Nationals

Titans try to regroup after missed opportunity

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Titans try to regroup after missed opportunity

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Tennessee Titans are trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces after adding another disappointing first to their resume.

Instead of getting a win to stay close in the playoff chase, the Titans turned in a familiar-looking flat performance against Jacksonville.

It was reminiscent of last season's effort against Indianapolis when Tennessee became the first team to lose to the previously winless Colts. This time, the Titans became the first team to lose to the Jaguars in Jacksonville this season.

Now they have to find motivation for their final five games of the season starting Sunday when they host the Houston Texans (10-1).

Coach Mike Munchak is taking the approach that anything is possible until the NFL tells the Titans they're officially out of contention for the team's first postseason berth since 2008.

``Other teams are struggling a lot like we are,'' Munchak said Monday.

``No doubt we made it very hard on ourselves to be real excited at this point,'' he said. ``We have to find a way to beat a great football team this weekend at home. So we got our hands full. We'll worry about this week first because like you always say because that's all you can control, and hopefully a big win in this game will change our options with the last four.''

The AFC may be jumbled, but the Titans find themselves tied with three other teams at 4-7 and trailing Indianapolis (7-4), Pittsburgh (6-5), Cincinnati (6-5) and Miami (5-6) for the final two wild cards. The Titans had their chance to put themselves in the middle of that mix only to make a handful of mistakes in the 24-19 loss to Jacksonville.

Munchak made sure his Titans watched the film Monday to see all the plays they could have made but didn't. They went late enough looking at the film that Munchak's usual afternoon news conference was moved from the team auditorium to their indoor practice field.

The Titans did many things right. They outgained Jacksonville 360-321 in total offense, won the time of possession and even had seven sacks - most in a game since Sept. 7, 2008, also against the Jaguars.

But five times the Titans got to the Jacksonville 24 or closer only to settle for field goals. Rob Bironas was four of five on his field goal attempts, missing a 42-yarder, and the defense also gave up eight plays of 21 yards or longer.

Nate Washington let a defender get an arm in to break up a would-be touchdown pass late in the third quarter and also failed to get both feet in for a catch on the sideline on another drive. Cook dropped a pass that hit his hands, and Damian Williams thought he had a 15-yard TD catch early in the fourth quarter overturned by an official ruling his second foot out.

``We got to regroup,'' tight end Jared Cook said. ``We got five weeks left so we got to do our best. In terms of inconsistency, I don't know. We're a lot better offense than this I know. I know we're a better team than this ... You can only do what you can do. I mean it's only five weeks left. You can only do what you can these five weeks and make it the best season you can.''

A defense criticized heavily all season forced Jacksonville three-and-out to turn the ball back over to the offense with 3:28 trailing 21-19 when Jake Locker threw too early to Cook on a ball tipped by a linebacker to Jaguars safety Dwight Lowery for an interception. Munchak said Locker played well and helped keep other drives alive by running.

``If you want to be in the playoffs, those are the drives you have to finish,'' Munchak said.

A 51-20 loss to Chicago on Nov. 4 had owner Bud Adams putting the entire franchise on notice, and the Titans bounced back with a big win at Miami. This team has not won three straight since Munchak's first month as head coach last season. And it won't be easy to do the final month of this season with road trips to the Colts (7-4) and Green Bay (7-4).

``Reality's kind of set in for a lot of guys,'' Cook said. ``It's just tough. Like I said, we know we're a lot better team than this, and we're not putting that out on film at all. So the best thing you can do is pick up your head and move on.''

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Follow Teresa M. Walker on Twitter at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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Bryce Harper's 2018 Home Run Derby win by the numbers

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USA Today Sports

Bryce Harper's 2018 Home Run Derby win by the numbers

Bryce Harper is the 2018 Home Run Derby champion.

In his home ballpark, Harper put on a show Washington won't soon forget.

He ran through a division foe in the first round in Freddie Freeman, took out a strong, hefty lefty in the semifinals in Max Muncy and then hit nine home runs in 47 seconds in the final minute of the final round when it seemed like he had no chance. On the second swing of his 30 seconds of extra time, Harper launched a bomb to deep center field to win.

And while winning the Home Run Derby in his own ballpark is an impressive feat on its own, the numbers behind his victory make it all the more impressive.

3.

He is just the third hometown winner of the Home Run Derby in the history of the event. Todd Frazier did it most recently in 2016 in Cincinnati, and Ryne Sandberg won at Wrigley Field in Chicago in 1990.

13.

Harper won each of the first two rounds with 13 homers. He didn't need his full time in either of the first two rounds.

446 & 441.

Harper's first two home runs of his first-round matchup against Freeman traveled farther than any of the Braves' superstar's dingers.


10.

In the semifinals, Harper only hit three homers in the first minute, but then blasted 10 in his next 11 swings. That's called efficiency.


5.

In the first round, Harper hit five of the 10 longest home runs of anybody in the field.


45.

Harper hit 45 bombs en route to claiming the title. Here's a visual representation of all of them.

That's also how many dollars cheaper Nats tickets will be... oops!


2.

