Nationals

Newton, Panthers heating up a little too late

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Newton, Panthers heating up a little too late

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Quarterback Cam Newton and the Panthers offense are finally hitting their groove.

Too bad for Carolina it's a case of too little, too late.

At 4-9, Carolina's playoff aspirations evaporated several weeks ago, but Newton's vastly improved play in recent weeks gives promise that his stellar rookie season in 2011 was far from a fluke and better times are ahead.

After a rough start this season, Newton has tallied 1,363 yards from scrimmage with 11 combined touchdowns and, here's the really impressive part, no turnovers in the past four games.

Carolina piled up 365 yards of offense in 2 1/2 quarters Sunday against NFC South champion Atlanta and built a 23-0 lead and held on to upset the Falcons 30-20.

Newton finished with stellar numbers, completing 23 of 35 passes for 287 yards with two touchdowns. He also ran for 116 yards, completing a jaw-dropping 72-yard touchdown jaunt along the left sidelines by somersaulting into the end zone before getting to his feet and pretending to rip open his shirt like Superman.

``Spectacular,'' Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of Newton's performance.

``The way he played and the things that he did, that shows you what potentially he is going to become. We just have to keep working and he has to keep growing as a football player. These last five weeks now have been pretty doggone solid. I'm very pleased with his development,'' Rivera said.

After ranking near the bottom of the league on offense most of the year and struggling to close out close games, the Panthers are averaging 397 yards and 23 points per game over the last four weeks entering Sunday's game at San Diego.

That's a bittersweet stat for Rivera to swallow.

``The disappointing thing is that's what we can be,'' Rivera said. ``We know that. Based on what we did, how we did it and who we did it with, that's the disappointing thing. ... We've found balance, we have. Unfortunately we didn't do it sooner.''

After Sunday's win over Atlanta, Newton downplayed talk of being ``in the zone.''

``I just think this whole offense is clicking,'' Newton said. ``We just have to connect the dots. When the offense is on, the defense has to step up, and when the defense is on, the offense has to pick it up also, and special teams.''

Rivera said Newton has handled himself more professionally in recent weeks, particularly after losses.

That's always been a touchy subject for Newton, a guy who barely lost at the previous level claiming national championships at Blind Junior College and Auburn.

Rivera said Newton has also been more accepting of what offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and quarterbacks coach Mike Shula have been teaching him after a disappointing start to the season in which Newton only threw five TD passes in his first seven games and turned it over 12 times.

``I think his football acumen has improved,'' Rivera said. ``I think his footwork has gotten better, his technique, his style, things that he does. It's like all of a sudden the light bulb has gone off and I think that has been big.''

Still, for Newton, the effort was good, but not good enough.

After the game Sunday he stopped briefly in his postgame press conference to berate himself over the plays he didn't make.

Even after Carolina piled up 475 total yards in offense against the Falcons, Newton was thinking about a throw that got away. He had receiver Louis Murphy open down the left sideline on a long pass play but threw it too far to the left and out of bounds where Murphy had no chance to make a play on it.

``Some plays I wish I could have back,'' Newton said.

However, the one play Newton left everyone talking about was his highlight reel touchdown run where he got a downfield block from Steve Smith to spring him to the end zone. For all the grief the Panthers have taken about their zone read option not being effective, this play worked like a charm.

Tight end Greg Olsen said it was a play similar to what they'd been running all season but with a little wrinkle.

``We did a nice job dressing it up, starting out a receiver at the back and they really keyed in on DeAngelo Williams,'' Olsen said. ``I came around, they blitzed the safety and we just had a great call there at the right time for that look. They blitzed that safety and that's my guy. It's like you drew it up on paper.''

Then he added with a smile, ``but you need a 6-foot-5 quarterback to run 80 yards. We were fortunate to have that.''

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Bryce Harper slid in to Rhys Hoskins' latest Instagram and we're kinda worried

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Rhys Hoskins / Instagram

Bryce Harper slid in to Rhys Hoskins' latest Instagram and we're kinda worried

No one knows when Bryce Harper will sign a contract – perhaps not even Harper himself – but he is fueling speculation every chance he gets.

