Capitals

Rodgers throws 6 TDs in Packers' rout of Houston

201210142246820079429-p2.jpeg

Rodgers throws 6 TDs in Packers' rout of Houston

HOUSTON (AP) Aaron Rodgers ran into the end zone, spiked the ball and performed the ``championship belt'' gesture that's become his trademark.

A holding call wiped out the play, about the only thing that didn't go Green Bay's way in Houston on Sunday night.

The reigning MVP set a career high and tied a franchise record with six touchdown passes and the Packers played their best game of their so far inconsistent season in a 42-24 rout of the previously unbeaten Texans.

Jordy Nelson caught three touchdown passes and James Jones had two, including a beautiful, diving one-hander in the fourth quarter for the Packers (3-3). Tight end Tom Crabtree had the other, a 48-yarder that Rodgers released just before taking a hit from Texans' outside linebacker Brooks Reed.

``This was an important game for us,'' Rodgers said. ``We had a couple not go our way, games we should have won and 2-4 would have been very difficult.''

Rodgers completed 24 of 37 passes for 338 yards. He tied Matt Flynn's game record for TD passes, set in last year's regular-season finale against Detroit with Rodgers resting on the sideline in advance of the playoffs.

Green Bay's offense came in ranked only 21st this year. Rodgers was openly disappointed in his own play, and the offensive line had also been an issue, allowing 21 sacks.

It somehow clicked against the league's third-ranked defense. The Texans had given up a total of six TD passes in their first five games.

``This is just a team that has a lot of pride in our locker room,'' Rodgers said. ``I said it this week, there's not any quit in that locker room. It's almost better when people are doubting us a little bit, I think. We kind of band together. People tried to pull us apart this week and we stuck together and found our motivation.''

The Packers heard criticism from fans in Green Bay all week after blowing a 21-3 halftime lead to the Indianapolis Colts. Another loss would have dropped them to 2-4 for the first time since 2006, and they missed the playoffs that season.

Instead, they put themselves right back in the thick of their divisional race.

Arian Foster scored two touchdowns, but ran for only 29 yards for the Texans (5-1). The loss leaves the Atlanta Falcons (6-0) as the only unbeaten team in the NFL.

Houston, meanwhile, badly missed star linebacker Brian Cushing, who was placed on injured reserve after tearing a knee ligament in last week's 23-17 win over the New York Jets.

But there was more to the Texans' collapse than just that.

Rookie DeVier Posey lined up offside on a Green Bay punt, resulting in a Packers' first down. Rodgers then lofted a perfect pass to Nelson over the shoulder of cornerback Johnathan Joseph for a 41-yard touchdown, stunning the noisy crowd.

Houston's offensive line also looked shaky. The Packers sacked Matt Schaub on each of Houston's first two series, forcing quick punts. Schaub was only sacked three times in the first five games.

Houston defensive end J.J. Watt sacked Rodgers, and fired up the fans by mimicking Rodgers' ``championship belt'' pose after the play. Watt, who finished with two sacks, came into the game with 7 1/2 sacks, just behind Green Bay's Clay Matthews, who led the league with eight and didn't have one against the Texans.

That didn't faze Rodgers, who eluded a rush from Connor Barwin and completed a 24-yard pass to Randall Cobb, who had seven catches for 102 yards. Jones made a diving, fingertip catch in the end zone just before the end of the first quarter for a 14-0 lead.

Rodgers completed 15 of 21 passes for 187 yards and was only sacked once in the first half.

``He put on a show tonight,'' Texans coach Gary Kubiak said of Rodgers.

Not that they needed it, but the Texans helped Rodgers with untimely penalties.

A holding call wiped out an 11-yard touchdown run by Rodgers. But Barwin stepped on another player's back trying to block Mason Crosby's field-goal attempt, resulting in a first down.

Safety Danieal Manning was called for a personal foul after a whistle on a third-down play, and Rodgers threw another TD pass for a 28-10 lead.

``That's discipline,'' Kubiak said, ``and discipline starts with me.''

NOTES: Packers LB D.J. Smith and RB Brandon Saine left the game with ``significant'' knee injuries, according to the team. ... Rodgers surpassed his previous career high (5), set in the second-to-last game of last season, against Chicago. ... The Packers improved to 19-5 in Sunday night games. ... Texans WR Andre Johnson caught eight passes for 75 yards, going over 10,000 yards receiving in his career. ... The Texans made a field goal for the 16th consecutive game, a franchise record. ... The announced attendance was 71,702, a record for a regular-season game at Reliant Stadium.

---

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

Quick Links

The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

When the starting lines were announced on Saturday, you may have been surprised to hear Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson were starting against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan.

Because the game was in Tampa Bay, the Capitals had to give their starters first. That means Lightning coach Jon Cooper saw the Caps’ were starting their top line and decided to put out his fourth.

And it worked.

On Saturday, Paquette scored just 19 seconds into the game and Callahan scored 33 seconds into the second period. Ovechkin’s line did not manage a shot on goal for the first two periods of the game. Ovechkin did finally score, but it came late on a six-on-five with Braden Holtby pulled and it was not against the fourth line.

