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Determined Dalton, Bengals prep for Pittsburgh

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Determined Dalton, Bengals prep for Pittsburgh

CINCINNATI (AP) Andy Dalton needs to play much better than he has in the past few weeks if the Bengals are going to pull off a franchise rarity.

Dalton was indecisive and repeatedly missed throws during a 34-13 win in Philadelphia that was set up by the Eagles' fumbling. Despite their struggles on offense, the Bengals (8-6) moved into playoff position with the victory last Thursday.

They can clinch a spot on Sunday by beating the Steelers (7-7) in Pittsburgh, something that's been very tough for them to do. A lot of it will come down to whether Dalton pulls out of his recent slump.

``I've had chances and I haven't hit them,'' Dalton said on Wednesday. ``I expect to play better myself, and I'm going to play better.''

The second-year quarterback is 0-6 against Pittsburgh and Baltimore. During the three losses to Pittsburgh, he has completed only 40 of 82 passes and never thrown for more than 170 yards in a game. The Bengals have only 38 first downs in the three games.

Dalton has been on a downturn in the last three games - wins at San Diego and Philadelphia, as well as a home loss to Dallas. His passer ratings of 65.2, 76.1 and 74.2 are his lowest for a three-game stretch this season. He has thrown for three touchdowns, been intercepted three times and gotten sacked 12 times.

Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said some of the sacks have been the result of Dalton holding onto the ball too long. He was 13 of 27 for 127 yards with six sacks in the loss at Philadelphia, one of the worst showings of his career.

``We expect to see progress and not regression, and he kind of took a step back,'' Gruden said. ``That's disappointing. But in fairness to him, it's a road game, a Thursday night game against a pretty good defensive front and they have two good cornerbacks and they did a good job. They played hard and spirited and took it to us.

``But we had some plays that should have been made that weren't.''

Dalton's passer rating has been lower only one other time this season. He was 14 of 28 for 105 yards with a game-turning interception and a 56.4 passer rating during a 24-17 loss to Pittsburgh at Paul Brown Stadium on Oct. 21. Dalton managed only one completion to A.J. Green as the Steelers took away quick throws to the Pro Bowl receiver.

Dalton and Green never got comfortable against Pittsburgh's defense.

``There were a couple of opportunities,'' Green said on Wednesday. ``But their scheme is so good it's hard to guess what they're doing.''

The rematch is a decisive game for both teams.

A loss would eliminate the Steelers. The Bengals would clinch at least a wild card berth with a victory and make a little franchise history. Only once during their 44 previous seasons have they gone to the playoffs in back-to-back years. They were a wild card last season as well, losing to Houston in the opening round.

Only twice in franchise history have the Bengals followed a playoff appearance with a winning record the next season. A victory in Pittsburgh would mark the third time it's happened.

Cincinnati finishes the season at home against Baltimore (9-5), which leads the AFC North and has already clinched a playoff spot.

If the Bengals lose to the Steelers, they would have the same record but Pittsburgh would have the head-to-head tiebreaker by sweeping the season series. Essentially, the season comes down to this game.

``There's really not much else to say except we've got to come play our best,'' Dalton said. ``And we've got to do whatever it takes to win the game.''

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NOTES: Some players wore hats with Chris Henry's No. 15 and had photos of the former Bengals receiver in their lockers on Wednesday. Henry died in December 2009 after falling out of a pickup truck driven by his fiancee. His former teammates do something every December in his memory. ... Josh Brown will likely do the kicking for the third straight game. K Mike Nugent said Wednesday he's still bothered by a strained right calf that has prevented him from kicking a ball hard. ``You don't want to have something react and kind of go through the whole process for another however many days,'' Nugent said. ``One of those things - just being very patient with it.'' Brown has made all of his six field goal attempts, including a 52-yarder.

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When will the NFL kick off play? NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith not ready to predict

When will the NFL kick off play? NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith not ready to predict

A world without sports was impossible to imagine just a few weeks ago.   

