Nationals

Surging Bears not looking past struggling Carolina

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Surging Bears not looking past struggling Carolina

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) The Chicago Bears could breathe a little easier this week even if their quarterback was having some trouble.

That's because the Carolina Panthers are coming to town in disarray.

The Bears? They're doing just fine.

Tops in the NFC North and with a four-game win streak, Chicago (5-1) will try to keep it going against the struggling Panthers (1-5) on Sunday.

This sure looks like a mismatch - or a trap.

``It's hard, week in and week out, and then you get some teams that have their backs against the wall,'' said the Bears' Jay Cutler, who vowed to be ready after Detroit's Ndamukong Suh bruised his ribs on a sack Monday night. ``You just never know. They're going to play their hardest football they've played all year.''

With a four-game losing streak and the worst record in the NFC after falling 19-14 to Dallas, the Panthers fired general manager Marty Hurney and essentially put everyone else on notice.

Coaches, players - no one's safe, except maybe Cam Newton. And his inconsistent play is one reason the Panthers are in this spot.

Injuries haven't helped, either.

In the past two weeks, they've lost three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil (foot), cornerback Chris Gamble (shoulder) and three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason (knee and shoulder issues) to season-ending injuries.

They've been unable to pull out close games, with four of their five losses by six points or less, and there's just simply a bad vibe around this team. Hurney pointed toward a leadership void in the locker room, and several players and coaches agreed.

Then there's Newton and his demeanor, which is being dissected as if his last name were Cutler.

``I just keep living life,'' Newton said. ``I understand I'm not perfect. I'm striving to be great. What other people may think or what other people may criticize me on, I take it for what it's worth but continue to try to make myself better each and every opportunity that I get.''

Clearly, the rough start is taking a toll. Losing is something he didn't do at Auburn, and his leadership has come into question.

He was criticized by teammate Steve Smith earlier in the year for sulking on the sidelines, and national media outlets chided him for pointing fingers after Sunday's loss to Dallas.

Newton was 21 of 37 for 233 yards in that one with a touchdown and an early interception in the red zone. He has more interceptions (6) than touchdown throws (5) this season, and with 1,387 yards passing, he's on pace to finish with about 3,700 after going off for 4,051 as a rookie.

Now, he's staring at a team allowing a league-low 13 points per game, one that also leads the NFL with 21 takeaways. The way the defense is playing, Panthers coach Ron Rivera just might have a few flashbacks to 2006, when he was the Bears' defensive coordinator and Chicago was stifling opponents on the way to the Super Bowl.

That group lost two key components to season-ending injuries along the way in defensive tackle Tommie Harris and safety Mike Brown. The Bears have all their main players available, although Brian Urlacher still is limited as he tries to work his way back from a knee injury.

``I think this group can be better,'' Rivera said. ``I really do. Because the front four is probably better (than 2006), and it really begins with those guys up front.''

The Bears have been getting big contributions from the usual suspects in Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman, who contained Calvin Johnson on Monday. But Tim Jennings has stepped up in a big way with four interceptions, and the defensive line has come through, too.

Even so, the Bears could be tested.

``They have two excellent running backs,'' coach Lovie Smith said. ``They have a very good tight end in Greg Olsen that we know all about. And Steve Smith is still one of the best receivers in the game.''

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Trea Turner goes 4 for 4 to help Nationals beat Orioles

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USA TODAY Sports

Trea Turner goes 4 for 4 to help Nationals beat Orioles

WASHINGTON -- Presented with identical opportunities to ring up a big inning, the Washington Nationals took full advantage and Baltimore Orioles squandered the chance.

That goes a long way toward explaining why the Nationals are a contender and the Orioles own the worst record in the big leagues.

Trea Turner went 4 for 4 with a homer , Anthony Rendon drove in three runs and Washington extended its recent domination of the Orioles with a 9-7 victory Tuesday night.

The game was essentially decided in the fifth inning, which began with Baltimore leading 4-1.

In the top half, the Orioles loaded the bases with no outs and scored only one run -- when Manny Machado hit into a 4-6-3 double play.

Washington loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom half and batted around, scoring four runs on four hits and a pair of walks. Adam Eaton contributed a two-run single, Rendon hit a sacrifice fly and Bryce Harper chased starter David Hess with an RBI double.

"They did a lot better job cashing in their bases loaded, nobody out situation than we did," Orioles manager Buck Showalter conceded.

