Nationals

Schwartz shoulders blame for Lions' skid

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Schwartz shoulders blame for Lions' skid

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz admitted Monday that his team's season has ``gone off the rails'' and the progress made during last year's run to the playoffs has become a distant memory.

Schwartz, who has lost at least 10 games in three of his four seasons as Lions' coach, said the blame for the team's unfulfilled 2012 expectations rests entirely with him.

``The ultimate responsibility of the team is (with) the head coach, and I need to do a better job,'' he said. ``4-10 isn't good enough.''

Detroit's 38-10 loss at Arizona on Sunday was its sixth straight and the team's most lopsided defeat since a 48-3 loss at Baltimore in 2009. It also bucked the trend: After defeating Jacksonville on Nov. 4, Detroit lost its next five games by an average of 5.2 points, only to get hammered by the Cardinals.

Tight end Tony Scheffler said the Lions had chances to overcome four turnovers and beat an Arizona team that was riding a nine-game winless skid.

``We never thought we were out of it,'' Scheffler said following the loss Sunday. ``We just didn't make the plays to get back in it. Our defense fought hard the whole game. We didn't give them good field position. They kept us in it.''

Schwartz's assessment of the loss differed sharply. After defending his team's play in recent weeks, Schwartz said the Lions simply made too many errors Sunday to be competitive.

``We've had a lot of games this year that came down to one critical play in the fourth quarter that you look at and say, `Hey, if we made that one we would have won the game,''' he said. ``We can't be naive to think that this was one of those games.''

The Cardinals intercepted quarterback Matthew Stafford three times, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Stafford told teammates Sunday that he believed he was responsible for the loss after a 24-for-50 passing performance that was easily his worst effort of the season.

``That is about as bad as I can play,'' he said. ``For us to be successful, I have to play a whole lot better than that. I understand that.''

Schwartz praised Stafford's decision to take responsibility for the loss, saying ``that's what good quarterbacks do,'' but he also reiterated his opinion that responsibility for the team's performance ultimately rests with the coaching staff. He also said he never considered pulling Stafford.

Calvin Johnson's play was Detroit's lone bright spot Sunday. Johnson made 10 catches for 121 yards despite facing coverage that Schwartz likened to a box-and-one defense in basketball.

``(Arizona) doubled Calvin (Johnson) on just about every play,'' he said.'' They used punt coverage to try to handle him and the fact that he still had 121 yards says a lot about Calvin, says a lot about (offensive coordinator) Scott Linehan's ability to still be able to get him the ball. But we severely lacked other playmakers on the field.''

The Lions host playoff-bound Atlanta on Saturday.

NOTES: Schwartz said that CB Jacob Lacey could be out for the season after injuring his knee in the first quarter of Sunday's game. ...TE Brandon Pettigrew (ankle) and DT Nick Fairley (shoulder) remain on the active roster despite missing Sunday's loss due to injury. Schwartz said no decision has been made as to whether either player would be placed on injured reserve. ... Johnson's 121 receiving yards Sunday give him 1,667 yards for the season, putting him 181 yards from breaking the NFL single-season record Jerry Rice set with San Francisco in 1995.

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Juan Soto's 2-run double carries Nationals past Orioles

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USA TODAY Sports

Juan Soto's 2-run double carries Nationals past Orioles

WASHINGTON -- A teenager among men, Juan Soto has impressed his teammates on the Washington Nationals with his maturity and, even more so, his potent bat.

Soto hit a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth inning, and Washington beat the Baltimore Orioles 4-2 Thursday night in the deciding matchup of a three-game interleague series between neighboring rivals.

Soto, a 19-year-old rookie, is batting .326 with 16 RBIs in 28 games. Starting in the cleanup spot for the first time, he drew a walk and delivered the game's pivotal hit.

"I think we're all amazed every single day," Washington ace Max Scherzer said. "He puts together great ABs. He has antics and has some flair. He's a great young player. He's just enjoying himself."

