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Shurmur, Browns stop slide, down Bengals 34-24

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Shurmur, Browns stop slide, down Bengals 34-24

CLEVELAND (AP) - He's been criticized for his play calling, sideline demeanor and dreadful record.

Pat Shurmur has been under fire.

On Sunday, Cleveland's coach fired back.

With key contributions from unexpected players, the Browns put together their best all-around performance in a 34-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals that ended Cleveland's 11-game losing streak and took some pressure off Shurmur, whose job security in his second season was eroding with every loss.

``I'm happy,'' Shurmur said after getting his first win over an AFC North team in nine tries. ``I'm holding it back so I don't appear sensitive.

``That's a joke.''

Shurmur was able to laugh and relax after his young team, which had been competitive but without a win to show for it through five games, finally strung together enough big plays and wasn't going to be denied.

``It's terrific,'' said Shurmur, who improved to 5-17 with the Browns. ``Not so much for me, but for my family, the players, really everybody who goes to work on Monday morning. Mondays feel better when you win a game.''

In Cleveland, all seven days of the week have been tough for almost a year. The Browns (1-5) had not won since Nov. 20, a franchise record-tying stretch that could have gotten longer if not for a strong fourth quarter in which Cleveland outscored Cincinnati 21-10 and delighted long-suffering fans who celebrated the win as if it meant so much more.

``Oh my goodness, it's like a big weight off everybody's shoulders,'' said cornerback Joe Haden, who sparked Cleveland's defense in his return from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancers. ``It felt like we won the Super Bowl, honestly. I'm just so happy that it was the game I came back and we just made it happen.''

Rookie Brandon Weeden threw two touchdown passes on his 29th birthday, Montario Hardesty, filling in for injured running back Trent Richardson, scored his first career TD and cornerback Sheldon Brown intercepted Andy Dalton and returned it 19 yards for a score in the fourth quarter for the Browns, who trailed 14-7 at halftime.

But after making several adjustments, Cleveland outscored Cincinnati 27-10 in the second half and renewed hope this season may be salvageable.

``It kind of felt like we were going to win from the start,'' said Josh Cribbs, who had a 60-yard punt return in the second half. ``I think we're on to something.''

The victory ended the Browns' 12-game losing streak inside their division and closed Randy Lerner's tenure as Cleveland's majority owner on a high note. Lerner, who has owned the club since his father, Al, died in 2002, has sold the team to Jimmy Haslam III for $1 billion. Haslam's purchase is expected to be approved by the league's owners on Tuesday in Chicago.

Following the game, Haslam worked the jubilant locker room, shaking hands with Browns players and even giving Shurmur's wife, Jennifer, a thumbs-up out in the hallway. Haslam has said he will not make any personnel changes until after the season, and Shurmur made a good impression on his new boss.

``He was just genuinely happy that we won,'' Shurmur said

The only concern for the Browns was Richardson, who took a helmet to the ribs in the first quarter and finished with just 37 yards on 14 carries. The first-round pick is scheduled to have further medical tests on Monday, but believes he will be able to play Sunday when the Browns visit Indianapolis.

``I took a shot,'' Richardson said. ``But I'll be back.''

Hardesty, whose pro career has been slowed by injuries, gave the Browns a 20-14 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter when he vaulted in from the 1-yard line.

The Bengals made it 20-17 on Mike Nugent's 44-yard field goal with 11:11 left, but Weeden drove the Browns down field and hit tight end Benjamin Watson for a 3-yard TD to make it 27-17.

On Cincinnati's next play, Brown sniffed out a pass route and jumped in from of receiver Brandon Tate, picking off Dalton and running it in toward the Dawg Pound end as Cleveland fans rocked their lakefront stadium like it hadn't been rocked in years.

``We got our stadium back,'' Hardesty said. ``The crowd was going crazy. Now we have to build on that feeling.''

The loss was the Bengals' fourth in the last 17 games against the Browns.

``We have got to play better,'' Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. ``We've got to fix it. Obviously we are not playing consistently enough for the ability of the guys that we have. We're almost too nice at times and we've got to have more of a killer instinct.''

