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Dalton, offense let Bengals down again in playoffs

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Dalton, offense let Bengals down again in playoffs

CINCINNATI (AP) Coach Marvin Lewis was taken aback by the way his team fell apart.

The Bengals played their worst all-around game in months, resulting in a 19-13 loss to Houston on Saturday in a wild card playoff. Even then, they had a chance to win it at the end, but Andy Dalton overthrew an open A.J. Green in the end zone.

After winning seven of their last eight games, the Bengals were convinced they would finally snap one of the most enduring streaks of playoff futility. Instead, they've now gone 22 years without a postseason win, tied for seventh-longest in NFL history.

``It was kind of interesting that a lot of things we went into the game understanding - the poise and the calmness we needed to play with - eventually ended up being our demise,'' Lewis said on Monday.

Nothing was more stunning than the way the offense imploded. And nobody is under more scrutiny heading into another empty offseason than quarterback Andy Dalton.

For the second year in a row, Dalton had a horrid time in the playoffs. He passed for only 3 yards in the first half and finished 14 of 30 for 127 yards with no touchdowns, one interception and a 44.7 passer rating that was third-worst in franchise history for a playoff game.

As a rookie last year, he threw three interceptions during a 31-10 loss in Houston that left him with a passer rating of 51.4. In the two playoff games combined, Dalton has completed 57 percent of his passes for only 384 yards with no touchdowns and four interceptions.

In his two biggest games, Dalton has failed to lead the offense to a touchdown.

``Andy's an incredible quarterback,'' receiver Andrew Hawkins said on Monday. ``To do the things he's done this early in his career - 17 wins, he took the Bengals to back-to-back playoffs for the first time in 30 years. When you start winning, the standard gets raised. Now we're bums for losing in the first round where before we were bums for not making it to the playoffs. That's how football works. We understand that.

``He's going to bring the Bengals a lot of wins and a lot of playoff wins for many years to come.''

A lot of the focus next season will be on Dalton, a second-round draft pick who exceeded expectations as a rookie but had his worst moments in the biggest games this season. Lewis met with him on Monday and urged him to continue taking control of the offense.

``As I told Andy, `You've done a lot of good things, now you have to continue pressing forward and putting your stamp on the football team,''' Lewis said.

Another failure to get a playoff win would raise questions about whether he's capable of taking the team to the next level.

``I know the type of player that I am, and I'm not too worried about it,'' Dalton said on Monday. ``To go from 4-12 before I got here to 9-7 and now 10-6 - we're getting better and going to be better next year.''

It's not all on Dalton. The offensive line struggled to protect Dalton and to open holes for the running game in the final month. No receiver emerged as a consistent complement to Green. Tight end Jermaine Gresham tended to drop passes. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden had trouble getting the offense into a flow.

``I think we still lack a little identity of who we are and what our style is,'' left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. ``And of course, people are going to say things about (Dalton). That's the nature of the position. But the truth of it is, all of us have things we can do better.

``It doesn't matter where you are. Great quarterbacks are great because there are other great players on that team, too. It's one of those things that everybody around him has got to play great, too. And we've got to find an identity and a style and go with it.''

Lewis wants to keep the running game the main focus of the offense. Newcomer BenJarvus Green-Ellis had an inconsistent season behind a line that was in flux because of injuries. Green-Ellis finished with 1,094 yards and four 100-yard games.

The defense was playoff-caliber for the last half of the season, setting a franchise record for sacks and routinely shutting down opponents. It even outscored the offense at times - in the final three games, the defense scored three touchdowns to one by the offense.

Coordinator Mike Zimmer said on Monday that he hasn't been contacted by any other teams about head coaching openings, so it looks like he'll be around for another season.

