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Munchak looking for boost in Titans' offense

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Munchak looking for boost in Titans' offense

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Mike Munchak has made his biggest move yet as head coach of the Tennessee Titans.

He has put Tennessee's offense - and possibly his future - in the hands of 32-year-old quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains.

Munchak fired offensive coordinator Chris Palmer on Monday night and gave the job to an assistant who will call his first NFL plays Sunday when the Titans host the Texans (10-1).

His motivation is pretty simple.

Owner Bud Adams put everyone in the franchise on notice last month, even Munchak, who has worked for this team 30 years as a player, assistant coach and now head coach. Munchak, with 2013 the last season of his contract, said their jobs are all on the line with a 4-7 record.

``This is just something we're hoping is a fix to something that was going on,'' Munchak said Wednesday. ``Hopefully it'll lead to helping us play a lot better the next five weeks. Things go well, I hope we're all back. I think it's something we can all work out. We'll see.''

The Titans boasted during the preseason about all the playmakers they had on offense - from running back Chris Johnson to Kenny Britt and Kendall Wright at receiver and tight end Jared Cook. Instead, they've been inconsistent from game to game and series to series. Munchak had enough after the Titans had to settle for five field goal attempts in losing 24-19 last weekend at Jacksonville.

Johnson and the run game rebounded from a start that had Tennessee ranked last in the NFL after five weeks and now ranks 19th. Johnson is sixth in the NFL with 942 yards and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry. But with Jake Locker hurting his non-throwing shoulder Sept. 30 and missing five straight starts, the passing game is 20th with time of possession 30th in the league.

Munchak said they'd been frustrated most of this season and the high expectations didn't help. The struggles in Jacksonville made him realize he had no reason to wait any longer needing to try and win the final five games. The decision was all his, though he discussed the move with the general manager and the chief operating officer before calling Adams.

``If it doesn't work, then I'm the one that made these decisions,'' Munchak said.

The Titans sounded pretty happy with the change in coordinators from the 63-year-old Palmer to someone who hasn't even been alive as long as the man he replaced had spent coaching.

Locker, who will make his seventh career start Sunday, called the change a different style.

``Coach Palmer was more of a run and shoot, there's a lot of different options,'' Locker said. ``That's not as much a part of what coach Loggains does offensively, so I think there's some differences there in that. Again, you can't go in and change everything with a week's time to get ready for an NFL game.''

His teammates weren't as cautious about the changes.

Asked if he could see nuances already with Loggains having less than 48 hours to put together his first game plan, Cook smiled widely and called the differences ``pretty awesome.'' He said the scheme is similar to what the late Mike Heimerdinger ran as coordinator here between 2008 and 2010.

``It has a lot of Dinger in it, which is pretty cool,'' Cook said. ``This is going to be another different story on Sunday. That's when we're really going to see what's up and see what kind of plays are going to be called. Right now it's pretty cool.''

Wright, who leads NFL rookies and is the team leader with 48 catches, said there might have been issues previously with the options receivers had in their routes.

``I think everybody will notice a difference come Sunday, so we'll just have to wait and see,'' Wright said.

Houston coach Gary Kubiak was friends with Heimerdinger, who died in September 2011. Kubiak said Heimerdinger thought the world of Loggains, who had worked with Vince Young and Kerry Collins to Matt Hasselbeck and Locker.

``Obviously Mike does too, to give him this opportunity,'' Kubiak said.

Loggains also worked under Norm Chow and spent his first season in the NFL in Dallas when Bill Parcells and Sean Payton were with the Cowboys. Munchak said Loggains, a native of Arkansas and former quarterback in college for the Razorbacks, is an energetic ``football junkie'' who studies the game.

And Munchak is not worried about Loggains making his debut Sunday calling plays from the sideline.

``Everyone has got to have a first time,'' Munchak said.

