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Comebacks becoming regular part of Colts legacy

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Comebacks becoming regular part of Colts legacy

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Indianapolis Colts keep doing unthinkable things.

They're winning close games with a rookie quarterback and one of the league's youngest teams. They're winning with an interim head coach, and now, they're on the verge of making it back to the playoffs without Peyton Manning.

And it's all thanks to a new cast of comeback kids.

``You know you have a chance until the last tick goes off the clock with those guys -as long as you can keep it within a manageable striking distance,'' coach Bruce Arians said Monday describing his experiences with three quarterbacks he's coached: Andrew Luck, Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.

Manning and Roethlisberger have the Super Bowl rings to prove it.

Luck doesn't have his ring yet, but his resume is getting stronger each week.

He's led the Colts to last-minute winning drives against Green Bay and Minnesota, an overtime win at Tennessee and, on Sunday, delivered another masterpiece with two TD passes in the final 2:39 to rally Indy from a 33-21 deficit to a stunning 35-33 win at Detroit as time expired. It was Indy's first winning score with no time left since 1990, yet another chapter in Luck's uncanny rookie season.

The two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up has already broken Cam Newton's single-game record for yards passing by a rookie; broken Manning's record for most 300-yard games as a rookie (six); and has won more games (eight) than any quarterback taken No. 1 overall since the 1970 merger. He's still on pace to break the league's single-season rookie marks for attempts, completions and yardage, and when Luck has needed big passes in clutch situations, he's been almost unstoppable.

In one key measure, games decided by eight or fewer points, Luck is a gaudy 7-1. The only loss came on an improbable an 80-yard TD pass with less than a minute to go after Luck had given Indy the lead with another last-minute score. Compare those numbers to Manning, who won eight one-possession games at four different times during his 14 seasons with Indy, and had a career-high nine only once, in 1999.

Luck's latest chapter came in Manning-like fashion Sunday when the 6-foot-4, 234-pound quarterback threw a perfect 42-yard strike to LaVon Brazill despite having a defender wrapped around his legs. That score got the Colts within 33-28.

After a desperately needed defensive stop, Luck went back to work with 1:07 on the clock and no timeouts.

He started the drive with a 9-yard run, then dropped a perfect lob into Reggie Wayne's hands for 26 yards with 52 seconds left. After a spike, Luck sprinted around Ndamukong Suh and stepped out of bounds for a 16-yard gain. He followed that with a 10-yard completion to Dwayne Allen that gave Indy four chances at the end zone from the 14 with 24 seconds left. Luck's first three passes all fell incomplete, but on the final play, a scrambling Luck spotted the open Donnie Avery short of the goal line, flicked the ball to him and nearly outran Avery into the end zone as time expired.

``They don't know no better, don't know any better, man,'' Wayne said after the game. ``They just know to just keep playing, at the end of the game, just see the way we fall out. That's a credit just to the coaches. Just keeping the guys into it, keeping them to play toward the end and guys just go out there and keep fighting and fighting till it's all over.''

It also explains why the Colts are closing in on an improbable playoff trip.

If Indy beats Tennessee (4-8) at home Sunday, all the Colts would need to clinch a postseason spot is one more win and a conference loss by either Cincinnati (6-5) or Pittsburgh (6-5). Since the franchise moved to Indy in 1984, the Colts have made the playoffs just three times without Manning.

But with only two teams outside of the AFC's four division leaders having fewer than seven losses, and because Indy hasn't played either the Bengals or Steelers, the tiebreaker would be based on AFC record. With two wins in their last four games, the Colts would be 10-6 overall and 7-5 against the AFC. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, who play Dec. 23 in Pittsburgh, already have five losses each against AFC foes.

Indy closes the season by hosting Tennessee, visiting Houston and Kansas City before facing the Texans in a Dec. 30 rematch at Lucas Oil Stadium - a game the Colts have pegged as the possible return for head coach Chuck Pagano.

Arians, who took over for Pagano after he was diagnosed with leukemia Sept. 26, has gone 7-2. Only three coaches in league history have won more games after a midseason coaching change: San Diego's Don Coryell (8-4 in 1978), Wally Lemm (9-0 in 1961) with the Houston Oilers in the AFL, and Hamp Pool (9-2 in 1952) with the Los Angeles Rams.

But Arians isn't looking at records, closing flurries or the playoffs. He wants the Colts to focus on what they did do best - succeeding when nobody else expects it.

``There's some really good football teams behind us and we just have to take care of our own business, and we will worry about all that (later) because a lot of the teams will play each other in these last few weeks,'' Arians said when asked about looking at possible playoff scenarios. ``There's plenty of time to worry about it.''

Notes: Arians said Pagano was expected to complete his third and final round of chemotherapy Tuesday and he could be back at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, though Arians said it would be ``tough'' because this is when Pagano's white blood-cell count is expected to drop. ... Indy's players got a second straight Monday off, their reward for winning on Sunday. ... Arians did not update the injury status of starting offensive linemen Winston Justice or Joe Reitz, who both left Sunday's game with possible concussions. ... Arians did, however, give his own injury update after taking a hard fall when Lions safety Don Carey ran into him following an interception. ``Just a little stiff, a little stiff,'' Arians said. ``But I'm OK. I can take their best shot.''

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Alex Ovechkin in the lineup shows just how important Wednesday vs. Toronto really is

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Alex Ovechkin in the lineup shows just how important Wednesday vs. Toronto really is

The Capitals have one last piece of business to tend to before the All-Star break. They head to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs Wednesday (7:30 p.m., NBCSN) in an absolute must-win for Washington.

