Capitals

Chargers try to avoid another prime-time flop

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Chargers try to avoid another prime-time flop

SAN DIEGO (AP) At the last minute, a group of corporate sponsors stepped up to bail out the struggling San Diego Chargers and make sure that Thursday night's game against the Kansas City Chiefs will be televised in Southern California.

Depending on the outcome, they might regret guaranteeing to cover a whopping 10,000 tickets that remained unsold 72 hours before kickoff.

Already prime-time flops twice this year, the Chargers (3-4) will try to get it right against the staggering Chiefs (1-6), arguably the NFL's worst team. Although the Chiefs have the same record as Jacksonville and Carolina, their issues run deeper than that.

Playing under the lights might merely illuminate what's wrong with these AFC West rivals, who play in the NFL's weakest division.

The Chiefs have lost four straight games and certainly won't be accused of using Stickum, seeing as how they've committed a staggering 25 turnovers, tops in the NFL.

San Diego has lost three straight and four of five to drop into a second-place tie with the hated Oakland Raiders, a game behind Denver. The bye week did nothing to help San Diego, which floundered in a 7-6 loss at Cleveland and hasn't scored a touchdown in its last six quarters.

Before that, of course, was the epic Monday night collapse at home against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, when the Chargers coughed up a 24-0 halftime lead and lost 35-24. Eight days earlier, the Chargers folded on the road against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints after leading by 10 in the third quarter.

Approaching the season's midpoint, the Chargers are still talking about trying to put together a complete game and getting on the same page.

Fan outrage against coach Norv Turner has never been hotter, and (hash)firenorv is all the rage on Twitter. More and more paying customers are starting to toss general manager A.J. Smith into the fray because his retooled roster hasn't played with the impact that was promised.

The way quarterback Philip Rivers sees it, there's a fine line between saving the season and having it spin out of control.

``We make two or three plays and we're sitting here 6-1 and talking about, `Are the Chargers the best team in the AFC?' `' said Rivers, who at the end of last season lobbied for team President Dean Spanos to retain Turner. ``And you don't make those plays and you're talking about, `Oh, what in the world is wrong?' `'

In the dreary loss to the Browns, wide receiver Robert Meachem continued his struggles when he dropped a potential touchdown pass.

Before that, it was Rivers' six turnovers against the Broncos and penalties against the Saints.

Spanos doesn't seem inclined to fire Turner at midseason, but a loss to the Chiefs could put the Bolts' boss in an untenable situation, especially facing the prospect of having the final four home games blacked out locally because of fan apathy.

``There doesn't need to be dramatic changes other than going out and winning,'' Rivers said. ``That's the dramatic change. Winning is definitely more dramatic than losing. As far as what it's going to take to go and win, it's not going to take anything dramatic. I wish that I didn't have to keep saying it, but it's very clear what's cost us these last three wins. But we're in the situation that we're in and we have to dig ourselves out.''

The Bolts beat the Chiefs 37-20 at Kansas City on Sept. 30.

The Chiefs have thrown 13 interceptions and lost 12 fumbles.

Equally as startling is this: Kansas City is the first team since at least 1940 that has gone through its first seven games without holding a lead in regulation, according to STATS LLC. The Chiefs' only victory came when Ryan Succop kicked the winning field goal against the Saints in overtime.

``We definitely think about it,'' wide receiver Dexter McCluster said. ``We definitely do want to see how things turn out if we do get a lead, and maybe we'll swing this program around if we get ahead. We won't be having to dig ourselves out of a hole.

``In this game you're going to face adversity,'' he added. ``But at the end of the day, you just have to go out there and play football. If you worry about being embarrassed, you're not going to get any better.''

The Chiefs lost three fumbles and had three interceptions in the loss to San Diego.

``It was kind of a bum-rush of bad things that happened. We've been on that side, too,'' said San Diego safety Eric Weddle.

``It's a point of emphasis, obviously,'' added Weddle, who had one interception in that game and saved a win against Kansas City last year with a last-minute interception of Matt Cassel. ``When a guy has trouble holding onto the ball or you feel like you can get around the pocket and put pressure on the quarterback ... when the ball's in the air, we have just as good of an opportunity to get the ball as the wide receivers.''

Coach Romeo Crennel said the Chiefs will have a chance if they ``don't get stupid penalties,'' limit turnovers and ``don't let guys run free in the secondary and catch touchdown passes.''

Seems like a tall order.

``They work hard during the week, they practice hard, they're good people, they're good kids, and they want to do things the right way and they want to win,'' the coach said. ``But things have happened during the course of the game that haven't allowed us to win, or haven't put us in the best position to win.''

