Nationals

Schaub set for 1st playoff start after rough month

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Schaub set for 1st playoff start after rough month

HOUSTON (AP) Matt Schaub missed Houston's 2011 playoff run with an injured foot.

Now the Texans' quarterback is healthy and looking forward to his first playoff start Saturday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The wild-card playoff game offers Schaub a chance to redeem himself after he threw two interceptions in last week's loss to Indianapolis, which kept Houston from getting a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

He knows he has to do more in preparation this week after a tough December in which he threw three interceptions with just one touchdown pass as the Texans lost three of four games.

``I've got to play better,'' he said. ``Our whole team, everyone across the board has got to pick their game up, especially this time of year, but I definitely do.''

Schaub was playing some of the best football of his career last season before his injury and had led the Texans to four straight wins. Houston was left with third-string quarterback T.J. Yates in last year's playoffs when backup Matt Leinart was injured in the first game after Schaub was lost for the season.

``I think we do forget this is his first time to step on the field in the playoffs, and he's a nine-year player,'' coach Gary Kubiak said. ``He's worked really hard. We were in the playoffs last year because of him, too. He put his team in that position and obviously T.J. took over. But Matt had a lot to do with why we were playing last year. This is a big opportunity for him.''

Schaub has 4,008 yards passing with 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this season. He threw eight touchdown passes with three interceptions in the three games - all wins- before his recent slump.

Kubiak knows Schaub needs to improve this week, but he's quick to point out that his quarterback can't play better if the rest of the offense doesn't step up, too.

``We've been in some tough situations playing from down a bunch three out of the last four weeks so that's been difficult,'' Kubiak said. ``I know there are some things he can do better, but we can obviously all help him, too.''

Kubiak said he didn't say anything different or give Schaub any special advice this week, despite it being his first playoff game.

``I just want him to be himself,'' Kubiak said. ``I've always been proud of how he prepares, how he gets ready to play games and how he goes about his job. And I just want him to do it again this week.''

A key for Schaub and the offense on Saturday will be finding a way to start fast. The Texans have been outscored 28-6 in the first quarter in their last three losses.

Schaub's recent struggles have coincided with an increase in the number of sacks Houston has allowed. The Texans gave up three or more sacks just once through the first 13 weeks, and have given up three or more in each of the last three games.

Schaub knows that many factors play into how many sacks a team gives up, and he is confident that the Texans will limit the amount of times he's taken down this week.

``Those guys, they work their tails off,'' he said. ``They're on top of their assignments. We've played some pretty good pass-rushing football teams, but we've been pretty good in not allowing sacks around here, so we've got to get back to that scenario.''

It won't be easy this week against a Bengals team that has 46 sacks - fourth-best in the AFC.

``They have a great front seven,'' Houston left guard Wade Smith said. ``Really, they're pretty much two deep everywhere across the front. Then they have Pro Bowlers up front (and) a great linebacking corps. They're a really good defense, sound all the way around, but at the same time we feel like we're a good offense.''

Schaub rarely shows much outward emotion and seems like one of the most low-key players on the team. But he admitted that he's a bit more amped up for his first playoff game.

``It's an exciting time of year to be a part of this to get ready to play in a playoff game, especially here at home in front of our home fans,'' he said. ``I'm definitely looking forward to it, but the thing that's going to help us win the game are the same whenever you're playing, wherever you're playing. That's playing smart, clean, good football.''

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

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Wild-card tracker: Nationals thankful for Marlins, Cubs slide back

Wild-card tracker: Nationals thankful for Marlins, Cubs slide back

Back before all this mania, Miami, as putrid as its season would be, loomed as a factor.

Handling the Marlins would be key for any contender. It wasn’t a question of winning, but of how much winning would occur against one of the league’s worst teams.

Following Friday’s 6-4 win in a sparsely attended Marlins Park, the Nationals moved to 14-3 against Miami this season. They are 16 games over. 500 for the year. They are plus-11 against Miami alone.

Asdrúbal Cabrera homered again, Trea Turner hit two homers, and Daniel Hudson pitched two innings to earn the save. So, the Nationals, 84-68, hold a one-game lead for the top wild-card spot. Milwaukee won again, joining a long list of teams to beat up on the Pittsburgh Pirates since the post-All-Star-break portion of the schedule began. Pittsburgh may be the league’s worst team, at the moment, and the Brewers host it for two more this weekend.