Here’s what you need to watch.

Alex Ovechkin is in

Because Ovechkin decided not to participate in the All-Star Game, he has to serve a one-game suspension. The team had the option of Ovechkin missing the last game before the All-Star break or the first game back. Ovechkin was asked after the game Tuesday if he would be playing against the Leafs and he said yes. Head coach Todd Reirden confirmed that he would indeed be playing Wednesday. So, coming off a hat trick performance, Ovechkin will be back in the lineup Wednesday in Toronto.

The decision comes as no surprise. The Caps desperately need a win Wednesday or they will head into the All-Star break on a seven-game losing streak which will fester until the team finally returns to the ice after the bye week.

Ironically enough, the last time Ovechkin played in Toronto was on Nov. 25, 2017, the famous Alex Luey game in which Ovechkin also tallied a hat trick.

By playing Wednesday, Ovechkin will have to sit out the team’s first game back from the break on Feb. 1 against the Calgary Flames.

Who will play in net?

With the high stakes of this game, could we see Braden Holtby back between the pipes despite playing Tuesday? It’s possible.

Reirden said after Tuesday’s game that he had not yet reached a decision on which goalie would play in Toronto. On the one hand, this is a game the team really needs to win so it would make sense to play your top netminder especially before the prolonged All-Star break. On the other, Holtby has really struggled in his past two outings giving up four goals to Chicago on just 11 shots and seven goals to San Jose on 43 shots. Holtby’s break will also be shorter given that he will be participating in the All-Star festivities.

Pheonix Copley has been a dependable backup this season, but he certainly seems to be showing some cracks the last few games. He has given up 14 goals in his last three appearances, one of which was only half a game in Chicago.

It’s been a long time since Washington has lost seven straight

The last time the Caps lost seven straight games was in January 2014.

From Jan. 12 to Jan. 24, the Caps went 0-5-2 in Adam Oates’ second and last season behind the bench. That streak was particularly messy as Washington had three goalies on the roster -- Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and Michal Neuvirth -- and all three played during that stretch.

What should concern Caps fans the most is that not only was that the last time Washington lost seven straight, it was also the last time it missed the playoffs.

Toronto could really use this game too

For any optimists out there thinking maybe the Leafs will be looking ahead to the break and may just mentally take this game off, that’s not going to happen. Toronto needs this game about as much as the Caps do.

The Maple Leafs have lost four of their last five and seven of their last 10. Given what hockey means in Toronto, you can guess what the mood is like in that city. To say people are panicking would be grossly underselling it.

When the puck drops on Wednesday, two desperate hockey teams will be facing off.

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Bradley Beal doesn't care if he's named a 2019 NBA All-Star starter

Bradley Beal doesn't care if he's named a 2019 NBA All-Star starter

The 2019 NBA All-Star starters are set to be announced on Thursday and Wizards guard Bradley Beal is not optimistic he will be chosen. That is despite a growing number of supporters in the media, but Beal understands their votes only count for 25 percent of the equation.

Fan voting makes up 50 percent and NBA players the remaining 25 percent. With Beal in a distant 10th among Eastern Conference guards in the fan voting rounds that have been made public, he has set his expectations accordingly.

"I'm not going to be a starter so it doesn't matter," he quipped after Wizards practice on Wednesday. "I'm positive. Let's just be honest. Right? We all can be honest, right?"

Beal, who made his first All-Star team last season as a reserve, will almost certainly be an All-Star again this year one way or another. Coaches vote on reserves and those will be announced on Jan. 31.

But Beal has a solid case to be a starter despite his Wizards sitting at just 20-26 and outside of the playoff picture. He is posting career-highs in points (24.7), rebounds (5.0), assists (5.0), steals (1.3) and blocks (0.9). He has appeared in all 46 of the Wizards games this season while many of his teammates have been absent due to injury.

Boston's Kyrie Irving appears to be a lock for one of the two starting guard spots in the East. He has a strong case with his numbers, his team's success and has fared well in fan voting. But the second spot has no clear favorite.

Ben Simmons has played well for a good Sixers team. Victor Oladipo of the Pacers also has a case, though due to injuries his numbers have fallen off.

Kyle Lowry has helped the Raptors post one of the league's best records. Kemba Walker of the Hornets has had the best season of his career and plays for the hometown team with the game taking place in Charlotte.

There is also Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat, a future Hall of Famer who might be a starter if it were based solely on fan voting. If he gets support from players or media votes, he could get in as a legacy pick given this is the final season of his legendary career.

Basically, Beal has a lot of competition. He gets it and insists he isn't losing sleep over the pending announcement.

"Even then I don't let it consume me. It's not like a goal of mine like 'oh, I've gotta be an All-Star.' If I am, it's great. It's even more motivation to continue to get better. Even if I'm not an All-Star, I'm not going to be mad or upset," he said.

Beal said his No. 1 goal is winning and mentioned how the Wizards remain six games under .500 despite reeling off seven of their last 10. Washington happens to be hosting the defending-champion Golden State Warriors on Thursday night, so he has plenty on his plate.

Beal will likely be an All-Star representing the Wizards in the Feb. 17 showcase. But it doesn't sound like he will be doing any of the other festivities.

Beal has participated in the three-point contest twice in his career and both times was a runner-up. He has not been invited yet to this year's contest and probably won't participate even if he is asked.

"I would probably take a break this year because it was definitely a lot last year, just all the off-court stuff," he said. "I'm not saying I won't do it for the rest of my career, but I don't think I'm doing it this year."

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