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Titans enjoy relief of victory no matter how ugly

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Titans enjoy relief of victory no matter how ugly

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Tennessee Titans finally have their first victory in a month. It was an ugly game against the New York Jets that they had no business winning, and that's OK with them.

Yes, winning really is all that matters.

The Titans overcame a blocked field goal, two shanked punts by the player who's been their most reliable and an offense that managed one drive when it mattered most. There were a few highlights in Monday night's ugly 14-10 win: a franchise-record touchdown run from Chris Johnson, and the defense forced five turnovers and had four sacks.

Coach Mike Munchak called the win good for not just all the coaches and players but for everyone associated with the team after a tough stretch the past few weeks.

``So I think last night was just a feeling of relief,'' Munchak said Tuesday. ``Playing hard and not always playing our best or making all the plays that were there, but hanging together for four quarters. It was interesting all the way to the end and win a football game. It's exactly what we needed and helps to build on the next one.''

That may be easier said than done. Unlike the bumbling Jets, the Titans (5-9) visit Green Bay (10-4) on Sunday. The Packers have clinched the NFC North and want momentum going into the postseason.

Tennessee players had Tuesday off. When they return to practice, coaches will have a few decisions to make.

The staff must decide who starts at center now that Kevin Matthews has a high right ankle sprain that will keep him out the rest of the season, the fifth offensive lineman lost to injury this season and the second center. Rookie Kendall Wright, their leading receiver with 62 catches, thought he cracked a rib and was being evaluated Tuesday.

``We won is all that matters right now,'' Munchak said. ``We need to figure out for the next game how to score more points and build off of that. So you'd rather build off of at least we found a way to win a football game.''

The Titans still have plenty to figure out after the win in which the final three plays sum up just how ugly it was.

Johnson ran for 2 yards on third-and-8, getting the ball out to the Tennessee 6. Brett Kern, the punter who had been averaging 42.2 net yards on his punts this season, shanked a punt under pressure that fluttered through the air only 19 yards. That set the Jets up to win the game at the Tennessee 25 with 47 seconds left.

Only Mark Sanchez's inability to corral a low snap in the shotgun that rookie linebacker Zach Brown covered up sealed Tennessee's first win since beating Miami 37-3 on Nov. 11.

``It's been like that all season,'' Titans safety Michael Griffin said after the game. ``It was no different. I'm just glad we were finally able to get things turned around and have the ball finally bounce our way.''

Really the only offensive highlights for the Titans came on Johnson's 94-yard TD run in the second quarter, padding his NFL record to six TDs of 80 yards or longer. It was Johnson's third such TD this season, tying him with Barry Sanders in 1997 as the only NFL players to notch three TDS of 80 yards or longer in a single season.

Jake Locker ran for a 13-yard touchdown on a quarterback sweep left late in the third quarter that provided the winning margin. The other big highlight is Locker did not turn the ball over once after losing nine turnovers combined the previous three games. The Titans are 3-1 this season when not turning the ball over even once.

Tennessee went three-and-out six times and didn't score a single point off the five turnovers despite Jason McCourty's first interception setting them up at their own 48 late in the first half and his second put them at the Jets 46 early in the third.

The Titans also had a season-high both with 14 penalties and 111 yards, which Munchak called part of ``growing up.''

Kern, who a career-long 71-yarder earlier this season, also had another poor punt that set up the Jets at the Titans 35 for New York's lone touchdown. Kern took to Twitter after the game to apologize.

But a defense that came in 31st giving up 29.9 points per game got a season-high in turnovers, including four interceptions. McCourty doubled what he had this season, while Griffin came in with only one.

The Titans also may get middle linebacker Colin McCarthy back after he missed three games with a concussion, which would be a big boost too.

``We're trending in the right direction,'' Munchak said.

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NHL All-Star Skills: John Carlson puts his title on the line

NHL All-Star Skills: John Carlson puts his title on the line

ST. LOUIS -- The NHL's All-Star weekend kicked off on Thursday with media day. On Friday, we have the first competition as the players take part in the NHL All-Star Skills. Compared to the regular season, not much is on the line on Friday. Teams are not battling for two points in the standings, rivalries are pushed aside and the quest of the Stanley Cup is put on hold. But Friday's event will pit the best hockey players in the world against one another as they show off some of the skills that got them there. For Capitals fans specifically, there will be plenty of reasons to tune in.

Here is what you should be watching for in Friday's All-Star Skills:

T.J. Oshie's reception

You thought he was just a fan favorite in Washington? Oshie spent the first seven seasons of his NHL career with the St. Louis Blues and those fans have not forgotten. Oshie received a thunderous ovation from the fans on hand when he was introduced at Thursday's media day and you can expect that again on Friday anytime he is on the ice.

Unfortunately, with the shootout no longer included in the competition -- something in which Oshie excels -- he will not be specifically competing in any event himself. He will, however, participate as a shooter in the Bud Light NHL Save Streak so at least he can show off his skills there.

Holtby goes for the save streak

The majority of Friday's event -- and, let's face it, the All-Star Game itself -- is geared towards the offense. The one event for the goalies is the save streak. Braden Holtby and each of the other seven other goalies invited to the All-Star Game will take part in the save streak competition.

Each goalie will face shooters from an opposing division. All nine skaters will shoot with the divisional captain shooting last. If the goalie stops the captains' shot, the shooters continue shooting until the next goal. The goalie with the longest consecutive save streak wins.

Regardless of who you may cheer for, everyone should be keeping their fingers crossed for a tie. Why? The first tie-breaker is the total number of saves made, but if there remains a tie after that, then the tied goalies will compete in a sudden death round of goalie goals.