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How the Caps turned a sure loss into their first home win in under 90 seconds

How the Caps turned a sure loss into their first home win in under 90 seconds

WASHINGTON -- Another sloppy defensive performance looked like it would doom the Capitals, but a furious three-goal rally in the second period turned what looked like a sure defeat into a stunning 4-3 victory, their first at home this season, over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

Toronto took an early lead off a short-handed goal from Kasperi Kapanen. Jonas Siegenthaler then was slow to react to a streaking Ilya Mikheyev who torched him to put the Leafs up 2-0. Jakub Vrana made it 2-1 late in the first, but Toronto looked like they had this game well in hand.

But the Caps rallied and completely turned things around in a stretch of just 1:18 in the second period. Here's how.

Brilliant skating by Kuznetsov

Kuznetsov passed the puck up to the offensive blue line. A skating Carl Hagelin tapped it to John Carlson who entered the zone, pulled back and handed it off to Kuznetsov who took over.

When Kuznetsov gets the puck there are three Maple Leaf players in front of him. He pumps the legs once and then glides in on net and somehow he is behind all three players and in alone on Michael Hutchinson.

Kuznetsov’s speed virtually never changes during the play. There’s no frantic, choppy acceleration, just a smooth glide that allows him to skate in, wait out Hutchinson and tuck the puck around his outstretched pad all in seemingly one fluid motion.

The forecheck pays off 11 seconds later

T.J. Oshie beat out Morgan Rielly in a footrace for the puck in the offensive zone. He circled in the corner to protect the puck with his body from Rielly. He was able to find Nicklas Backstrom in the high slot and Backstrom snapped the puck in.

In a period of just 11 seconds, the Caps had changed the score from 2-1 Leafs to 3-2 Caps.

The flustered Leafs

Momentum is a real thing. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. That was on display in the second period when the Leafs were on their heels after coughing up two quick goals. Just 18 seconds after Backstrom’s goal, Nicholas SHore was called for interference on Oshie.

Do you know how you get two goals and draw an interference penalty in less than a minute? By keeping possession of the puck. Toronto could not get its hands on it at all until Cocy Ceci did on the penalty kill...and promptly threw the puck into the crowd on an attempted clearance from the defensive zone resulting in a delay of game penalty.

A 5-on-3

Ceci’s penalty came just nine seconds after Shore was booked resulting in a two-man advantage for 1:51. The Caps were too hot at that point to not convert. The power play moved the puck very effectively and, critically, managed to retain possession after every shot. The Leafs just could not get there in time to clear it allowing the Caps to take their time, set things up and attack.

The power play shifted with Carlson making his way over to the Ovechkin spot. Ovechkin was fed the puck at the point, faked the slap shot and instead tapped the pass over to Carlson. Carlson did his best Ovechkin impression and fired the one-timer past Hutchinson. That goal made the score 4-2 and capped off an incredible 1:18 stretch in which the Caps turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead, thus ultimately snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Toronto would score a late goal in a comeback attempt but ultimately fell short.

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Capitals score three goals in 90 seconds to take the lead over Toronto

Capitals score three goals in 90 seconds to take the lead over Toronto

The beginning of Wednesday's clash with the Maple Leafs was not pretty for the Capitals.

A pair of goals by Toronto gave them an early lead midway through the first period. But a snipe by Jakub Vrana towards the end of the first frame cut the deficit in half entering the first intermission.

But during the second period, all of a sudden, a switch flipped for the Capitals attack. Washington found the back of the net three times in under 90 seconds, turning a one-goal deficit into a two-goal lead.

The first came from Evgeny Kuznetsov, who finished with a beautiful move to sneak the puck past Maple Leafs' goalie Michael Hutchinson's glove.

Just 11 seconds later, Nicklas Backstrom found the back of the net on a beautiful wrister from T.J. Oshie to put the Capitals ahead.

To complete the trifecta, John Carlson's one-timer from Alex Ovechkin went right in between Hutchinson's legs, giving the Capitals a 4-2 lead. 

At the end of the second period, the Capitals hold the same 4-2 lead. Just 20 minutes separate the Capitals from their fourth victory of the season.

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