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Bengals wary of looking past Eagles

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Bengals wary of looking past Eagles

PHILADELPHIA (AP) A midweek trip to Philadelphia should keep the Cincinnati Bengals from focusing on another Pennsylvania team for a few more days.

The Bengals (7-6) find themselves in a unique position where they're tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the last playoff spot in the AFC, but a loss to the Eagles (4-9) Thursday night wouldn't ruin their chances.

``This decides if we go to the playoffs or not,'' quarterback Andy Dalton said. ``We still have to take it one at a time. We've got to get a win this Thursday, and then we'll focus on the last two.''

Well, the next one is far more crucial.

The Bengals visit the Steelers on Dec. 23 and finish at home against the AFC North-leading Baltimore Ravens. Win or lose against the Eagles, the Bengals have to beat the Steelers to get in the playoffs unless Pittsburgh loses both of its other games - at Dallas this week and vs. Cleveland in Week 17.

``We want to finish these last three games 3-0 and see what happens after that,'' cornerback Leon Hall said. ``You get to losing games obviously this late in the season, you kind of take destiny out of your own hands. You don't want to be part of that.''

Three wins - or only two if they're against Pittsburgh and Baltimore - guarantees the Bengals their second straight playoff appearance for the first time since 1981-82. They lost to Houston 31-10 in a wild-card game last January.

Coming off a last-second loss at home to Dallas, the Bengals had no time to dwell on a disappointing defeat in a short week. Coaches went right to game-planning for the Eagles immediately after that game and players were back at practice on Monday.

``It's a quick turnaround, and that's probably a good thing for us,'' coach Marvin Lewis said. ``We need to improve fundamentally on the things we're doing. Some of those little things, the details of our work, ended up putting us in the position to lose the football game.''

The last time the Bengals played the Eagles ended in a tie on Nov. 16, 2008. Afterward, Donovan McNabb said he thought games couldn't end in ties and teams had to play to sudden death.

McNabb took plenty of grief for that mental blunder, but the six-time Pro Bowl quarterback ended up leading the Eagles to the NFC championship game that season. They won a pair of road playoff games before losing at Arizona.

The Eagles haven't won a playoff game since and are headed for just their third losing season in Andy Reid's 14 years as coach.

It doesn't make them a pushover for the Bengals.

``To see the way they played last week shows they're not giving up,'' Dalton said. ``They're still playing hard. For them to be in that situation, that's what you have to do. We've got to come out and we've got to play our best. Just because they lost (eight) in a row doesn't mean anything. We've got to come out and play our best to get a win.

The Eagles dealt a serious blow to Tampa Bay's playoff hopes with a 23-21 comeback win last Sunday. Rookie Nick Foles led them back from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit and threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin with no time left.

Foles will start his fifth straight game for Michael Vick, who along with running back LeSean McCoy remain sidelined by concussions. After a tough start, Foles has been impressive the last two games, giving fans a glimmer of hope for the future.

``We want to win every game,'' Foles said. ``The first game is this week and it was great to get the win last week. There's a lot of things to improve on from last week so we need to go out there this week, play together as a team, keep improving, keep pushing each other, keep playing for each other, and just get the win.''

Foles had 381 yards passing against the Buccaneers, who have the worst-ranked pass defense in the NFL. He could have a tougher time against Cincinnati's 11th-ranked unit. The Bengals also lead the league with 42 sacks, so Foles has to get rid of the ball quickly.

``I'm going to have to do a great job with blitz pickup and we need to execute our offense,'' Foles said. ``We need to run effectively and throw effectively. The big thing is run our offense well and execute well.''

Foles and rookie running back Bryce Brown could have big games if they catch the Bengals looking ahead to the Steelers. Brown had 347 yards rushing in his first two starts filling in for McCoy before he was held to just 6 yards on 12 carries against Tampa's top-ranked run defense.

Brown has benefited from improved play by the offensive line, which has been overhauled because of injuries and inconsistency. The Bengals haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in the six games since Pittsburgh's Jonathan Dwyer ran for 122 yards against them.

``They have a stout defense and they're athletic,'' Reid said. ``They've got a good football team. Marvin has done a nice job with that group. They have some good young players and some good veteran players, a nice mix. They'll be a good challenge for us.''

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Wizards 2018-19 end of season grades: Bradley Beal

Wizards 2018-19 end of season grades: Bradley Beal

Now that the dust has settled for the 2018-19 Wizards season, it's time to review the roster and hand out individual grades...

Who: Bradley Beal, shooting guard

2018-19 stats: 36.9 mpg, 25.6 ppg, 5.5 apg, 5.0 rpg, 1.5 spg, 0.7 bpg, 2.7 tov, 47.5 FG%, 35.1 3P% (2.5/7.3), 54.0 eFG%, 80.8 FT% (4.4/5.5), 113 ortg, 114 drtg

Best game: 1/13 vs. Raptors - 43 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds, three steals, two blocks, 6-12 3PT

Grade: A+

Season review: One could argue that nobody deserves a higher grade in the Wizards organization for their 2018-19 season than Bradley Beal, who had by far the best individual year of any player on the team. He had high expectations coming into the season and exceeded them, taking the next step from an All-Star to a legitimate All-NBA candidate.

