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Roethlisberger takes blame for Steelers collapse

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Roethlisberger takes blame for Steelers collapse

PITTSBURGH (AP) Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks at his passing statistics, and they're not all that bad.

His passer rating is up from his career average, as well as his average passing yards per game.

The completion rate is where it has been over the course of an eight-year career.

Only once before has Roethlisberger thrown more touchdown passes per game or fewer interceptions per game.

But it's been Roethlisberger's play, by his own admission, that's a key factor in Pittsburgh (7-8) failing to make the playoffs for only the fourth time since 2001.

``A lot of it just has to do with me not playing well enough down the stretch,'' Roethlisberger said. ``Fourth-quarter drives or last-minute throws, I'm just not making it happen, so my best answer would be that I just didn't play well enough.''

The Steelers controlled their playoff fate until their 13-10 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday eliminated them from the postseason.

Just as had happened one week earlier against Dallas, Roethlisberger threw an interception during a tie game that led to the opponent kicking a winning field goal.

Those losses joined others earlier this season against Denver, Oakland and Tennessee in which Pittsburgh not only blew fourth-quarter leads, but had the ball in the final minutes with a chance to drive for a potential winning score.

The Roethlisberger-led offense failed each time. In the season opener at Denver, he threw an interception to Tracy Porter that was returned 43 yards for the clinching touchdown.

``In the past, I prided myself and us in fourth-quarter comebacks,'' Roethlisberger said. ``I've always said that you don't want to have them, because that means you haven't done well early in the game, but we've always been good at it. And this year, we just weren't. I don't think there's any rhyme or reason why, (but) it was just a year when I wasn't.''

Roethlisberger has thrown only eight interceptions this season, but many came at crucial times. Six came in defeats, four in the fourth quarter or overtime. His first interception in the must-win game against the Bengals on Sunday was returned for Cincinnati's only touchdown.

This season, Roethlisberger's 84.4 passer rating in the fourth quarter and overtime is by far lower than during any of the other three quarters.

That would seem to be in contrast to the clutch reputation Roethlisberger has earned over the course of a career in which he has led 22 fourth-quarter comebacks and 29 game-winning drives during the regular season and also led a memorable comeback in the final minutes of the 2009 Super Bowl.

``I don't think there's any reason to go panic about it, because I've been pretty good for eight years doing it and had one not-so-good year on it,'' Roethlisberger said. ``I think I played pretty good football, though, other than those situations.''

To be fair, Roethlisberger was under center for three fourth-quarter comebacks this season. But even coach Mike Tomlin acknowledges his two-time Pro Bowler just wasn't the same in such situations this season.

``Just not making the critical plays,'' Tomlin said. ``Not a lot has changed in terms of structurally for how we prepare for those moments and how we deal with those moments. They're not coming together for us, and I'm not going to try to make excuses in that regard.''

Roethlisberger and Tomlin both downplayed the notion that the quarterback's right shoulder and rib injuries sustained in November are affecting his play.

Roethlisberger missed three games, and since he's come back, he's thrown six interceptions and four touchdown passes in three games - all losses.

``We can talk about that in the offseason, maybe, but I feel good enough to play,'' Roethlisberger said.

There have been times over the past three games that Roethlisberger's arm didn't appear as strong as usual and he was badly off on throws he typically makes. But there also are examples he was the same old Big Ben.

Against Dallas, for example, he lofted a ball more than 50 yards in the air to Mike Wallace to set up a tying second-half touchdown. Earlier in that game, he scrambled and avoided multiple sack attempts to find an open Heath Miller for a score just before halftime.

``The only reason we're in that game is because of his play,'' safety Ryan Clark said. ``The only reason he had an opportunity to throw an interception at the critical moment is because he played so well to keep us close.''

Still, Roethlisberger has largely built his career not on eye-popping numbers but on clutch play.

When asked about why this season has been so much different, Wallace shrugs and maintains that Roethlisberger is the same at practice and in the huddle.

``You can't be perfect every time,'' Wallace said. ``You can't be a superhero every time.''

