``It's going to be a great test for us, and we've just got to do a good job of mixing what we do and trying not to make Andy throw the ball 35, 40 times with seven-step drops, because it will be not fun,'' Gruden said.

The Bengals couldn't run the ball consistently at the start of the season with three new players in the middle of the line. Once they settled in and Green-Ellis got going, the Bengals started winning. They ran for more than 100 yards in five consecutive games, helping Cincinnati win seven of its last eight overall.

In the last two games, the defense scored the important touchdowns - Leon Hall and Carlos Dunlap returned interceptions for scores. The offense managed only one touchdown in those two games.

Cincinnati hasn't had a rushing touchdown since Dalton scrambled for one in the third quarter of a win in Philadelphia on Dec. 13.

``We've won 10 games, so we're happy about that,'' Gruden said. ``We're happy we're in the position we're in. But I don't think anybody has played to the standard that we expect - offensive line, receivers, quarterbacks, coordinators. We expect to be great, and we haven't reached that yet.''

NOTES: The Bengals rented the University of Cincinnati's covered practice field for the second time in two weeks with temperatures below freezing. ... All that Lewis would say about Green-Ellis is ``He'll be fine at some point.'' Green-Ellis ran for 1,094 yards during the season on 278 carries. Cedric Peerman was second with 258 yards on 36 carries.

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Braden Holtby picks up first regulation loss in five weeks

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Braden Holtby picks up first regulation loss in five weeks

Braden Holtby’s stretch of 11 consecutive starts without a loss in regulation came to a screeching halt Wednesday night, when the depleted Capitals lost 4-1 to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

The Caps’ goalie was 10-0-1 since Oct. 14, when head coach Todd Reirden benched him for allowing the Colorado Avalanche to score three times in the first eight minutes of the game.

Holtby looked good through the first two periods Wednesday, allowing just one power play goal off the stick of Artemi Panarin entering the third.

But things fell apart from there. New York scored two goals within 23 seconds of each other early in the third period, and while Evgeny Kuznetsov’s power play goal closed the deficit to 3-1 with a little less than 13 minutes to play, Brett Howden put the game away with a goal late.

Holtby is tied with the Vegas Golden Knights’ Marc-Andre Fleury for the most wins in the NHL with 11 but wasn’t able to take advantage of the opportunity to move into sole possession of first place while Vegas had the night off.

The Capitals will be back in action on Saturday when they play host to the Vancouver Canucks, with puck drop scheduled for 12:30 p.m. ET.

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Shorthanded Caps suffocated by Rangers in loss

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Shorthanded Caps suffocated by Rangers in loss

A shuffled Capitals lineup took the ice in New York on Wednesday and was handed a 4-1 loss by Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers. Washington was without Nicklas Backstrom, Carl Hagelin, Nic Dowd (all injured) and Garnet Hathaway (suspended) and that proved to be too many losses for the team to overcome. This loss ends a streak of seven-straight wins over the Rangers by the Caps.

Here is how Washington lost.

Panarin's 2 power play goals

Tom Wilson was called for boarding with less than a minute remaining in the first giving New York a power play at the start of the second. Artemi Panarin would cash in to put the Rangers on the board.

The Caps' penalty killers did their homework on Adam Fox who is pivotal to the Ranger's power play. As the main distributor, clearly Washington wanted to keep the pressure on him when he had the puck. As the power play set up, Fox got the puck and Richard Panik came hard after him at the blue line. Fox managed to get the puck away to Kaapo Kakko and then Washington was in a bind.

With Panik up high after Panarin and Jonas Siegenthaler still down low, that left Panarin open in the middle. That's the wrong guy to give too much room to and he made the most of it, writing the puck past the glove of Braden Holtby.

Just after the Caps killed off an Alex Ovechkin penalty in the third, Dmitry Orlov was called for high-sticking 40 seconds later. Panarin extended New York's lead to 2-0 as Kakko tried a spin move to get a shot off close in on Holtby. He lost the puck and it came to Panarin on the far side with an empty-net yawning.

Buchnevich's knockout punch

Going down 2-0 in the third period is a tough blow. Going down 3-0 just 23 seconds later is deflating.

As the Rangers broke the puck into the offensive zone, Siegenthaler was on the far left of the ice as Pavel Buchnevich skated in. Seeing that Buchnevich had a step on Siegenthaler and with Tom Wilson to his right, Gudas got caught in no man's land as he tried to step up to challenge Buchnevich while also getting his stick in the passing lane. Filip Chytil had a step on Wilson and was in alone after the pass from Buchnevich. Gudas took a weird angle on Buchnevich and ended up colliding with Siegenthaler. Buchnevich got behind them both and was open for the pass and the slam-dunk goal to make it 3-0.

A horrendous defensive zone breakdown

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored on the power play to breathe some life back into Washington. That life was extinguished when Buchnevich found Brett Howden all alone in front of the net.

  

Yeah, that's a bad breakdown.

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The Caps may have struggled to put points on the board Wednesday, but it wasn't for a lack of offense. Washington outshot the Rangers 62-48 and managed 31 shots on goal. They beat Lundqvist five times, but four of those times they were met with a loud "PING" as the puck hit off the post.

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