Nationals

Browns clock Chiefs 30-7

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Browns clock Chiefs 30-7

CLEVELAND (AP) With just minutes left in a rare blowout win, new owner Jimmy Haslam leaned over the railing of his open-air suite and pumped his fist in celebration.

Down below, Cleveland fans jumped and screamed in delight.

Their team is rolling.

Yep, the Browns, masters of disaster for years, are winning.

On a day when an attempt to block a punt turned into a record return for a touchdown, the Browns showed some offensive creativity and did just about everything right in a 30-7 rout of the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, extending Cleveland's longest winning streak since 2009 to three games.

Travis Benjamin's electrifying 93-yard TD return in the second quarter gave the Browns (5-8) momentum they never gave back and Cleveland posted its most lopsided win since 2003.

``It's big for us,'' said tight end Ben Watson, who had three receptions for 43 yards and prevented the Chiefs from intercepting one of quarterback Brandon Weeden's passes. ``We've had a lot of very close games that we haven't won and had some heartbreakers. So it's good to put it all together as a total team - offense, defense and special teams - and to come out with a win.''

Benjamin's game-changer helped the Browns continue their resurgence under second-year coach Pat Shurmur, who is beginning to build a strong case to keep his job. With three games left, the Browns have surpassed their win total from last season.

``It's all kind of coming together,'' said 14-year veteran kicker Phil Dawson, who made three field goals, including the 300th of his career. ``We're just doing all the little things right now. Guys are hungry to come back to work every day. There's some energy around here that I haven't felt. This is all good.''

Rookie running back Trent Richardson had two 1-yard TD runs for the young-and-improved Browns, who seem to be getting better every week. They've been competitive since the opener, but they're beginning to win close games, a sure sign of maturity and a major plus for Shurmur, whose team is 3-1 since the bye with the only loss in overtime at Dallas.

``These guys in that locker room have continued to buy in,'' Weeden said. ``Early in the year we faced a lot of adversity and we weren't winning games, but we've stayed true to what we do. It's paid off. We've found a way to win these last three weeks.''

Jamaal Charles ran for 165 yards, breaking off an 80-yard TD run on the game's first play for the Chiefs (2-11), playing their first road game following linebacker Jovan Belcher's suicide. The 25-year-old killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, at their home before driving to the team's practice facility on Dec. 1 and shooting himself.

This week, the Chiefs adjusted their practice schedule to attend a memorial service for Belcher. On Saturday, Charles and several other teammates attended a service for Perkins in Austin, Texas. The shocking tragedy has been especially troubling for Charles, whose wife was Perkins' first cousin.

Charles has not spoken to the media since the deaths. He left the stadium following the game wearing a heart-shaped badge bearing Perkins' initials.

A week ago, the Chiefs, united by coach Romeo Crennel, pulled together and won at home over Carolina, less than one day after Belcher's stunning act. The emotions of the past few days seemed to take their toll and contribute to an uneven performance against the Browns.

``It's something that I think we'll carry with us for the rest of the season,'' quarterback Brady Quinn said. ``But it's not a distraction for us. We're doing our best to move forward. Football, and the fact that these guys love to play the game, is a great outlet, or a great way to get our minds off of it.''

Richardson's second TD early in the fourth quarter gave the Browns a 27-7 lead and finally put away the Chiefs (2-11),

Charles returned after sustaining a rib injury knocked him out one series. Kansas City, though, lost leading receiver Dwayne Bowe, who injured his ribs in the first half and didn't come back.

Without Bowe, Quinn was without his top target and finished 11 of 22 for 159 yards and one interception.

Benjamin's 93-yard punt return - the longest in team history - gave the Browns a 10-7 lead and seemed to demoralize the Chiefs.

Just before the snap, Benjamin lined up to block Kansas City's gunner before sprinting 50 yards and switching spots with Josh Cribbs, who rushed up the middle. Benjamin fielded the kick inside his 10, cut sharply left, picked up a few key blocks and outran the rest of Kansas City's coverage unit.

The Browns worked on the play, called ``Banzai'' in practice and sprung it on the Chiefs.

``We schemed it up perfect,'' Cribbs said. ``We tried to get a punt block up the middle, but a touchdown is always better.''

The return by the speedy Benjamin was 1 yard longer than Eric Metcalf's TD at Cincinnati on Sept. 4, 1994.

``It was a huge lift,'' Shurmur said. ``It puts us ahead in a game. We just took an 80-yard punch for a touchdown. That was a punch in the gut. To get a play like that to put you back on top, is something that you always hope for in a game.''

There's no denying Shurmur and his staff have the Browns headed in the right direction, but there's also no guarantee Haslam will allow them to stay next season.

For Dawson, who has seen it all during his time with Cleveland, the winning streak is a nice change of pace.

``I can get used to this,'' he said.''

NOTES: With nine rushing TDs, Richardson tied Hall of Famer Jim Brown (1957) for the team rookie record. ... His 10 overall TDs tie him with Brown and Metcalf (1989) for the most in a season. ... Crennel did not have an update on Bowe, who had two catches for 70 yards before getting hurt. ... Weeden joined Derek Anderson (2007) and Tim Couch (2001) as the only Browns QBs with 3,000 passing yards since '99. ... Chiefs LB Tamba Hali had two of KC's three sacks. ... The Browns host Washington next week in their final home game.

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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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