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Freeman's play largely unnoticed in surge by Bucs

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Freeman's play largely unnoticed in surge by Bucs

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) At 6-foot-6, 240 pounds and playing the highest-profile position on the field better than he ever has as a pro, it's difficult to imagine Josh Freeman being overshadowed in the emergence of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense.

The suddenly potent Bucs averaged more points, yards and yards per play than any team in the NFL in October and have won four of five games, including three straight, to turn their season around following a slow start.

Rookie Doug Martin grabbed headlines by racking up 214 yards in a nationally televised victory over Minnesota and following up with a 215-yard, four-touchdown rushing performance against Oakland. Receiver Vincent Jackson had a seven-catch, 216-yard day vs. New Orleans and has been applauded for making others around him better. Mike Williams has drawn rave reviews for making acrobatic receptions.

Yet the stellar play of Freeman, who's thrown for 13 TDs with only one interception in the past five weeks while re-establishing himself as one of the league's top young passers, largely has gone unnoticed.

``I think it's part of the growing-up process, being more mature and in control of whether it's emotions or whatever, as far as feeling the urgency to go out and make something big happen as opposed to just kind of letting it happen,'' Freeman said.

``It's definitely a different feeling,'' the fourth-year pro added. ``I think I learned a lot from last year as far as growing as a quarterback.''

Two years removed from leading the Bucs (5-4) to 10 wins and narrowly missing the playoffs in his first full season as a starter, Freeman has Tampa Bay back on a track after a 4-12 finish that included 10 straight losses to end 2011 raised questions about whether the franchise made a wise choice in drafting him in the first round in 2009.

The soft-spoken former Kansas State standout threw for 25 touchdowns with just six interceptions in 2010, then took a step back with 16 TDs and 22 interceptions last season.

Freeman averaged a league-leading 336.6 passing yards per game in October, thriving in an offense that's taken off since sputtering to a 1-3 start that included losses to the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins by a combined 15 points. The Bucs averaged 472 yards total offense and scored 34 points per game - both NFL highs - during the same stretch.

First-year coach Greg Schiano attributes some of the success to offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and quarterbacks coach Ron Turner, who worked with Freeman during the offseason on the 24-year-old's mechanics and decision-making in the pocket.

Freeman also has benefited from a more aggressive approach to throwing the ball down the field that began during the second half of a 24-22 loss to Washington that dropped Tampa Bay to 1-3.

Jackson and Williams are averaging 21.4 and 18.3 yards per catch, respectively, and Martin has come on strong to rank among the league's leading rushers with 862 yards and seven TDs.

Freeman, meanwhile, is averaging an NFL-best 8.27 yards per pass attempt.

``I think most of it is Josh. The weapons around him are great and the mechanics are fixed, but he had to do all the work. This guy has worked from the day we got hired,'' Schiano said of the turnaround.

``He wanted to do everything he possibly could to become the quarterback he sees himself as,'' the coach added. ``He's not where he wants to be. He's not where we want him to be because his upside is way up there. But if he keeps working, he'll get there.''

Freeman is appreciative of the talent that Schiano has put around him.

The Bucs signed Jackson to a five-year, $55.55 million in free agency, a contract written in all 5's in honor of Freeman's jersey number. Martin was drafted late in the first-round in hopes he will develop into the complete, every-down back the Bucs have craved for more than a decade.

``They're all tremendous in their own right,'' Freeman said, including another free agent acquisition, tight end Dallas Clark, among the group that's helped transform the offense into an entertaining high-scoring act. ``They all make plays.''

The Bucs have scored 28 or more points in five consecutive games for the first time in team history. They've averaged 37.3 during the winning streak they'll try to extend to four games Sunday at Carolina.

Schiano said one of the keys to Freeman's success is the quarterback has simply made plays, not try to be a hero each Sunday.

``He understands better what we're doing, what we're asking of him, and he's playing within himself. He's not trying to make plays, he's just trusting his training and executing what he's been trained to do, and the plays come,'' Schiano said.

``When you're as talented as Josh Freeman is and you're as talented as we are at wideout and tight end and running back, if you just go out there and process, process, process, the plays will come,'' Schiano added. ``And more importantly, the negative plays won't come.''

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Capitals vs. Lightning Game 6 Eastern Conference Final 2018: Date, Time, How to Watch, live stream

Capitals vs. Lightning Game 6 Eastern Conference Final 2018: Date, Time, How to Watch, live stream

When the Capitals take the ice in Game 6, they will be playing for their playoff lives. After losing Game 5 on Saturday to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Caps must win on Monday or their season will be over.

In order to do that, the Caps will have to change some things. First, they have to figure out how to win at home, something they have yet to do in this series. Second, they will have to find a way to get to Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy who has been dominant the past three games. Alex Ovechkin also needs to win the matchup against the fourth line since he has only two five-on-five points through five games. Finally, the defense will have to be better. Matt Niskanen took the blame for Game 5, but really it was a tough night all around.

Also, a few penalty calls against Tampa Bay would be nice too.

Where: Capital One Arena

When: 8:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Lightning, Game 6 will be broadcast on NBCSN

Live Stream: You can watch Capitals-Lightning Game 6 on NBC Sports' live stream page.

WHEN IS GAME 6 OF THE CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING PLAYOFF SERIES?

Game 6 of the Capitals vs. Lightning 2018 NHL Playoff series takes place on Monday, May 21 at 8:00 p.m. at Capital One Arnea.

WHAT CHANNEL IS GAME 6 OF CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING ON?

The TV broadcast of Game 6 between the Capitals and Lightning is on NBCSN. Capitals pre- and postgame coverage takes place on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
8:00 p.m. — Capitals vs. Lightning Game 6 on NBCSN
10:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
11:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime

WHERE CAN I STREAM GAME 6 OF THE CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING SERIES?

Game 6 between the Capitals and Lightning is available to stream online on Monday, May 21 live here through the NBC Sports live stream page.

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR GAME 6 OF CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING?

Capitals projected lines:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Chandler Stephenson - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana - Lars Eller - Brett Connolly
Devante Smith-Pelly -  Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Lightning projected lines:

Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Tyler Johnson - Brayden Point - Yanni Gourde
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - J.T. Miller
Chris Kunitz - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan

Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev

Andrei Vasilevskiy starts with Louis Domingue as backup.

CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING GAME 6 OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

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Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers

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Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers

WASHINGTON  -- Kike Hernandez and Yasiel Puig each hit two-run homers, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Washington Nationals 7-2 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Hernandez's blast off Stephen Strasburg in the fifth inning put the Dodgers up 3-2. Yasmani Grandal also homered off Strasburg (5-4), who allowed three runs and five hits over 6 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts.

Alex Wood (1-4) pitched six innings, allowing just three hits and two earned runs. Wood came out to start the seventh, but returned to the clubhouse after showing some discomfort during his warm-up tosses.

Trea Turner homered for Washington, which swept Arizona last weekend and then went five days without playing a full game because of rain before getting swept by the Dodgers.

Los Angeles, after losing six consecutive games, has now won four straight overall and five of six over Washington this season.

Washington's Juan Soto, at 19 the youngest active player in the majors, made his debut in the eighth as a pinch-hitter and struck out against Erik Goeddel.

The Dodgers added two runs in the ninth. Josh Fields recorded the final four outs for his second save of the season.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.