Ravens

Houston's Johnson looks to build on best season

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Houston's Johnson looks to build on best season

HOUSTON (AP) Houston's Andre Johnson heard the whispers he'd lost a step and that he'd never again be an elite receiver as he struggled through the worst season of his career in 2011.

He didn't let it get him down.

Johnson used it as motivation, and bounced back from last year's 492-yard season with a career-high 1,598 yards receiving this season.

Now he's looking to do more as the Texans prepare for Saturday's playoff game against the Bengals.

His performance this season has left him with Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison as the only players in NFL history with at least three seasons with 1,500 yards receiving. He also reached the mark in 2008 and 2009.

Johnson has 112 catches this season for his fourth career 100-catch year and his most since finishing with 115 catches in 2008. He was recently selected to his sixth Pro Bowl and has more than 11,000 yards receiving in his career.

Coach Gary Kubiak calls Johnson's season ``amazing'', and loves the way he leads the Texans by example with his hard work and positive attitude.

``I've been fortunate to be around some special players, but I really count my blessings with this one,'' Kubiak said. ``He's a heck of a player, but a great kid, too.''

Johnson has had success against Cincinnati, and is averaging 122.7 yards receiving in his past three games against the Bengals.

He's disappointed that the team has struggled recently, losing three of its past four games. But he believes they'll turn things around on Saturday.

``We just haven't been playing football the way that we know how to play it,'' Johnson said. ``We just have to get back to what we have done earlier during the season. Find that same kind of focus and everybody just lock into what they're doing and just go play football the way we know how to play it.''

Johnson got off to a slow start this season after being hampered by minor injuries in training camp. But he has been on a roll in the past seven games, piling up 1,001 yards. Johnson has six 100-yard games this season, including a career-best 273 yards receiving in a win over the Jaguars.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis doesn't believe it's possible to shut down Johnson, but they do hope to limit his catches.

``He's a fine, fine player and I don't know about shutting (him) down and if you can ... do that because as we know, it's a two-pronged attack there with both the running game and the throwing game that comes off of it,'' Lewis said. ``You really have to play really sound, sound defensive football in order to do that.''

Johnson has a lot of respect for the Bengals, and knows Houston will have to play much better than it has been to win on Saturday.

``(They) might be the most talented defense we probably have faced,'' Johnson said. ``They've been playing good football, a lot of good players on the back end, so it'll be a big challenge for us.''

Johnson, who is the longest-tenured Texan, waited eight seasons before finally making the playoffs for the first time last season. His second trip will be very similar to the first with Houston hosting Cincinnati in a wild-card game for the second straight season.

``It's not new,'' Johnson said. ``Last year it was new to us. This time it's not new. It's crazy that we're in the same place we were in last year, playing the same team. It'll be big. And we'll be ready to go.''

One player it will be new to is quarterback Matt Schaub, who missed last year's playoff run with an injured foot. Much of the blame for Houston's recent slump has been directed at Schaub.

``That's just part of it,'' Johnson said. ``When the team is not playing well, the quarterback is going to take most of the criticism. It's all about how you respond. We have another game Saturday, so however he goes out and plays Saturday that's what people will talk about.''

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Lamar Jackson received congratulatory postgame texts from Doug Williams, Randall Cunningham

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USA TODAY Sports

Lamar Jackson received congratulatory postgame texts from Doug Williams, Randall Cunningham

Lamar Jackson's first NFL start against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday will go down as one of the most memorable days of his career.

Going 13-of-19 for 150 yards in the air while rushing for 117 yards on 27 attempts is a pretty solid day for a rookie quarterback

With several days to reflect, one of Jackson's favorite parts of the 24-21 win was the congratulatory texts he received from two former quarterbacks.

"I got a text from Doug Williams and Randall Cunningham congratulating me," Jackson said Wednesday. "So, that was pretty cool."

Williams, who became the first African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins in 1987, and Randall Cunningham, who had a long career with the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, and Ravens, are seen as trailblazers by Jackson.

The rookie QB noted that he has been in contact with the two prior to earning the starting job in Week 11.

"Those are the guys that paved the way for us," Jackson added.

"Without those guys, you know, we probably wouldn't be in the situation we are [in]. So, hats of to those guys. Them congratulating me, from the GOATS, I'm like, 'yeah, that's cool.'

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Capitals return home still short-handed, but with momentum after strong road trip

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Capitals return home still short-handed, but with momentum after strong road trip

The Capitals return home to play the Chicago Blackhawks (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington) after a successful road trip (3-1-0), but will still be without forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie (upper-body injuries), who remain day-to-day, according to coach Todd Reirden.   

Here are four things to watch:

Holtby’s back

After missing three games with an upper-body injury of his own, Caps goalie Braden Holtby was thrown into the fire down 4-2 at Montreal on Monday. But he played lights out and matched Habs goalie Carey Price save-for-save, finishing with 22 as Washington rallied for a 5-4 overtime win. Holtby now feels good enough as he will start against the Blackhawks tonight. In his past four appearances, Holtby has stopped 116 of 122 shots on goal.

New-look Blackhawks

Chicago’s slow start cost Joel Quenneville his job on Nov. 6. An NHL coach getting fired is rarely news. But when it’s a guy who’s been in his post for more than a decade and has won three Stanley Cups it is still jarring. The results are mixed since Jeremy Colliton took over. Chicago lost his first two games behind the bench, but is 2-0-2 in its past four games. That’s a small step in the right direction, but the Blackhawks are in sixth place in the Central Division.

Wilsonnnnn!!!!!

This was supposed to be the day Tom Wilson returned to the lineup after his 20-game suspension. An arbitrator cut that short last week so Wilson played on all four games of the road trip and had a goal and four assists. Not a bad start. Wednesday he gets his first home game of the year and what should be a raucous reception from the faithful at Capital One Arena. 

Old mates

On Monday, the crowd at Bell Centre booed former Canadien Lars Eller, who promptly took the puck up ice and scored the game-winning goal in overtime. It was a great moment for a player who felt Montreal gave up on him way too soon when trading him to the Capitals. Michal Kempny knows how he feels. 

Languishing on the bench for most of last season in Chicago as a healthy scratch – he played just 31 games - Kempny sees his old team for the first time since helping Washington win a Stanley Cup. Quenneville is gone, but the defenseman would love to show the rest of the organization trading him was a mistake. 

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