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Packers sticking with struggling kicker Crosby

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Packers sticking with struggling kicker Crosby

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) The Green Bay Packers are sticking with Mason Crosby, although that decision has as much to do with their personnel philosophy as it does with their faith in the struggling kicker.

After missing a pair of field-goal attempts during the Packers' 21-13 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday, Crosby is 17 of 29 (an NFL-worst 58.6 percent) this season and has botched at least one kick in the past eight games. Nevertheless, coach Mike McCarthy remained steadfast in his support of Crosby, saying no change is in the offing.

``Mason Crosby is an accountable man. He needs to perform better,'' McCarthy said Monday. ``I'm disappointed in the way he performed yesterday. There's more that goes into it as far as when you evaluate players and everything around each player at their position. So, at the end of the day, Mason will be our kicker and that's my focus.''

While Crosby was having another rough outing, two other players the team chose to keep around - despite uneven production or injury issues - were delivering for them: Sixth-year wide receiver James Jones and third-year defensive end Mike Neal.

``I think it's clear what we think about the players that we draft,'' special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. ``We want to develop them and do well. Mason's had some bumps and he needs to get it right.''

Crosby, a 2007 sixth-round draft pick out of Colorado, signed a five-year, $14.75 million contract extension that included a $3 million signing bonus in July 2011 and responded with the best season of his career last year, making 24 of 28 field-goal attempts.

He has a base salary of $1.65 million this season and has three more years left on his deal, at $2.4 million in 2013, $2.65 million in 2014 and $2.8 million in 2015.

Asked after Sunday's game if he was worried about the Packers cutting him, Crosby replied, ``That's not even on my mind. ... I'm not even going to think about that.''

While Crosby has missed at least one kick in each of the Packers' last eight games, the team is 7-1 during that stretch.

``Obviously, it's frustrating whenever you're not making kicks,'' Crosby said. ``But the biggest thing is that I'm not making the kicks to put this team up by two touchdowns. That was my thing. That was six points there and if we're up two touchdowns, it's a different end. But the result is the same. We won the game, just a little different ending.''

The Packers can only hope that Crosby rewards their faith the way Jones and Neal have.

Jones struggled with inconsistent play and dropped passes earlier in his career, but was re-signed to an economical three-year deal before the 2011 season. After catching three touchdown passes from quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, Jones leads the NFL in TD receptions with 12. He enters this Sunday's game against Tennessee with a career-best 51 receptions for 622 yards.

Neal, who endured two injury-plagued seasons and then opened this one serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances, registered 1 1/2 sacks on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and was praised by outside linebacker Clay Matthews for helping him get his two sacks on stunts. Neal has 3 1/2 sacks this season, second on the team to Matthews (11).

``It's the core of the philosophy of how we operate here. The core philosophy is draft and develop, and the development is about growth,'' McCarthy said. ``Now, let's not act like there's not times when things are not moving in the right direction. Any time you hit a situation that's not favorable, you don't have production or the result is not what you intended it to be, you have to choose which direction you're going to go. The direction right now is we're sticking with Mason Crosby as our kicker.''

However, it does appear that Crosby's struggles are affecting McCarthy's decision-making. The Packers twice went for it on fourth down against the Bears, converting a fourth-and-2 from the Chicago 37-yard line in the second quarter instead of trying a 55-yard field goal and converting a fourth-and-6 from the Bears 26 instead of attempting a 44-yard kick.

The first conversion didn't lead to points because Crosby missed a 43-yard attempt wide right on a fourth-and-6 from the Chicago 25, while the second conversion led to Jones' third touchdown, on the opening drive of the second half.

Crosby's other miss came when McCarthy decided to try a 42-yard kick on fourth-and-1 from the Chicago 24, and Crosby clanged it off the left upright.

``It wasn't an ideal day to kick but I thought he should have made both the field goals that we attempted,'' Slocum said. ``The thing I'm disappointed in is not taking his preparation into the game. And he's got to do that. He had a great week of practice last week and was good in pregame warmup. He needs to make those field goals and trust what he's done during the week in preparation and move forward.

