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Cutler says Bears' offense needs to pick up slack

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Cutler says Bears' offense needs to pick up slack

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) Jay Cutler said it's on the offense now for the Chicago Bears.

The Bears are banged up on both sides of the ball, and with Brian Urlacher sidelined by a hamstring injury the defense may be without its leader for the remainder of the season.

``We have to find a way,'' Cutler said Wednesday. ``We got to score more points. We got to be more efficient. Third down has been getting better. First down has been getting better. Red zone when we get in there we've done a good job. We just got to get more points, whatever it takes.''

Mostly, they need to play to expectations. That's something they haven't done, and with the defense starting to show some wear and tear after leading the way in a dominant start, the Bears are looking as vulnerable as any playoff contender.

They're tied with Green Bay for the NFC North lead at 8-4, but things could get dicey if they lose at Minnesota this week.

Their only remaining home game is Dec. 16 against the Packers, who won the first meeting at Lambeau Field. After that, the Bears visit Arizona and Detroit to close out the regular season.

At the moment, they're limping along with three losses in four games and a mounting list of injuries to go with Urlacher's, all while trying to secure a playoff spot.

``When you start getting depleted and trying to make that run for the division, trying to position yourself for the playoffs or whatever it is, and you don't have your main guys out there, it could be difficult,'' Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen said.

``At the same time, you've got to have that next-man-up mentality because everybody is in the league for a reason; everybody gets a paycheck. You have to step up and fill the void when need be.''

Cutler had to sit out the loss at San Francisco on Nov. 19 with a concussion and the Bears really took a beating the following week in a win over Minnesota, with Devin Hester sustaining a concussion and starting guards Lance Louis and Chris Spencer suffering knee injuries.

Louis has a torn anterior cruciate ligament and is out for the remainder of the season. Spencer sat out last week's overtime loss to Seattle. Edwin Williams started for him at left guard and Gabe Carimi got the nod at right guard for Louis. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice said he doesn't expect any lineup changes this week.

The Bears do hope to get receiver Alshon Jeffery (knee) and Hester back this week, but they could be without receiver Earl Bennett after he left the Seattle game with a concussion.

They also lost Urlacher and cornerback Tim Jennings (shoulder) on the final drive against the Seahawks. Neither practiced Wednesday, and coach Lovie Smith said he wasn't sure exactly how bad Jennings' injury is.

There's more clarity on Urlacher, who told a Chicago TV station Tuesday that doctors expect him to miss two to four games. He has officially been ruled out for this game.

If the Bears miss the playoffs, it's possible he has played his last down for them because of an expiring contract. For now, they will likely go with Nick Roach in the middle and move Geno Hayes into the lineup at strong side linebacker without Urlacher.

``Brian is definitely the heart of our team. I recognized that right away when I got traded here,'' receiver Brandon Marshall said. ``We have a lot of leaders in the locker room, just on that side of the ball alone you have Lance (Briggs), Julius (Peppers), Peanut (Charles Tillman), Tim, Nick, so there's a lot of guys that will pick it up and make plays while he's out.''

It would help if the offense came through, although it could be difficult against Allen and the Vikings. They kept Allen at bay last time, although he did deliver the hit that ended Louis' season on an interception return.

The offense really hasn't functioned the way the Bears envisioned after acquiring Marshall in the offseason and reuniting him with Cutler.

Big things were expected. They just haven't come.

Marshall has been as advertised, but Matt Forte hasn't really gotten going. The blocking remains a huge issue, and the offense simply hasn't put up big numbers.

That group ranks 30th overall and 31st in the passing game. Chicago is averaging 24.5 points, but the defense has played a big role in that with seven touchdowns on interception returns.

And the Bears are averaging just 14.5 points the past four games, even though they've gotten off to better starts in their last two.

``Guys are going to have to step up as other guys have ... and we're just going to have to find a way,'' Cutler said.

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Wizards vs. Celtics: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards vs. Celtics: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

The Wizards(11-16) hosts Bthe Celtics (16-10) on Wednesday night inside Capital One Arena for the first of three matchups of the 2018-19 season.

The Wizards dropped a Monday night contest in Indiana, despite an All-Star performance from Bradley Beal who poured in 30 points without John Wall in the lineup. 

The Celtics, without Kyrie Irving, defeated the New Orleans Pelicans Monday night thanks to a 31-point performance from Marcus Morris. 

One of the more recent and compelling NBA rivalries is back. 

