Nationals

Panthers' offense has been disappointment in 2012

Panthers' offense has been disappointment in 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) The Panthers offense was expected to be their strong suit this season and a big reason center Ryan Kalil promised Carolina fans a Super Bowl victory.

Yet it's the offense that has let the Panthers (1-4) down this year.

Second-year quarterback Cam Newton and the Panthers enter Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys ranked 23rd in the NFL in offense and 25th in points scored through five games - a far cry from 2011 when they finished seventh in total offense and fifth in points scored.

Wide receiver Steve Smith said the struggling Panthers have ``a long laundry list of things'' they can get better at on offense.

``This team relies heavily on this offense, and that's been different than in years past,'' Smith said. ``And yet we haven't done anything consistently that would help our defense stay off the field. All we've done is kind of been middling around a little bit and been real lethargic and left (the defense) out there on the field longer than they should be.''

The Panthers won't get a break this week.

The Cowboys, despite a 2-3 record, have allowed the second-fewest yards in the league and rank No. 1 against the pass.

The Panthers are hoping the bye week has helped wipe the slate clean and they'll come back on Sunday re-energized.

Newton, for one, said he feels refreshed.

Last year's AP offensive rookie of the year spent the bye weekend visiting a haunted house, go-kart racing, watching movies, playing video games and doing plenty of ``self-evaluation.''

He said after talking with his father Cecil Newton he also has a deeper appreciation for his job.

``God gives only a few people opportunities like this and it's easy for people to take it for granted,'' Newton said Wednesday. ``It gave me time to reflect and appreciate this lovely, wonderful game that I play.''

Newton said ``there's a lot of differences'' between last year's offense and this year's, including his own play. Newton's quarterback rating ranks 23rd in the league and there are 28 QBs who've thrown more touchdown passes than him at this point in the year.

But he said dwelling on the past does no good.

``It's time for us to start taking ownership and taking pride in this game,'' Newton said. ``We know everything we want to achieve is still out there for us to achieve.''

Rivera said Carolina's problems offensively boil down to missed opportunities.

``We've had some situations where we've missed guys that were wide open, or we've missed cuts, or we've missed blocks,'' Rivera said. ``Last year we made more plays and we're working to do that this year.''

Rivera still believes the Panthers are doing some good things on offense.

However, he said his staff made some schematic changes this week, although he wouldn't say specifically what that entails for fear of tipping off the Cowboys.

``We believe we have found some answers,'' Rivera said.

Despite Carolina's struggles, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett views the Panthers as a dangerous team especially now that they're backed into a corner.

``At different times they have done a really, really good job; other times it hasn't been quite as smooth - that's the nature of the NFL,'' Garrett said of the Panthers offense. But ``when have those guys they do and those schemes it's a real challenge for us.''

The Panthers plan to shake things up this week on the offensive line as a result of the season-ending foot injury to Kalil, their three-time Pro Bowl center.

Rivera confirmed last week Geoff Hangartner is moving from right guard to center. Byron Bell said Wednesday he's moving from right tackle to right guard and will start alongside Garry Williams at right tackle.

``I'm OK with it,'' Bell said. ``I've played there before.''

Panthers receiver David Gettis returned to practice, but Rivera said it's unlikely he'll be activated to the 53-man roster this week. The Panthers have three weeks to make a decision on whether to add Gettis from the PUP list.

Rivera sighted conditioning as the major reason why the team will likely wait a week on Gettis.

``He ran well, and he's a big target,'' Rivera said of the 6-3, 220-pound Gettis. ``He seemed pretty good for the wear. He got a lot of good work, so we're pretty excited. We'll see how he reacts (Thursday) morning.''

Notes: Middle linebacker Jon Beason was held out of practice Wednesday after experiencing some soreness in his left knee following Monday's work. His status for the Dallas game remains up in the air. It's the same knee that kept him out of the Seattle week ... The Panthers placed LB Kenny Onatolu, a special teams player, on injured reserve with a torn left triceps and signed CB Ron Parker to the 53-man roster. He'll play mainly on special teams. ... LB Jerry Franklin was signed to the practice squad.

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Online:http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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This time, closer Sean Doolittle costs the Nationals a game

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This time, closer Sean Doolittle costs the Nationals a game

NEW YORK -- The Washington Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 6-1, Wednesday to drop their record to 19-30. Here are five observations from the game...

