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McElroy has concussion, Sanchez to start for Jets

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McElroy has concussion, Sanchez to start for Jets

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Rex Ryan stepped to the podium, looked out at the cameras and opened his news conference with a warning.

``You're not going to believe this one,'' the New York Jets coach declared without any hint of a smile.

In what has been a bizarre season, the Jets' wacky quarterback situation took yet another twist. Greg McElroy has a concussion - which he didn't reveal until Thursday - and will be replaced by Mark Sanchez as the starting quarterback in the season finale at Buffalo on Sunday.

``We've come to find out that Greg wasn't exactly truthful with our training staff after the game,'' said Ryan, who acknowledged he was ``stunned'' to hear the news. ``He never disclosed that he had symptoms after the game to our trainers. Right now, he's being evaluated for a concussion.''

McElroy, preparing to make his second NFL start in place of the benched Sanchez, was lifting weights Thursday morning and started experiencing headaches, Ryan said. McElroy went to the team's training staff and then revealed he was suffering concussion-like symptoms after being sacked 11 times in the Jets' 27-17 loss to San Diego last Sunday.

McElroy and head trainer John Mellody then went to Ryan to tell the coach the news. Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano said he was ``pretty silent'' when he found out a few minutes after Ryan.

``It's another bump in the road here,'' Sparano said, ``and it's something we've become a little accustomed to dealing with.''

Ryan was not certain exactly when McElroy suffered the concussion, but said there was no way he would play McElroy against the Bills and the third-stringer will ``definitely be out.'' McElroy had been listed on the injury report Wednesday with a mild abdominal strain, but was a full participant in practice and was expected to play without any issues.

``I admire his courage and everything else, but you have to be truthful and I think that's the lesson learned here with the medical staff,'' said Ryan, who spoke to the entire team about concussions after practice. ``The fact he really wanted to play, I understand the competitive side of Greg and all that, but the most important thing is the health of the players.

``Obviously, I feel fortunate that something like this showed up without him going out there and putting himself in harm's way.''

While Sanchez wouldn't comment on whether players choosing to play through head injuries is common in the NFL, Tebow acknowledged that it probably does happen around the league because of job security.

``You fight hard to earn something and you don't want to jeopardize that with an injury, for sure,'' said Tebow, who added that he has never been in McElroy's situation. ``I think that's definitely something guys will think about.''

Ryan chose to start Sanchez over Tim Tebow because the team has just two practices and a walkthrough to prepare before the game. He also cited Sanchez's success against the Bills in the season opener, when he threw three touchdown passes in the Jets' 48-28 win.

Sanchez appeared to be on his way to a solid season, but it ended up being his best game. He was benched for the first time in his four-year career after turning over the ball five times at Tennessee on Dec. 17.

``I'm excited to play, obviously,'' Sanchez said. ``You just never want to see something like that happen to a teammate, somebody I really respect. You feel for Greg and I'll be ready to play.''

Sanchez was a bit surprised when Ryan told him he'd be starting because he thought McElroy just wasn't feeling well.

``I guess I didn't expect it,'' Sanchez said. ``I wasn't coming into today thinking he had a concussion. I never would've known.''

McElroy leapfrogged Tebow on the depth chart to start against the Chargers. After finding out about McElroy's condition, Ryan spoke with both Sanchez and Tebow to tell them of his decision.

``Obviously, Tim's not happy with that, as you'd expect,'' Ryan said.

The news came on the heels of some tension between Ryan and Tebow last week, when the popular backup quarterback told the coach he was ``disappointed'' at not getting the start and wanted to play ``regular quarterback.'' ESPN New York first reported Sunday that Tebow asked out of the wildcat, and a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed that to The Associated Press. The two met again last Friday to clear the air, and Tebow reiterated that he was willing to do anything the team asked him to do.

Tebow insisted Wednesday that he did not refuse to do anything and acknowledged that Ryan might have misinterpreted what he said. Ryan said he understands that Tebow is frustrated at the situation and by not starting, but again would not disclose anything said between the two in their conversations last week.

