Nationals

Packers atop division after 23-14 win over Vikes

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Packers atop division after 23-14 win over Vikes

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) The Green Bay Packers are back atop the NFC North, and they have a very unlikely source to thank.

Minutes after the Packers wrapped up their 23-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday afternoon, Seattle beat Chicago in overtime to drop the Bears back into a tie with Green Bay for the division lead.

Yes, that would be the same Seattle team that stole a win from the Packers (8-4) earlier this season with the Inaccurate Reception.

``I can't say there are many Seattle fans in the locker room,'' Aaron Rodgers said, ``but we appreciate the help.''

The Packers and Bears each play three of their last four against NFC North opponents, including a Dec. 16 matchup at Soldier Field that might well decide the division title.

``Everything's right in front of us,'' Rodgers said. ``We've got to go win our home games and get a couple wins on the road.''

The Vikings (6-6), meanwhile, have ground to make up after falling a game behind Seattle in the race for the second NFC wild card. Not even a monster day by Adrian Peterson was enough to lift the Vikings, who lost for the fourth time in five games.

Peterson had a career-long 82-yard touchdown run and finished with 210 yards rushing, his most since tearing his ACL almost a year ago. But Morgan Burnett picked off Christian Ponder twice in the red zone in the second half, and Minnesota went scoreless after taking a 14-10 lead into halftime.

``He ran for 210 yards - that's important - but it's not as important to him as the fact that we didn't win the game. That's the beauty of Adrian Peterson. He's a total team guy,'' Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said. ``It's just disappointing that we couldn't win when he had such a great day in this environment.

``You want to see him celebrate, but it's hard to celebrate after today's loss.''

Ponder's job appears secure despite the loss. Frazier said he didn't consider making a switch during the game and he doesn't plan to this week, either.

``We can win with the personnel that we have,'' Frazier said. ``We've shown that we can. We just have to do a few things better. There's no reason to panic.''

With Green Bay's offense trying to find its rhythm after injuries to No. 2 receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring) and offensive lineman T.J. Lang (ankle), Peterson's 82-yard run gave the Vikings a 14-10 lead at halftime. He put the Vikings in great position to pad that lead, ripping off a 48-yarder on the first play of the second half that gave Minnesota the ball at the Green Bay 12.

But two plays later, Ponder got flushed out of the pocket. Rather than take the sack or run out of bounds, he heaved the ball into the end zone -right into Burnett's hands.

``I'd seen it was a pretty spiral, and I made sure I got my paws on it,'' Burnett said.

Rodgers overthrew Jarrett Boykin in the end zone on third-and-7 from the 29, and the Packers looked as if they were going to go for it. But after a Minnesota timeout, McCarthy sent out Mason Crosby, who had missed six of his last 11, including one from 53 yards just before the half.

This one was good, however, the kick wobbling through the uprights.

Rodgers was picked off on a trick play, but the Packers defense bailed him out, stuffing Peterson for no gain on third-and-1. A tipped Chris Kluwe punt gave the Packers the ball at their own 49 and, four plays later, James Starks bolted 22 yards for the score and the 20-14 lead, Green Bay's first since the second quarter.

Another long run by Peterson and a 15-yard penalty on the Packers put the Vikings deep in Green Bay territory. Once again, though, Burnett was there, stepping in front of Kyle Rudolph and snatching the ball at the 13.

``This one definitely hurts,'' Ponder said. ``For what this game means to the team, to this state, it's disappointing - especially with the way Adrian played - to go out and throw two interceptions.''

The Packers ground out an 11-minute drive before Crosby sealed the win with his third field goal of the day, a 31-yarder. Rodgers made three big third-down conversions to keep the drive alive, running for one and finding Greg Jennings (8 yards), back in the lineup for the first time since Sept. 30, and Randall Cobb (33 yards) on the others.

``It definitely was a gut check for us at halftime,'' Rodgers said ``The thing you can say about our guys, there was no panic. ... When we had to have it there in the fourth quarter, we were able to put something together. That said a lot about the kind of guys we've got and the leadership we have.''