1.  What to say when the only person to trust can’t deliver?

That’s the status for these Washington Nationals, now 11 games under .500 after Sean Doolittle's worst outing since arriving in Washington, sliding further and further away, unable to stumble into wins and only capable of hunting down ways to lose.

A night after curious bullpen usage which delivered yet another wrenching loss, and was followed Wednesday afternoon by a pep-talk focused team meeting, manager Davey Martinez dispatched his knee-quaking posse of relievers in superior fashion.

Joe Ross opened the seventh with an out. Matt Grace followed with two. Six outs to go in a 1-0 game for the league’s worst bullpen.

Kyle Barraclough started the eighth. He struck out J.D. Davis. Adeiny Hechavarria doubled, though the ball should have been caught by Juan Soto. Pete Alonso grounded out. Todd Frazier came to the plate and options arrived. A mound visit was followed by a four-pitch walk to Frazier. Doolittle entered the game to face light-hitting veteran Carlos Gomez. Stomach-churning chaos followed.

Doolittle hit Gomez with his first pitch -- his first beaned batter of the year and first since May 29, 2018. Juan Lagares doubled two pitches later to clear the bases. Wilson Ramos was intentionally walked. Pinch-hitter Rajai Davis hit a three-run homer two pitches into his at-bat.

That was the end for Doolittle, who walked off the mound with a stunned look. The one reliable piece in the league’s worst bullpen had as disastrous a night as possible, flushing Max Scherzer’s start, throwing aside rare quality work from other relievers, sending the Nationals to their fourth consecutive loss in this can’t-get-right season.

What followed was a stupefied clubhouse beginning to process just how dire the situation is on May 22.

Adam Eaton wondered where answers are and said they need to come now.

“We need to do something different sooner rather than later,” Eaton said. “We've talked about this for weeks now. Just haven't been playing good baseball.”

Martinez said he was “shocked” by Doolittle’s off-kilter outing.

“I tell them all the time: This thing will turn around,” Martinez said. “It’s going to turn around. But we have to believe that it will. We have to will it. It’s time that we just believe that we’re good enough to play here, cause we are. And we’ve got to make it happen. We’ve got to make things happen. And stay strong. Stay together. Stay strong. Pull for your teammates. And this thing will turn around.”

Doolittle had a hard time wrapping his head around his rare 12-pitch crumbling.

“I don't know, it's tough and it's a tough spot to come in and the context of how our season's going it hurts you even more,” Doolittle said. “To have Max pitch so well tonight and the guys grind it out....shoot I don't know. I'm really frustrated. I'm disgusted with myself and I let the team down. And it hurts.”

Scherzer was stern in his comments about a spiraling season.

“When you face adversity, this is when you reveal yourself,” Scherzer said. “Whether you have the mental fortitude to come back and you can block out all the negativity that's probably going to surround us right now. You've got to come forward to the game with that positive attitude of knowing what you can control and that you have the right mindset that you're going to go out there and compete and compete at 100 percent. You have to think of all the little things you can do.”

There were those two words again: “little things.” They have conspired against the Nationals this year, undermining an-almost $200 million payroll, increasingly putting the manager’s future in jeopardy and ratcheting up calls for sweeping change. There’s been nothing little about them, and nothing the Nationals have figured out on the field or off to stop them from snuffing out the year before the season is even close to half done.

2. Scherzer needed 109 pitches to make it through six innings. The most important of those was his final one. The 11-pitch sixth gave the Nationals three fewer outs to pawn off on the bullpen. Scherzer opened the inning at 98 pitches before briskly working through Todd Frazier, Carlos Gomez and Juan Lagares.

He allowed four hits, struck out nine and walked two. The night drove Scherzer’s ERA down to 3.41. It all mattered little in the end.

“You just take it inning by inning, try to execute pitches,” Scherzer said. “I thought tonight I had a good inning out of the windup, had a good rocker step, and there were some pitches that I threw tonight that I executed well because I was nice and tall throughout my delivery. It kind of let me be able to pick up some consistency kind of early in the game and late in the game. When my delivery is right, and my slot is in the right spot, that’s when I execute all my pitches. So I felt like I was in better position tonight overall than I have been in the past.”

