Nationals

Bills searching for answers on offense, too

Bills searching for answers on offense, too

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) The Buffalo Bills' horrendous defense over the last two games isn't the only problem.

The Ryan Fitzpatrick-led offense has been inconsistent, at best, and now features an injury-depleted line that is expected to be down some starters this weekend.

From bad to worse.

Indeed, when the Bills (2-3) face Arizona (4-1) on Sunday, they will be short-handed and searching for answers. Guard Chad Rinehart has a calf injury and did not practice Wednesday, and left tackle Cordy Glenn and guard Kraig Urbik are both recovering from right ankle injuries,

As it stands, Buffalo, which is training all week at Arizona State, is down to just six offensive lineman.

In the Bills' first three games, the team averaged 29 points per contest. In their last six quarters, Buffalo has been outscored 90-17. In the 45-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday, they registered just 10 first downs and 204 yards offense. That was the worst since managing six first downs and 162 yards in a 2010 season-ending 38-7 loss at the Jets.

Get the idea? Wait, there's more.

Fitzpatrick's 126 yards passing in the contest are the fewest by a Buffalo quarterback since Trent Edwards managed 102 in a 38-7 loss at Green Bay two weeks into the 2010 season. And Fitzpatrick has thrown 22 touchdowns and 24 interceptions in his past 14 games, a stretch in which he's gone 3-11.

Something has to change - soon.

``Last week, just three points wasn't us,'' said Fitzpatrick, who returned to Arizona where he grew up and played high school football. ``We have put up some points, in the first four weeks. We also have had a lot of turnovers. There has been a lot of inconsistency. Trying to find that consistency, that balance, whether it is running the ball, throwing the ball. We need to continue to do that.''

The injuries won't help.

``There have been a ton of injuries on the offensive line. We have new faces in there, we have had to pull our practice squad guys. It is the next-man-up mentality,'' said starting center Eric Wood, who has been limited in practice with a foot injury. ``We are not going to be quite as comfortable with each other as we were with the group that started pretty much from last year. No matter who is in there, we expect a lot of ourselves.

``We don't anticipate any dropoff.''

On Wednesday, the Bills signed veteran guard Reggie Wells. The 10-year veteran played seven seasons with the Cardinals, however is not expected to see any action this Sunday when Buffalo takes on his former team.

The Bills' running game has also been affected by injuries. The tandem of Fred Jackson, who missed two games with a knee injury and C.J. Spiller, who has been nagged by a shoulder injury, are starting to come around. And when healthy, they provide an offensive dimension that has been sorely missed.

``That is just it. Our defense has taken a lot of heat, but we have not done anything to help them as an offensive unit,'' Jackson said. ``We scored three points last week. You are not going to beat a lot of people in this league scoring three points. Our goal is to go out there and put up some points. Kind of take some pressure off of our defense. That is what we are focused on.

``We have to be able to establish the running game with myself and C.J. We have to get that going early.''

Another issue that has plagued the team is ball security. The Bills have turned over the ball 13 times (eight interceptions, 5 fumbles), ranking third most in the NFL, and 12 have come in the three losses. Opponents have scored 55 points off the 13 turnovers.

``Teams have taken advantage of that and gotten points,'' Jackson said. ``We have to eliminate that and we have to convert third downs. If we can get that done, eliminate the turnovers, then we can be a pretty dangerous offense.''

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Bryce Harper's 2018 Home Run Derby win by the numbers

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USA Today Sports

Bryce Harper's 2018 Home Run Derby win by the numbers

Bryce Harper is the 2018 Home Run Derby champion.

In his home ballpark, Harper put on a show Washington won't soon forget.

He ran through a division foe in the first round in Freddie Freeman, took out a strong, hefty lefty in the semifinals in Max Muncy and then hit nine home runs in 47 seconds in the final minute of the final round when it seemed like he had no chance. On the second swing of his 30 seconds of extra time, Harper launched a bomb to deep center field to win.

And while winning the Home Run Derby in his own ballpark is an impressive feat on its own, the numbers behind his victory make it all the more impressive.

3.

He is just the third hometown winner of the Home Run Derby in the history of the event. Todd Frazier did it most recently in 2016 in Cincinnati, and Ryne Sandberg won at Wrigley Field in Chicago in 1990.

13.

Harper won each of the first two rounds with 13 homers. He didn't need his full time in either of the first two rounds.

446 & 441.

Harper's first two home runs of his first-round matchup against Freeman traveled farther than any of the Braves' superstar's dingers.


10.

In the semifinals, Harper only hit three homers in the first minute, but then blasted 10 in his next 11 swings. That's called efficiency.


5.

In the first round, Harper hit five of the 10 longest home runs of anybody in the field.


45.

Harper hit 45 bombs en route to claiming the title. Here's a visual representation of all of them.

That's also how many dollars cheaper Nats tickets will be... oops!


2.

That's John Wall's number and this is him celebrating his fellow D.C. sports superstar's victory.


19,058.

