Nationals

NFL Today, Week 8

NFL Today, Week 8

SCOREBOARD

Monday, Oct. 29

49ers at Cardinals (8:30 p.m. EDT). Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals (4-3) look to end a three-game losing streak and tie the 49ers (5-2) for first place in the NFC West.

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STARS

PASSING

-Peyton Manning, Broncos, was 22 of 30 for 305 yards and three touchdowns in Denver's 34-14 victory over New Orleans.

-Tom Brady, Patriots, finished 23 for 35 for 304 yards and four touchdown passes in New England's 45-7 win over St. Louis. Brady joined Brett Favre (72), Peyton Manning (67) and Dan Marino (62) as the only NFL players with 50 games of at least three TD passes. It was also the 50th 300-yard passing game of his career.

-Matthew Stafford, Lions, was 34 for 49 for 352 yards with three touchdown passes and an interception in Detroit's 28-24 win over Seattle.

-Matt Ryan, Falcons, was 22 for 29 for 262 yards and three touchdown passes in Atlanta's 30-17 win over Philadelphia.

-Andrew Luck, Colts, finished 26 for 38 for 297 yards and a TD and interception in Indianapolis' 19-13 overtime win over Tennessee. Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, has led the Colts to a 4-3 record, the highest winning percentage (.571) by a rookie QB who was a No. 1 overall pick through Week 8 in NFL history.

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RUSHING

-Stevan Ridley, Patriots, had 15 carries for 127 yards and a touchdown in New England's 45-7 win over St. Louis.

-Trent Richardson, Browns, had 24 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown in Cleveland's 7-6 win over San Diego. Richardson has five touchdowns rushing, the most by a Browns' rookie in the team's first eight games since 1969 (Ron Johnson, five).

-Willis McGahee, Broncos, ran for 122 yards and a score in Denver's 34-14 win over New Orleans.

-Darren McFadden, Raiders, finished with 29 carries for 114 yards in Oakland's 26-16 victory over Kansas City.

-Jonathan Dwyer, Steelers, finished with 17 carries for 107 yards in Pittsburgh's 27-12 win over Washington.

-Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks, had 12 carries for 105 yards and a touchdown in Seattle's 28-24 loss to Detroit.

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RECEIVING

-Jason Witten, Cowboys, finished with 18 catches, tied for third most in NFL history, for 167 yards in Dallas' 29-24 loss to the New York Giants.

-Rob Gronkowski, Patriots, had eight receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns in New England's 45-7 win over St. Louis.

-Miles Austin, Cowboys, had nine catches for 133 yards in Dallas' 29-24 loss to the New York Giants.

-Julio Jones, Falcons, had five catches for 123 yards and a touchdown in Atlanta's 30-17 win over Philadelphia.

-Steve Smith, Panthers, finished with seven catches for 118 yards in Carolina's 23-22 loss to Chicago.

-Cecil Shorts, Jaguars, had eight catches for 116 yards in Jacksonville's 24-15 loss to Green Bay.

-Dez Bryant, Cowboys, had five catches for 110 yards in Dallas' 29-24 loss to the New York Giants.

-Titus Young, Lions, had nine catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns in Detroit's 28-24 win over Seattle.

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DEFENSE

-Tim Jennings, Bears, returned one of his two interceptions 25 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of Chicago's 23-22 win over Carolina.

-Greg Hardy and Louis Murphy, Panthers, Murphy recovered a fumble for a touchdown and Hardy had three sacks in Carolina's 23-22 loss to Chicago.

-Jason Pierre-Paul and Stevie Brown, Giants, Pierre-Paul returned an interception 28 yards for a touchdown and Brown had two interceptions and a fumble recovery in New York's 29-24 win over Dallas.

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SPECIAL TEAMS

-Dezman Moses, Packers, recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown in Green Bay's 24-15 win over Jacksonville.

-Olivier Vernon, Dolphins, recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown; also blocked a field goal in Miami's 30-9 win over the New York Jets.