Why was Scherzer back to the mound after 98 pitches in five innings? Because of losses six weeks ago, three weeks ago, last week and this week. A team 10 games under .500 has to squeeze everything it can out of its ace on May 22. Time for a margin of error has eroded. What happened back then (losing series to Miami, for instance) piles up to have a grand influence on later.

3. Grace has been used as a matchup left-hander recently. He’s found that life more appealing.

Grace matched up with Cubs left-hander Anthony Rizzo and recorded an out Sunday. He faced Robinson Cano on Tuesday to pick up a ground out. Wednesday, Grace was brought in to face left-handed pinch-hitter Dominic Smith. Smith grounded out to first. Grace remained in to face Amed Rosario and recorded another ground ball out.

The Nationals are trying to put Grace in spots to get his feet back on the ground after a night as the punching bag at the end of a blowout loss against the Chicago Cubs last Friday (and a down season overall). So far, this role has been better.

4. Remember the extended minor-league assignments for after players were hurt? That’s gone. And the results are not great.

Matt Adams was activated Wednesday. Adrian Sanchez was sent to Double-A Harrisburg to make room on the 25-man roster.

Adams did all his rehabilitation work with the major-league team. He took batting practice on the field and in the batting cages before that. He also took ground balls and infield practice. What he didn’t do was go on a minor-league assignment despite not playing since May 3. The Nationals judged him ready to play because his swing looked in place against a pitching machine.

Wednesday, he made a crucial error in the first inning. Robinson Cano rolled a small ground ball to first, Adams fielded, pivoted and threw toward second base, where the runner on first was heading. The ball never came close to the bag. It went to the outfield instead, which presented the Mets with runners on second and third and one out instead of a runner on first and one out (or a chance at a longshot double play). It, most importantly, cost Scherzer more pitches.

Scherzer pitched his way out of it as he often has this season. He came into the game leading the league in FIP (fielding-independent pitching).

Trea Turner played just two games for Triple-A Potomac after missing seven weeks. Asked how many games he would have preferred to play there, Turner said one. He made two wayward throws his first game back with the Nationals.

So, instantly putting these guys back on the field -- which is every player’s preference and a spot the Nationals’ record has leveraged them into -- is not ideal.

5.  Kyle McGowin will start Friday. His visit to the rotation is expected to be temporary.

McGowin will pitch in Jeremy Hellickson’s spot. He was up to give length in the bullpen. Like Erick Fedde, he’ll be drawn away from the relievers to fill a rotation spot.

McGowin is a sinker-ball pitcher. He made one start at the end of last season. He also is currently suspended by the Pacific Coast League after a substance was found in his glove following an inspection by umpires during his last outing.

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Redskins sign linebacker Jon Bostic to try and help make up for the loss of Reuben Foster

Redskins sign linebacker Jon Bostic to try and help make up for the loss of Reuben Foster

Two days after losing Reuben Foster for the year, the Redskins made a move to at least provide reinforcements to a weakened linebacker group.

On Wednesday, Washington announced that they have signed Jon Bostic, a six-year veteran. The 'Skins also officially placed Foster on injured reserve.

Bostic was a 2013 second-round pick of the Bears out of Florida. He's since bounced around to New England, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh, where he started 14 times for the Steelers in 2018 and posted 73 tackles. He's been traded twice in his career and missed all of 2016 with a foot injury. 

So, what does the move accomplish for the Redskins?

Well, Bostic — or any other free agent signing at this point — isn't going to have close to the level of talent and potential that Foster had. However, getting another option at linebacker was necessary for the Burgundy and Gold, and the 28-year-old has played in 30 contests over the past two years, so he's relatively established. 

Yes, he's far from a gamechanger, considering he has just one interception and 5.5 sacks as a pro. But he's regarded as a solid run defender and tackler and should at least push Mason Foster and Shaun Dion Hamilton. His presence also could alleviate some of the pressure that would've been on rookie Cole Holcomb. 

Signing a defender who's been with five franchises in six years isn't exactly inspiring, but Bostic has experience as a starter and could give the Redskins useful snaps on first and second down at a minimum. Now it's on him to take advantage of the opportunity he's been given.

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