Nationals

Packers won't have Woodson back for Bears game

201212091610582459084-p2.jpeg

Packers won't have Woodson back for Bears game

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Jay Cutler can't catch a break this season.

Clay Matthews was back at practice Wednesday for the first time since pulling his hamstring last month, and he's eager to terrorize the Bears quarterback again Sunday when the Green Bay Packers (9-4) travel to Chicago. The Packers can clinch the NFC North title with a victory over their biggest rivals.

``When you have a good day rushing the passer - it might not equal sacks directly, but if you feel good as a pass rusher you get into a routine, a rhythm and a groove,'' Matthews said. ``I definitely felt that was the case the first time we played them. I want to break out a little bit of the rust, obviously, sitting out a few games, but there shouldn't be a drop-off.

``Hopefully, there isn't.''

Tormenting Cutler has become one of Matthews' favorite activities. He has six sacks in seven games against the Bear, and Cutler probably still has some bruises from their meeting in September. Matthews had a career-high 3 1/2 sacks, seven tackles - six of them solo - and also batted down a pass. The Bears managed just 168 yards in that game, a 23-10 Green Bay win that was even more lopsided than the score indicated.

Despite missing the last four games, Matthews still leads the Packers - and is tied for sixth in the NFC - with nine sacks.

``He's practicing today? That's good to know. We could use all the help we can get,'' Bears coach Lovie Smith said in a conference call with Packers media. ``He's one of the best players in the league. That'll definitely give them a boost. They're a better football team with him on the football field.''

The Packers would be even better if Charles Woodson was ready to go, but coach Mike McCarthy said doctors decided the perennial Pro Bowler needs to give his broken collarbone another week to heal. Woodson practiced last week, and was hoping he'd be able to play against Chicago.

The Packers-Bears rivalry is the oldest in the NFL and, no question, its fiercest. Curly Lambeau and George Halas used to refuse to shake hands after games, and Bears receiver Brandon Marshall said Wednesday he's never disliked a team as much as the Packers.

That the Packers can clinch the division title has only added to the hype.

``Very frustrating day. Charles was ready to play, he's ready to go,'' McCarthy said. ``It's the judgment of our medical staff, in particular Dr. McKenzie. He does not feel it's in Charles' best interest to play in this game. Trust me, that's not easy. He's been preparing himself. He practiced last week. I know he's extremely frustrated.''

Matthews is anxious to get back on the field, too, but he knows he has to be smart about it. This is his third hamstring injury, and there's no sense getting back on the field if he's only going to have to come right back off a week or two later.

Especially with where the Packers are in the season.

Green Bay has been one of the hottest teams in the NFL after its 2-3 start, winning seven of its last eight. Not only are the Packers closing in on the division title, they still have a shot at the NFC's No. 2 seed - and the first-round bye that goes with it.

``I'm not going to put myself in an older category, but maybe a younger Clay might have pushed it a little too much in trying to get back out there,'' said Matthews, who is in his fourth season. ``But you have to realize the bigger picture here. ... With a few games left and an opportunity to clinch this thing, with an opportunity to get into the playoffs, ultimately that's the big picture. It's to get healthy and go into the last part of the season and playoffs full-strength and full-speed. Hopefully that's the case. Today was a good step.''

McCarthy said they'll see how Matthews responds the rest of the week. The Packers aren't practicing in pads at all this week, but they will be in shells Thursday and it will be their longest and hardest practice.

``The plan is for him to play in the game,'' McCarthy said. ``But that's why you practice. It's important to go through the process physically, mentally. ... We'll do our best to get him ready.''

Cutler might want to do the same.

Notes: OL T.J. Lang practiced after missing last week's game with an ankle injury. At his old left guard position, no less. Lang was shifted to right tackle after Bryan Bulaga suffered a season-ending hip injury Nov. 4 against Arizona. ``Today was the first day I really got to run around and plant on it, put weight on it,'' Lang said. ``I'm definitely feeling better each day. If I continue to make the improvements I'm making the past week, I feel pretty good about Sunday.'' ... McCarthy said WR Jordy Nelson (hamstring) is a ``longshot'' for Sunday's game. ... Jeff Saturday remains the starter though Evan Dietrich-Smith took snaps at center during practice.

---

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

Quick Links

Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

usatsi_10908133.jpg
USA Today

Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

WASHINGTON -- Daniel Murphy's two-run single drove in the tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth inning and the Washington Nationals rallied past the Philadelphia Phillies 8-6 on Sunday night to salvage the finale of the three-game series.

Anthony Rendon homered and doubled, Bryce Harper tied a career high with three doubles and Michael A. Taylor and Murphy each had three singles in a game that was delayed 38 minutes by rain in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams homered for the Phillies, who had won three straight.

Pinch hitter Brian Goodwin led off the eighth with a walk against Victor Arano. With one out, right-hander Seranthony Dominguez (1-2) came on to face Harper, who doubled to right, with Goodwin stopping at third.

