Nationals

Texans want to build momentum going into playoffs

201212231538563264621-p2.jpeg

Texans want to build momentum going into playoffs

HOUSTON (AP) The Houston Texans need a win this weekend at Indianapolis to secure a bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

They also want to build some momentum instead of limping into the postseason despite their 12-3 record. Houston had a chance to secure home-field advantage last week, only to post its worst offensive performance of the season in a 23-6 loss to the Vikings.

``It's not important, it's crucial, because in order for you to get to where you want to be, you have to be playing your best ball,'' veteran linebacker Bradie James said. ``And that's what we've been working on this week. Guys have been frowning during the holiday time. So that means we should respond well.''

They now have to win at Indianapolis, where the Texans are 0-10. The Colts, who went 2-14 last season, are 10-5 this season and have already secured a playoff spot.

``This is like a playoff game for us,'' quarterback Matt Schaub said. ``This is a team that is in the playoff themselves and we're in their building. With all that we can gain from playing well and getting a win on the road, it's definitely a playoff-type game.''

Schaub and the offense should get a lift from the return of running back Arian Foster, who missed most of the second half of Sunday's game because of an irregular heartbeat in a game in which Houston rushed for a season-low 34 yards. He has practiced all week and coach Gary Kubiak said he will play Sunday.

He said since it had happened to him before, the medical staff knew exactly how to handle it on Sunday.

``Anytime something like that happens that's unusual, so it concerns you,'' Kubiak said. ``At least it's something that they had a little history with and they could deal with.''

This is Houston's second meeting with the Colts in the last three weeks. Houston's only win in the last three games came in a 29-17 victory over the Colts two weeks ago.

``I think that's the biggest thing is to get the confidence,'' offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. ``We have a very confident team when we get things going in the right way. I think we will. I think our guys will respond.''

Though much of the focus this week has been on the poor play of the offense, the defense is also looking to get better in its last game before the postseason. Defensive end J.J. Watt liked how the unit played in the first meeting against the Colts, but hasn't been happy with its performance in other recent games.

He has already set a franchise record with 20 1/2 sacks, leaving him 2 1/2 shy of breaking Michael Strahan's single-season sack record.

``It's on my mind,'' Watt said of the sack mark, ``but winning is No. 1 by far. I had someone ask me (Tuesday), would you rather win the game or get the sack record? There is no debate whatsoever. I'd much rather win the game, but then I said I would love to win the game and get the sack record.''

Watt had 10 tackles, including three sacks and forced a fumble, in Houston's first game against Indianapolis.

Kubiak said it's a big week for his veterans to step up and help get the team headed back in the right direction. He doesn't really have to say anything to those players because they know what needs to be done.

After making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last season, Kubiak is looking for his team to do more this year.

``There's another level that you play the game at,'' Kubiak said. ``There's another level of expectations. There's another level of responsibility, and that's why you see a lot of the same people in the playoffs all the time ... because they find ways to raise that level. To me that's the next step for this organization.''

NOTES: Tight end Owen Daniels sat out of practice on Thursday with a sore hamstring, but Kubiak said he should be OK for Sunday. ... LB Brooks Reed, who returned last week after missing three games with a groin injury, is doing well this week and Kubiak said he expects him to play more than he did against the Vikings.

---

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

Quick Links

Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers

sotogood.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers

WASHINGTON  -- Kike Hernandez and Yasiel Puig each hit two-run homers, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Washington Nationals 7-2 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Hernandez's blast off Stephen Strasburg in the fifth inning put the Dodgers up 3-2. Yasmani Grandal also homered off Strasburg (5-4), who allowed three runs and five hits over 6 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts.

Alex Wood (1-4) pitched six innings, allowing just three hits and two earned runs. Wood came out to start the seventh, but returned to the clubhouse after showing some discomfort during his warm-up tosses.

Trea Turner homered for Washington, which swept Arizona last weekend and then went five days without playing a full game because of rain before getting swept by the Dodgers.