The fourth vs. Ovechkin matchup is something the Lightning began in Game 2. No three forwards have played more against Ovechkin at five on five in any game since Game 2 than Kunitz, Paquette and Callahan. Prior to Game 5, they matched up against Ovechkin around six to seven minutes per game. On Saturday, however, Cooper went all in.

At five on five play, Kunitz was on the ice against Ovechkin for 13:04, Paquette for 13:42 and Callahan for 13:46. The results speak for themselves as that line outscored Ovechkin's 2-0. In fact, for the series Ovechkin has produced six points and only two of them have come at five-on-five play.

A fourth line vs. a top line matchup is a risky move because it takes time away from your top offensive playmakers. You typically see top lines face each other or a first line against a second line because, when you line match you are letting the opposing coach dictate how much your own players play. With a fourth line matchup getting essentially top line minutes, that takes time away from players like Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

If you look at the five-on-five time on ice for Game 5, Kucherov skated 14:06 and Stamkos 13:37 while Kunitz was on for 14:00, Callahan for 14:45 and Paquette for 14:57.

It is a risky move, but it makes sense for the Lightning. Through four games, the Capitals were the better team five-on-five, but Tampa Bay’s power play was unstoppable. Using the fourth line is a good strategy for Cooper in situations like in Game 3 and Game 4. The Lightning slowed Washington’s five-on-five production and Stamkos and Kucherov still produced enough on the power play even with reduced minutes. It also works for games like the one we saw Saturday.

In a game like Game 5 when your team jumps out to a 3-0 lead, you can afford to roll your lines even if it means giving the fourth line more minutes than the first.

You would think a fourth vs. first matchup would give the Capitals a distinct advantage, but it has not worked out that way. The fourth line has been able to stifle Ovechkin and Co. enough and the Lightning's power play has made up the production lost by the first line's reduced minutes. When the fourth line can score two goals of its own, well, that's just an added bonus.

Ovechkin has to lead his line to a better performance in Game 6. If the Caps’ top line can’t get the better of the Lightning’s fourth, then this series will be over on Monday night.

MORE CAPITALS STORIES:

Quick Links

Mike Rizzo makes bold move to call up Juan Soto

mike_rizzo.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Mike Rizzo makes bold move to call up Juan Soto

This is not a tweet I expected to read in May of 2018.

On the heels of their latest injury, the team is adding uber-prospect Juan Soto to the roster. It's unclear how much playing time he'll receive early on, but it's hard to imagine the team would be willing to start his service time clock and mess with his development track simply to sit him on the bench. He'll likely play, and make an impact on the team for as long as he's in D.C.

Let's not bury the lede, though. As you probably noticed in the tweet, Juan Soto is 19-years old. He was born in October of 1998, making him the youngest player in the majors, and bringing us one step closer to the first big-leaguer born in the 2000s. 

As incredible as it is for Soto to make the majors as a teenager (Bryce Harper and Time Raines are the only other teenagers to play in the majors in franchise history, which is pretty good company), what might be even more stunning is how quickly this came together for him. 

This will already be Soto's fourth different level of professional baseball this season alone, having spent time with the low-A, high-A, and AA clubs so far. In his entire life, Soto has just 35 plate appearances above class-A, which is almost unheard of for a player getting promoted to the big league roster.

He's hit everywhere he's been, with his career OPS in the minors a whopping 1.043 (his lowest  wRC+ at any level is 132), though it remains to be seen if his prodigious bat is ready for Major League pitching. Still, simply being in the majors at such a young age is a great sign for his future.

Not that anybody should put Hall of Fame expectations on a kid who hasn't even faced a pitch in the majors yet, but Soto's meteoric rise gives him a better chance than most at greatness. Just last month, when discussing the dynamic Braves duo of Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna, Hall of Fame-expert Jay Jaffe did some research on young stars making the big leagues, and the numbers are promising.

According to Baseball Reference (and we're just going to take their word for it), there have been 19,261 players in the history of Major League Baseball, and 226 of them have been elected to the Hall of Fame. That's a minuscule 1.1%.

But, of every player to ever record 100 plate appearances as a 19-year old (a number Soto should easily hit if he stays up all season), the number of players who eventually made the Hall of Fame jumps to 24%. If Soto is only up for a cup of coffee this year, and next year is when he's here to stay, you can move up the list to players who recorded 100 PA in their age-20 seasons, and the number is still 19%.

Plus, that percentage is likely to increase in the coming decades, as there are 18 active players to reach the benchmark, including future locks Adrian Beltre, Miguel Cabrera, and Mike Trout, and guys who are young but on the right track (Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Carlos Correa, and Giancarlo Stanton). Acuna, Albies, and Rafael Devers could find their way on the list one day as well. Considering only three of those names need to be enshrined in Cooperstown one day, it's safe to say that percentage is only growing.

That's a lot of stats that look nice for Soto and the Nationals, but obviously, we're at least a decade away from having a legitimate conversation about his Hall of Fame chances. Still, it highlights what we've known about him for quite some time. Juan Soto is a special, generational talent, and his rise to the big leagues as a teenager is worth writing home about.

What he's done so far is historic, and even if the move seems premature, it's plenty cause for excitement about the future of baseball in D.C.

MORE 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.