Nationals

Browns seek rare win over loathed Steelers

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Browns seek rare win over loathed Steelers

CLEVELAND (AP) Upon taking over as Browns owner last summer, Jimmy Haslam said one of his first priorities was to revive the Cleveland-Pittsburgh rivalry.

It's been dead for years.

Once the NFL's equivalent to the Hatfields vs. McCoys in helmets and shoulder pads, the two-times-per-season clash between the Steelers and Browns has lost its luster. Pittsburgh has dominated the matchup between the AFC North neighbors, winning 16 of the past 17 games and 22 of 24 heading into this week's game.

And while the Steelers might view the Baltimore Ravens as their most bitter foe, the folks in Cleveland still see the yellow and black as pure evil.

``The first thing I heard from fans when I got in town is, `If you beat the Steelers you don't buy a steak for a long time,''' Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden said. ``I'm going to hold some of those people to that.''

If Weeden wants to get some free meals, and if the Browns (2-8) truly intend to begin evening the score with the Steelers (6-4), this would be the time to start.

Because of injuries, Pittsburgh is down to third-string quarterback Charlie Batch, who has been pressed into duty with both Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich nursing injuries. The 37-year-old Batch has led the Steelers to victories before while filling in for Roethlisberger and knows he needs to hold things down.

The Steelers trail first-place Baltimore by two games and can't afford to fall further behind.

``There's a lot on the line because we're still in the hunt for everything,'' said Batch, whose previous start came on Christmas Eve last season. ``At this point we still have a chance to win the division. We still have to keep up with everybody else at this point. We still can't get ahead of ourselves. We have to go up there and figure out a way, no matter what, to get this win.''

Against Baltimore last week, the Steelers wore those hideous striped throwback uniforms. They went retro again this week by re-signing wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who last suited up in Pittsburgh's colors in 2004.

The 35-year-old Burress, who had stints with the New York Giants, Jets and in prison since he last played for the Steelers, provides size and experience to a receiving corps thinned by injuries. He spent the past few days digging into a new playbook and believes he can make a difference down the stretch for the Steelers, who will play four of their last six inside the division.

``We're going to go out and try to make the best of it on this run we have,'' he said. ``It's November and December football. That's when everybody begins to separate themselves. We want to be one of those teams.''

Fortunately the Steelers can count on the NFL's top-ranked defense, which hasn't given up more than 20 points in any of the past five games and can be a nightmare for rookie quarterbacks. At 75, Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau knows all the tricks to stymie any offense.

``They've got guys that have been in the league for a long time,'' Weeden said. ``They've got guys that can tackle. They've got guys that are scheme-wise really, really good. He (LeBeau) is a big zone blitz guy. They don't give up many big plays. They try to keep everything in front and they do a great job with it. They've done it for a long time and I don't really expect it to change when we play them.''

For the Browns, Sunday presents another chance to put together a complete game. Last week's 23-20 overtime loss in Dallas was Cleveland's fifth by a touchdown or less this season and league-leading 18th by seven points or fewer since 2010.

Coach Pat Shurmur has made the Browns competitive. Now they must take the next step.

``We have to find a way to finish,'' he said. ``Simple as that.''

Rookie running back Trent Richardson stepped forward this week and put the blame for last week's loss on his broad shoulders. Richardson, who hasn't been at full speed following knee surgery and a rib injury, ran for 95 yards and added 49 more receiving. But as far as the first-round pick was concerned, it wasn't enough.

``You can put the game on me. I'm a man,'' he said. ``I'm going to man up to my mistakes and my faults. I made my decision and I messed up. That happens when you make decisions right on the run. It just happens.''

Richardson gained just 33 yards on 12 carries after halftime and was stopped for zero yards on four attempts. In the fourth quarter, Richardson couldn't get in from the 1-yard line on a play in which he missed the hole.

Richardson wants to be their closer.

``That's what they picked me for,'' said the No. 3 overall pick. ``That's why they moved up a spot. I do feel like it's on me.''

Weeden wasn't surprised by Richardson's comments. He just disagreed with them.

``He's a competitor and a team player,'' he said. ``We all made mistakes. I wouldn't agree with him. It says a lot about his character to say that, but he's a hell of a player. I'll take more of the blame than he does.''

The Browns hope there's no blame to be shared this week - just a rare win over the Steelers.

``I've beaten them before,'' said return specialist Josh Cribbs, one of the few Cleveland players who can make that claim. ``It's been a while, but it'll mean everything for the city and our fans. We've lost a lot of games, but we can make it right. This rivalry is everything to us and our fans. It's about bragging rights.''

And for Haslam, who owned a minority share of the Steelers before he bought the Browns, it would be a start.

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Nationals players believe extended safety netting is a ‘no-brainer’

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USA Today Sports images

Nationals players believe extended safety netting is a ‘no-brainer’

WASHINGTON -- Visuals can change everything.

It’s happened across sports in different fashion. An issue is discussed or dismissed until a troubling incident is brought to life via video in front of everyone’s eyes.

