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Rodgers lifts Packers to 24-20 win over Lions

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Rodgers lifts Packers to 24-20 win over Lions

DETROIT (AP) M.D. Jennings caught the deflected pass, and there was no doubt about this interception.

Then it was simply a matter of how far he could return it.

``The ball was tipped and I was in the right position to make a play on the ball,'' the Green Bay defensive back said. ``I saw a bunch of offensive lineman. I was like `Man, I can't let an offensive lineman tackle me.'''

Jennings went 72 yards to the end zone in the third quarter, and Packers went on to beat the Detroit Lions 24-20 Sunday, moving a step closer to solidifying their playoff chances in the NFC.

It was Jennings who had both hands on the ball in the end zone at the end of a game at Seattle earlier this season, but replacement officials ruled simultaneous possession by him and receiver Golden Tate, giving the Seahawks the winning touchdown.

Green Bay (7-3) has won six of seven since then, including five in a row. The Lions took back the lead after Jennings' touchdown, but they couldn't hold on. Aaron Rodgers threw two touchdown passes on the day, including a 22-yarder to Randall Cobb with 1:55 left that gave the Packers a 21-20 lead.

Mason Crosby added a 39-yard field goal with 19 seconds to go after missing two kicks earlier in the game.

Detroit (4-6) has dropped two in a row and remains in last place in the NFC North. The Packers moved to a half-game behind first-place Chicago in the division. The Bears play at San Francisco on Monday night.

Calvin Johnson caught five passes for 143 yards and a touchdown for the Lions, but nobody else emerged as a consistent receiving threat. Matthew Stafford went 17 of 39 for 266 yards with two interceptions. His pass in the third quarter toward Tony Scheffler was high and behind the tight end, deflecting off his hands before being picked off by Jennings and returned for a touchdown.

``Obviously I have to play better to give us a chance to win,'' Stafford said.

Stafford also lost a fumble.

Rodgers was 19 of 27 for 236 yards with two TDs, the first of which was a 20-yard connection with wide-open Jermichael Finley early in the second quarter to give Green Bay its first lead at 7-3. He also threw an interception.

Cobb had nine catches for 74 yards and the game-winning TD, a twisting grab in the end zone.

``I had a corner route and the defender jumped outside at the inside release,'' Cobb said. ``Aaron stuck with me. He gave me a chance. He threw it up and I just had to make a play for it.''

Finley had three receptions for 66 yards and a score.

Stafford's 25-yard TD pass to Johnson put Detroit ahead 17-14 late in the third, but the Lions couldn't hold on.

``Our passing game definitely wasn't clicking,'' Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. ``I'll give some credit to the Packers - they play a lot of tight match coverage.''

Stafford threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns last season. He's on pace to finish with about 4,800 yards this season, but through 10 games he's only thrown for 12 TDs. Detroit settled for field goals twice after driving inside the Green Bay 10. A 27-yarder by Jason Hanson with 4:25 to play gave the Lions a 20-14 lead, but they'd wasted a chance to extend their advantage.

``It's a tough pill to swallow right now,'' Detroit center Dominic Raiola said. ``We turned the ball over at key times. When we get the ball down there, we've got to punch it in. We could have made that a two-score game. It's hard to swallow right now, it's hard to talk about.''

The Lions also had some drama on the sideline with receivers coach Shawn Jefferson screaming in the direction of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan late in the game. After Green Bay took the lead, Detroit turned the ball over on downs when Stafford's desperation heave toward Scheffler fell incomplete.

``I'd rather not go into it,'' Schwartz said. ``Everybody was disappointed in not being able to score a touchdown on that last drive.''

Mikel Leshoure had 84 yards rushing and a 1-yard TD run that gave Detroit a 10-7 lead midway through the second quarter.

If Green Bay had lost, Crosby would've gotten a lot of the blame for staying in a funk in which he missed seven of 12 field goals. He missed a 50-yard field goal at the end of the first half - failing to take advantage of a second chance after Detroit called a timeout to rattle him - and missed a 38-yard kick midway through the fourth with the Packers down three.

NOTES: Lions OT Jeff Backus left in the first half with a hamstring injury that seemed to be in his right leg. Schwartz said his 186-game starting streak is ``definitely in jeopardy'' when the Lions host Houston on Thursday.

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Jodie Meeks

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Jodie Meeks

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Jodie Meeks' season...

Player: Jodie Meeks

Position: Shooting guard

Age: 30

2017-18 salary: $3.3 million

2017-18 stats: 77 G, 14.5 mpg, 6.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.9 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.1 bpg, 39.9 FG%, 34.3 3P%, 86.3 FT%, 49.1 eFG%, 111 ORtg, 112 DRtg

Best game: 11/29 at Sixers - 21 points, 4 rebounds, assist, steal, 5-for-11 FG, 3-for-6 3PT, 8-for-9 FT

Season review: The Wizards took a flier on Jodie Meeks last summer in what seemed at the time to be a low-risk contract with a potentially high reward, if he could stay healthy and play to his career norms. They were in obvious need of help at backup shooting guard and three-point shooting for their bench.

Meeks fell short of those expectations for a variety of reasons. Though he stayed healthy for the first time in years, he could not make shots at the clip the Wizards were hoping for. His field goal percentage was not far off from what he posted in recent years, but his three-point percentage was nowhere near the 38.8 percent he shot in his previous four seasons.