NOTES: Green Bay has won a franchise-high 10 straight against NFC North opponents. ... Burnett's two interceptions matched his single-game career high. He also had two last year against the Bears. ... With 1 1/2 sacks Sunday, Jared Allen now has 14 of Rodgers. ... Peterson's 21 carries gives him 1,640 for his career, topping the previous Vikings record of 1,627.

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Max Scherzer, Sean Doolittle provide powerful voices during baseball’s search for answers

Max Scherzer, Sean Doolittle provide powerful voices during baseball’s search for answers

Sean Doolittle was willing to talk about it. The topic was union business. He’s focused, detailed and informed when any player-related financial topic is put in front of him. Being prepared is his process in general. Before Doolittle dispatches a thread of tweets, he reads multiple background sources, formulates his thoughts, looks for spaces that may lack clarity when dispatched in public.

On this particular topic, back in spring training when everything was more hopeful, he deferred. He asked if Max Scherzer had talked about the subject broached by a reporter. Told Scherzer had not, Doolittle said he would prefer to wait until Scherzer spoke. They had discussed the idea prior. So, they were working in tandem.

The pair has operated individually when addressing their personal performance or as team spokespeople when discussing the state of the Nationals. In this new setting, when a negotiating battle is underway between the union and league, and a pandemic has hurtled the sport into unprecedented territory, the two have become one of the most prominent duos in the league.

Scherzer dropped the largest statement of the negotiating period when he tweeted last week. A member of the union’s powerful eight-person executive subcommittee, and the best player among that group, Scherzer’s decree the players would not accept a further pay cut rattled the sport. An out-of-town announcer railed against the stance. The league received a large hint of the players’ coming counter-proposal. The union, through Scherzer’s rarely used social media account, had spoken.

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Days later, Doolittle countered his employer when tweeting about the Nationals players’ desire to step in and pay minor-league players in the organization. Doolittle’s Twitter account is often an outlet for his thoughts on topics from social justice to baseball matters to, of course, Star Wars. He uses the medium for consistent and steady interaction with the public. Scherzer operates differently. He stays off social media -- for the most part. He composed just four original tweets in the two years before delivering a missive via screenshot last week.

Soon, both will be gone. Doolittle is in the final year of his contract. Scherzer has one more year on his seven-year, $210 million deal which has evolved into a bargain framed by staggering figures.

Doolittle will be 34 years old on Sept. 26. Scherzer turns 36 years old on July 27th. Their statesmen positions in the game are likely to last beyond their playing careers. Doolittle will walk into a flood of post-career media offers. Scherzer’s future could include being the executive director of the MLBPA. He is the necessary blend of informed, passionate, and obstinate.

Both are voices to be heard in this climate. They understand the landscape in front of and behind them. Managing messages within the union and out in the public eye are divergent projects which simultaneously influence each other. Being the elders -- the viejos -- on the team brings a specific responsibility separate from overall union business. They need to be the house protectors then.

And know they are working in conjunction. An avenue over here for one, an avenue over there for another, making two of the most prominent local voices two of the most powerful across the sport.

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Nats reverse plans after Doolittle statement, will pay minor leaguers full stipend

Nats reverse plans after Doolittle statement, will pay minor leaguers full stipend

The Nationals reversed course Monday when the organization decided it will pay minor-league players under contract the full $400 weekly stipend originally agreed to across Major League Baseball in late March.

The Nationals were one of a handful of teams to lower the weekly stipend for minor-league players. Their decision over the weekend was instantly criticized since the total savings was so low and minor-league players already operate with comparatively low incomes.

The optics were particularly bad during this time of economic downturn.

Sunday, Sean Doolittle tweeted that the major-league players in the organization would fill a financial gap created by ownership when it decided to reduce minor-league pay from $400 to $300.

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“After hearing that Nationals minor league players are facing additional pay cuts, the current members of the Washington Nationals Major League Baseball club will be coming together and committing funds to make whole the lost wages from their weekly stipends.

“All of us were minor leaguers at one point in our careers and we know how important the weekly stipends are for them and their families during these uncertain times.

“Minor leaguers are an essential part of our organization and they are bearing the heaviest burden of this situation as their season is likely to be cancelled. We recognize and want to stand with them and show our support.”

Monday, the organization lifted the small burden from the players and decided to fulfill the stipends until the end of June.

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