That breaking point on extended netting arrived for Major League Baseball after Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. pulled a line drive into the stands May 29. The ball struck a four-year-old girl. But, it was Almora’s reaction, as much as anything, which made the reality so stark. He was stunned and moved to tears. The player’s reaction amplified the incident to a level which forced something to be done.

Steps will be taken at Nationals Park to prevent such an incident. The team announced Thursday it will extend the protective netting up the foul line during the All-Star break. It will end just short of the foul poles. Washington has a good window to complete the work because it goes on the road following the All-Star break. The Nationals’ final pre-break home game is July 7. They don’t return to Nationals Park until July 22.

“As players, it's something that we've pushed for and advocated for years now,” Sean Doolittle said. “I think as you see exit velocities that have continued to increase and these new stadiums that are bringing fans closer and closer to the action, you're seeing balls go into the stands at really, really high speeds. It's really scary. Max broke his nose the other day on a BP pitch that was probably 50 mph and these balls are going into the seats over 100 mph.

“So, I think, hopefully, It's a way to keep fans safe while bringing them closer to the action. As somebody that watches the vast majority of games from behind a screen or chain-linked fence, I can promise you get used to it really, really quickly. It doesn't hinder your view at all. You think the most expensive seats in the stands, they're right behind home plate. People look through a net. I promise you-you can still see the game and after five minutes you don't even notice that it's there.”

Ryan Zimmerman called it a “no-brainer.” Trea Turner wants fans to be paying more attention, in addition to the netting.

“You only have to pay attention to small snippets of the game,” Turner told NBC Sports Washington. “I just want people to pay attention. You can’t block everybody off from a foul pop that goes over the net, that can still hit people. You’re not going to foolproof it.”

Netting in Nationals Park will be thinner than the current netting, according to the team. It will also have sections which can be raised pregame in order to allow players to interact with fans.

The Almora incident was referenced in a letter from Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner announcing the extension. The Nationals were also witnesses to an Eloy Jiménez foul ball in Chicago which struck a young fan in Chicago on June 11.

“Jiménez hit a line drive really hard foul and I saw a girl looking towards me -- I don’t know what she was looking at but was kind of looking in the outfield direction, hit her in the side of the face,” Turner said. “I heard it hit her. What sticks in my head is when I heard the ball hit her. Not good.”

Washington becomes the second team to announce a planned extension. The White Sox were the first.

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters in Seattle on June 5 he didn’t expect league-wide changes in netting this season. Manfred cited a range of reasons from ballpark framework to fan objections. In 2015, the commissioner’s office recommended teams extend netting to the end of the dugouts. Three years later, that task was completed. The next steps have slowly begun.

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Women's World Cup 2019: Round of 16 bracket is set as USA soccer readies for knockout round

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USATSI

Women's World Cup 2019: Round of 16 bracket is set as USA soccer readies for knockout round

LE HAVRE, France (AP) -- The defending champion U.S. national team faced its toughest test of the Women's World Cup and remained dominant Thursday night, beating Sweden 2-0 to serve up a measure of revenge against the team that stunned the confident Americans in the last Olympics.

Lindsey Horan scored within the first three minutes, the fastest goal of this tournament. The United States went up 2-0 on an own goal by Jonna Andersson in the 50th minute that gave the Americans a tournament-record 18 goals in the group stage. The U.S. did not concede a goal in its first three matches.

Already assured a spot in the round of 16 before the game, the United States finished atop of group F and will head to Reims to face Spain on Monday, June 24th. Sweden will play Group E runners-up Canada in Paris. The U.S. currently has 9 points 

The meeting was the first tournament game between the two teams since the quarterfinals of the 2016 Olympics. The Swedes bunkered in on defense and advanced on penalties after a 1-1 draw, handing the United States its earliest-ever exit from the Olympic tournament. Former U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo called the Swedes "cowards" for the defensive stand.

Round-of-16 Schedule

Saturday, June 22

Germany vs. Nigeria, 11:30 a.m. ET

Norway vs. Australia, 3:00 p.m. ET

Sunday, June 23

England vs. Cameroon, 11:30 a.m. ET

France vs. Brazil, 3:00 p.m. ET

Monday, June 24

Spain vs. United States, Noon ET

Sweden vs. Canada, 3:00 p.m. ET

Tuesday, June 25

Italy vs. China, Noon ET

Netherlands vs Japan, 3:00 p.m. ET

Quarterfinals 

Thursday, June 27 

TBD vs, TBD, 3:00 p.m. ET

Friday, June 28

TBD vs TBD, 3:00 p.m. ET

Saturday, June 29

TBD vs TBD, 9:00 a.m. ET

TBD vs TBD, 12:30 p.m. ET

Semifinals 

Tuesday, July 2

TBD vs TBD, 3:00 p.m. ET 

Wednesday, July 3

TBD vs TBD, 3:00 p.m. ET

Third-place game

Saturday, July 6 

TBD vs TBD, 11:00 a.m. ET

Final 

Sunday, July 7

TBD vs TBD, 11:00 a.m. ET