Nationals

Eagles' latest loss filled with blunders

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Eagles' latest loss filled with blunders

PHILADELPHIA (AP) In another miserable performance, the Philadelphia Eagles put together a year's worth of blunders fit for a football follies video.

A 34-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night featured four fumbles, one interception and one punt blocked by a teammate. That brought the Eagles' turnovers total to an NFL-high 34 in 14 games. They've only forced 12.

``Turnovers destroy you in this league,'' coach Andy Reid said Friday, stating the obvious. ``If we didn't know it before, we know it now.''

Lucky for the Eagles (4-10) and their frustrated fans, only two games remain in this nightmare season.

``I was thoroughly embarrassed,'' wide receiver Jason Avant said after another loss in front of a national television audience. ``I don't care if there were no cameramen there or if we were playing over at the University of Penn. That type of thing that happened was embarrassing wherever you are, even if you're in the sandlot. So, never mind that it was on a national stage, it was just not good football that happened. It just wasn't good.''

Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin started the giveaways by fumbling on the second play from scrimmage. On Philadelphia's next possession, there were a series of comical mistakes that occurred when the punting unit took the field.

First, rookie linebacker Ryan Rau, who only plays special teams, didn't realize the Eagles were punting so he stood on the sideline. Tight end Clay Harbor noticed only 10 men out there and ran out at the last second, but one rusher broke free on the outside. Wide receiver Marvin McNutt tried to block him only to get pushed into punter Mat McBriar's kick.

Those two gaffes led to 10 points for the Bengals. But the Eagles rallied to take a 13-10 lead into the third quarter.

Then, they unraveled.

The Eagles allowed 24 points in a span of 3:23. Three straight possessions went interception-fumble-fumble. That was followed up by another fumble when defensive lineman Cedric Thornton tried to catch a short kickoff.

``Turnovers killed us,'' Maclin said. ``You can't keep putting the defense inside of the 30-yard line. Eventually, an NFL team is going to score on you. This was on the offense and special teams.''

The emergence of rookie quarterback Nick Foles has been one of the few bright spots in a dismal season, but he took a step backward against the Bengals. Foles threw for 381 yards, including a game-winning TD pass on the final play to snap Philadelphia's eight-game losing streak. The Buccaneers, by the way, have the league's worst-ranked pass defense.

Foles was just 16 of 33 for 182 yards with one TD pass and a pick against the Bengals. He underthrew Maclin on a deep pass that still went for a long gain in the second quarter. He underthrew him again on what should've been a long TD pass and got intercepted in the third quarter. That started the parade of turnovers.

``I just made a horrible throw,'' Foles said. ``The ball came out bad and it had a little bit of wobble to it. You have to really cut it and I didn't do that. I just have to spin it and it started fluttering toward the end. So it's a bad throw, it's one that I can't have.''

Reid defended Foles' arm strength, blaming his footwork and mechanics for the underthrows.

``Nick has one of the stronger arms in the league, but you have to make sure your feet are right and your drop is right,'' Reid said. ``You have to learn those things. That's one of the tougher things for young quarterbacks to do. Instead of taking what would normally be a five-step drop, he took what would be a seven-step drop. When you're in the gun, it would be a five as opposed to a three. He held too long on the safety and tried to look the safety off. These are rookie mistakes, and he'll learn from that. He's very diligent about those things, and he'll get it right. It wasn't a lack of arm strength that would cause that to take place.''

Foles will start next Sunday's game against Washington even though Michael Vick has been cleared to return after a concussion forced him to miss the last five games. Reid already said weeks ago that Foles will finish the season as the No. 1 quarterback. As for Vick, Reid hasn't decided whether he'll be the backup or No. 3 behind Trent Edwards.

Notes: RB LeSean McCoy will see an independent neurologist next week, probably on Tuesday. He's missed the last four games with a concussion, but could play vs. the Redskins. ... TE Brent Celek has passed all tests in his concussion recovery and should be ready to go. ... DB Brandon Hughes was hospitalized overnight because of a lung contusion, but was released and should be fine.