``I think he is really trying to get the ball through the uprights and I look forward to him doing it. And that's where we are.''

Asked if sticking with Crosby despite his misses might create an issue with other players, to whom accountability is constantly emphasized by the coaching staff, McCarthy acknowledged that was a possibility.

``That's a great question for the locker room,'' McCarthy replied. ``I'm not going to sit here and act like everyone's not watching how the situation's being handled, there's no question about it. Evaluation of everybody is an ongoing process as you prepare to win each game.

``Definitely, no one's happy with the number of kicks that Mason has missed. As we stand here today on who's going to line up and kick, it's Mason Crosby. I don't know how to continue to answer this question. He needs to be accountable for his performance, but as far as what happens between the evaluation of the game or the past games and how he's performed and how we move forward into the next game, there's a number of different factors. Mason Crosby is our kicker.''

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

After losing three straight, the Capitals battled back in Game 6 on Monday. With their 3-0 win, Washington forced the Eastern Conference Final into a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.

Here is how the Caps did it.

1. Braden Holtby matched Andrei Vasilevskiy save for save

Andrei Vasilevskiy was just as great in this game as he was in the three previous, but one of the major differences in this one was that Holtby was just as good. He may not have been tested as much (Vasilevskiy made 32 saves, Holtby 24), but he was big when the team needed.

In the second period with the scored tied at 0, Holtby made one of the most critical saves perhaps of the entire season when he denied Anthony Cirelli with the toe on a 2-on-1. When the Caps took the lead, Holtby really shut the door in the third period with 10 saves to cap off what was his fifth career playoff shutout and first shutout of the entire season.

2. T.J. Oshie’s timely goal

Over halfway into the game, it looked like it was just going to be one of those nights. Caps fans know it well by now. Washington outplays their opponent, they get chance after chance and develop a whopping advantage in shots, but they run into a hot goalie and a random play suddenly turns into a goal for the other team, game and season over.

Vasilevskiy was on his way to having perhaps his best performance of the series. Considering how he played in the three games prior to Game 6, that’s saying something. The Caps were doing everything right, but he continued to make save after save. Then on the power play in the second period, John Carlson struck the inside of the post, the horn went off and the roar of the crowd gave way to dismay as the referee waved his arms to indicate there was no goal and play continued. Just seconds later, T.J. Oshie gave the Caps the 1-0 lead.

You have to wonder if doubt was starting to creep into the back of the minds of the players when that puck struck the post as they wondered what else they had to do to beat Vasilevskiy. Luckily, that feeling didn’t last long.

3. Special teams

Braydon Coburn’s tripping penalty in the second period gave Washington its only power play of the night and its first since the second period of Game 4. They had to make it count given how well Vasilveskiy was playing and they did.

Washington now has a power play goal in each of their three wins against the Lightning and no power play goals in their three losses. So yeah, it’s significant.

Tampa Bay had two opportunities of their own, but Washington managed to kill off both power plays in the penalty kill’s best performance of the series.

4. Washington’s physical game plan

On paper, the Lightning are better than the Caps in most categories. One area in which Washington has the edge, however, is physical play and it was clear very early that they intended to use that to their advantage in Game 6. Tampa Bay was pushed around and they seemed to struggle to recover.

Ovechkin was a one-man wrecking ball out there hitting everything that moved. The energy he brought with every hit was palpable and both the team and the crowd fed on it.

Washington was credited with 39 hits on the night compared to Tampa Bay’s 19. Ovechkin had four of those as did Nicklas Backstrom while Devante Smith-Pelly contributed five and Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six.

5. Fourth line dagger

Tampa Bay’s fourth line was the story of Game 5, but Washington’s fourth line sealed the deal on Monday with its third period goal.

Chandler Stephenson beat out an icing call, forcing Braydon Coburn to play the puck along the wall. Jay Beagle picked it up, fed back to Stephenson who backhanded a pass for the perfect setup for Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the regular season. He now has four in the playoffs.

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.