Trouble is brewing for Chicago. It lost again to St. Louis -- this time a 2-1 mid-day defeat in Wrigley Field. The Cubs have lost four in a row. They are three games behind the Nationals and two behind the Brewers. Their path to 90 wins, which may ultimately be the threshold for postseason entrance, is narrowing.

The Mets won their third consecutive game. They are hanging around, 3 ½ games behind the Brewers with nine remaining on the schedule. Their wild-card elimination number is six.

News for Philadelphia is more dire. The Phillies dropped to 78-74 Friday night following a 5-2 loss in Cleveland. They are now five behind Milwaukee. Their wild-card elimination number is a mere five. 

Which brings us to the more detailed math portion of this program. Here are the postseason chances for each team, according to fivethirtyeight.com:

Nationals, 96 percent

Brewers, 84 percent

Cubs, 15 percent

Mets, 5 percent

Phillies, less than one percent

Coming up Saturday:

St. Louis at Chicago, 2:20 p.m., Hudson (16-7, 3.35 ERA) vs. Quintana (13-8, 4.37)

New York at Cincinnati, 4:10 p.m., Wheeler (11-7, 4.09) vs. DeSclafani (9-9, 3.93)

Washington at Miami, 6:10 p.m., Strasburg (17-6, 3.49) vs. Yamamoto (4-5, 4.87)

Philadelphia at Cleveland, 7:10 p.m., Vargas (6-8, 4.48) vs. Plesac (8-6, 3.64)

Pittsburgh at Milwaukee, 7:10 p.m., Marvel (0-2, 9.00) vs. Davies (10-7, 3.70)

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Beyond the Scoreboard: NLL changes and social responsibility

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USA TODAY Sports

Beyond the Scoreboard: NLL changes and social responsibility

By Rick Horrow

Podcast edited by Tanner Simkins

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST

  1. SportsBusiness Journal lauds corporate social responsibility. Amidst a recent roundup of sports CSR initiatives, SportsBusiness Journal noted that the first project on which educational platform developer EverFi collaborated with a sports property was “a financial literacy program that regional bank BBVA offered for use by elementary school students in a handful of NBA markets, including Dallas, Houston, and Phoenix.” When Houston hosted the NBA All-Star Game in 2013, league sponsor BBVA arranged for Rockets star James Harden to appear at a participating school. “While it’s cool to have a BBVA banker come into the classroom, it’s even cooler if James Harden shows up,” said Jon Chapman, co-founder and president of global partnerships for EverFi, which has developed online educational modules on topics ranging from financial literacy to STEM to anti-bullying, branded for presentation by teams, leagues, and sponsors. After Houston, EverFi developed educational modules for the NHL and NHLPA around science, technology, engineering and math; for the NFL and the United Way around character development and African American history; for MLB focusing on learning loss during summer vacation; and with MLS around anti-bullying. We look forward to celebrating a Sport Business Handbook event with EverFi at their Washington, DC headquarters on October 2
  2. The National Lacrosse League announces details for the 2019-2020 season, which include divisional realignment, playoff format and schedule type after the addition of two expansion teams and new market Halifax. The league will feature 13 teams in the upcoming season after fielding 11 last year. To accommodate the addition of expansion teams, the New York Riptide, Rochester Knighthawks, and new market Halifax Thunderbirds, as well as maintaining an eye towards continued expansion, the NLL will shift to a three-division format in 2019-2020. “The league has had unprecedented expansion over the last three years. With two more teams coming in this year along with a new market in Halifax, we felt the need to reexamine conference alignments, schedule and playoff formats to prepare for future expansion. We also wanted to create exciting rivalries for the fans, the best travel scenarios for teams and players and competitive match-ups for our 13 franchises,“ said NLL Commissioner and Sport Business Handbook contributor Nick Sakiewicz. Along with unprecedented expansion, the NLL is clearly looking at unprecedented success.
  3. Cal Ripken, Jr.’s celebrity golf tournament draws in legendary athletes across major U.S. sports leagues. According to the Patriot News, the event, featuring such legends as Julius Erving, Lawrence Taylor, Ozzie Smith, and Jim McMahon, was held to benefit the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation. The inaugural golf outing was held in 2011, and since then, the event has raised several million dollars for the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation. The principal goals of the foundation are to utilize baseball- and softball-themed programs in an effort to build character and teach life lessons to underprivileged children. Founded in 2001, the Foundation has served kids in all 50 states and in other countries such as Canada and Nicaragua. With over 20 Hall of Famers across the NFL and MLB, the event has an impressive amount of star power to help draw attention to giving back to those less privileged through baseball and softball.