 

The Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins posted a picture from the team’s spring training site in Clearwater, Florida.

 

View this post on Instagram

missed this walk to work🌴

A post shared by Rhys Hoskins (@rhystothehoskins) on

 

This itself is not newsworthy. Plenty of players have posted pictures of their arrivals at spring training. Scroll through the comments, however, and you will notice that Harper commented “Suhhhhh kiiiiiiid.” This comes one day after Hoskins commented on a Valentine’s Day post by Harper dedicated to his wife, Kayla.

 

View this post on Instagram

My Funny Valentine!😂🥰 #Greys

A post shared by Bryce Harper (@bharper3407) on

 

The Phillies are among the teams rumored to be potential suitors for the 2015 NL MVP. Does this mean Harper is going to sign with one of the Nationals’ biggest rivals and remain in the NL East? No idea. But Harper is doing a good job of holding onto everyone’s attention while he remains undecided.

 

This is not the first time Harper has fueled speculation via social media.

 

Hoskins posted this picture on Instagram back in December, with the caption “loading…”

 

View this post on Instagram

loading...🔋

A post shared by Rhys Hoskins (@rhystothehoskins) on

 

On Super Bowl Sunday, Harper tweeted this:

 

 

This week, Harper unfollowed a number of Washington Capitals on Twitter, according to Caps winger Tom Wilson:

 

 

In January, MLB The Show’s twitter account posted a series of simulations showcasing how some team’s seasons might look with Harper in the fold. He quoted some of those tweets with some cryptic emojis:

 

 

That same account also tweeted “You'll want to keep an eye on this account tomorrow... just saying,” back on January 28th.

 

 

This fueled speculation that the video game’s cover would be released the next day and Harper, as the cover athlete, would reveal his destination by appearing on the cover in his new team’s uniform. The cover was released, but it featured Harper in a plain white hoodie.

 

For now, Harper watch continues. As a matter of fact, you should go ahead and refresh your Twitter and Instagram feeds – odds are he posted another cryptic tweet or comment while you were reading this.

 

 

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Loyal through trade rumors, Bradley Beal definitive for first time about future with Wizards

Loyal through trade rumors, Bradley Beal definitive for first time about future with Wizards

CHARLOTTE -- Bradley Beal made the most definitive comments yet about his future on Friday afternoon and it came in an All-Star question-and-answer fan event in downtown Charlotte.

In a forum hosted by ESPN's Molly Qerim, one fan first thanked Beal for all he has done for the Wizards, then followed it up with a pointed question about whether it’s time to “blow the team up.”

Beal first laughed as the crowd reacted with a collective ‘ooh.’ He joked “there’s a lot of tampering going on these days.”

Then, he delivered a clear picture of what he hopes is a long-term future in Washington.

“I hate change. If I can retire in this jersey, I will. I’m all about loyalty,” Beal said.

Beal has said the right things before, but the timing is interesting. With the Wizards outside of the playoff race, he has become the subject of trade rumors. Many fans and media members have wondered if he could be the next All-Star to want a change of scenery.

Beal, though, insists that isn’t in his nature.

“Granted, it goes both ways,” Beal said of wanting to stay with one team. “They can say they won’t trade you and [then they do.] It’s a business at the end of the day, but believe me... my parents [raised] me on loyalty and just constantly even keel no matter what. Tough time last not always, but tough people do.”

Beal, 25, is making his second All-Star appearance. He is averaging career-highs this season in points (25.1), assists (5.4) and rebounds (5.1).

He has two years left on his contract, due about $56 million through the 2020-21 season. Most stars who have left their original teams have done so with one year left on their deals, so all of this will have to be revisited down the road.

But Beal has already thought about the years ahead and has no intention of leaving D.C.

“When you first get [to the NBA], you don’t get control over where you’re drafted. But once you get there, you develop relationships with people. You develop family, businesses, foundations; everything. You create a life there and it’s tough to just up and move after,” he said.

There you go, Wizards fans. You can rest assured, Beal is not plotting his exit, at least not anytime soon.

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