Tebow said he didn't think Ryan's choice to play Sanchez was in any way punitive, and added that he and the coach have a ``great'' relationship.

``When you're a competitor, you want to play,'' Tebow said. ``But I understood his decision and I just let him know, just like always, that I'll do whatever I can to help the team.''

Tebow will be the No. 2 quarterback on Sunday at Buffalo, and could play - but it won't be as the starter.

``Obviously, he'd like a shot at it,'' Ryan said, ``but with the situation the way it is, it's a short window, really, to get the preparation time in and I just think it's best for our football team.''

With the way the season has played out, from the quarterback controversies to the injuries suffered by key players, Ryan was asked if this is the strangest year he has ever experienced in the NFL.

``Yeah, I would say that's pretty accurate,'' Ryan said, laughing. ``And, we've had some strange ones.''

Added Tebow, chuckling: ``It's been interesting.''

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Do the Caps have the goaltending to win the Stanley Cup?

Do the Caps have the goaltending to win the Stanley Cup?

The bye week and the all-star break are upon us meaning we will have to wait until Jan. 27 for the Capitals to take the ice again for a game. With the season over halfway done and the Feb. 24 trade deadline rapidly approaching, the focus of the season now shifts towards the playoffs.

Washington has certainly done enough at this point to show they are a playoff team, but just how good are they? Are they a true contender or are they destined for an early exit?

Over the next few days, I will examine the team to answer if it is good enough on offense, defense and in net to win a Cup and, if not, what they must do to improve by April.

See Monday's breakdown of the team's offense here.
See Tuesday's breakdown of the team's defense here.

Today’s question: Do the Caps have the defense to win the Stanley Cup?

Team stat
.916 team save percentage (20th in the NHL)

Player stats
Braden Holtby 18-9-4 (18 wins tied for 8th), .897 save percentage (48th among goalies with 15 or more games played), 3.09 GAA (40th)
Ilya Samsonov 15-2-1 (15 wins tied for 18th), .927 save percentage (5th among goalies with at least 15 GP), 2.06 GAA (1st)

It's been a tough year for Holtby. After a difficult start to the season, he seemed to reset and rebound in November. Then December rolled around and he struggled again. His save percentage has now dipped below .900 for the season. He still has gotten a majority of the starts and has put together a decent record on the season, but this does not look like vintage Holtby.

There is no one aspect of his game that you can point to and say, there it is, that's why he is struggling. The fact is that he is playing in front of a defense that has been shaky in terms of turnovers and he has not been able to bail them out with big saves like he has in years past. Deflections and screens seem to be affecting him more than they once did. Whether this is evidence of decline for the 30-year-old netminder of if this is just a bad year is a discussion for another day, but right now his play has not been up to par and he would be the first to admit that.

With Holtby in a contract year, Samsonov was likely brought up a year earlier than perhaps the team would have wanted him to be. The move, however, has paid off as Samsonov has been absolutely brilliant. There are flashes of inexperience to his game, particularly overcommitment when he slides from side to side, but already he has already improved from the start of the season to now and he seems to be every bit as good as advertised when Washington selected him in the first round back in 2015.

When it comes to the playoffs, however, Samsonov is an unknown commodity. We would like to assume his regular-season game will simply translate into great postseason play, but it does not always work that way. Just ask Jose Theodore. The fact is that he is a rookie goalie with zero NHL playoff experience. You also have to consider that the most games he has played in a professional season is 37 which he did last year in Hershey.

With Holtby struggling and Samsonov excelling, there are many who would love Samsonov to take over as the No. 1. But when you have a young goalie who has never in his professional career taken on a full-time starting role, is in his rookie season in the NHL and has no playoff experience, it is easy to see how this can all get very overwhelming very quickly.