Bryce Harper hit an absurd 19,058 feet of home runs during the 2018 Home Run Derby. That's more than the 5k you ran last year.

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With All-Star Game in Washington, Bryce Harper looks back on baseball life, ahead to uncertain future

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USA Today Sports Images

With All-Star Game in Washington, Bryce Harper looks back on baseball life, ahead to uncertain future

It's quite possible that, despite nearly a decade of being in the spotlight, gracing the cover of magazines and operating as a transcendent star in the sport of baseball, Bryce Harper's attention-drawing powers reached their apex this week in Washington as the 2018 All-Star Game took center stage at Nationals Park.

Harper has played in plenty showcase games before, he's participated in the Home Run Derby, he was the first overall pick in 2010. But this time the Midsummer Classic is in his professional baseball hometown and he is the primary ambassador for both the team and league. 

Oh, and this is also a pretty big year for his future. The 25-year-old is just months away from being one of the most sought after free agents in the history of the sport and perhaps soon the highest paid.

Harper took it all in stride on Monday as he held court in a club level ballroom at Nationals Park on South Capitol St. He knew the questions about his future were coming and he had answers for every single one of them.

Some of those questions included:

Do you ever have guys on other teams try to recruit you?

Has it ever crossed your mind how odd it would be to play somewhere else?

Do you have a relationship with [Yankees star] Aaron Judge?

One reporter didn't even finish his question before Harper sniffed it out.

When you shaved your beard [on June 19]... 

Harper: ..."it was because the Yankees were in town, right. You got it," he said sarcastically. "My beard was getting too long. My wife wanted me to trim it and it was a good idea."

Harper has by most accounts become closed off in recent years. His personality has been withdrawn. He famously began his first spring training press conference earlier this year with a written statement and a warning that any questions about his free agent future would result in him walking out of the room.

At least for a day, Harper was his old and congenial self. Though, he did explain why his personality has changed with the media in recent years.

"I think I've gotten older. I'm not going to say the same things at 16 that I do at 25," he said. "There were things that people did in college that they don't want people to know about. There are things that I've said in the media at 16 or 17 that I guess I was real about. I can't take them back and I don't want to."

Harper has been able to operate throughout the first half of the season while saying very little of substance to the media. The fact his batting average has dipped to just .214 has given him extra reason to put up walls.

As Harper addressed the media, he didn't offer any trademark one-liners, but he did get introspective about his life as a baseball player and his role as the face of the Washington Nationals.

He spoke glowingly about the franchise and the city, about how much he enjoys seeing the same faces every day, from his teammates to those in the front office to stadium employees and security guards. He shared his appreciation for the fans and area kids who look up to him.

The All-Star Game taking place in D.C. offered Harper a chance to reminisce. As Harper looked ahead to the Home Run Derby, he rattled off the most memorable homers he has seen at Nationals Park. 

He mentioned Jayson Werth's walkoff homer in Game 4 of the 2012 NL Division Series. He brought up the time Michael Morse hit one to the top of the Red Porch in left-center and the many times Adam Dunn cleared the third deck in right field.

Harper was asked about his the pressure of playing host and the duress of struggling in a contract year. He told a story from his days at the College of Southern Nevada that put it all into perspective.

"I got absolutely dominated for two weeks prior to our season opening before fall ball. I'm sitting there at 16 years old, I just got back from Team USA," he recalled.

"I got punched out like nine or 10 times in probably a matter of about 12 at-bats against my own team... I sat down and was like 'you know what, I don't want to do this. I want to go back to high school. I want to enjoy those moments and do that.' But I knew that I couldn't do that. I sat down and they said 'you can't come back, you tested out.' I said 'okay, you've gotta cowboy up.' I needed to do what I needed to do. A week later, we started our fall ball season and I went deep in my first at-bat at Cashman Field. The rest is history, I guess you could say."

If Harper had indeed been able to go back to high school, his draft status would have changed. He never would have been drafted first overall by the Nationals in 2010.

Harper feels the pressure of playing in junior college ball with his draft status on the line, playing against guys who were four or five years older than him, was the toughest thing he has done in baseball. It prepared him for all of these moments, just like the media scrutiny did over the years.

"It was only what, [eight] years ago? It's those moments that make you who you are," he said. "I'm 25 years and old and I play this game of baseball every day. What pressure do I have to feel?... It's the game that I love to play. I'm getting chills [right now]. There's nothing greater than running out there wearing No. 34 and being Bryce Harper and loving the game that I play."

Harper remained patient and upbeat for the over 30 minutes that he addressed the media. He was soaking it all in and trying to embrace the attention he was receiving.

But it was one of those questions from above that provided a dose of reality to set in. When asked if it would be strange to play for another team, he reminded the reporters present of what could very well happen this winter.

"It's always a possibility [I leave]. I think that everybody knew that at the beginning of the year, that this could possibly be my last year in D.C. Everybody knows that. There's no elephant in the room. Everybody knows that it's a possibility, but I'm not really focused on that," he said.

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