That's John Wall's number and this is him celebrating his fellow D.C. sports superstar's victory.


19,058.

Bryce Harper hit an absurd 19,058 feet of home runs during the 2018 Home Run Derby. That's more than the 5k you ran last year.

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With All-Star Game in Washington, Bryce Harper looks back on baseball life, ahead to uncertain future

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USA Today Sports Images

With All-Star Game in Washington, Bryce Harper looks back on baseball life, ahead to uncertain future

It's quite possible that, despite nearly a decade of being in the spotlight, gracing the cover of magazines and operating as a transcendent star in the sport of baseball, Bryce Harper's attention-drawing powers reached their apex this week in Washington as the 2018 All-Star Game took center stage at Nationals Park.

Harper has played in plenty showcase games before, he's participated in the Home Run Derby, he was the first overall pick in 2010. But this time the Midsummer Classic is in his professional baseball hometown and he is the primary ambassador for both the team and league. 

Oh, and this is also a pretty big year for his future. The 25-year-old is just months away from being one of the most sought after free agents in the history of the sport and perhaps soon the highest paid.

Harper took it all in stride on Monday as he held court in a club level ballroom at Nationals Park on South Capitol St. He knew the questions about his future were coming and he had answers for every single one of them.

Some of those questions included:

Do you ever have guys on other teams try to recruit you?

Has it ever crossed your mind how odd it would be to play somewhere else?

Do you have a relationship with [Yankees star] Aaron Judge?

One reporter didn't even finish his question before Harper sniffed it out.

When you shaved your beard [on June 19]... 

Harper: ..."it was because the Yankees were in town, right. You got it," he said sarcastically. "My beard was getting too long. My wife wanted me to trim it and it was a good idea."

Harper has by most accounts become closed off in recent years. His personality has been withdrawn. He famously began his first spring training press conference earlier this year with a written statement and a warning that any questions about his free agent future would result in him walking out of the room.

At least for a day, Harper was his old and congenial self. Though, he did explain why his personality has changed with the media in recent years.

"I think I've gotten older. I'm not going to say the same things at 16 that I do at 25," he said. "There were things that people did in college that they don't want people to know about. There are things that I've said in the media at 16 or 17 that I guess I was real about. I can't take them back and I don't want to."

Harper has been able to operate throughout the first half of the season while saying very little of substance to the media. The fact his batting average has dipped to just .214 has given him extra reason to put up walls.

As Harper addressed the media, he didn't offer any trademark one-liners, but he did get introspective about his life as a baseball player and his role as the face of the Washington Nationals.

He spoke glowingly about the franchise and the city, about how much he enjoys seeing the same faces every day, from his teammates to those in the front office to stadium employees and security guards. He shared his appreciation for the fans and area kids who look up to him.

The All-Star Game taking place in D.C. offered Harper a chance to reminisce. As Harper looked ahead to the Home Run Derby, he rattled off the most memorable homers he has seen at Nationals Park. 

He mentioned Jayson Werth's walkoff homer in Game 4 of the 2012 NL Division Series. He brought up the time Michael Morse hit one to the top of the Red Porch in left-center and the many times Adam Dunn cleared the third deck in right field.

Harper was asked about his the pressure of playing host and the duress of struggling in a contract year. He told a story from his days at the College of Southern Nevada that put it all into perspective.

"I got absolutely dominated for two weeks prior to our season opening before fall ball. I'm sitting there at 16 years old, I just got back from Team USA," he recalled.

"I got punched out like nine or 10 times in probably a matter of about 12 at-bats against my own team... I sat down and was like 'you know what, I don't want to do this. I want to go back to high school. I want to enjoy those moments and do that.' But I knew that I couldn't do that. I sat down and they said 'you can't come back, you tested out.' I said 'okay, you've gotta cowboy up.' I needed to do what I needed to do. A week later, we started our fall ball season and I went deep in my first at-bat at Cashman Field. The rest is history, I guess you could say."

If Harper had indeed been able to go back to high school, his draft status would have changed. He never would have been drafted first overall by the Nationals in 2010.

Harper feels the pressure of playing in junior college ball with his draft status on the line, playing against guys who were four or five years older than him, was the toughest thing he has done in baseball. It prepared him for all of these moments, just like the media scrutiny did over the years.

"It was only what, [eight] years ago? It's those moments that make you who you are," he said. "I'm 25 years and old and I play this game of baseball every day. What pressure do I have to feel?... It's the game that I love to play. I'm getting chills [right now]. There's nothing greater than running out there wearing No. 34 and being Bryce Harper and loving the game that I play."

Harper remained patient and upbeat for the over 30 minutes that he addressed the media. He was soaking it all in and trying to embrace the attention he was receiving.

But it was one of those questions from above that provided a dose of reality to set in. When asked if it would be strange to play for another team, he reminded the reporters present of what could very well happen this winter.

"It's always a possibility [I leave]. I think that everybody knew that at the beginning of the year, that this could possibly be my last year in D.C. Everybody knows that. There's no elephant in the room. Everybody knows that it's a possibility, but I'm not really focused on that," he said.

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