Los Angeles, after losing six consecutive games, has now won four straight overall and five of six over Washington this season.

Washington's Juan Soto, at 19 the youngest active player in the majors, made his debut in the eighth as a pinch-hitter and struck out against Erik Goeddel.

The Dodgers added two runs in the ninth. Josh Fields recorded the final four outs for his second save of the season.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.

Quick Links

George McPhee's Vegas Golden Knights advance to Stanley Cup Final

usatsi_10846138.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

George McPhee's Vegas Golden Knights advance to Stanley Cup Final

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Ryan Reaves scored the winning goal, Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves and the Vegas Golden Knights pushed their remarkable expansion season into the Stanley Cup Final, beating the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 on Sunday in Game 5 of the Western Conference final.

Alex Tuch also scored for the Knights. They lost Game 1 in Winnipeg before winning four straight to become the first expansion team since the 1968 St. Louis Blues -- when the six initial expansion teams were put alone in the West -- to get to the final.

Vegas will meet the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Washington Capitals in the final. Tampa Bay leads the Eastern Conference final 3-2, with Game 6 set for Monday night in Washington.

Josh Morrissey scored for the Jets, and Connor Hellebuyck made 30 saves.

Reaves, the bruising Winnipeg native acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins before to the trade deadline in February, snapped a 1-1 tie with 6:39 left in the second period when he tipped Luca Sbisa's point shot past Hellebuyck for his first goal of the playoffs.

Winnipeg got a power play early in the third, but couldn't muster much of anything. The Knights smothered much of the Jets' attack for the next 10 minutes, with Hellebuyck having to come up with big stops on William Karlsson and Eric Haula to keep his team within one.

The Jets pressed with under 4 minutes to go, with Fleury stopping captain Blake Wheeler on the doorstep, but it wasn't nearly enough as the Knights closed out their third straight series on the road.

The Jets beat the Knights 4-2 in Game 1, but Vegas snatched home ice with a 3-1 victory in Game 2 before picking up 4-2 and 3-2 wins at T-Mobile Arena.

The Knights, whose jaw-dropping inaugural 109-point campaign included a Pacific Division crown, swept the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, and knocked out the San Jose Sharks in six games.

The Jets had the NHL's second-best record with 114 points in the regular season. They advanced to the first conference final in city's history with a five-game victory over the Minnesota Wild in the opening round before topping the Presidents' Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in Game 7 on the road.

The usual raucous, white-clad crowd at Bell MTS Place -- not to mention the thousands of fans outside the arena attending a street party on a sun-drenched spring afternoon -- were silenced just 5:11 into Game 5 when Tuch jumped on Morrissey's turnover and fired his sixth past Hellebuyck.

The Jets were tentative to start and it got worse after the opener as Vegas dominated the next couple of shifts, forcing some good saves from Hellebuyck before Winnipeg got its feet moving.

After being outshot 7-1 in the first 7 minutes, the Jets finally pushed back and turned the tide with the next nine attempts on goal, culminating with Morrissey making amends for his early gaffe with 2:46 left in the period.

Bryan Little won a faceoff in the offensive zone straight back to second-year defenseman, who blasted his first career playoff goal past Fleury's glove.

One of Winnipeg's downfalls in the series through four games was an inability to maintain momentum. The Knights scored within 1:28 of a Jets' goal in each of the first four games -- a crushing 12 seconds after Winnipeg tied Game 3, and an equally gut-wrenching 43 seconds after the Jets knotted Game 4 -- but they managed to take the game to the locker rooms tied 1-1.

Both teams had chances in the second period before Reaves made it 2-1, with Jets center Mathieu Perrault just missing on a pass from Little that had too much speed.

Right after Reaves scored the second playoff goal of his career -- and first since 2015 with St. Louis -- Winnipeg's Nikolaj Ehlers rang a shot off the post on Fleury.

MORE CAPITALS STORIES: