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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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NHL Power Rankings: Capitals remain the class of the division

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NHL Power Rankings: Capitals remain the class of the division

Saturday’s game between the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets was built up as a battle for first place. It didn’t take long for Washington show that they remain the class of the division as the Caps walked away with an emphatic 4-0 win.

The  Metropolitan Division is just plain bad this year. New Jersey and Philadelphia are surprisingly atrocious, Carolina is still a player or two (and a goalie) away from being a playoff team, the Rangers will go only as far as Henrik Lundqvist can carry them, the Islanders have made great strides under Barry Trotz but are nowhere close to contending and this looks like Pittsburgh’s weakest team since the Mike Johnston era.

At this point, the only two teams that look like clear playoff teams are Washington and Columbus and even that may be a stretch depending on how the Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky situation pans out for the Blue Jackets.

There’s still a lot of hockey left to play this season, but the Caps made an early statement on Saturday that they remain the team to beat in the Metro and no one looks anywhere close to challenging them at this point.

SEE THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Here are a few observations from the past week:
•    Tom Wilson provided one heck of a spark when he returned from suspension. The way the Caps responded to his injury with two wins on the road is impressive and says a lot about this team’s mental makeup and resiliency, even more so than how they rallied after Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie both came out of the lineup.
•    Is Kuznetsov all the way back? He just does not seem like the same player who dazzled us in the first month of the season. Yes, he has a five-game point streak, but he is not dominating the game the same way. Earlier in the season, his talent was evident every time he stepped onto the ice. Whenever Connor McDavid is on the ice, you notice him. Whenever Nathan MacKinnon is on the ice, you notice him. That was true of Kuznetsov early on, but has not been true since he returned to the lineup.
•    Oshie is skating which means he is making progress, but the team should take a slow approach to his return. After he suffered a concussion last year from a hit by Joe Thornton, he did not play well when he returned for quite a while. The Caps are winning and are in first place, there’s no reason to really rush him back.
•    The power play is starting to become a major concern. The loss of Oshie certainly hurts, but that unit was starting to struggle even before the game in Winnipeg in which he was injured. When watching the Columbus game on Friday, someone asked Alan May what he thought the problem was and he said zone entries. There’s definitely something to that. The power play still looks as deadly as ever when the team sets it up, but it seems like they are having a real tough time just getting to that point. They just cannot get the puck into the offensive zone and keep possession.

Even with Wilson, Oshie and Orpik out, the Caps keep finding ways to win and that his them climbing up the rankings.

FIND OUT WHERE THEY LAND IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS.

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The Wizards' latest trade breaks up positive pairing

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The Wizards' latest trade breaks up positive pairing

Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith shared several similarities beyond being very tall men. At 32, they were the oldest players on the Wizards roster. Both arrived in Washington during the 2016 free agency period. They each fell out of the Wizards’ playing rotation this season with Thomas Bryant emerging as the starting center.

There’s another.

Despite receiving limited minutes in recent weeks, each remained remarkably upbeat to the point they could hold seminars on the topic of positive thinking.

“That’s the business. We’re in a tough business,” Mahinmi told NBC Sports Washington. “Me being in this league for 12 years, I understand it’s a long season. It’s a process. At the end of the day, you being mad isn’t going to much for yourself or the team. Have to be professional. You got to be positive.”

The Wizards (11-15) close their four-game road swing Monday against the Pacers (16-10). No doubt Mahinmi keeps that attitude Monday night against his former team even if the 6-foot-11 center doesn’t enter the game.

Smith would as well if he still played for the Wizards. Washington traded the 7-footer Friday in a three-team deal with the Bucks and Cavaliers. 

"When you see good basketball out there, it's easy to be upbeat. It's easy to be upbeat for your teammates out there,” Smith said to NBC Sports Washington Friday. Hours later Smith found out positively he was headed to Milwaukee.

Mahinmi remains as does what’s left of that four-year, $64 million contract that expires after the 2019-20 season. The signing was arguably curious from the start because of the contract terms and presence of now ex-Wizard Marcin Gortat. Positivity, perhaps Mahinmi's greatest contribution, doesn't show in the box score and the center's limited production is a constant source of annoyance for fans. 

The 10-year veteran also feels frustration. Mahinmi wants to play, contribute to the cause. For now, and likely going forward, Wizards coach Scott Brooks looks elsewhere except for spot minutes. Mahinmi didn’t play in eight of Washington’s last 11 games. While helpful as a rebounder and defender, he struggles offensively and averages six personal fouls per 36 minutes. 

Through it all, the smile and warmth remain for the husband and father of three. Fatherhood is yet another connection with Smith (and most of the Wizards roster at this point). Listening to them talk about the 21-year-old Bryant made it sound like a co-parenting situation.

“His absolute genuine joy is fun to see,” Smith said like a proud father. 

Despite Saturday’s 116-101 road loss to the Cavaliers, the Wizards are 6-4 since the energetic Bryant entered the starting lineup Nov. 20 against the Clippers. Washington’s season doesn’t hinge on Bryant’s development, but him turning into a steady option is essential. 

That’s an area Mahinmi seeks to offer help just like an NBA legend did for him upon entering the league with the Spurs in 2007.

“I’ll always remember when I was a young player trying to establish myself in this league and thrown into the mix. Obviously, it was very different. I was behind Tim Duncan. It meant everything to have the support of my elders, the vets and everyone around me. I’m trying to do this for (Thomas and the) young guys.”

While not playing consistently isn't ideal, Mahinmi said family life lifts his spirits, and maturity offers a new perspective.

“I can guarantee you if I was younger I wouldn’t be dealing with the challenges with the same approach,” Mahinmi said. “It’s good because basketball isn’t everything for me. I have bigger things, more important things going on in my life.”

Smith’s life changed Friday. He joined his new teammates Sunday and met with the Milwaukee media. He quickly impressed reporters with his attitude. 

Part of Smith knows he needs to impress NBA general managers and scouts with his play. 

His three-year contract, which included a player option of $5.45 million for the current season, expires this summer. Playing in only 12 of Washington’s 25 games before the trade didn’t help the cause of landing another deal.

“I mean, a little bit,” Smith said of free agency weighing on his mind, “but things will work out in the end. I’m 12 years in. This is all icing on the cake for me.”

Regarding his on-court role, it’s been a slippery road for Mahinmi since leaving Indiana in 2016. He’d love to play Monday in one of the NBA cities he considers home. The reality is others offer traits better suited to deal with the Pacers’ interior trio of Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, and Thad Young.

Maybe Mahinmi, now the final remaining member of the questionable group of 2016 additions, sneaks in for some action. Regardless, the nice man from France will keep up the encouragement.

“You have to be genuinely happy for your teammates,” Mahinmi said. “You’ve got to be willing to go through those times as a player, find the benefits of all challenges. It’s definitely a challenge for myself, for Jason, but I’m here for the team.”

That’s where the similarities with Smith end.

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