Even under the worst circumstances, sports brings us together, provides hope during times of adversity, heals the broken and offers a glimpse of better times to come. That isn’t available now to help us distance ourselves from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.  

The NBA, NHL, and MLS seasons are suspended. MLB’s season is delayed. College spring sports are cancelled. This is the new reality of social distancing and quarantine.  

In these trying times, the NFL has provided some sense of normalcy because its offseason could go on despite some necessary adjustments. Free agency went off without a hitch and the NFL Draft is expected to do the same later this month. But what happens after that? Will the season begin on time? 

NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith is taking the cautious approach.  

“I think it’s hard, if not impossible, to make concrete projections on what things might look like three, four, five, six months from now,” Smith said.  

Where we are today could not have been predicted months ago, leaving uncertainty in its wake. Yes, sports fans are desperate for football. But this scenario is just bigger than the business of the game. So, we pause. 

“The country is in desperate need of good leadership right now to make sure that we halt the spread of the virus, that we try to make sure that we are doing everything to make the peak of this outbreak happen as quickly as possible,” Smith said.  

Teams are not allowed to meet with players currently. And while the league has yet to cancel off-season training activities, Covid-19 is disrupting day-to-day business. Virtual contact is expected soon, but when players and coaches meet for the first time in person may not come until training camp in July.  Even that is in question. The 2020 Summer Olympics were scheduled for the same time in Tokyo and they were postponed weeks ago.  

While we don’t know when football will return, we do know it will.  But will it be different?  It’s been suggested games could be played without fans. Smith says contingency plans are coming together, but games without fans seems unlikely.  If the virus hasn’t been contained, don’t expect players to come out first and play alone.  

“I certainly am a fan, like everybody else out there,” Smith said. “Whether it was being a fan of basketball, baseball, or being a fan of hockey – all of that got cancelled because it was in the public’s best interest.” 

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A team could test all of its players and be in the clear, but what about when they go home to their families?  Or resume normal activities outside of football?  It’s too much of a risk.    

“Football certainly has a strong and meaningful place in American culture, whether it’s played in high school, college, or played on the professional level,” Smith said. “But first and foremost, we have to make decisions that are in best interest of the public and best interest of the players.” 

The NFL and the NFLPA have gathered the best doctors they can to monitor the safety of their players and organization staffs.  The biggest determining factor on when football, and all sports, return is what you do at home to help slow the spread.  

Do your part, stay home and don’t expect football to return before it returns with you, the fan, who hopefully will be cheering from the stands, from your homes. Soon enough it will be safe to return. And when that happens, the players will be ready, too.  

“I know that there is going to be a group of people that are going to love to play football on the field,” Smith said.  

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Capitals' Nic Dowd and wife Paige host logo design contest for Autism Awareness Month

Capitals' Nic Dowd and wife Paige host logo design contest for Autism Awareness Month

April is Autism Awareness Month, and Capitals center Nic Dowd and his wife Paige are using their foundation, "Dowd's Crowd," to bring awareness to the cause through a logo design contest.

Dowd's Crowd, founded by the couple during the 2018-19 season, aims to make the sport of hockey more inclusive for people with autism, who often suffer from sensory overload. The foundation is creating sensory kits in conjunction with Autism Speaks, and the Dowds announced Wednesday that fans now can have a hand in creating the logo for drawstring backpacks included in the kits. Other items within the kit include noise-canceling earphones, sunglasses, a foam puck and a conversation card so that children with autism can enjoy a Caps game without experiencing sensory overload.

Interested participants should complete their design on a blank puzzle piece, which is the symbol for autism. The template can be found on the Capitals' website. Completed designs should be submitted via email to capscare@washcaps.com by May 1.

The winning design will not only be featured on the backpacks, but the designer will also win four tickets to a future Caps game, a meet and greet with the Dowds and 10 backpacks featuring their design.

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