Bryce Harper led off the eighth with a double off Mychal Givens (0-4) and Trea Turner followed with a single. After Anthony Rendon struck out, Soto hit a liner into the gap in left-center.

"He's got unbelievable poise," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said of Soto. "No matter what the situation is, he goes out there with a game plan."

Whatever that plan is, it's effective.

"I just try to be focused and keep working," Soto said.

Rendon homered for the Nationals, who received seven strong innings from Scherzer and flawless work from their bullpen.

Newcomer Kelvin Herrera (1-0) pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning and Sean Doolittle got three straight outs for his 20th save in 21 tries.

Seeking to end a rare run of two straight losses, Scherzer left a tied game after allowing two runs -- both on solo homers -- and striking out nine.

Afterward, the right-hander heaped praise upon Soto for the manner in which he's adapted to playing in the big leagues.

"He has a great feel for the strike zone," Scherzer said. "To have that type of eye, it's remarkable for him to be able to do that at this time and this age and this level."

Activated from the 60-day disabled list before the game, Colby Rasmus homered for the Orioles in his first at-bat since April 6.

"Me and Max, we go way back, so I felt real good," said Rasmus, who had been sidelined with a hip injury.

In addition, Rasmus made an outstanding throw from right field to the plate, nailing Wilmer Difo on a tag-up play in the seventh inning with the score tied.

Mark Trumbo also homered for Baltimore, his sixth of the season and third in four games.

Baltimore starter Kevin Gausman gave up two runs and four hits over six innings. The right-hander was lifted with the score tied, leaving him winless in his last seven starts.

MORE NATS COVERAGE: 

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How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

While meeting with Oregon's Troy Brown during the pre-draft interview process, evaluators from the Washington Wizards issued him an on-the-spot challenge. Head coach Scott Brooks pulled out a dry-erase clipboard and a pen. He wanted to see Brown draw up a play.

This is a test Brooks has administered before to other players. Some have failed miserably.

"It sounds easy to throw a board at somebody in front of a big group and say 'okay draw a play' and I have seen many plays drawn, and I have seen it where there are not five players on the floor," Brooks said.

That wasn't the case with Brown. He didn't just draw up one play, he drew up several. One in particular came to mind when asked by reporters on Thursday night soon after the Wizards took him 15th overall in the first round of the NBA Draft.

“I think it was a situation where we were down by two or something like that," he said. "It was like a back screen into a slip, and then the fade three and they gave you a lot of various options to cause mismatches on the court for a last minute shot to either go ahead, or even attack the basket for a layup to go into overtime.”

NBC Sports Washington analyst Cory Alexander, a veteran of seven NBA seasons, demonstrated what Brown's play looked like on a whiteboard:

The Xs and Os of basketball flow effortlessly for Brown and Wizards' brass couldn't help but be impressed.

"He really understands the game. I think for a kid that is 18 years old, that is rare but he just has a good feel," Brooks said. 

"We were impressed with his character and the type of person he is and his basketball knowledge," team president Ernie Grunfeld said. "Obviously, like any young player, he has a lot of work to do but he has a lot of the intangibles that I think you need in today's game."

Smarts are a big part of what makes Brown a good basketball player. He isn't a particularly explosive athlete, with a modest 33-inch max vertical leap, but he boasts a 6-foot-10 wingspan and solid agility. Being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to operate an offense helps him make the most of his natural abilities.

Passing is where his basketball IQ comes in handy. Brown is unusually good at distributing for a 6-foot-7 small forward. He averaged 3.2 assists as a freshman at Oregon and nine times had five assists or more in a game.

He can pass like a point guard and the Wizards are excited to implement that skill into their offense.

"Passing is contagious. We’ve been pretty good the last two years and with talking about that how we even want to take another step," Brooks said. "He has the ability to make a lot of quick plays and his ball handling is pretty good for a guy his size. That is one thing I was impressed in his workout last week or when we had him. He is able to take the contact and use his strong frame to get inside the key and make plays.”

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