Maybe, but Roethlisberger was far from it late in this season - and as a result, the Steelers will spend January at home.

``I not worried about Ben,'' Miller said. ``He's one of the best quarterbacks in the league - in my mind, he's still there. And I wouldn't want anybody else to be leading this team.''

Notes: The Steelers placed Miller, CB Ike Taylor and RB Baron Batch on injured reserve Wednesday and signed TE Jamie McCoy, S Damon Cromartie-Smith and LB Marshall McFadden to the active roster. Miller, who tore knee ligaments Sunday, will have surgery Wednesday.

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2019 NBA Trade Deadline: Will the Wizards be buyers, sellers, or standing pat?

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2019 NBA Trade Deadline: Will the Wizards be buyers, sellers, or standing pat?

The Wizards are in the midst of their best basketball of the season. That only makes the upcoming decisions surrounding the Feb. 7 trade deadline more challenging.

With Bradley Beal’s elite play fueling a surge before the team’s trek to London, Washington went 3-2 in five games against NBA contenders. Even one of the losses, Sunday’s double-overtime thriller against the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors, provided hope for a playoff push and a bit more should the Wizards qualify.

The Wizards, 18-26 and two games back of a playoff berth entering the week, must pass three teams for the eighth seed. Six teams are currently jockeying for the final three spots in the Eastern Conference horse race. With a Secretariat-level kick, Washington could gallop all the way to sixth.

Remain bullish and perhaps the Wizards seek help rather sell off assets. Pulling that off without adding to the luxury tax bill would make team president Ernie Grunfeld quite the contortionist. If reaching the postseason for the fifth time in six years remains the goal, get twisty.

Now for some reasons why the organization might choose another path despite the ample pluck shown by the active players.

Since the 2012-13 season, a team sitting two or more games back of the eighth seed as of Jan. 1 reached the playoffs only three times, according to the website Basketball-Reference.

The idea of trading away players, namely those on expiring contracts, isn’t appealing for those focused solely on the current season’s potential. Doing so accomplishes several goals: 

  • Acquiring draft picks and player assets for a franchise with only five players under contract for the 2019-20 season and without a second-round selection until 2023. 
  • Potentially increase the team’s 2019 NBA Draft lottery odds. Washington currently has the sixth-best odds at the No. 1 overall selection. Landing that pick likely means selecting Duke’s runaway top prospect, Zion Williamson. 
  • Targeted trades could create future salary cap space. Washington’s projected 2019-20 salaries total $111 million, eclipsing the $109 million salary cap and leaving little wiggle room below the $132 luxury tax line. Of the five players under contract, only Beal, John Wall and Otto Porter are established building blocks. 
  • Eliminate some or all of this season’s entire $8.6 million luxury tax burden. Erasing the luxury tax altogether keeps the Wizards a bit further away from paying a higher tax rate as a repeater tax squad.

The key for league observers is proper self-evaluation, including fair expectations for Wall coming off another surgery. The latest occurred this month as repairing bones spurs digging into his left heel ended the five-time All-Star’s season.

Making moves for coveted first-round draft picks means taking on future salary, a likely scenario for most deadline trades involving rentals like Trevor Ariza.

“I don't think you can worry about clearing money for next year. You just need to avoid the tax,” a former NBA general manager told NBC Sports Washington. “If taking on money next year means getting close to (avoiding) the luxury tax threshold this year I'd be comfortable with that because I think they're more than one year away from fixing this. I would start to accumulate assets as quickly as I could.”

Whatever the future thoughts, there are current realities ranging from that luxury tax payment to season ticket plan renewals.

“Can’t separate basketball from business,” a current NBA team executive said. “We don’t play the game of basketball. We’re in the business of basketball.”

There’s also the playing of basketball. Try telling Beal the Wizards should regroup for next season when hopefully a healthy Wall returns and assets acquired at the trade deadline mature.

Beal, sensing external expectations dropping immediately after Wall’s surgery news, suggested doubters should stay tuned.

“I’m trying to shoot for the playoffs,” Beal said.

