Nationals

Vikings put perfect home record to test vs. Bucs

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Vikings put perfect home record to test vs. Bucs

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Minnesota's rebuilding project might eventually prove it needs more work. The Vikings, though, have clearly restored a critical piece of their foundation: the dome-field advantage.

They're 4-0 this year under the roof, where their fierce pass rush has been bothering opposing quarterbacks and Adrian Peterson has been powering his way through the other team's defense.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are next, on Thursday night.

``At times, it gets really loud there. They've got a lot of passionate fans crammed in that dome, and you've got the little horn thing they do,'' Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman said, referring to the sound effect at the Metrodome, now known as Mall of America Field, that's used for first downs and other big plays for the Vikings (5-2).

Freeman and the Buccaneers (2-4) weren't fazed by the environment last year, when the Vikings led 17-0 at halftime and still by 10 points with less than 7 minutes left before falling 24-20.

``You can't really go back schematically and watch what fell apart, because it's totally different,'' Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said, noting Tampa Bay has a new staff under coach Greg Schiano. ``But the memory's still there. Don't get me wrong: I think everyone on this team remembers.''

This is a different Vikings team, though, even if quarterback Christian Ponder has been struggling with seven turnovers in the last three games.

``I've already moved on,'' Ponder said this week.

The rush up front, led by Allen's team-high six sacks, is strong again, but the pass coverage in back has been the biggest key to the turnaround from that franchise-worst 3-13 finish in 2011.

Boosted by the arrival of rookie safety Harrison Smith and the healthy return of veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, the secondary has helped limit other teams to an average of 6.4 yards per pass attempt, eighth best in the league. The longest completion Minnesota has allowed is 41 yards, and only Chicago's long of 34 yards is below that.

They held Detroit's Calvin Johnson to five catches for 54 yards and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald to four receptions for 29 yards. Now they'll face Vincent Jackson, who's coming off a 216-yard game.

``You can see his experience when he's running routes and it seems like he and Freeman have really found a rhythm of late,'' Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. ``They've got a good situation going.''

So do the Vikings.

The hardest part of their schedule looms like a storm on the horizon, and they'll need more than just an umbrella to survive with a playoff-eligible record. The true test of the NFL's most surprisingly successful team to this point won't come until after Thanksgiving. The key for them in the meantime is to maintain this regained edge at the dome, where they were 1-7 last season.

The surroundings fit perfectly into the team's philosophy of controlling the clock with the running game and playing smart and tough yet conservative defense on the other side. The surface is fast for Peterson to run on, and the trapped noise when the Vikings are ahead and the opponent is passing on third down can make completing a pass, let alone hearing the snap count, difficult.

Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, a college teammate of Peterson's, is bracing for his buddy's best.

``I'm just not amazed anymore. It's kind of like, `Hmmm. That's what he does.' He's just that good. I think he's second to none. He's the best running back we'll face and as good as there is in this league,'' McCoy said.

The other disadvantage for the Bucs is the shortened week. Playing in prime time can be fun, but not as much for the visitors on Thursday nights. They're 1-5 this year in these matchups and 3-12 over the last two seasons.

``That's life. We'll have a Thursday night game here in the future where the other team has to travel. The reality is none of that matters. We have to be ready to play,'' Schiano said.

The Buccaneers are 17-22 in prime time, including 2-13 on the road.

There's nothing like a night game to rile up the crowd, but the Vikings haven't given their fans much to cheer in prime time lately either. That Tuesday night victory at Philadelphia in 2010, a game bumped back two days by the threat of a snowstorm, is their only one in the last 11 regular-season appearances after dusk. They've lost four in a row on Sunday nights and five straight on Monday nights. Since the start of the 2004 season, they're 7-16 in those situations.

Playing at home on the turf and under the roof, though, is a different story than being on the road. Since Peterson was drafted in 2007, they're 3-1 in night games at the dome.

``We're happy to be home and use that to our advantage,'' linebacker Chad Greenway said. ``Hopefully the dome gets filled up and is a little louder on a Thursday night. Hopefully people are drinking like crazy ... and then take casual Friday off.''

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How to entice Bryce Harper in to re-signing with the Nationals? With food, of course!

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How to entice Bryce Harper in to re-signing with the Nationals? With food, of course!

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach… and if that leads us to Bryce Harper’s potential landing spot, then I present to you the yummiest reasons he should stay with the Washington Nationals.

In a video from TMZ, a paparazzi follows Harper to baggage claim and implores him for any hints toward where he is signing this offseason. The only true answer he got was that Harper likes a place called Steak 48 in Chicago. This surf-and-turf hot spot in the River North neighborhood of downtown Chicago has the audacity to serve “Maryland STYLE lump crab cakes.” Really, Bryce? Will the real thing convince you?!

On that note, let’s start off with the seafood we have to offer. This is the Mid-Atlantic, after all.

How can you work here April-September without eating local crabs in some form? I think that’s impossible. You can choose from hard shell or soft shell, but no shame in either game.

Live Chesapeake blue crabs can be bought at Captain White’s Seafood and other vendors on The Wharf off Maine Avenue. Otherwise, you can sit down and have them steamed for you at Quarterdeck, Ivy City Smokehouse, Bethesda Crab House or Captain Pell’s.

If Harper is more of a soft shell guy, all of those places also serve out-of-the-park crab cakes, but you can’t go wrong with Hank’s Oyster Bar, Old Ebbitt Grill, Chris’ Marketplace, or Clyde’s.

If the star really wants to dive in to local taste, he should eat Chesapeake Bay oysters from the largest estuary in America. My personal favorite selection is at Whaley’s (seafood tower on me, Bryce), but Rapphanock Oyster Bar, The Dabney, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace and Black’s Bar & Kitchen can’t be beat.

I find it hard to believe the team hasn't had an outing at The Salt Line, the lively seafood spot just a short throw from Nats Park where teammate Ryan Zimmerman is an investor and co-owner.

Now that we’ve satisfied Harper’s iron intake, let’s break down his protein. In order to keep the superstar here, I want to make sure he knows that D.C. cares about providing a well-rounded diet.

Barbecued meats in general around here are delectable. Sitting in juxtaposition between the north and south, D.C. restaurants bring a mash-up of styles of smoked and sauced meats. Favorites are Federalist Pig, Hill Country, Fat Pete’s and Hardy’s BBQ truck.

However, if Bryce Harper show he’s as invested in authentic Nationals fans as our season tickets are in him, he should really pick up a half-smoke, the district’s original recipe for a spicy, thicker pork and beef dog that’s aggressively seasoned and sometimes served with chili sauce.

Could you imagine Harper making his announcement to stay over a half-smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl? I think even the panda statue would cry tears of joy.

Another hyper-local taste is mumbo sauce. While proven not originally from here, D.C. natives are enthusiastic about the special sauce. Yum’s is pretty well-known for carrying it.

Time for dessert! I think we can all agree that in the past 10 years, cupcakes have become iconic in the district with Georgetown Cupcakes, Baked & Wired and Sprinkles all having a home in Georgetown. To settle the debate, Baked & Wired is best. They are ranked #1 on Yelp if you don’t believe my own palette.

But what if it’s game night, you ask? D.C. has it’s hearty share of restaurants that are open even after extra innings. The Diner, Kramerbooks, Mandu, New Big Wong, Old Ebbitt Grill, Oyamel Cocina Mexicana, Amsterdam Falafelshop and Jumbo Slice are all here to keep you warm at night no matter what you’re craving post-victory. Need I go on?

Bryce reassured Nats fans and TMZ that he is “still a National right now.” Better eat these while you can, Bryce, or you’ll be sorry you didn't sign in one of the best food cities in the MLB.

Do you have any local food or restaurants you think will convince Bryce Harper to stay with the Washington Nationals this offseason? Send them to @NBCNationals or @rmhopmayer. Maybe we can throw together a friends-giving or holiday dinner for those that want him to stay our beloved Guest of Honor.

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Josh Norman wants to play 'early Santa,' will give away Redskins tickets

Josh Norman wants to play 'early Santa,' will give away Redskins tickets

Josh Norman caused quite a stir with his comments Sunday about the atmosphere at FedEx Field, and the Redskins cornerback made it clear he plans to do his part in making sure the stadium is packed for Sunday's game against the Texans. 

Norman told reporters Thursday he's going to be giving away "40 or 50" free tickets for the Houston game, online and perhaps even in person.

"Yes, I will be giving out free tickets," he said. "I'll be doing it on my socials as well, I think I'll probably post tonight or something about it."

"Who knows, you may see me coming out and being an early Santa somewhere in the mall or something, just handing out tickets."

And if you are one of the lucky fans who gets a ticket from "Santa Norman," he has specific instructions on how you should behave at Sunday's game:

"Whoever get(s) them, we want them loud and just obnoxious. Just really obnoxious."

Norman joins several Redskins players who have promised to give away tickets to the Texans game.

It may be November, but the Christmas spirit is alive and well at Redskins Park. 

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