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, and more:

WIZARDS vs. CELTICS HOW TO WATCH:

What: Washington Wizards vs. Boston Celtics
Where: Capital One Arena, Washington D.C.
Time/Date: Wednesday, 12/12/18 at 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: NBC Sports Washington (7:00 p.m.)
Live stream: You can watch the Wizards vs. Celtics live stream on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and the MyTeams by NBC Sports App. . Download MyTeams now for full postgame coverage and 24/7 Wizards news.
Radio: 1500 AM

WIZARDS vs. CELTICS TV SCHEDULE:

6:00 PM: Wizards Outsiders 
6:30 PM: Wizards Pregame Live
7:00 PM: Wizards vs. Celtics
9:30 PM: Wizards Postgame Live 
10:00 PM: Wizards Outsiders 

WIZARDS vs. CELTICS INJURY REPORT:

Wizards: Dwight Howard (out, lumbar microdisectomy procedure)

Celtics: Aron Baynes (questionable, left ankle sprain), Gordon Hayward (doubtful, illness), Al Horford (questionable, left knee soreness), Guerschon Yabusele (out, right ankle sprain) 

WIZARDS vs. CELTICS SERIES HISTORY: 

Number of all-time Meetings: 302 games (22 playoff games)

Regular Season Record: Celtics lead series 188-114

Playoff Record: Celtics lead series 13-9

Last Meeting: Wizards beat Celtics 113-101 on 4/10/2018

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Dave Martinez reiterates door remains open for Bryce Harper

Dave Martinez reiterates door remains open for Bryce Harper

LAS VEGAS -- This is not Davey Martinez’s kind of place. He’s more of a Tampa guy, maybe some Nashville. Not Las Vegas. He’s not in the desert to gamble or make the casino scene. Work brings him here, not some desire to burn life earnings during the offseason.

“Social gambler,” Martinez said. “How’s that?”

He’s able to make the rounds, at least. Martinez is 54. He entered the major leagues in 1986. Only four years since then have been spent outside of the major leagues. Which makes this event more of a chance to see old friends in the game. 

Work is limited. Mike Rizzo finished the majority of the roster before the Nationals’ contingent arrived in Las Vegas. Maybe they upgrade at second base. Maybe they add another veteran starter to the spring training mix. Maybe another bullpen option with the same line of thought. But, for the most part, Martinez knows what he will be working with in 2019. 

“Mike and I talked at the end of the season with ownership,” Martinez told NBC Sports Washington. “We sat down. Had a couple meetings. And Pat Corbin, all the guys we got were on our list and he got it done. It was a nice early Christmas present for me to get these guys and get this ball rolling.”

Martinez has harped on certain points since the close of the season. The Nationals need to be better fielders, baserunners and situational hitters. It sounds mundane, something that should be built-in at this level, but anyone who watched last season saw mediocre baseball being played. A throw to the wrong base. An extra base not taken. A double-play unturned.

“Last year we played a lot of one-run games,” Martinez said. “When I looked back and watched some of the replays of the games this past winter, it’s about not allowing teams 28, 29, 30 outs.” 

The Nationals will have days in spring training without hitting. Emphasis on fielding and baserunning drills will increase. They want to play faster and smarter. 

They also believe a healthy start is in place. Martinez said Adam Eaton’s leg continues to gain strength. Ryan Zimmerman’s body is in a good place. Stephen Strasburg is feverishly working out at Nationals Park. 

“As you know, last year when he got hurt and went down, our starting pitching took a beating a little bit,” Martinez said. “Hopefully, he comes back and he’s strong and he can get back and compete. If we can get Stras up to 25 starts, we’re going to be really good.”

Listening to Martinez hints at lessons learned from last season. In particular, his use of the bullpen. Sammy Solis made 30 appearances by the end of May. That matched his total from 2017. 

“I go back to the earlier part of last year,” Martinez said. “He was really good. He kept our bullpen stable. And I used him a lot. And I think at one point -- and I’ve heard this before -- I might have used him too much. What I see now, I’m going by what I saw earlier in the season in hopes that he comes back that guy. And then kind of use him in that role. Because he was really good. He was getting lefties and righties out. … I think Sammy has a lot of upside.”

The back of the bullpen remains structured the same as last season. At least in roles. Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal are a swap for Brandon Kintzler and Ryan Madson. Sean Doolittle maintains his spot as the closer. If he needs a day off, Rosenthal will step in.

That all leaves one enormous question.

“As you know Bryce and I have a special relationship,” Martinez said. “As a player, as a person, as a kid, I think he’s awesome. I love him to death, I do. Right now, we have to continue to move forward and try to get better. Not by any means, and I heard Rizzo say this and I feel the same way, that the door’s closed on Bryce. He’s got big decisions to make. Ultimately, he’s going to make the decision. And It’s tough. I know how he feels about his teammates, I know how he feels about Washington, but it’s a tough decision he needs to make for him and his family.” 

Life is easier with answers. Martinez has most of them for 2019. He, like everyone else, is waiting on one more.

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