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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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NHL Power Rankings: Capitals remain the class of the division

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NHL Power Rankings: Capitals remain the class of the division

Saturday’s game between the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets was built up as a battle for first place. It didn’t take long for Washington show that they remain the class of the division as the Caps walked away with an emphatic 4-0 win.

The  Metropolitan Division is just plain bad this year. New Jersey and Philadelphia are surprisingly atrocious, Carolina is still a player or two (and a goalie) away from being a playoff team, the Rangers will go only as far as Henrik Lundqvist can carry them, the Islanders have made great strides under Barry Trotz but are nowhere close to contending and this looks like Pittsburgh’s weakest team since the Mike Johnston era.

At this point, the only two teams that look like clear playoff teams are Washington and Columbus and even that may be a stretch depending on how the Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky situation pans out for the Blue Jackets.

There’s still a lot of hockey left to play this season, but the Caps made an early statement on Saturday that they remain the team to beat in the Metro and no one looks anywhere close to challenging them at this point.

SEE THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Here are a few observations from the past week:
•    Tom Wilson provided one heck of a spark when he returned from suspension. The way the Caps responded to his injury with two wins on the road is impressive and says a lot about this team’s mental makeup and resiliency, even more so than how they rallied after Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie both came out of the lineup.
•    Is Kuznetsov all the way back? He just does not seem like the same player who dazzled us in the first month of the season. Yes, he has a five-game point streak, but he is not dominating the game the same way. Earlier in the season, his talent was evident every time he stepped onto the ice. Whenever Connor McDavid is on the ice, you notice him. Whenever Nathan MacKinnon is on the ice, you notice him. That was true of Kuznetsov early on, but has not been true since he returned to the lineup.
•    Oshie is skating which means he is making progress, but the team should take a slow approach to his return. After he suffered a concussion last year from a hit by Joe Thornton, he did not play well when he returned for quite a while. The Caps are winning and are in first place, there’s no reason to really rush him back.
•    The power play is starting to become a major concern. The loss of Oshie certainly hurts, but that unit was starting to struggle even before the game in Winnipeg in which he was injured. When watching the Columbus game on Friday, someone asked Alan May what he thought the problem was and he said zone entries. There’s definitely something to that. The power play still looks as deadly as ever when the team sets it up, but it seems like they are having a real tough time just getting to that point. They just cannot get the puck into the offensive zone and keep possession.

Even with Wilson, Oshie and Orpik out, the Caps keep finding ways to win and that his them climbing up the rankings.

FIND OUT WHERE THEY LAND IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS.

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The Wizards' latest trade breaks up positive pairing

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The Wizards' latest trade breaks up positive pairing

Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith shared several similarities beyond being very tall men. At 32, they were the oldest players on the Wizards roster. Both arrived in Washington during the 2016 free agency period. They each fell out of the Wizards’ playing rotation this season with Thomas Bryant emerging as the starting center.

There’s another.

Despite receiving limited minutes in recent weeks, each remained remarkably upbeat to the point they could hold seminars on the topic of positive thinking.

“That’s the business. We’re in a tough business,” Mahinmi told NBC Sports Washington. “Me being in this league for 12 years, I understand it’s a long season. It’s a process. At the end of the day, you being mad isn’t going to much for yourself or the team. Have to be professional. You got to be positive.”

The Wizards (11-15) close their four-game road swing Monday against the Pacers (16-10). No doubt Mahinmi keeps that attitude Monday night against his former team even if the 6-foot-11 center doesn’t enter the game.

Smith would as well if he still played for the Wizards. Washington traded the 7-footer Friday in a three-team deal with the Bucks and Cavaliers. 

"When you see good basketball out there, it's easy to be upbeat. It's easy to be upbeat for your teammates out there,” Smith said to NBC Sports Washington Friday. Hours later Smith found out positively he was headed to Milwaukee.

Mahinmi remains as does what’s left of that four-year, $64 million contract that expires after the 2019-20 season. The signing was arguably curious from the start because of the contract terms and presence of now ex-Wizard Marcin Gortat. Positivity, perhaps Mahinmi's greatest contribution, doesn't show in the box score and the center's limited production is a constant source of annoyance for fans. 

The 10-year veteran also feels frustration. Mahinmi wants to play, contribute to the cause. For now, and likely going forward, Wizards coach Scott Brooks looks elsewhere except for spot minutes. Mahinmi didn’t play in eight of Washington’s last 11 games. While helpful as a rebounder and defender, he struggles offensively and averages six personal fouls per 36 minutes. 

Through it all, the smile and warmth remain for the husband and father of three. Fatherhood is yet another connection with Smith (and most of the Wizards roster at this point). Listening to them talk about the 21-year-old Bryant made it sound like a co-parenting situation.

“His absolute genuine joy is fun to see,” Smith said like a proud father. 

Despite Saturday’s 116-101 road loss to the Cavaliers, the Wizards are 6-4 since the energetic Bryant entered the starting lineup Nov. 20 against the Clippers. Washington’s season doesn’t hinge on Bryant’s development, but him turning into a steady option is essential. 

That’s an area Mahinmi seeks to offer help just like an NBA legend did for him upon entering the league with the Spurs in 2007.

“I’ll always remember when I was a young player trying to establish myself in this league and thrown into the mix. Obviously, it was very different. I was behind Tim Duncan. It meant everything to have the support of my elders, the vets and everyone around me. I’m trying to do this for (Thomas and the) young guys.”

While not playing consistently isn't ideal, Mahinmi said family life lifts his spirits, and maturity offers a new perspective.

“I can guarantee you if I was younger I wouldn’t be dealing with the challenges with the same approach,” Mahinmi said. “It’s good because basketball isn’t everything for me. I have bigger things, more important things going on in my life.”

Smith’s life changed Friday. He joined his new teammates Sunday and met with the Milwaukee media. He quickly impressed reporters with his attitude. 

Part of Smith knows he needs to impress NBA general managers and scouts with his play. 

His three-year contract, which included a player option of $5.45 million for the current season, expires this summer. Playing in only 12 of Washington’s 25 games before the trade didn’t help the cause of landing another deal.

“I mean, a little bit,” Smith said of free agency weighing on his mind, “but things will work out in the end. I’m 12 years in. This is all icing on the cake for me.”

Regarding his on-court role, it’s been a slippery road for Mahinmi since leaving Indiana in 2016. He’d love to play Monday in one of the NBA cities he considers home. The reality is others offer traits better suited to deal with the Pacers’ interior trio of Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, and Thad Young.

Maybe Mahinmi, now the final remaining member of the questionable group of 2016 additions, sneaks in for some action. Regardless, the nice man from France will keep up the encouragement.

“You have to be genuinely happy for your teammates,” Mahinmi said. “You’ve got to be willing to go through those times as a player, find the benefits of all challenges. It’s definitely a challenge for myself, for Jason, but I’m here for the team.”

That’s where the similarities with Smith end.

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