Since then he has recorded his second triple-double of his career with 45 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists in 55 minutes against the Raptors. Beal is averaging 30.2 points over his last nine games.

This isn’t a one-man effort. Guard Tomas Satoransky also recorded a triple-double over the weekend while Ariza fell a rebound shy against Toronto. Big moments for Otto Porter, Thomas Bryant and Jeff Green come regularly.

Beal’s hopes and forewarning for doubters won’t stop many outside the organization from focusing on the allure of salary cap flexibility and asset gathering above all. Both sides have merit. Washington can only make substantive moves in one of those directions before the Feb. 7 trade deadline.

Winning a seven-game playoff series is a lofty goal for a team yet to win more than three games consecutively all season and currently poised for the draft lottery. However, as state lottery promotions might say, you also cannot win if you don’t play.

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Redskins rank surprisingly low on oddsmakers list of landing spots for Kyler Murray

Redskins rank surprisingly low on oddsmakers list of landing spots for Kyler Murray

The Redskins need a quarterback in the 2019 NFL Draft, but plenty of other teams do too. At least that's the way oddsmakers at BetOnline.ag believe.

The sports book released future landing spots for Oklahoma's Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray, who declared for the NFL Draft on Monday, and the Redskins don't crack the Top 5. 

Per BetOnline, the most likely spot for Murray to land is with the Raiders. Oakland holds the fourth overall selection, and the three teams ahead of them all have quarterbacks in place (Arizona/Rosen, San Francisco/Garoppolo, New York Jets/Darnold).

While Murray isn't likely the top QB on the draft board, that would be Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins, it might make sense to give the Raiders the best chance of landing the Heisman winner since hypothetically Oakland will be the first team stepping to the podium looking for a passer. The Raiders still have Derek Carr under contract, but Oakland boss Jon Gruden hasn't seemed too enamored with his signal caller. 

After Oakland, three more teams pop up before the Redskins. Below is the full list. 

BetOnline: Who Will Draft Kyler Murray 2019 Draft?

Oakland Raiders        3/1       
Jacksonville Jaguars   7/2       
New York Giants        4/1       
Arizona Cardinals      5/1       
Denver Broncos         8/1       
Miami Dolphins         8/1       
Washington Redskins    8/1       
Tampa Bay Buccaneers  12/1

There is a lot to digest from this list, especially given that the Cardinals have higher odds of taking Murray than other QB needy teams. Arizona just spent a first-round pick on Josh Rosen last season. He wasn't particularly impressive as a rookie, but will the Cards give up on him that quick? Keep in mind there has been a coaching change in the desert and new head man Kliff Kingsbury has talked gushingly about Murray's talent. 

The Jags and the Giants make sense. New York holds the 6th overall selection and Jacksonville the 7th, and both need QBs. Even if the Giants want to keep Eli Manning another season, they'd be crazy not to snap up Haskins if he gets to six. And if Haskins goes at six, maybe the Jaguars take Murray at seven. Clearly the oddsmakers see that as a more likely scenario than the Giants picking Murray.

Finally, the Redskins. 

Tied with two other QB needy teams at 8-1, the Redskins odds actually seem appropriate: Hardly a sure thing, but it could happen.

Washington has Alex Smith and Colt McCoy under contract for 2019, but Smith seems unlikely to play next season after suffering a severe leg injury in 2018. McCoy should be healthy, but he's had plenty of injury issues in the past and will be in the last year of his contract. The Redskins need a QB, both for 2019 and for the future. The real question is if the organization wants to commit a first round pick on any passer, let alone somebody that lacks prototypical size like the 5-foot-10 Murray. 

The Broncos and the Dolphins both pick before Washington, and keep in mind the NFL Draft is always full of unexpected trades, especially when first-round QBs are in sight. Miami has no starting QB under contract for 2019, and the Broncos have Case Keenum for another season but hardly seem married to the journeyman. 

Tampa Bay making the list as the long shot adds up. The Bucs just hired Bruce Arians to come in and make things work with former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston. Drafting another QB in the first round seems unlikely for Arians, but after four years of Winston, not completely out of the question either. 

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