Maryland Terps

Falcons look to bounce back from dismal showing

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Falcons look to bounce back from dismal showing

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The Atlanta Falcons finally played a stinker of a game.

They don't want it to become a habit.

Certainly not at this time of year.

The Falcons (11-2) already clinched the NFC South title but have struggled to win in the playoffs, so they are especially mindful of having some momentum going into this postseason.

``A lot of teams get hot at the right time. They can string a couple of wins together and carry that into the postseason,'' safety Thomas DeCoud said. ``On the other side of the coin, you definitely don't want to drop a couple of games going into the postseason, because that will be in the back of your mind and keep you from progressing in the postseason like you want to.''

The players normally get the day off after victories, so it was a rare Monday appearance for many of them at the team's suburban training complex. They studied film and met with the coaches, trying to figure out what went wrong in their worst performance of the season.

Atlanta lost to division rival Carolina 30-20 in a game that wasn't really that close. The last-place Panthers (4-9) raced to a 23-0 lead midway through the third quarter and were never seriously challenged.

``We didn't play up to our standards in any phase,'' coach Mike Smith said. ``The first thing you have to do is make the corrections from the tape of the game. Believe me, there were plenty of them in all three phases.''

After taking 24 hours to review their shoddy performance, the Falcons will turn their attention to hosting the defending Super Bowl champions on Sunday. The New York Giants (8-5) are clinging to first in the NFC East and desperate for a win to stay in front of Washington and Dallas.

Last season, the Giants routed the Falcons in the opening round of the playoffs 24-2 - the third straight one-and-done postseason appearance for Atlanta since Smith took over in 2008.

These guys know they can't afford another postseason flop.

``The teams playing their best football at the end of the season are usually the teams that get to where they want to be in the last ballgame,'' Smith said.

For some reason, the Falcons looked totally flat against Carolina, a team going nowhere that played with a fire and passion totally missing on the Atlanta side. The Panthers took 28 of the first 34 snaps and built a 356-86 edge in total yards before the visiting team showed any sign of life.

At that point, it was far too late.

Smith was especially troubled by his team's dismal performance on third downs - both offensively and defensively. The Falcons converted just 2 of 8 times, while the Panthers came through on 9 of 15. That's why Carolina built a commanding edge in time of possession, holding the ball more than 10 1/2 minutes longer than Atlanta.

``We weren't the type of team we wanted to be, that's for sure,'' Smith said. ``You kind of get behind the eight ball when you can't get off the field on third down. We've got to be much better on both sides of the ball on third down.''

Despite their impressive record, the Falcons have struggled at times against seemingly inferior opponents, leading a number of pundits to speculate that the team is headed for more disappointment in the playoffs. Naturally, the loss to the Panthers stirred up even more doubts about Atlanta's ability to make a deep run in January.

DeCoud shrugged off the negativity.

``We can't be tuned into that type of stuff,'' he said. ``After a while, that stuff becomes a distraction.''

The Falcons know the skeptics will become even louder if they lose two in a row. Sure, they still have the inside track to home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, but that didn't do them a bit of good in 2010, when they were routed at home by the Green Bay Packers.

After losing to Carolina, Smith knows his team must send a clear signal to the rest of the league: Beware of Atlanta in the playoffs.

``It's very important,'' he said. ``There are a lot of things that are going to happen over the next four weeks that affect the Atlanta Falcons and affect probably eight or nine other teams in the league. That's what makes it fun. We've got to go out, first and foremost, and play our best football here in the fourth quarter'' of the season.

Obviously, that was the goal last week, as well.

``We've just got to move on,'' offensive guard Justin Blalock said. ``We have gotten to this point because of a certain mind-set. You have to have a short-term memory and hope there's not too many days like that one yesterday. But there's going to be some.''

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Maryland doesn't lose any ground in Big 10 standings after loss to Ohio State

Maryland doesn't lose any ground in Big 10 standings after loss to Ohio State

Maryland suffered a frustrating loss to Ohio State on the road Sunday in a game that featured their best player fouling out thanks to a more than questionable technical foul. 

The bad news for the Terps? They missed a chance to gain ground on Baylor, Gonzaga and San Diego State, who all lost on Saturday, for a top seed in the NCAA tournament. 

The good news is that Penn State lost, too, so Maryland didn't lose any ground in its quest to win the Big 10 regular-season championship for the first time. With four games to go, it still holds a two-game lead over Penn State, Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin in the conference standings. 

For the Terps to lose this regular-season title, it would have to be a monumental collapse over the next few weeks.

But the schedule still features some tough games so it isn't over quite yet. Maryland must shake off this most recent loss in Columbus and refocus on a 13-13 Minnesota team. The Terp's final three opponents after that are Michigan State at home, Rutgers on the road and Michigan in College Park. 

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Dillon fits right in, Carlson hits a milestone and is it problem solved for Brian MacLellan?

Dillon fits right in, Carlson hits a milestone and is it problem solved for Brian MacLellan?

Boy did they need that. The Capitals snapped a four-game losing streak on Sunday with a 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins to reclaim first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

He's kind of a big Dill

This was Brenden Dillon's best game thus far with the Capitals and it's not just because of his fight with Evgeni Malkin, though that helped. He played less than 14 minutes in Saturday's game against New Jersey and did not play at all on the penalty kill. On Sunday, he played 20:38 and 3:34 on the penalty kill. He was very physical, played the body well. There was one goal where he was caught too high, but that was because he joined the offensive rush which defensemen are allowed to do in the team's system. That goal wasn't on him, the team was just caught on the counter-attack with him in the offensive zone.

"I thought he had a really strong game," coach Todd Reirden said. "We've been kind of easing him into it, his minutes weren't as high as we would've liked yesterday and then today I thought it was really noticeable, his play. Just settles things down and obviously penalty kill, using him more in that situation today. You could see his experience and then, when he has a chance to play against the other team's top players, he's not going to be fun to play against."

Dillon is a very good defensive player with a lot of snarl to his game. This was the best reflection of what the Caps really got when they acquired him.

Kempny-Gudas wasn't a disaster

Michal Kempny and Radko Gudas were paired together in Thursday's game against the Montreal Canadiens and there is no way to sugarcoat it: They were awful together. Surprisingly, the pair was reunited for this game and it actually wasn't the disaster I anticipated it to be. At 5-on-5 play, Kempny and Gudas had a 54.55 Corsi-For percentage. Well, they must have played sheltered minutes, right? They actually didn't. They had zero on-the-fly offensive zone starts and only 16.67-percent offensive zone faceoff starts. They were being played primarily in defensive situations.

Perhaps, in a way, that actually was sheltered for them considering they have been responsible for several of the breakaway chances the team has given up the past few games. Maybe the best way to shelter Kempny-Gudas is to keep them out of a position in which the offense can get behind them.

Wearing down the Penguins?

The Caps have outscored Pittsburgh 6-2 in the third period this season. Clearly Washington is trying to wear down the Penguins physically and that seems to be working in the third, though Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan isn't buying it.

When asked if he was concerned that the Caps were physically wearing down his team, Sullivan responded bluntly, "No."

Problem solved?

Had Washington gotten crushed this game, I don't see how Brian MacLellan could have justified standing pat on Monday. Clearly a change would have been needed. It's just one game, but did Sunday's win change MacLellan's approach to the trade deadline?

Let's consider what we saw. The Caps had almost zero offensive net-front presence on Saturday. Tom Wilson got a power play goal from providing maybe the only screen of the entire day. That was very different on Sunday where the goals by Carl Hagelin and T.J. Oshie came on plays the team seemed incapable of making on Saturday.

Defensively, while the team may have given up three goals, this was actually one of the better defensive performances we have seen from the Caps in quite some time. We did not see the type of egregious mistakes and turnovers that have been killing them of late.

So of the issues the team has been dealing with of late, Sunday's game showed they are indeed correctable. In that sense, perhaps MacLellan won't feel compelled to make any further moves or, if he does, just some minor tweaks to the roster.

The question MacLellan has to ask himself is whether Sunday's win is the beginning of the turnaround or if it was just the team getting up for a big game and a big opponent? Sunday's win will mean nothing if they revert back to how they have been playing lately. How much will MacLellan regret not trying to do something on Monday if the Caps walk away with one point against Winnipeg and Minnesota over the next three games?

Turning point

With the way things have gone for Washington of late, it had every reason to collapse after Pittsburgh took a 2-1 lead in just 26 seconds in the second period. The first two periods were not good and the Penguins were in complete control. But a different team took the ice in the third period and took back the game with three goals. Tom Wilson scored less than two minutes into the third on a 4-on-4 breakaway opportunity. The goal was a great play by both Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom.

Wilson first forced the neutral zone turnover by defenseman Marcus Pettersson. Backstrom hit the loose puck up to Wilson and then quickly turned his body into the path of Pettersson, holding him up slightly to allow Wilson to get the breakaway. Wilson did the rest, deftly deking Murray and tucking the puck into the back of the net.

Play of the game

It's not really a play, but Dillon beat the snot out of Malkin.

And here's a bonus Caps fans will enjoy.

Stat of the game

With one assist, John Carlson passed Calle Johnasson for the most points by a defenseman in franchise history with 475. Carlson tied that mark on Saturday and was honored earlier in the game with a video tribute.

"Yeah, it's not my favorite thing," he said of the tribute, which is very in-tune with his personality.

Quote of the game

It didn't take long for Dillon to adjust to the Caps-Penguins rivalry.

"I like to play hard, especially against those top-end guys. Malkin's a heck of a player. He plays a physical game, too, sometimes. With these rivalry-type games, tempers run high and it was great."

Fan predictions

Just had to include this one because I love that it came from "Cautiously Optimistic."

The defense was much more sound in this game, though Sidney Crosby got a short breakaway goal in the second.

Could be, but so far so good!

Maryland was leading at the time of writing.  I feel your pain. I have only one kid and sleep is limited. Mine broke my toe though.

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