For the game, Baltimore was 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position. The Nationals were 5 for 10.

"This team is starting to become relentless," manager Dave Martinez said. "They kept pounding and pounding and pounding, had a couple of big innings there and scored some runs."

The Nationals trailed 6-5 before getting six hits in a four-run seventh. Rendon delivered a two-run double off Tanner Scott (0-1) that made it 7-6, and Turner capped his four-hit night with a double.

Both teams noted that more than a couple of Washington's hits were bloopers and seeing-eye grounders, but the Nationals certainly weren't about to apologize.

"I feel like all year we've been hitting balls right at people," Turner said, "so it's nice to get a bunch of those in one game and come out with a win."

Washington has won six straight over its neighboring interleague rival, including four games this season by a combined 20-8.

Pitching in his second big league game, Nationals starter Jefry Rodriguez gave up five runs, four hits and four walks in five innings.

Justin Miller (5-0) pitched two innings of relief, newcomer Kelvin Herrera worked a perfect eighth and Sean Doolittle gave up a solo home run to Joey Rickard while earning his 19th save.

Jace Peterson and Trey Mancini each hit two-run homers for the Orioles, who have lost 16 of 19.

This one can be blamed on an all-too-telling fifth inning.

"It's just one of those things where if they got hits they seemed to have found holes," Showalter said. "They hit some balls hard, too."

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Need to Know: Redskins QB Alex Smith understands that expectations will be high immediately

Need to Know: Redskins QB Alex Smith understands that expectations will be high immediately

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, June 20, 36 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Emptying the notebook from the offseason practices

—Last week I wrote that Gruden expects Alex Smith to be ready to win in Week 1. Smith understands those expectations and plans to meet them. “No, I don’t think you can rely on the fact that, ‘Oh, it’s the first year here.’ Nobody cares,” he said when asked about his transition into the new offense. “It’s not like in the fall, you guys are going to be like, ‘Ah, well, this is his first year here. We’ll give him a break.’ It just doesn’t work that way.” Of course, Smith is right. If the Redskins are 1-3 in October, nobody is going to cut them any slack if their veteran quarterback who got a contract with $71 million guaranteed is struggling with the new offense. 

—I didn’t count reps during the practices that were open to the media, but it seemed that they were giving DL Jonathan Allen a light workload. “I think he did a great job of rehabbing in the offseason,” said defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. “We were kind of a little bit hesitant early on when he was here just taking reps and stuff but looks like he’s just keeps on progressing from where he kind of left off last year and the sky’s the limit for him.” The Redskins essentially will be adding two first-round picks to their D-line with Allen’s return and the addition of Daron Payne in the first round this year. I would look for Allen to get a full workload when training camp starts. 

—There are questions about Kevin Hogan making the 53-man roster as the third quarterback. Jay Gruden had some rather tepid praise for him last week. “He’s done good,” he said. “I like Kevin. He’s a smart kid and he’s got some deceiving escape ability to him. He can run a little bit. We saw one today, he popped out of there for about a 20-yard gain. I like where he’s at.” But near the end of that practice, Hogan threw a red zone pass right into the arms of rookie CB Greg Stroman. If we see much more of that, the Redskins may keep a sixth wide receiver or tenth offensive lineman rather than a third quarterback. 

—When he is asked about the performance of undrafted rookies, Gruden usually declines to praise specific players so when he does pick out individuals it’s worth paying some attention. On Wednesday he said that WR Cam Simms and CB Danny Johnson “stood out” at their respective positions. Looking at it right now, there don’t appear to be roster spots available for either of them. But one or two undrafted players break through and make the roster every year and Simms and Johnson are two to watch. 

— “In the second year, we expect major strides for all first-year guys. I’ve said it before. So just understanding pro football, what it’s all about in your first year, you have the four preseason games and 16 regular season games,” Gruden said when asked about RB Samaje Perine. “It’s a grind, mentally. It’s all-day football, not like college where you only get 20 hours a week, so I think he understands the grind and our system a lot better.” The answer obviously applies to all of the 2017 draft picks. In particular, they will be counting on next steps from OLB Ryan Anderson, CB Fabian Moreau, WR Robert Davis, and CB Joshua Holsey. History tells us that some will take big steps, others will not.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

Timeline  

Former Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington was born on this date in 1978.

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 36
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 50
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 73

The Redskins last played a game 171 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 81 days. 

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