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Titans RB Johnson: 'I never felt like I left'

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Titans RB Johnson: 'I never felt like I left'

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Call off the all-points bulletin.

Chris Johnson, the highly-paid running back fans wanted benched or even traded, is a big piece of the Tennessee Titans' offense once again.

``I never felt like I left,'' Johnson said Wednesday. ``It was a situation where I didn't have many chances to actually run the ball and things like that. More and more we're in the game. We have a chance to continue to run the ball and get better and better throughout the game.''

The man nicknamed CJ2K for racking up 2,006 yards in 2009 has helped erase his horrible start this season with one of the biggest games of his career. But Johnson is right about the limited chances to run. He had 11, eight and 14 carries through the first three games before getting a season-high 25 rushes on Sept. 30, and he responded with 141 yards.

Johnson, named the AFC's offensive player of the week Wednesday, has helped the Titans (3-4) reel off two straight wins by leading the NFL in rushing with 451 yards since Week 4. That has lifted Tennessee's rushing offense from last in the league, where it's been much of the time since Johnson signed his four-year, $53.5 million extension before the 2011 season.

Now Johnson must keep it up Sunday against Indianapolis (3-4) to prove his 195 yards rushing wasn't a gift from Buffalo and the league's worst rushing defense. He'll have to do it with an ankle sore enough he was listed on the injury report Wednesday, even though he practiced fully.

``They'll be right back unless we stay consistent with it,'' Johnson said of his critics.

Johnson has gotten plenty of attention as the NFL's leading rusher since 2008 when he was drafted out of East Carolina, and the bull's eye only grew bigger after he became the sixth man in league history to run for at least 2,000 yards. But he struggled in 2011 after sitting out the preseason for his new deal, and he ran for a career-low 1,047 yards last season.

He couldn't always get back to the line of scrimmage, looked indecisive when he did get into open space and the man timed at 4.24 seconds at the 2008 NFL Combine looked slow. Fans booed, unhappy that 20-yard runs seemed impossible for the man who reeled off long runs left and right during his first three seasons.

``It was pretty tough,'' Johnson said. ``It was a situation where we had to continue to work and try to get better and throughout the whole situation we navigated by just continued working and believing in each other.''

Then Johnson took the field last week in Buffalo, and he showed his old burst when he cut to the right side end and launched himself at the pylon for a 16-yard TD. That proved merely the warm-up to an 83-yard TD run later in the first quarter where he blew past the Bills. Before the game ended, Johnson added a 25-yard run and a 27-yarder on the game-winning TD drive.

Johnson's performance made him the man with the most TDs rushing of 80 yards or longer in NFL history with his fourth. He also notched his fourth career game with 190 yards or more, most among active players, and his 195 yards were the third-most in a game this season. He now has an NFL-best 6,141 yards rushing since 2008.

Titans coach Mike Munchak said the key to gearing up the run game and Johnson has been staying in games long enough to be able to keep handing the ball to the running back in the fourth quarter. The coach also credited improved blocking and play-calling too with improving confidence all around.

``The running back, maybe he does have a couple years left ...,'' Munchak said. ``As far as we're concerned, we've just got to keep it going.''

Opposing coaches never took their focus off Johnson, insisting each week they had to stop the same speedy running back who could take a ball to the end zone every touch. Bruce Arians, the Colts' interim head coach and offensive coordinator, said there isn't any doubt Johnson remains as dangerous as ever.

``That target is going to be on his back, and it's really tough to shed when you have everyone hunting you up,'' Arians said. ``He looks like he's still in great form.''

The Colts are struggling to stop the run, giving up an average 141.7 yards per game. Johnson is averaging 3.7 yards per carry with only two 100-yard games in seven games against Indianapolis, and Colts linebacker Dwight Freeney said Johnson always has been a challenge with what he called ``Barry Sanders' type of game-breaking ability.''

``He'll have 10 runs that you stop him and then all of a sudden, all he needs is one and that one is big,'' Freeney said. ``It's going to be important that guys collectively, on each and every play, stop him.''

Or else.

Notes: QB Jake Locker practiced on a limited basis, throwing in individual drills and in 7-on-7. Munchak said Locker looked better throwing and told Indianapolis reporters the quarterback's left, non-throwing shoulder hadn't healed yet. Locker separated his shoulder twice in the first four games. ... WR Kenny Britt (knee), S Jordan Babineaux (wrist), LB Colin McCarthy (right ankle), and TE Craig Stevens (concussion) all practiced fully. LT Michael Roos (appendectomy), LB Will Witherspoon (hamstring), LB Patrick Bailey (hand/ribs) and CB Tommie Campbell (left ankle) did not practice.

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AP Sports Writer Michael Marot in Indianapolis contributed to this report.

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Ovechkin’s hat trick keeps Capitals rolling in 6-2 win against Red Wings

Ovechkin’s hat trick keeps Capitals rolling in 6-2 win against Red Wings

Capital One Arena — The stars came out for the Capitals on Tuesday night. 

There was Alex Ovechkin continuing his marvelous age-33 season with a hat trick, his first since Nov. 25, 2017. Nicklas Backstrom had four more assists. That’s his second four-point game in six games. T.J. Oshie returned from an 11-game absence (concussion) and scored on the power play. Evgeny Kuznetsov set up two goals. 

Anything else?

It all added up to a 6-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings and Washington is rolling. With that kind of firepower why wouldn’t it be? The Caps have won 11 of their past 14 games. At 18-9-3 and with 39 points, Washington is in first place in the Metropolitan Division and has a chance to build on that lead with five of its final eight games of 2018 at home. 

It didn’t hurt that the second-place Columbus Blue Jackets coughed up a 2-1 lead to the Vancouver Canucks at home Tuesday, allowing two goals in the final five minutes to lose 3-2 in regulation. The Blue Jackets are stuck on 34 points and suddenly the Capitals have a five-point lead in the division. 

“The season is all progress,” Backstrom said. “You keep building your team getting all the roles intact. Lately the last couple of games we’ve been playing good hockey, we’ve been playing with a lot of speed, we’ve been playing quick. That’s when we’re hard to play against, I think.”

The recent hot streak starts with Ovechkin, in the midst of one of the best stretches of his career. It was his 126th multi-goal game and he passed former Washington forward Dino Ciccarelli (125) for the 11th-most in league history.

“I’ll take it,” Ovechkin said. “Couple lucky goals.”

Ovechkin has points in 12 straight games (13 goals, six assists) and 18 of his 19 points during that stretch have come at even strength – with admittedly a few empty-net tallies tossed in for good measure. He extended his NHL lead to 25 goals – four ahead of Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine and Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point (21).  

If Ovechkin records a point against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday he will tie his career best of 13 games set between Dec. 30, 2006 and Feb. 1, 2007. That was the year before this incredible run of sustained success began with Washington’s first playoff berth in the Ovechkin era. They didn’t even wear red uniforms back then. Ovechkin ranks eighth in points (38) in the NHL through 30 games. 

“I don’t watch much hockey so I can only go off the years I’ve been here but he’s playing outstanding,” Oshie said.

“At that level that he got himself to last year right at the start of the year … he’s really just kept building off that. It’s fun being on this side of that when Big O is going like that. It’s a privilege to play with him out there and you think maybe there are not other ways he can kind of amaze you and wow you but there was another example tonight.”

Last year, he didn’t get to 39 points until Dec. 30, which was game No. 40. He had three assists that night against the New Jersey Devils and ended that game at 41 points. He didn’t get to 25 goals until a Jan. 2 game against Carolina, which was Game No. 41. Ovechkin finished with 87 points (49 goals, 38 assists) and is well ahead of that pace and halfway to his magic number of 50.   

“The age he's at to still continue to not only want to get better, but to be able to,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said.

“After just the way he's played the game with such a physical presence and the energy he has and the size he is, it's not easy. He's been great in our room, the leadership is really stepped up for me, the best I've seen him lead in our room during the regular season. And then his overall play is following right along with it. I know some other years statistically have been better, but for me it's his best two-way hockey that he's played.” 