Beal also continued to represent the organization well in public. He spoke for the team after many difficult losses with poise and maturity. And he brought positive attention to the franchise for his charitable efforts, recently being named as a finalist for the league's community assist award.

Beal's on-court performance was a shining light amid a disastrous season overall for the team. He set career-highs in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals and free throw attempts. He played in all 82 games for the second straight season and never complained despite leading the NBA in minutes.

The most impressive part of Beal's season may be how he responded when John Wall went down due to injury. Wall last played on Dec. 26 and in the next 47 games, Beal averaged 27.2 points, 6.0 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals. 

Beal's final numbers put him in elite company. He became the first 25-5-5 player in Wizards/Bullets franchise history. He was one of only six players to reach that mark this season, a list that includes Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry.

Even as the season was winding down and the Wizards were well out of playoff contention, Beal gave an honest and consistent effort. That stood out in a year in which some of his teammates did not play hard and were called out by head coach Scott Brooks and team leaders for doing so. 

Now Beal, of course, had many reasons to keep giving 100 percent. With the numbers he has put up, he could make All-NBA in late May and, if he does, will qualify for a supermax contract. That could mean tens of millions more on his next deal, if he chooses to sign back with the Wizards.

As Beal looks ahead to this summer and next season, another question is how much better he can become. He took a significant step from the All-Star year he had in 2017-18. What if he makes another, similar leap?

Beal upped his scoring average by three points year-over-year. Another jump like that could put him in the MVP conversation, depending on how the Wizards finish in the standings.

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Trevor Rosenthal’s fate among key questions as Nationals stumble home

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Trevor Rosenthal’s fate among key questions as Nationals stumble home

Rolling back into town, things same as they ever were, the Nationals can take solace in their situation by looking across the division. Brutish, really, a bunch of teams labeled contenders which can’t assemble winning streaks or bullpen outs. The National League East is an ugly affair filled with teams barely playing winning baseball. Not one of the five has a record better than .500 across the last 10 games.

Which is good news for the Nationals. They left the District with hopes consecutive series against supposedly inferior teams would jumpstart this pothole-filled season. No such results. Losers of four of six against downtrodden Miami and suddenly vibing Colorado leaves Washington a game under .500 -- its home of a year-plus. The Nationals have been within one game of .500, either a game above or below, 95 times since the 2018 season began with a 4-0 sweep in Cincinnati. That’s the most in the majors by 22 games.

So, a week away did nothing to change the team’s record or problems. Trevor Rosenthal still can’t find the plate. Trea Turner still has not healed. The bullpen as a whole is still languishing. Anthony Rendon’s elbow bruise was enough to keep him out of the Colorado series but not on the 10-day injured list.

Rosenthal remains a conundrum. Another wild appearance in Colorado undermined the progress of his previous appearance. He hits batters, bats and backstops, none of which are the goal.

Washington has few options with him. Rosenthal is earning $7 million guaranteed this season. He has minor-league options, but his major-league service time means he would have to accept an assignment to the lower levels. The Nationals can’t just send him down. He also just spent a year-plus recovering from surgery in order to pitch in the major leagues. Try telling that person it’s time for the minor leagues. He currently can’t be trusted in any spot. But, he needs to pitch to fix his issues.

An argument to Rosenthal to accept a minor-league assignment could go like this: go down there, get right, come back to help us when that happens. Don’t think only about now. Think about the future, too. A $14-million club option is on the line for next season. The chance Washington takes that option is close to nil. So, Rosenthal needs to think about employment elsewhere. What’s happening now -- pitching sparingly with stomach-churning results -- is not working, and it’s not working for anyone.

Another looming question as spunky San Diego arrives for a three-game series, is Rendon’s status. He has not played since being hit by a pitch April 20 in Miami. He also is yet to make his way to the injured list. Which, presumably, means the Nationals expect Rendon to be available Friday night against the Padres. If not, he should have been placed on the injured list already, retroactive to Sunday.

Without Rendon, the Nationals received a sustained look at Victor Robles hitting second. The results were intriguing. Robles remains a dynamic athlete who is still learning to hit. Davey Martinez will have to decide whether he is a fit to hit second without Turner and with Rendon in the lineup. Putting Robles second would have a two-fold benefit: It moves Rendon to hitting third, which moves Juan Soto to fourth, giving further separation to the left-handed bats in the lineup (part of the original thought for hitting Turner second). It also simply provides Robles more at-bats.

However Martinez -- and the organization -- decide to act will not be made easier by the coming schedule. San Diego’s negative run differential suggests its 14-11 record is built on false underpinnings. However, it remains a competitive team. St. Louis -- the NL’s best team as of Thursday -- is next. Another drive to Philadelphia follows, then a trip to Milwaukee and four games in Los Angeles against the first-place Dodgers.

Washington has to figure out if Rosenthal will be making any of those journeys, where Robles will be hitting, and, most notably, how they can put together consecutive wins. Its longest winning streak is two games. Its longest losing streak is two games. The Nationals have never been more than one game over .500 or two games below this season. This is peak middling, and not what a $190 million payroll was dispatched to do.

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