-Justin Medlock, Panthers, was 5 for 5 on field goals in Carolina's 23-22 loss to Chicago.

-Lawrence Tynes, Giants, was 5 for 5 on field goals in New York's 29-24 win over Dallas.

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STATS

The Chiefs are the first team since at least 1940 to go through their first seven games without a lead, according to STATS LLC. ... The New England Patriots amassed 473 total yards in the 45-7 win over St. Louis in the NFL's game in London. The Patriots have posted at least 350 total yards in 17 consecutive games, surpassing the Rams (1999-2000) for the longest such streak in NFL history. New England also became the first team to win two games in London. ... The Bears are the first team in NFL history to return six interceptions for touchdowns through the first seven games of a season. ... Matt Ryan is 15-0 (4-0 in 2012) when he throws at least three touchdown passes in a game. Only Daryle Lamonica (19-0) has a better record in games with at least three touchdown passes. ... Aaron Rodgers was 22 of 35 for 186 yards and two touchdowns, which moved him past Bart Starr into second place on the Green Bay career list with 153. Brett Favre holds the Packers record with 442 TDs. Donald Driver appeared in his 200th regular season game, joining Favre as the only Packers to accomplish the milestone. ... The Titans' Matt Hasselbeck was 22 of 29 for 236 yards with a TD pass that was the 200th of his career making him the 32nd player in NFL history to reach that mark. ... Rob Bironas is the Titans franchise career leader with 201 field goals. Al Del Greco had 200 for the Oilers-Titans. ... The Falcons won in Philadelphia for the first time since Oct. 30, 1988, and Falcons coach Mike Smith moved past Dan Reeves into first place on the club's all-time list with 50 wins. The win gave Ryan his 50th regular season win as a starter and tied Ben Roethlisberger for the second-fewest starts (69) to reach the milestone among active players. New England's Tom Brady reached 50 regular season wins in 65 starts.

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STREAKS

The Atlanta Falcons (7-0) are off to their best start in franchise history. ... The Packers' 24-15 win over Jacksonville was their third straight win and 16th in their past 17 games at Lambeau Field. ... The Panthers have lost five straight. ... The Jaguars have dropped four in a row. ... The Chiefs have also lost four in a row. ... The Chargers have dropped three straight. The Eagles have also lost three in a row and also lost after a bye for the first time in 14 games under coach Andy Reid since 1999. ... Jacksonville's Josh Scobee has made 20 straight field goals, tying Mike Hollis' franchise record. ... The Colts have beaten Tennessee in seven of eight overall and seven of the past 10 in Nashville. ... Jets LB Bart Scott had his streak of 119 consecutive games played end because of a toe injury that has bothered him since the previous time the teams played in Week 3.

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SIDELINED

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was injured on the Miami Dolphins' second possession of the game. The Indianapolis Colts lost cornerback Vontae Davis to a sprained left knee on the Tennessee Titans' opening drive. At least Tannehill and Davis got to celebrate wins - Kansas City quarterback Brady Quinn got hurt in the first half of the Chiefs' 26-16 loss to the Oakland Raiders. Miami turned to Matt Moore after Tannehill injured his left knee and quadriceps muscle on a sack by Calvin Pace. Davis went down defending Chris Johnson on a run during Indianapolis' 19-13 overtime victory at Tennessee. He stayed on the field for a couple minutes before walking off. He was replaced by Cassius Vaughn. Quinn was hit hard on a sack by Rolando McClain on the Chiefs' third possession, and then took another shot when he threw an interception off his back foot. Matt Cassel came into the game for the Chiefs' next series. The team said Quinn had a ``head injury.''

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SPEAKING

``We're 7-0 over here baby. If I was over there now, they have to go to work.'' - Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel on his former team, the Eagles, after Atlanta's 30-17 win over Philadelphia (3-4).

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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What went right in Dave Martinez’s first season with the Nationals?

martinez_nats_celebrate.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

What went right in Dave Martinez’s first season with the Nationals?