Dalton finished 31 of 46 for 381 yards with three TDs - two to A.J. Green - and three interceptions.

One of the picks was by Haden, who had seven tackles and made two big third-down plays in his first game since the opener.

Weeden went 17 of 29 for 231 yards and found rookie Josh Gordon for a 71-yard TD in the second quarter. Gordon hauled in Weeden's pass with one hand before scoring his third TD in two games.

After Brown's TD made it 34-17, the Bengals struck back quickly on Dalton's 57-yard TD pass to Green with 5:21 left. Cincinnati got the ball back and was driving again when Dalton was sacked and stripped by Emmanuel Stephens. Browns rookie Billy Winn recovered it and rumbled 35 yards into Cincinnati territory.

Following the game, Winn left the stadium with the ball still tucked under his arm. He wasn't giving it up.

``This,'' he said, ``is a gift.''

One that Shurmur and the Browns had been waiting for.

NOTES: Browns K Phil Dawson made two FGs, 12 for 12 this season and has made his last 18 attempts. ... The last time the Browns ended an 11-game losing streak they also did it against the Bengals, in 1975. ... Bengals RB Brian Leonard left in the second half with a rib injury. .... After giving up 243 yards rushing last week the Browns held the Bengals to 76 on 20 carries. .... Browns rookie WR Josh Cooper had 2 catches for 39 yards in his pro debut. He played with Weeden at Oklahoma State.

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Wilson's return sparks Capitals to a 5-2 win at Minnesota

Wilson's return sparks Capitals to a 5-2 win at Minnesota

Tom Wilson stayed on brand in his return from a long suspension.

The Capitals’ big man scored a goal and took a penalty on the same play in his first game of the season, a 5-2 win against the Minnesota Wild Tuesday night. 

Wilson won’t get the 16 games back he missed for an illegal check to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. But he tried to make up for it in his debut. 

Wilson scored Washington’s second goal at 19:32 of the first period when he drove the net hard and deflected a pass from teammate Dmitry Orlov past Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk. But this being Wilson, nothing is totally uncontroversial.  

The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder was moving fast. There was no stopping him. Wilson, with some help from Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, collided with Dubnyk. The puck was already in the net, but the referee decided Wilson needed to go think about what he’d done after Dubnyk got clocked in the head. It was a two-minute goalie interference call. 

That’s an odd play rarely called. Either the goal counts or it doesn’t, but maybe because Wilson had already scored before running into Dubnyk both calls could stand. 

“It was a first for me to score and get a penalty on the same play,” Wilson told reporters in St. Paul. “I was just going hard to the net and Snarls [Orlov] put it right on my tape. It was a great pass at full speed. I was trying to do everything I could to get out of the way. I’ll take the goal and the kill went out there and got it done. It was good to see.”

It was far from Wilson’s only contribution in his first game back. He also fought Marcus Foligno at 11:58 of the second period on the faceoff after Minnesota cut a Washington lead to 3-1. He didn’t back down when asked to go by Foligno. 

“He’s a key player for our team, brings so much energy both on the ice and off the ice,” forward Andre Burakovsky said. “Huge lift for the team to get him back earlier. Didn’t expect that and I think he had a really strong game today. Obviously, he got the goal in his first game back and then some dirty works. Obviously, I think he’s a huge guy for us in PK and it showed today.”

Wilson didn’t get the assist on the goal that put the game away. Alex Ovechkin found Orlov for a one-timer on a pass from the left faceoff circle to the right. But it was Wilson driving hard toward the goal that kept a Wild defenseman with him and allowed Orlov the space to finish Ovechkin’s pass. Those little things have been missed in the 16 games Wilson was suspended. He was relentless. 

One big issue for the Capitals: The penalty kill. Wilson has been a big part of that group in recent years and without him – and, to be fair the departed Jay Beagle and the injured Brooks Orpik – Washington entered the game 29thin the NHL in penalty kill percentage (71.7 percent). Wilson wasn’t eased into anything. He played 5:23 on the penalty kill and the Capitals killed five of six Wild power plays. 