Meeks bottomed out midseason, shooting 28.9 percent from three in December and 28 percent in January. Those numbers ticked up beginning in February, but Meeks never fully gained the trust of his coaching staff. He rarely got hot enough to alter games and his best stat-lines often came in blowouts. 

There was a domino effect from Meeks' struggles, as starting shooting guard Bradley Beal had no one to spell him. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any NBA player this season.

For Meeks personally, it was a bittersweet year because staying healthy was no small feat. He had a run of bad luck and finally broke out of it this season. On the other hand, he never made the impact he felt he was capable of and that wasn't easy for a guy joining a new team and a new locker room.

Meeks' 2017-18 season was ultimately defined by more than his shooting woes. First, he expressed interest in a trade in February and did not get his wish. Then, he was suspended for allegedy using performance-enhancing drugs after the regular season ended. He was out for the playoffs and will miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season without pay as he waits out a 25-game ban.

Meeks may or may not serve that suspension as a member of the Wizards. He has a player option for next season worth $3.5 million. He has yet to inform the team of his decision, but the expectation is that he will pick it up. Given how poorly his season went and ended, it would likely be the smart move financially for him to opt in and hope for better results next season.

Potential to improve: Shooting percentage, perimeter defense, passing

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Markieff Morris, PF

Marcin Gortat, C

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

Tomas Satoransky, PG

Ian Mahinmi, C

Ty Lawson, PG

Tim Frazier, PG

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Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

The Caps stand just four wins away from winning their first Stanley Cup. To get those four wins, however, they will have to beat the Vegas Golden Knights.

Here are the keys to the series that will give the Caps the win.

Figure out how to beat Marc-Andre Fleury

No player has been as important to his team this postseason as Fleury is to the Golden Knights. He is reason No. 1, 2 and 3 why they have made their improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final in the team’s inaugural season.

Fleury’s personal numbers are staggering. Through 15 games, he has a .947 save percentage and has recorded four shutouts.

Vegas has been a middle of the pack team in terms of offense this postseason scoring 2.87 goals per game. They have lost only three playoff games thus far, but, as dominant as they have been, they certainly are not blowing away the competition. Of their 12 wins, ten of them have come with a margin of victory of two goals or less.

This shows you just how important Fleury is to their success. They are not scoring opponents into submission, rather they are relying on Fleury to keep opponents at bay.

Fleury is the absolute key to the Golden Knights’ success. It’s easier said than done, but if the Caps find a way to beat him consistently, Vegas becomes exponentially more beatable.

Win the neutral zone battle

Much of this series will be determined between the blue lines. The Golden Knights are an incredibly fast team.

Just to get to this point, the Caps had to beat two other speedy teams in the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning. They did it primarily by slowing down the offense in the neutral zone with a 1-3-1 trap. With so many bodies defending in the neutral zone, opponents have struggled to break the puck cleanly into the Caps’ defensive zone. The Caps are cutting off passing and skating lanes, creating turnovers and generating odd-man breaks in the other direction by catching opponents’ defensemen playing too aggressively on the rush.

As fast as the Penguins and Lightning were, however, the Golden Knights are even faster. Will the trap be as effective against Vegas?

Limit obstruction penalties

When playing against a team with speed, penalties often become a major issue. When trying to defend against fast players, if you get caught flat-footed or out of position, this tends to lead to obstruction penalties like tripping and hooking. When a player realizes he’s been beat, he does everything he can to prevent that from costing his team, leading to those type of penalties.

Vegas’ power play has not been lights out by any means with a success rate of only 17.6-percent this postseason, but you cannot continually give the opposition chances to score by frequently having a player sent to the penalty box.

Positioning is going to make all the difference in the world in this series to make sure a player is not forced into taking an obstruction penalty just to slow down the Golden Knights.

Get off to good starts

Vegas is 10-1 in the postseason when scoring first. Their secret to success is a mix between goaltending and speed.

Fleury has been phenomenal in net and the Golden Knights are a quick breakout team. It is very hard to get much sustained offensive pressure against them because once they get the puck, they are going down the ice at a million miles an hour.

Having to play from behind against a team like Vegas is not a recipe for success. Just getting the puck and keeping up with them is exhausting. Having to then find a way to then beat Fleury when he has a lead to protect is all the more daunting.

Strong starts will be vital to ensuring the Caps are not frequently having to play from behind.

Depth scoring

Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant likes to roll his four lines. It makes sense since there drop-off between his top line and fourth line is not as dramatic as it is on most NHL teams.

Consider how this team was constructed. The expansion draft did not give Vegas access to superstar players, but they also did not have to take any fringe NHL/healthy scratch players to fill the fourth line either. They filled their roster with the best players available to them which gives them four lines of much more comparative strength than most NHL teams.

While this means the Caps have a stronger top six, it also allows Vegas to roll four lines and take advantage of other teams’ bottom six.

You can never take a shift off against Vegas. There is no weak line to exploit. The Golden Knights come at you with four lines and relentless pressure and forecheck for 60 minutes.

Washington will probably get more production from its top six than Vegas will, or at the very least it will be a push. The question is what kind of production will each team get from the bottom six? If the Caps have the edge in depth production as well, they will be in good shape.

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