Yeah, we all want to see that.

Holtby is making his fifth consecutive appearance at the All-Star Game. He is the only active goalie to do so and one of only four players in franchise history to make five all-star appearances. It still must feel bittersweet as he has not had a great season thus far, but Friday's event -- as well as Saturday's game -- will be his opportunity to show that he remains one of the top netminders in the league.

Carlson defends his hardest shot title

The Caps player with the most at stake on Friday will be John Carlson who will be defending his title in the Enterprise NHL Hardest Shot. Should Carlson lose, it will be the first time in three years a Cap has not won the event as Alex Ovechkin won it in 2018 with a shot of 101.3 MPH.

Carlson faces stiff competition this year as Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber returns for the event. Weber is a three-time winner of the hardest shot, winning it in three consecutive years from 2015 to 2017. His best shot cames in 2015 when he fired a blazing 108.5 MPH to win, very close to Zdeno Chara's 108.8 MPH record.

Carlson and Weber should be considered the two favorites. Also competing against them will be Mark Giordano, Seth Jones, Victor Hedman and Elias Pettersson.

3-on-3 women's event

The All-Star Skills will feature two new events this year and easily the most highly anticipated will be the Elite Women's 3-on-3 presented by Adidas. One of the best rivalries in all of hockey, Team USA women and Team Canada women, will be renewed as all-star teams from each country will face-off in a 3-on-3 game.

The game will consist of two 10-minute periods with a running clock. All penalties will result in a penalty shot.

One of the biggest criticisms of All-Star weekend is that the skills and the game are not competitive enough. If you have ever felt this way, then this is the competition for you. The women's game will likely be the most competitive event of the entire weekend. Women's hockey does not often get the spotlight and you can beat these all-stars are going to take full advantage of the chance to promote their game. Add in the fact that they get to play against their biggest rivals and you can expect a pretty intense performance.

Shooting Stars

The second new event added to this year's competition is the Gatorade NHL Shooting Stars. Players will be positioned on an elevated platform behind the goal, about 30 feet up and shoot at different targets on the ice. Each player will attempt seven shots.

There will be eight shooters from the NHL All-Stars and an additional two women, one from the U.S. team and one from Canada, will participate. The women will be selected by social media vote.

With all events the NHL experiments with, we have no idea just what this will look like or how good it will be until we see it. Maybe it is the next big thing and maybe it will be a total flop.

But hey, nothing could be worse than watching the players try to shoot on the mini nets as they have in the past so at least it's not that.

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Kevin Long dissects Juan Soto’s World Series Game 1 home run off Gerrit Cole

Kevin Long dissects Juan Soto’s World Series Game 1 home run off Gerrit Cole

Before the Nationals faced off with the Houston Astros in the 2019 World Series, Washington’s hitting coach Kevin Long sat down with FOX Sports analyst Tom Verducci. Long told the veteran reporter that he guaranteed young phenom Juan Soto would hit a home run off a high fastball from Gerrit Cole.

It was considered a lofty prediction, as Cole was in the midst of a Cy Young-caliber year and had allowed just one earned run in 22.2 postseason innings thus far that October. But sure enough, four innings into the first game of the series, Soto did exactly that.

In his first at-bat, Soto looked overmatched and struck out on three pitches. He got his second look three innings later and must have learned something, because he took Cole’s 1-0 pitch—a fastball high and outside—and sent it 417 feet to the opposite field.

At the Nationals’ annual WinterFest event, Long spoke with NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas about what went into that prediction and why he felt compelled to make it.

“First and foremost, I do believe that Juan Soto is one of the best high fastball hitters in baseball,” Long said. “I’ve seen him numerous times take high fastballs and take care of business. Gerrit [Cole] doesn’t pitch in much, so I figured it was going to be out over the plate.

And the other factor there is, we weren’t getting much credit. They basically were cashing that game in as a loss. ‘We can’t beat Gerrit Cole. Gerrit Cole is too good. Gerrit Cole hasn’t lost since May.’ So I just said, ‘You know what? Let me just make a prediction, because I’m sick of hearing about how we’re not going to be able to do anything against this guy…and it ended up working out, it’s pretty cool.”

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW ON THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST BELOW

The Nationals entered the World Series facing the longest odds Las Vegas oddsmakers had given to an underdog since 2007, when the Boston Red Sox were heavy favorites over the Colorado Rockies. Given that Washington went on to stun the baseball world and win in seven games, it isn’t surprising that most national fans didn’t quite yet understand what kind of player Soto is when the series began.

“I’ve had numerous people come up to me and say, ‘That was one of the most impressive home runs I have ever, ever seen,’” Long said. “As a left-handed hitter, number one. A 97-mph fastball and how far he hit it was remarkable. It truly was.

“We were putting together pretty good at-bats off him in those big situations you just need one guy to come through and that was Juan Soto’s moment. He got the pitch, he didn’t miss it and I don’t know if Gerrit was admiring it—I’m sure he wasn’t—but he was probably like, ‘Wow, this kid is pretty special.’”

Now, Soto is entering the 2020 season as the undisputed top hitter in Washington after Anthony Rendon departed for the Los Angeles Angels in free agency. Long doesn’t want Soto to change his approach too much, but rather just focus on what got him to this position in the first place.

“He doesn’t have to do a whole lot extra, he’s just got to basically be the Juan Soto he’s been,” Long said. “His swing is really, really good. He makes adjustments really well. He’s smart. He gets it, and at 21 years old that’s what makes him certainly unique.”

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