[Wilson] does a lot not just on the ice, but in our room. Adds a ton of energy. Well respected player for how he trains,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden. “Going through a tough time and obviously kind of a surprise for us to get him back today. We were hoping to at any point here and we were able to take advantage of a fortunate bounce for our team before even the game started. But I didn’t expect him to have as strong a game as he did." 

"Obviously able to convert on a great play on a line rush, but just the other things he did. Our penalty kill, the opposition scores a goal and, you talk about shifts after goals, not giving the team any more momentum than they’ve already gotten and he gets in a fight there. There’s a lot to like about Tom Wilson and I thought he had a strong game. It was great to have him back.”

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4 reasons the Caps beat the Wild

4 reasons the Caps beat the Wild

Think the Caps missed Tom Wilson? It sure looked like it.

Washington looked like a completely different team with Wilson back in the lineup Tuesday in a dominant 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild.

Here are four reasons the Caps won:

Tom Wilson

Wilson made his season debut Tuesday after his suspension was reduced by a neutral arbitrator earlier in the day. Wilson’s addition to the lineup had two effects. One, it made the lineup a lot deeper. Without Wilson, Todd Reirden was having trouble putting together the right lineup. Several players cycled on the top line and every line behind the top had to shuffle. Wilson came back onto the top line and immediately the rest of the lineup fell into place.

The top line looked better, the second line looked better and the third line looked better with their regular lineups back intact.

Wilson’s return also brought a lot of energy to the team and that was evident from the very start of the game. The Caps outshot Minnesota 12-6 and took the 2-0 lead in the first period of the game. Compare that to the rather lethargic game we saw on Sunday, clearly, Wilson brought a spark.

Oh, yeah, Wilson has also had a pretty darn good game too. He scored in the first period of the game in a typical Wilson play. He completely blew past Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter and tipped in a pass from Dmitry Orlov as he crashed the net on goalie Devan Dubnyk.

Somehow Wilson was also given a goalie interference penalty… but the goal still counted? Regardless of what was an obvious reputation penalty, it was a good return for Wilson, who also had a fight with Marcus Foligno and helped set up Orlov’s second goal by crashing again and drawing the defense over to him.

Dmitry Orlov

Orlov broke a 19-game goal drought with a goal just 7:23 into the game.

Lars Eller had the puck and cut to the blue line in the offensive zone turning to the middle. Minnesota got caught puck watching as the defense shifted with Eller, leaving Orlov open on the left. Eller found him and Orlov took advantage of the extra space to score his first goal of the season.

Orlov would add an assist on Wilson’s goal and a second goal in the third period off a beautiful pass from Alex Ovechkin.

The typically reliable defensive pairing of Orlov and Matt Niskanen struggled at the start of the season prompting Todd Reirden to switch up the pairs and place Orlov with John Carlson. Clearly, the move had the desired effect in Tuesday’s game.

The schedule

Tuesday’s game was the Wild’s first at home since Oct. 27. Minnesota was coming off a seven-game road swing and they looked a bit weary at the start of the game. As mentioned above, the Wild were outshot 12-6 in the first period and then 15-8 in the second.

Really, this game was a perfect storm. Not only were the Wild tired from a lengthy road trip, but they also were dealing with a Caps team that was pumped up by the return of Wilson.

Part of what made Sunday’s loss to Arizona so disappointing was the fact that the Coyotes were on the second leg of a back-to-back with their starting goalie on IR. The Caps were not able to take advantage, but they certainly took it to a vulnerable, road-weary team on Tuesday.

The penalty kill

Washington’s porous penalty kill was the reason the Caps lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets Friday and a major reason they fell to Arizona. The PK finally stood tall on Tuesday as the Caps were able to kill off four out of five penalties on the night. The lone power play goal the team gave up came in the third period when the Caps were already up 5-1 and the game was no longer in doubt.

You can add the penalty kill to the long list of things that Wilson instantly improved in his return. Wilson logged 16:47 of total ice time on Tuesday and 5:23 of that came on the penalty kill.

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