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Wild-card tracker: Nationals hanging on with one week to go

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Wild-card tracker: Nationals hanging on with one week to go

The calendar is taking numbers with it, stripping the season down day by day, turning what was a tight wild-card race more into a fight for geography.

Washington enters the final week of the regular season with a hefty schedule ahead and its lead for the right to host the Wild-Card Game gone. The Nationals lost, 5-3, in Miami on Sunday because the bullpen blew yet another lead. As much as things have changed since April and May, one has remained constant: the Nationals’ bullpen is the worst in the league and biggest threat to team success. Their wild-card magic number is four in spite of it. 

Meanwhile, Milwaukee hung on for a 4-3 win against Pittsburgh to sweep the Pirates. The Brewers carried a perfect game through six innings. They used three pitchers -- including eventual winner Gio Gonzalez -- to do it. Milwaukee’s blistering pace the last two weeks has pulled it into a virtual tie with Washington. The Nationals are .001 ahead of Milwaukee with a game in hand. The Brewers hold the tiebreaker should it come to that once 162 games are finally complete.

The Cubs are spiraling. St. Louis scored two runs in the top of the ninth then sent Andrew Miller to the mound to finish a four-game sweep of Chicago. The Cardinals won each game by one run, reaffirming how slight the gap between the postseason and disappointment may be. Chicago manager Joe Maddon is in the final year of his contract. Even with the currency from managing the Cubs’ first World Series win since 1918, Maddon’s chances of returning on a fresh deal appear slim. If Chicago misses the playoffs, they become more unlikely, and looking back at four one-run losses to a despised rival becomes an easy spot to start the grousing.

Chicago’s six consecutive losses have turned the wild-card race into a two-team adventure. Increasingly, the main question is where the game will be played as opposed to its participants. The next seven days will determine that.

Here are the postseason chances for each team, according to fivethirtyeight.com:

Nationals, 98 percent

Brewers, 98 percent

Mets, 2 percent

Cubs, 1 percent

Phillies, less than one percent

Monday, Washington opens a final eight-game homestand with Patrick Corbin on the mound and Bryce Harper in the batter’s box. Philadelphia lost Sunday to drop to 79-75. Its wild-card elimination number is a mere two, which provides the Nationals an opportunity for double satisfaction against the offseason’s “stupid money” spenders. Washington could both eliminate and clinch against Philadelphia by the middle of the week. 

The weekend delivers a tussle with Cleveland which could be meaningless or decide everything. An ideal setup would include Washington clinching its spot before the Indians arrive in town. To follow would be the question of how hard it wants to push for homefield. Can Davey Martinez rest his most-relied upon pitchers the final day of the season? Or will it be a desperate day just create another?

Watching Milwaukee will be more important. The Brewers’ magic number is down to three. Their soft schedule continues this week with visits to Cincinnati and Colorado. Sonny Gray opens the series for the Reds. Luis Castillo closes it. So, Washington can take some solace in knowing Cincinnati’s two top pitchers will be deployed against Milwaukee. However, Colorado, 67-89, is Colorado, and the final weekend against subpar competition gives Milwaukee ample chance to play at home Oct. 1. 

One week to go.

Coming up Monday:

Milwaukee off

Chicago off

Philadelphia at Washington, 7:05 p.m. Eflin (9-12, 4.00 ERA) vs. Corbin (13-7, 3.10)

Miami at New York, 7:10 p.m., Smith (9-10, 4.24) vs. Matz (10-9, 4.16)

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Emma Meesseman struggles and 4 other observations from Mystics-Aces Game 3

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Emma Meesseman struggles and 4 other observations from Mystics-Aces Game 3

The Washington Mystics lost to the Las Vegas Aces 92-75 on Sunday evening in Game 3 of the WNBA Semifinals. Here are five observations from the game.