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The anatomy of Kelly Oubre Jr.'s follow-dunk and pose

The anatomy of Kelly Oubre Jr.'s follow-dunk and pose

Kelly Oubre Jr. didn’t know precisely what the moment required. The hops and charisma are always on standby regardless.

In one of his more controlled performances of the season, the Wizards’ forward managed to stand out in Monday’s road loss at Indiana. Not solely for his 23 points, even though it established a new season-high. Not just for a rim-rattling follow dunk, though props for the aerial work.

What came after the slam is what got social media jumping. It’s why his popularity surpasses his production. It’s why his critics sometimes cannot help but smile.

Two days after turning 23, the birthday boy explained how the jam and viral video pose went down.

It started with two aspects not always associated with Oubre’s game: Passing and court awareness.

Washington already trimmed Indiana’s 25-point lead to eight as the clock moved closer to the nine-minute mark of the fourth quarter, and the Wizards executed a play.

Teammates Bradley Beal and Markieff Morris ran interference for Oubre as he dribbled toward the right elbow.  Despite openings for a drive or shot, the player who passes with the frequency of a wishbone quarterback stuck with the plan. He looked for Morris rolling toward the basket.

“I just looked at the situation. The play was for Keef to roll and be open. He was open,” recalled Oubre.

Enter Myles Turner. The Pacers’ center dominated the paint throughout, finishing with 12 rebounds and five blocks. Oubre’s dribble brought Turner his way, but on the pass, the mobile big man quickly shifted across the paint. Morris created space and lofted a half-hook. Turner’s wingspan, on display with ferocity all night, altered the shot.

Oubre thought it might. Standing alone and with a clear path to the basket, the sleek forward made his move. Quick and light steps positioned out front if a miss bounced his way. It did.

“Myles is a great rim protector," said Oubre. "I just figured that since he’s been altering shots all game. I’d at least jump to give myself a chance to follow it up.”

Morris’s banked shot went short off the glass, sending the ball off the front of the rim. Oubre read the carom’s angle like geometry major. He rose with ease and hammered dunk the miss with two hands.

“Perfect timing, the stars aligned.”

Then the personality popped.

Before Oubre touched back down, the smile began to form. He stuck the landing like a 6-foot-7 Kerri Strug, though with two good ankles. As the grin enveloped his face and Oubre looked out into the crowd of non-well-wishers, both hands attached to his hips, forming a perfect pair of isosceles triangles. 

Oubre: “The pose was just me having fun. Their fans was talking crazy [expletive] though. I was just smiling at them the whole game.”

Just posing would have put a nice capper on the high-rising moment. Ever the showman, Oubre added a final flourish.

As the megawatt smiled remained, he went with a full head nod toward the crowd. He knew what they witnessed and that they didn’t love it. Regardless, they had to appreciate the style and let them know he felt the same.

“I don’t really look around when I’m playing," said Oubre. "It was really just because the fans didn’t want us to do good.

“I just have a lot of personality, you know? It was a good time, man.”

Oubre’s highlight reel includes a new entry. Such moments wow fans and keep scouts intrigued. If only Oubre could hone the rest of his game, they think. He’s shooting under 30 percent on 3-pointers since January. His shot selection and struggles with team defensive concepts cause exasperation.

Some team might fall in lust regardless and offer the 2015 first-round pick a hefty contract when he hits restricted free agency this coming summer. The Wizards can match any offer. Considering their salary cap concerns and Oubre’s uncertain trajectory, they might not.

Oubre wants more and says he works to improve his game daily while pushing free agency thoughts aside.

“Just getting better every day. Just taking it one day at a time, trying to live in the moment,” Oubre said. “Not necessarily looking at the future because the future will happen if I take care of now. Today I got better. Tomorrow is a new game, a new opportunity.”

Tomorrow comes Wednesday when the Wizards host the rival Boston Celtics.

“The Celtics have a lot of guys who are talented basketball players, and I’m a competitor,” Oubre said. “I’m looking forward to going to play against them.”

When it comes to the entertaining Oubre, even those head-scratching doubters probably feel the same.

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