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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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Ovechkin scores again, Capitals win fifth straight 4-3 over Buffalo

Ovechkin scores again, Capitals win fifth straight 4-3 over Buffalo

CAPITAL ONE ARENA — To hear Alex Ovechkin tell it, Saturday night was a rough one for him.

“I have pretty good chances, but today, it was not my day,” Ovechkin said. “You can't score every night."

You wonder if Ovechkin watched the contest he just played in. He scored a goal for the sixth game in a row in a 4-3 shootout win against the Buffalo Sabres. He had a game-high eight shots on goal. He set a new career-high point scoring streak (14 games). He had the goal that proved to be the winner in the shootout. He leads the NHL with 29 goals and no one else is even close. Things are going pretty well. 

“Such a threat, especially when he’s confident and he’s shooting the puck where he wants,” teammate Brett Connolly said. “[Ovechkin is] a bull out there, it seems like he keeps getting better and better every year. Such a hungriness to score goals. He’s having a hell of a season and it doesn’t look like he’s going to slow down. We’ve got to as a team really rally around that. When he’s playing that well you want to have guys really look at that and take it another level and fall in behind that.” 

Only five players age 33 or older have had a longer point streak than Ovechkin’s 14 games. His next goal will secure his 14th30-goal season. He has 23 points during this stretch (17 goals, six assists). You run out of superlatives. 

The same goes for his team. On the heels of a hat trick in Carolina on Friday, Ovechkin helped Washington to its fifth win in a row. The Capitals are 13-3 in their past 16 games and swept a back-to-back set with the Hurricanes and Sabres. Washington is 20-9-3 and with 43 points is six up on second place Columbus in the Metropolitan Division and seven ahead of third-place Pittsburgh. 

Things weren’t perfect on Saturday. The Sabres scored twice on the power play to make it 3-2 before Ovechkin tied it with a booming slap shot after a turnover at 13:46 of the second period. Pheonix Copley stopped 25 of 28 shots subbing for No. 1 goalie Braden Holtby, but the penalty kill continues to tank. 

Buffalo scored twice on the power play to take the lead and the first goal of the game by rising star Jack Eichel came exactly two minutes after a Michal Kempny penalty. You can count that as another if you’d like. Close as it gets. Considering Washington coach Todd Reirden put Chandler Stephenson back into the lineup Saturday because of his prowess on the PK, that’s a bad sign. 

So there are things to work on. But the Capitals are in a good position in the standings. Their stars are scoring. Their injury situation has improved somewhat with defenseman Brooks Orpik on the way by the end of the month. It’s only mid December and there are 50 games to go and things can change in a heartbeat and the playoffs seem forever away. But, for now anyway, life is good.      

“It wasn’t an easy night, but definitely we worked for those last two win,” Connolly said. “It’s a lot of fun right now. Everyone is having fun, everyone is positive and happy. It’s always so much better when you’re winning.” 


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4 reasons the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout

4 reasons the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout

Both Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals extended their streaks on Saturday in a 4-3 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres. Ovechkin's second period goal extended his point streak to 14 games, a career best, and Washington notched its fifth straight win.

Here are four reasons the Caps won.

A quick response

Similar to Friday’s game in Carolina, the Caps yielded the first goal very early into the game as Jack Eichel scored less than three minutes in. Just 58 seconds later, however, Brett Connolly erased the deficit with a goal set up by the hard work of Devante Smith-Pelly.

Buffalo goalie Carter Hutton went to retrieve a puck behind the net, but Smith-Pelly pressured him on the forecheck and stole it away. He passed it to Connolly in front and he had an easy layup with Hutton out of the net.

Alex Ovechkin

He did it again.

You would think at this point there was nothing more Ovechkin could do to wow us, but you would be wrong. Though he did not continue his hat trick streak, Ovechkin did in fact extend his point streak to a career-high 14 games with a second period strike that tied the game at three.

Orlov broke up a breakout by Buffalo in the offensive zone and Nicklas Backstrom uickly fired a beautiful pass through traffic to find a wheeling Ovechkin who had plenty of time and space for the wind up to beat Hutton.

Ovechkin now has 17 goals and six assists over the 14-game streak. His goal was his league-leading 29th of the season.

As if that wasn’t enough, Ovechkin also scored the game-winner in the shootout.

Evgeny Kuznetsov

All eyes are on Ovechkin and his point streak, but Kuznetov is putting together a nice little point streak of his own. With an assist on Jakub Vrana’s first period goal, Kuznetsov extended his point streak to eight games. He has one goal and nine assists in that stretch. Kuznetsov also scored in the shootout.

A horrible miss

With about a minute left in the game and the score tied at 3, Sam Reinhart had the game on his stick. Jeff Skinner skated in to a sharp angle and fired a shot up high on Copley. Copley stopped it, but couldn’t control it and the puck rebound fell to Reinhart in the slot with an empty net yawning. Reinhart tried to fire the bouncing puck into the net, but instead hit it off the post behind a helpless Copley. Vrana got his stick down in a desperate attempt to block the shot, but it looked like he did not get a piece of it, Reinhart just could not control the puck enough to hit it home and score what would have almost certainly been the game-winning goal.

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