1. There is an argument to be made that the two most talented teams remaining in the WNBA playoffs are facing each other in the Semifinals, that the toughest team the Mystics will see in the postseason are these Las Vegas Aces, even if they end up advancing. Sunday served a reminder of the Aces' top-end talent, as they punched back to avoid a sweep with a Game 3 win, ensuring these teams will play at least one more time.

The Mystics had three opportunities to clinch the series, now they have two. Their next chance will be Tuesday, again in Las Vegas. If Sunday's game was any indication, they will meet a raucous Aces crowd once again at Mandalay Bay.

2. To find where things went wrong for the Mystics, look no further than the second quarter where midway through they got their doors blown off leading into halftime. Washington was up 33-31 with 5:13 left in the second quarter when the Aces closed the frame on a 16-4 run. They outscored the Mystics 24-13 in the quarter overall.

It was ugly. The Mystics couldn't hit a shot and lost control on offense. They had eight turnovers in the quarter and many of them proved costly. They scored only four points in the final seven minutes of the half. Their 37 points at halftime tied a season-low.

The trouble continued in the third, as the Mystics were outdone 32-25. But the momentum shifted in that second quarter and Washington never got it back. After scoring 102 points in Game 2, they topped out at 75 in this one.

3. The Mystics had no answer for the Aces' dynamic duo of Liz Cambage and A'ja Wilson. Cambage put up 28 points with six rebounds, two steals and a block. She shot an impeccable 12-for-15 from the field.

It was the type of performance where if you only saw this game, you would think she was the most dominant player in the WNBA. At 6-foot-9, all the Aces had to do on some plays was throw the ball up the air where only she could get it.

Wilson was a force on both ends of the floor. She had 21 points, eight boards, two blocks and two steals. She made five of her first six shots and finished 8-for-14 overall.

The first quarter saw Cambage, Wilson and Kayla McBride score all of the Aces' points. They went to work thanks to point guard Kelsey Plum's ability to penetrate and set up open shots. Plum had nine points, nine assists and seven rebounds.

Speaking of Plum, people were mad online this week about an NBA writer saying she is the 'James Harden of the WNBA.' Many thought the comparison was unnecessary and also simplistic because they are left-handed guards.

Set aside the outrage and it is simply just a bad take. Harden is known for playing patiently, if slowly, while Plum is the fastest player on the court.

4. The star of this series before Sunday was undoubtedly Emma Meesseman, who was able to score even more points in Game 1 than she did in Game 2, even though she had been moved up the scouting report. In Game 3, she finally went cold, managing only six points on 3-for-8 shooting from the field and 0-for-2 from three.

Though Meesseman had eight points, three assists and two steals, she missed a series of open shots and also didn't have a great game defensively. There were several breakdowns that allowed Cambage open paths to the rim and on a few occasions Meesseman was to blame. 

Meesseman is an X-factor for the Mystics and so far the game results have matched her individual production. When she plays well, it changes everything.

LaToya Sanders, who had 17 points in Game 2, also struggled. She had only four points in 24 minutes. That wouldn't have been a problem if she wasn't taking shots, but she went 2-for-9 from the field as the Aces left her open on several occasions. 

They bet on the fact Sanders isn't usually an offensive threat, especially from the outside, and this time it worked out for them. It would be understandable if Sanders had some extra confidence after what she did in Game 2, but Game 3 was a reminder that her best role is as a defensive specialist.

Meesseman and Sanders' shooting woes contributing to an overall bad night for the Mystics. They shot 38.6 percent collectively. That's not what you expect from the most efficient scoring team in WNBA history.

5. The eight turnovers in the second quarter were an extreme, but giveaways proved a major difference. They had 13 total in this game, far more than the six they had in each of the first two games this series.

The Mystics are the best team in the WNBA at protecting the ball. And so far this series, the Aces have proven quite dangerous in transition when they can push the pace off of missed baskets or miscues. 

Washington will have to clean that up moving forward, especially Ariel Atkins, who had five all by herself. Also, Natasha Cloud had zero turnovers with 14 assists through the first two games, but had three giveaways in this one alone.

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