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Cowboys can't shake gloom of late-season flops

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Cowboys can't shake gloom of late-season flops

IRVING, Texas (AP) Tony Romo sat alone on the Dallas bench, his stare frozen at the ground on a cold night in Washington.

Any number of things could have been going through the mind of the Cowboys quarterback in the final minutes of a 28-18 loss to the Redskins on Sunday night - his third playoffs-or-bust failure in five years in a finale against an NFC East rival.

Maybe it was his latest big mistake in a huge moment, an interception that helped Washington clinch the win. Or his famous flub on the hold for what could have been a game-winning field goal in his first playoff game six years ago at Seattle. Or that the Cowboys still had a chance so late in a season notable for the death of a teammate and injuries to so many key players.

``It stings,'' said Romo, who dropped to 1-6 in elimination games with Dallas. ``You put your heart into this thing for so long, throughout the year, this offseason. We had to overcome a lot of stuff just to get ourselves in this situation.''

The words of tight end Jason Witten when he arrived at training camp - ``can't be the same old story'' - haunt the Cowboys now because it was. Mistakes and poor game management cost them some wins early in the season. Interceptions - nine of them - piled up on Romo in two losses. After winning five of six to regain control of their playoff fate, the Cowboys dropped the last two.

In the recent series of winner-take-all finales, the Cowboys have been swept by their three division rivals. Philadelphia blew them out in 2008, and the New York Giants took a 21-0 lead in a 31-14 victory last season.

Romo had the ball 85 yards from the end zone against the Redskins, with plenty of time to lead a scoring drive that could have ended a two-year playoff drought. Instead, he floated a pass that leaping Redskins linebacker Rob Jackson grabbed, and now Dallas is missing the postseason for the fourth time in Romo's six full seasons as the starter.

Dallas has become the definition of mediocrity, finishing 8-8 for the second year in a row and now holding a record of 128-128 since the start of the 1997 season. That means 2013 will be the third straight year with a record that starts at an even .500 going back more than a decade. Dallas has one playoff win in that span.

``If we don't do a good enough job then it is the same old story,'' Witten said Monday in a quiet and mostly empty Cowboys locker room. ``We've just got to stomach it up and get better because of it. That's the only way to get to the top.''

Much has changed since Dallas was 3-5 and facing early playoff elimination. In the midst of the 5-1 stretch that vaulted them to a tie for the division lead, the Cowboys had to play through the death of practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown in a car accident that led to intoxication manslaughter charges against nose tackle Josh Brent.

The wreck happened hours before Brent was supposed to be on the team plane to Cincinnati, where he was expected to start in place of injured Jay Ratliff. Dallas scored 10 points in the fourth quarter and beat the Bengals 20-19 on a field goal by Dan Bailey as time expired.

That turned out to be the first of three straight games decided on the final play, with the Cowboys splitting back-to-back overtime games at home by beating Pittsburgh and losing to New Orleans.

Questions about coach Jason Garrett's job disappeared as he steered the team through the death of Brown and the wins kept coming. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones lauded Garrett's leadership, and while Jones hasn't directly said Garrett will return, he has said he was never really considering an alternative.

Now the question is whether these Cowboys will be remembered for perseverance or another failure.

``I think we'll probably remember it for both of those things,'' Garrett said. ``These players and coaches went through a lot this year, overcame a lot of adversity, handled things the right way, got stronger as a result of it and that's really a special thing to be a part of.''

Injuries picked part the Dallas defense most of the season, but it was the offense's turn against the Redskins. Receivers Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Dwayne Harris were sidelined at various times, and Bryant spent the night in a hospital after injuring his back late in the game.

Bryant, who had a breakout season with 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns, was moving gingerly on crutches at team headquarters Monday. Austin and Harris had sprained ankles.

The defense, which gave up 200 yards rushing to Washington rookie Alfred Morris, will eagerly await the return of inside linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, along with three other starters who missed significant time. Several waiver wire pickups played plenty of snaps late in the season.

``Eventually, we're going to get this thing right,'' said cornerback Brandon Carr, who signed a $50 million free agent contract this year. ``This offseason is going to be turned up a few more notches than last offseason. I don't accept losing and none of the guys in this locker room accepts losing and we're tired of this feeling.''

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Why the trade for Radko Gudas could signal the end of Brooks Orpik’s tenure with the Caps

Why the trade for Radko Gudas could signal the end of Brooks Orpik’s tenure with the Caps

The Carolina Hurricanes ended the Capitals’ season in the first round of the playoffs and quite possibly Brooks Orpik’s career with it. The 38-year-old defenseman said at the team’s breakdown day that the decision for what comes next, whether retirement or playing another season in the NHL, would have to wait.

“I'm in no rush in terms of deciding on my future in terms of hockey,” Orpik said. “That'll be a more health-related decision down the road."

Whether Orpik wants to come back for one more year in the NHL will be up to him, but the decision on whether to re-sign with the Caps may have just been decided for him.