After Rendon grounded out, Juan Soto was intentionally walked and Murphy lined a 1-2 pitch to shallow right. Taylor's single made it 8-6.

Ryan Madson (2-3) pitched the eighth inning, and Sean Doolittle finished it for his 21st save.

The Phillies took a 6-2 lead in the fifth on a two-run triple by Odubel Herrera and a two-run homer by Williams.

Washington pulled within a run at 6-5 in the sixth with four two-out hits, including an RBI triple by Trea Turner and RBI doubles by Harper and Rendon.

Nick Pivetta went five innings and allowed two runs on eight hits for the Phillies.

Washington starter Jefry Rodriguez was charged with four runs and five hits in four-plus innings.

The Phillies broke on top on Hoskins's two-run homer in the third.

Rendon made it 2-1 with a solo homer in the fourth. The next three hitters singled, tying the game, but with the rain intensifying, out came the tarp. When play resumed, Pivetta struck out three straight to end the inning.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Phillies: C Andrew Knapp left in the seventh with a right knee contusion. ... 3B Maikel Franco slipped on first base and fell hard in the eighth. He stayed in to run, but left after the half-inning. ... INF Jesmuel Valent?n was placed on the paternity leave list and OF Dylan Cozens (left quadriceps strain) was reinstated from the 10-day DL.

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (right hamstring strain) allowed 11 runs in 4 2/3 innings of a rehab start at Class A Potomac on Sunday. "I'm more concerned with the way he feels," manager Dave Martinez said, downplaying the results. "We'll go from there." ... RH reliever Brandon Kintzler (right forearm flexor strain) threw a scoreless inning at Potomac. ... RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) played catch on the field again. "We'll keep doing his throwing progression and figure out when he can actually throw from the mound," Martinez said.

UP NEXT

Phillies: RHP Vince Velasquez (5-7, 4.82) starts the opener of a series against the Yankees on Monday. He is 0-0 with a 3.24 ERA in two games vs. New York.

Nationals: RHP Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.08) opens a series at Tampa Bay on Monday. He is 2-2 with a 5.54 ERA in six games against the Rays.

Quick Links

Jay Gruden wants excellent play from Alex Smith, but he also expects personal responsibility

smith_gruden_usat.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Jay Gruden wants excellent play from Alex Smith, but he also expects personal responsibility

As June minicamp concluded, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden pulled no punches when asked about expectations for new quarterback Alex Smith. 

"He has got to get it down by the first game," Gruden said of Smith. 

While that might not sound overly demanding, remember this is Smith's first season in Washington. The QB will be playing with new teammates and implementing new terminology. 

Still, Smith is a veteran with a lot of experience, and frankly, it seems like Gruden isn't worried about a transition period. 

"We are not in here to build the team around him, the team is built and he has to lead it like right now," the coach said. "This isn’t a two- or three-year process. This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away."

Gruden made things quite clear. He expects the best from Smith, yesterday. 

Those comments created headlines, but there was something else the coach said about his passer that also stood out. Asked about Smith's veteran presence, Gruden talked about what the quarterback might mean for his teammates. 

"The whole job a quarterback has is obviously getting the most out of the people around you. That’s what I think he does as good as anybody," Gruden said. "He’ll get the most out of the tight ends. He’ll get the most out of the backs."

The coach continued, and things got a bit more interesting.

"He’ll get the most out of the receivers and offensive line because they’re going to want to play for him and they’re going to feel confident that he’s going to make something happen in a positive way or at least give it everything he’s got and take responsibility if something doesn’t work out."

Redskins fans are often a weirdly divided bunch. Many liked former QB Kirk Cousins but plenty did not think he was worth the type of money he was paid the last two seasons. Along the way, some fans will read Gruden's comments about making something happen and taking responsibility as a jab at Cousins. That's probably wrong. 

Remember, Trent Williams played through a serious knee injury last season. Asked why, Williams said he wanted to be out there to protect Cousins. Guys played for Cousins. 

The responsibility comment might mean something else, though. Their was a rather hostile back-and-forth last season between Gruden and Cousins last season, when the QB and coach disagreed about taking more risks with the football. A quick reminder of the scene: Cousins told a reporter that he would throw 20 interceptions if he played like Gruden wanted. The coach responded that while the interceptions might pile up, the QB would also throw 60 touchdowns. (Relive it here)

Throughout his career, Smith has thrown less interceptions than Cousins. But that doesn't mean Smith doesn't take risks or put his receivers in position to make plays. 

It's entirely possible Gruden simply expects Smith, a veteran, to be a responsible player and leader. And it's likely that comment had nothing to do with the Redskins previous quarterbacks. 

The bottom line is that Smith better be ready to go Week 1, and his coach made that clear. And if Smith isn't, Gruden expects his quarterback to take responsibility. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap

#REDSKINSTALK PODCAST

Don't forget to subscribe to the #RedskinsTalk podcast, hosted by JP Finlay.

Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below.