After spending a decade as a Major League bench coach and managerial interviews with seven other ballclubs over the course of six years, Dave Martinez was hired to manage the Washington Nationals in 2018. The team had averaged 93 wins over the previous four years, winning 95-plus in three of the four seasons, but in 2018 they won just 82, barely reaching an above-.500 record in the first season under Martinez’s tutelage.

Based on the managerial turnover, Martinez drew the ire of many Nats fans. After all, if the Nats were going to move on from the proven success of Dusty Baker, shouldn’t the next manager be even better?

While the frustration surrounding a disappointing season was entirely understandable, Martinez shouldn’t be given as much of the blame as he has. We’ll have a piece coming later in the offseason about some of the things that went wrong in his debut season, so for the folks out there who want to point out his flaws, don’t worry. Your time will come, and we’re not saying he should be absolved of all blame this year.

This post, however, will highlight some of the successes Martinez had this season, and why he may very well still have a bright future ahead of him in Washington.

There are a few key reasons why I maintained all season long that Dusty Baker wouldn’t have had much more success than Martinez in 2018. First off, the litany of injuries the Nats dealt with were pretty astounding, and while they didn’t have any one major obvious injury, the sheer volume added up to cost the team a lot of games from proven veterans.

Those injuries led to probably the single biggest bright spot from the 2018 season: the emergence of 19-year old wunderkind Juan Soto.

It’s difficult to evaluate what Martinez’s patterns will be going forward in regards to young players vs proven veterans, but Dusty Baker had a well-earned reputation for favoring high-floor vets over high-ceiling rookies. It’s a fine philosophy to have, but it likely would have kept Soto in the minor leagues in 2018, robbing Nats fans of maybe the most entertaining part of their summer.

Martinez showed trust in Soto early, recognizing his preternatural ability to get on base and show in-game power, and Soto ended up with the 4th-highest Wins Above Replacement on the teams, to go along with the highest wRC+. Allowing Soto to grow and prove himself in high-pressure situations was maybe Martinez’s shrewdest move all season long. 

Now, instead of another highly-rated prospect who may or may not pan out, the Nats find themselves in the enviable position of being able to let Bryce Harper walk if he asks for too much money while knowing they have a capable replacement already on the roster. After one of the single greatest teenage seasons for a hitter in Major League history, the Nats now have one of the most valuable assets in the game in Soto.

Obviously, most of the credit for Soto’s incredible rookie season goes to Soto himself, but it’s partially thanks to Martinez as well that he got the opportunity.

The actual, strategic role of a baseball manager is relatively limited. Yes, setting the lineup each day matters to a degree, and National League managers of course have more moves to worry about over the course of the game. Still, in a game without the X’s and O’s of football, basketball, and hockey, the most obvious strategy managers employ is in bullpen manipulation.

The Nats had a bounceback season with their bullpen in 2018, and Martinez certainly played a role in that. It wasn’t the elite bullpen season of years past, but as a unit the bullpen shave nearly half a run off their collective ERA compared to 2017, and they moved up from 23rd in baseball to 15th.

In this current era of bullpening and shortened starts, a strong bullpen has literally never been more important, and at the very least, Martinez proved himself capable of running one. In fact, given how the team’s remarkable injury misfortune extended to Sean Doolittle and the bullpen as well, it makes the manager’s performance even more impressive.

Individually, you can see the success as well, most prominently with the aforementioned Doolittle, who had a career year with a 1.60 ERA and a 36.8 strikeout rate. There were disappointments too, as there are in every bullpen every season, but it was still a good year for the group compared to last season.

Ultimately, the role of the manager in baseball is pretty overrated. Coaching schemes matter in football, X’s and O’s are critical in basketball and hockey, and substitutions matter in soccer. With baseball, the most important hat the manager wears is really a glorified babysitter.

