Nationals

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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Why Trea Turner’s ‘jealous’ of Loudoun South, LLWS competitors

Why Trea Turner’s ‘jealous’ of Loudoun South, LLWS competitors

When Trea Turner sees the Little League World Series – or even thinks about it – there’s one feeling that comes to mind: Jealousy.

“I always wanted to go to this tournament,” he told NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas. “Tried every year. We had some good teams and made some good runs, but never got a chance. I’m a little jealous.”

The team is in Pittsburgh this week – a nearly 200 mile drive from where Virginia’s Loudoun South Little League team is looking to advance after two impressive no-hitters. And while it might be a longshot for them to make it to the big leagues one day Turner wasn’t the only current Nationals player whose dream started back in Little League.

Turner played in Little League from the age of five to 13. “My dad coached,” he said. “Most of my best friends to this day are still from of that age group and their fathers as well were coaches.” They were a close-knit group, he said.

Erick Fedde remembers his time in Little League – as a catcher. “I didn’t really pitch much until my sophomore year of high school,” he said. “Everybody pitches when they’re little. I think I was playing left field or something. I was always like I want to pitch [in high school], but I don’t want to tell the coach.”

Luckily, his mom intervened. 

“My mom pushed me,” he said. “[She told me] ‘you should tell them you want to pitch.’”

Hunter Strickland’s dad also coached him in Little League – and seeing the Little League kids, he said, brings back memories with his dad and brothers. “He definitely pushed us,” he said of his dad as a coach. “But, I respect it. It’s made us into the people we are today. It makes you a better player, a better person just from the discipline.”

Andrew Stevenson played in the Little League World Series in 2005 with his team from Lafayette, La. His heroics in a game against a team from Kentucky lead the Associated Press roundup of the tournament at the time. He scored the winning run after making it to first on a bunt single and then getting to home from third on a throwing error.

“He may be the fastest player up here,” his team manager, Mike Conrad, told the AP at the time.

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Hunter Strickland explains the weight-room mishap that broke his nose

Hunter Strickland explains the weight-room mishap that broke his nose

PITTSBURGH -- Hunter Strickland’s face has been fixed. A small piece of tape still resides in the middle of his broken nose, but the good news is the break was clean. When he went to a local hospital for X-Rays, his nose was reset and clearance to pitch was provided. His ego remains a work in progress.

Strickland broke his nose Tuesday when a weight-lifting bar was inadvertently pulled onto his face. The Nationals large reliever -- 6-foot-3, 225 pounds -- went to use a red cord tethered to a squat rack above the empty bar for hip mobility exercises. And, well, we’ll let him tell it:

“So I pulled the cord in front of the bar so this wouldn’t happen, and obviously it didn’t work out too well,” Strickland said. “When I sat down to get on the ground to do the hip stuff, I went to reach up and grab the cord, and I guess one of the loops still got hung up behind it. And when I grabbed it, I guess my weight pulled the bar off it, and it crushed me.”

Tuesday, Strickland went to throw afterward and felt fine. The doctors also told him he couldn’t further damage his reset nose -- harken back to the wise words of Max Scherzer, “You don’t pitch with your nose” -- so he felt ready to pitch. Davey Martinez opted not to use him a few hours after the incident. 

Strickland had never broken his nose prior. He comes from a large family which jousted in athletics, where he is the middle child with two older brothers, a younger brother and two younger sisters, but never broke his nose. So, the shot to the face was a surprise, to say the least.

“I had no idea,” Strickland said. “I didn't know what happened. Obviously, it hit me pretty good so it kind of dazed me for a second there. After that, I looked up in the mirror. My nose was crooked and bleeding everywhere. Just kind of put two and two together -- got knocked out by a bar.”

Members of the Nationals medical staff immediately came to him in the cramped visitor’s clubhouse workout space. The area is so tight, players were throwing a medicine ball off the concrete wall just outside entrance Wednesday. Blood and confusion made Strickland briefly worry something more significant had happened. Wednesday, he was relieved and available.

“That’s why I’m thrilled it’s not as bad as it could be,” Strickland said. “That’s one of the things they look at with the X-rays, to make sure the passages are still straight and clear. I’m able to breathe and get the blood out of there, so we’ll be good to go. It’s good. Everything checked out.”

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