Cassel will start because Brady Quinn has not been cleared to practice due to a concussion. Cassel regains the starting job he lost after a dismal five-game stretch to start the season.

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Dave Skretta in Kansas City contributed to this report.

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Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

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USA TODAY Sports

Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

Tarik: The term ‘Stanley Cup Hangover’ exists because, well, it’s a real thing. And the Caps, like all teams that battle into early June, are vulnerable to suffering from it next season.

Why? Think about it. No. 1, the core group just completed the longest season—106 games—of their lives (and, somewhere, the party is still going). No. 2, the top guys aren't exactly a bunch of spring chickens. No. 3, human nature.

A little more on that last one. Alex Ovechkin and Co. have spent the entirety of their professional hockey careers chasing Lord Stanley’s Cup. And now they have it. At long last. Hoisting the Cup was as much a moment to cherish as it was a gigantic relief for a team that had been labeled perennial underachievers. Shifting gears from that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment back to hunger and determination is difficult.

Something else that worries me a bit? They don’t have experience dealing with a truncated offseason. Rest and recovery matter. And they aren’t going to get much of either this summer.

All that said, they don’t have to stumble through the 2018-19 season. If you're looking at things from the optimist's point of view, the Cup run did something for Ovechkin and his teammates that none of the previous failures could: It showed them EXACTLY what it takes to play deep into the spring.

Eleven out of 12 forwards from the championship squad are expected back. Five of six defensemen and the goalie are returning, as well. Sure, they’ve got a new head coach, but he’s been here for four years already, giving him a huge advantage over a bench boss who’s starting from scratch. So there’s continuity and chemistry already built in.

I look at it like this: The core guys who’ve been around a while—Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, Holtby, etc.—have a rare opportunity before them. After coming up short for so many years, they’ve been gifted an extraordinary chance to make up for lost time over the next 12-24 months. In fact, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Oshie, Eller, Carlson, Niskanen, Orlov, Kempny and Holtby have two more years together, as a core, before the next round of tough decisions will need to be made.

But it’s going to be up to them. Are they going to be satisfied with one Cup? Or will they get greedy? I’m betting on the latter.

Regan: The Capitals could enter next season hungry, motivated, in the right mindset, completely prepared in every way to avoid a Cup hangover and it may still happen. Why? Because the Capitals (and Vegas for that matter) will enter next season with less time to rest, recover and prepare after a grueling playoff run than any other team in the NHL.

First things first, no, I do not think the Caps will struggle because they are are partying too hard this summer and won't be ready for the start of the season.

It took a long time Washington to finally reach the top of the mountain. It won't be lost on Alex Ovechkin, or any of the veterans, that the year he came into training camp early and in really good shape, that was the year he was able to lead his team to the promised land. Considering all the struggles, all the early playoff exits, all the years it took to finally win, I expect the veterans will look at how they prepared last season and take that lesson to heart going into camp. Those players will enter the fall in as good a shape as the time they have this offseason will allow them to be.

But this team is not just composed of veterans of the Ovechkin era who suffered through all of those postseason struggles.

What about the youngsters? Will Jakub Vrana have the same motivation as Ovechkin or a Nicklas Backstrom to show up to camp ready next season? What about Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey? If any of the team's young players aren't exactly in "game shape" by the fall, they won't be the first and they certainly won't be the last to struggle with early career playoff success.

There's also a new head coach to consider. In a lot of ways, I think coming into the season with a new coach in Todd Reirden will help. I don't expect too much adjustment under a coach the team knows very well, but I do expect more motivation at the start of the regular season than you usually see from a team coming off a championship.

There are a lot of reasons why the Caps could actually avoid a Cup hangover, but the fact is that time puts them at a disadvantage. Even if they overcome all the other factors, there's nothing they can do to suddenly give themselves more time to recover and to train. For that reason alone, I do expect a few early-season struggles from the defending champs.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

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Ranking the 2018 Redskins Roster: Revealing 31-53

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Ranking the 2018 Redskins Roster: Revealing 31-53

<< Go here to see our ranking of the 2018 Redskins, players 31-53. >>

At NBCSportsWashington.com, we projected the Redskins’ 53-man roster (offensedefense) right after minicamp. Now we are taking it one step further and ranking the 53 players we think will make the team.

The rankings are determined by who we think will have the most impact on the 2018 Redskins. No consideration was given for past performance or for what a particular player might do down the road. We’ll be revealing the rankings between now and the start of training camp. 

Today we’re starting up the list with the players we ranked from 31-53, Here are some of the players in our latest update:

—Seven of the team’s draft picks, including the pick they made last week.     

—All three specialists.

—The team’s leading rusher from 2017.   

Go here to see our ranking of the 2018 Redskins, players 31-53