I don’t use that phrase to diminish either the manager or the players he oversees, but rather to really emphasize that a manager’s most important job is handling personalities, not strategy decisions. This can be especially crucial on a team with as many big names and stars as the Nationals have on the roster.

It’s obviously not an area in which fans can truly evaluate a manager, since 98% of these actions take place behind closed doors. One way we can gauge how a manager is handling the team off the field is in their comments about him. A lot of times, a player’s positive thoughts on their manager falls into the “well, what else is he going to say?” category, but they can still be informative, especially when the praise is unprompted.

Even players no longer with the team, who have no obvious incentive to defend Dave Martinez, have gone out of their way to endorse him for the job.

The tweet is a quote from Daniel Murphy on the day he’d been traded away to the Cubs. Murphy, a player who has made it to the World Series under a heralded manager, in addition to playing for Baker and Martinez, knows what it takes to succeed in the role, and he clarified without being asked that Martinez would succeed.

In April, then-Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez and Martinez got into a dust-up over Gonzalez being pulled from a start when he felt he had more left in the tank. Tempers flared, and clearly neither side was happy with the other.

The next day, the two “had an animated conversation” at Gonzalez’ locker, according to The Washington Post. Afterwards, the pitcher had some thoughts on Martinez.

“It’s beautiful that our skipper speaks to us. It makes a huge difference knowing what’s going on. That was a situation that if people keep to themselves, it’d be a different story. Communication. That’s all we want. Once we have communication, everything is nice and calm and everything plays out the way it should play out.”

Having learned under the master Joe Maddon, Martinez is already developing a reputation as a superb communicator, a highly valued skill in a winning clubhouse. Even the team’s biggest star, and impending free agent, has nothing but kind words for his skipper.

In the video, Harper says, “He’s one of the best managers I’ve ever played for. His door is open every single day. He’s got a heart that — I haven’t really played for a manager like this guy. I look forward to hopefully playing with him for the next 10, 12 years. He’s one of the best, so hopefully, we’ll see what happens.”

Harper has doubled down on those sentiments multiple times. After his epic Home Run Derby performance at Nats Park earlier this summer, he brought up Martinez again.

“I’ve got one of the best managers in all of baseball. I’m very happy to have him at our helm. He’s a guy I’d run through a fricking brick wall for, and I was trying to do that for him tonight.”

If a first-year manager can get his most famous player to run through a brick wall for him three months into the job, that’s a pretty good sign for the connections he makes and relationships he builds.

It’s entirely possible, if not likely, that the Nats made a mistake in letting go of Dusty Baker last offseason, but that doesn’t make Martinez a bad hire. Rather, his willingness to rely on unproven talent in this era of baseball, improvements at managing a bullpen, undeniable communication skills and abilities earning the trust of the players all point to a bright future in Washington with Martinez at the helm.

It wasn’t a perfect debut debut season, but he still managed to get a few things right.

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Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard out against Wizards

Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard out against Wizards

The Wizards will catch a break on Saturday night when they host the Toronto Raptors in the second game of their regular season, as Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard is being held out due to rest.

Leonard, who has been dominant so far for the 2-0 Raptors, is being limited in back-to-backs after he missed 73 games last season due to a quadriceps injury. The Raptors played the night before against the Celtics.

With Leonard out, the Raptors will likely rely on C.J. Miles and O.G. Anunoby at the small forward position. Shooting guard Delon Wright is also out with a shoulder injury.

Though Leonard and Wright are out of the mix, Toronto still has plenty of talent including All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry. Lowry is averaging 21 points, seven assists and 3.5 rebounds through two games. 

Serge Ibaka has been their third-leading scorer with 15 points per game to go along with 6.5 rebounds. They also acquired Danny Green in the Leonard deal and he's off to a strong start with 12.5 points and five rebounds per game.

Leonard's absence may be noticed more on the defensive end, as he is one of the best in the NBA on the perimeter. That could make things a bit easier for Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr.

The Wizards and Raptors next play on Nov. 23. That game is in Toronto.

 

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