On Friday, the Caps traded defenseman Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Radko Gudas. Most people hear the name Gudas and think of him as a dirty player who can’t play the position, but he is actually a decent defenseman. The media in Philadelphia selected Gudas as the most outstanding defenseman for the Flyers in 2018-19. Plus, his penalty minutes have decreased in each of the past four seasons from 116 all the way down to 63 last season. For reference, Tom Wilson had 128 and Michal Kempny had 60. It’s still high, but it signals a player making a conscious effort to stay out of the penalty box.

Gudas has been suspended four times in his career and he certainly will be watched very closely by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. One big hit could mean a lengthy suspension. That is a definite concern, but in terms of just his play, there is value there as a third-pair defenseman.

With Gudas in, that will almost certainly push Orpik out.

The move gives Washington six defenseman under contract for next season. Teams will usually keep seven for the regular season, enough for three pairs and one extra. Christian Djoos is a restricted free agent and will presumably be back as well, giving Washington seven blue liners.

Djoos had a down year last season, but he did play a third-pair role on the team’s Cup run and he is only 24. It does not make sense to give up on Djoos after one bad year just for one more year with Orpik who will be 39 at the start of next season.

Given Washington’s salary cap situation, the Caps do not have room for an eighth defenseman. If Orpik were to return, it would mean pushing someone else out. The only of those seven defensemen that would make sense to even consider moving for Orpik would be Gudas.

Gudas would not be the first player in the world to be traded and then flipped or bought out soon after. Ironically, the same thing happened to Orpik last season when he was traded to and then quickly bought out by the Colorado Avalanche.

A buyout here, however, would make no sense. According to CapFriendly’s buyout calculator, a buyout would only give Washington $1,166,667 of cap relief and most of that would go to a new Orpik deal making it pointless. Yes, you still have the $3.405 million of cap space the team would have opened up in the trade, but if the plan all along was to re-sign Orpik and ship out Niskanen, then why not just trade Niskanen for draft picks? Then you get his full cap off the books instead of having to go through the trouble of buying out Gudas and having him count against the cap for the next two seasons. That would make no sense.

As for flipping him and trading him to another team, what would the team get for him that would make it worthwhile? You cannot bring on salary or it defeats the purpose so the Caps’ options for a return would likely be limited to players of the same caliber and cap hit. What would be the point of that?

Prior to this deal, Djoos and Jonas Siegenthaler were the most likely candidates to play on the third pair next season. Both are left shots. Gudas is a right-shot defenseman which now gives Washington three with John Carlson and Nick Jensen. Gudas also plays with a physical edge. Sometimes he goes too far with it, but so long as he can control himself, he would add the physical presence to the blue line that the team stands to lose with Orpik gone.

There is no reason to trade for Gudas unless the team intended for Gudas to play a role next season. General manager Brian MacLellan chose to trade for a player who is a right-shot, physical, third-pair defenseman which is pretty much exactly the hole they needed to fill on their blue line and essentially the spot Orpik will be vacating. That did not just happen by accident.

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Nationals calling up Adrian Sanchez, corresponding roster move pending

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Nationals calling up Adrian Sanchez, corresponding roster move pending

WASHINGTON -- Manager Davey Martinez wasn’t sure postgame Saturday what’s wrong with reliever Kyle Barraclough.

The right-hander’s velocity is down, his slider flat and too true, his results poor. Barraclough left the mound Saturday at dusk with a 6.39 ERA. He’s allowed seven home runs in 25 ⅓ innings this season. Little he has tried has worked. And his time on the team may be short.

Utility infielder Adrian Sanchez will join the team Sunday, according to a source. Sanchez’s likely departure from Double-A Harrisburg was reported Saturday night by Mick Reinhard, who covers the Senators, and noted Sanchez’s early removal from the game.

The question is who will be leaving to make room for him

Barraclough seems the logical choice. He has options remaining, so the Nationals could send him to Triple-A Fresno to try and work things out. They could also place him on the 10-day injured list, then send him on an extended rehabilitation in the minor leagues, as they did with Trevor Rosenthal. At a minimum, Washington will go from an eight-man bullpen to a five-man bench, finally delivering Martinez more versatility at the plate and in the field.

Barraclough and left-hander Tony Sipp were rarely used in the last three weeks. A week passed between appearances for Barraclough from the end of May to the start of June. Sipp pitched Sunday for just the fifth time since May 24.

If the Nationals do remove Barraclough from the roster -- in whatever fashion -- it will be another layer of indictment for their offseason bullpen plan. They acquired Barraclough via trade with Miami for international slot money. He was supposed to pitch the seventh inning on a regular basis, Rosenthal the eighth and Sean Doolittle the ninth. That lineup has been disastrous outside of Doolittle, compromising the entire season.

Rosenthal’s travails are well-documented. He pitched again Saturday, walked the first batter on four pitches, walked the second batter, then allowing a single to load the bases with no outs. He eventually allowed just a run. His ERA is 19.50 following the outing. It’s the first time this season Rosenthal’s ERA is under 20.00.

While trying to fix Rosenthal, and trying to hang on with Barraclough, the Nationals have turned to Wander Suero and Tanner Rainey to handle the seventh and eighth innings ahead of Doolittle. Few would have predicted that combination before the season began. Despite the relative concern, no one would have predicted the Nationals’ bullpen to be among the worst in the league for much of the season, but has turned out to be just that.

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