There is no question that the play of both Holtby and Samsonov dictates that Samsonov should be playing more, but that probably will not translate into as many starts as you may think after the all-star break as Todd Reirden tries to manage the minutes of the rookie netminder. So long as the team remains atop the standings, there is no pressure to force more games than you need from Samsonov. Having said that, I doubt very much that Holtby will get every start in the upcoming four games the team has against the second-place Pittsburgh Penguins. I would be surprised if Samsonov did not get at least two of those games and one at home.

The verdict: Yes, the goaltending should be good enough to win the Cup

I know, you just read an entire analytical article with the ultimate conclusion of "I think so," but goaltending is the hardest thing to predict in hockey. Sometimes goalies get hot and sometimes they don't.

If the playoffs were to start today, Samsonov would have to be the starter. There is no debate. The problem is we have no idea what kind of a playoff goalie he will be. That's what makes Holtby's role so important.

Holtby ranks 5th all-time in playoff save percentage with a .928 and it's not a small sample size (89 games). OK, but won't his poor season translate to a poor performance in the playoffs? Ask 2018 Holtby who was in the exact same situation, supplanted by Philipp Gtubauer as the starter. He came on in relief of Grubauer in just the second game and never looked back with a .922 save percentage and 16-7 record all the way to the Stanley Cup.

Holtby is a goalie who likes to play as often as possible. The playoffs are ideal for him because you play every other night. It suits his game well. What happened in 2018 is no guarantee of success in 2020, but I don't know why anyone would think the Caps are better off getting a different back up than going with the guy who is statistically one of the best playoff goalies ever and who has won a Stanley Cup going into the postseason as a No. 2.

If Samsonov is anything close to what he has been in the regular season, the Caps are in good shape in net. If not, there is every reason to be confident in Holtby as the backup. Samsonov/Holtby as a tandem is about as good a tandem as there will be in the playoffs and there's no reason to change it.

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With Gerardo Parra's World Series tattoo, he'll carry 'Baby Shark' on forever

With Gerardo Parra's World Series tattoo, he'll carry 'Baby Shark' on forever

The Washington Nationals 2019 World Series title run is something Gerardo Parra will never forget.

Earlier this month, Parra covered his left forearm with a tattoo to commemorate the Nationals' championship, but the fan-favorite but his own little twist on it.

In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Washington, Parra explained the meaning behind the tattoo and the motives behind the design.

"Like I said before, if we won a World Series championship, I wanted to do special a tattoo [to have] for the rest of my life," Parra said. "It's special for me. I had like one month to figure out how the tattoo I wanted to do. We did the trophy, the baby shark inside the trophy, World Series champs."

You can listen to the full interview in the Nationals Talk podcast below.

The design of the tattoo took several weeks of thought, but the actual process of inking it to Parra's skin was quite the process as well.

"It took like 11 hours to do that," Parra said. "But I'm so happy and so glad that everybody likes it, mostly because I love it and I got it for the rest of my life."

Although he was in the nation's capital for less than one full season, Parra left his mark in Washington. Following a rough start in 2019, Parra instilled a light and fun atmosphere in the Nationals' clubhouse upon his arrival. He made 'Baby Shark' his walk-up song in honor of his two-year-old daughter, and it became the Nationals' unofficial rally cry throughout the 2019 season.

Although the season is several weeks in the history books, Parra still plays the song in his home sometimes. As to why? It's just the feeling he gets when it comes on.

"I'm in my home and sometimes I put on the song because my baby wants to listen," Parra said. "My neighbor, he wants to dance to it."

Shortly after the MLB season ended, Parra was offered a deal from the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league. Knowing his chances of playing in the MLB next season were slim, the 32-year-old signed a few days later for $2.5 million with a $3 million option for 2021. He still hopes to return to Washington for the team's home opener where he would receive his World Series ring, and has self-nominated himself to throw out the first pitch.

So, will 'Baby Shark' follow Parra to his next destination? 

"The guys are waiting for baby shark in Japan. I'll do my best," Parra said. "I want to bring it to Japan. I want to bring it to different cultures, different countries, different cities. We'll see what happens, but I think everything is fine, everything is good energy, and try to make it work there, too."

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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