NOTES: LB Colin McCarthy did not practice Wednesday after developing concussion symptoms after last week's loss. Munchak said the injury could not be pinned on any specific play, and now they have to wait and see if the linebacker can be cleared before Sunday's game. ... S Al Afalava (ankle) practiced fully after being hurt Nov. 4. DE Derrick Morgan (knee) did not practice but could return Thursday.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker on Twitter:http://twitter.com/teresamwalker

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

WASHINGTON -- If any bump was coming from a return home or Mike Rizzo’s public pregame words or simply being out of New York, it was not apparent Friday.

Three errors committed in the first four innings. The first reliever into the game, Joe Ross, allowed three earned runs before recording a second out. Starter Kyle McGowin barely made it through the fourth inning of an eventual and desperately needed 12-10 win.

The rally kept the Nationals from creeping toward of new level of dubiousness in this muck-filled season. They pushed 2 ½ games in front of the Marlins for the National League’s worst record. Juan Soto hit a three-run homer in the eighth. Matt Adams followed with a solo homer. Sean Doolittle had trouble, but closed the game. Those efforts kept this from being another story about the bullpen (five more runs allowed Friday).

So, here’s a different question to ponder (there are a million or none, depending on point of view) after Friday night: How did the Nationals end up with 27-year-old McGowin starting a surprisingly pivotal game?

The nuts-and-bolts version is because of injuries. Both Anibal Sanchez -- who threw a simulation game Friday -- and Jeremy Hellickson are on the injured list. The deeper answer comes from looking at the recent erosion of pitchers in Washington’s minor-league system.

McGowin made his second career start Friday because there is no one else. No hot minor-league prospect, no early-round pick who has been up and down and received another shot, no veteran stashed in the minor leagues for such situations.

Looming behind all of this is the 2016 trade of three pitching prospects to acquire Adam Eaton. Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning were all sent to Chicago for Eaton’s advanced-stats and cost-friendly contract. The departure of three starting pitchers in one shot reverberated Friday when the Nationals were forced to use McGowin in a spot start as the seventh starter of the season.

This is more a volume than quality issue. Neither Lopez or Giolito were effective in limited chances at the major-league level with Washington before being traded. Once in Chicago, Giolito became arguably the worst pitcher in baseball in 2018. No one allowed more earned runs or walks that season. Lopez had a quality season, finishing with 3.1 WAR.

The two have reversed outcomes in 2019. Giolito has rediscovered his velocity. After throwing 100 mph in the 2015 Futures Game, his velocity caved. Giolito was down to 92-93 mph with the Nationals and, initially, Chicago. Thursday, he hit 97 mph in the ninth inning of a shutout against Houston. The outing drove his ERA down to 2.77.

Lopez is struggling. His 5.14 ERA is venturing toward Giolito’s status of a year ago. His walk total -- always the concern -- is up, as are his homers allowed.

But what Giolito and Lopez have, at age 24 and 25, respectively, is potential. Giolito, who often fussed with his mechanics in Washington, has discovered a delivery to expedite his fastball and an approach to boost the effectiveness of his changeup. Lopez’s 2018 showed he can be a solid back-end rotation member. They were expected to follow behind Erick Fedde and Joe Ross in establishing a future rotation. But, those two are in Chicago, Ross is in the bullpen, where he gave up three runs Friday, and Fedde just returned to the rotation after being moved to the bullpen.

So, it was McGowin on the mound Friday. Four innings, six hits, five runs, one walk, two strikeouts, two home runs allowed. Why? No better choice is available.

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Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

The Nationals welcomed 10-year-old cancer patient Parker Staples as the newest addition to their team on Friday, in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic Foundation.

While battling lymphoma, Staples learned he would receive a wish and didn’t hesitate about what he wanted to choose. After being sidelined for two years during treatment, Parker couldn’t wait to celebrate his remission by becoming part of his favorite baseball team. 

Staples was introduced to his new teammates and got signed autographs from Matt Adams, Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, and Yan Gomes. He also got to spend time hitting and playing catch with his new teammates, as well as being interviewed as the newest member of the team. It gets even better than that, Staples threw the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park leading up to the Marlins-Nationals game Staples 

"My favorite moment was throwing the first pitch. It was really cool," Staples said.

"Probably the biggest day of my life."

The Nationals are hosted the Miami Marlins in the series opener Friday.

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