Nationals

Walsh kicking up a storm in Minnesota

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Walsh kicking up a storm in Minnesota

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Adrian Peterson has been a threat to score from anywhere on the field this season, the kind of performance that makes a fan hold his breath every time he touches the ball.

Blair Walsh hasn't been quite that dynamic. But as soon as the Minnesota Vikings cross midfield, they know they're in his range. And the rookie kicker has been so good that no breath holding has been necessary.

Walsh was named NFC special teams player of the week on Wednesday after he kicked five field goals, including three of 50 yards or more, in a victory over the Rams. He hit from 50, 53 and 51 yards to tie an NFL record for most field goals of at least 50 yards in one game.

``I love him,'' Peterson said. ``Ever since training camp, I've seen him kick a 60-yard field goal. Maybe 65, 70 (in practice). I mean, this kid is pretty good. He's been big for us all season. Whenever it's 50-plus, I'm thinking, `It's good.'''

That's a lot of faith to have in a kicker who struggled as a senior at Georgia. But the Vikings saw some mechanical issues that they thought they could fix, so they invested a sixth-round draft choice in Walsh and then said goodbye to rock-solid veteran Ryan Longwell in favor of the unproven rookie.

It's hard to imagine it turning out much better. Walsh is 29 for 32 on field goals this season, including a perfect eight for eight on kicks of 50 yards or longer, which is an NFL record. His 117 points are a franchise record for a rookie, surpassing Randy Moss's brilliant first year in 1998. His 47 touchbacks also are a franchise record and the fourth-best total in the NFL this season.

``I don't have time to reflect on it or look back,'' Walsh said with a shrug. ``I'm a firm believer that if you get too high on yourself you're going to set yourself up for a hard fall.''

The Vikings have relied almost exclusively on Peterson to move the ball on offense this season. Their pass offense is ranked last in the league and quarterback Christian Ponder has had an incredibly difficult time making big plays through the air. When the offense sputters, as it often has, Walsh has been there to bail them out time and again.

His latest rescue job came at the expense of his more celebrated rookie classmate Greg Zuerlein. He doesn't have a cool nickname like Zuerlein's ``Legatron'' - Blairwolf is the closest he's come to liking a suggestion. But he certainly has the leg. Walsh drilled kick after kick, including a 51-yarder with 5:31 to play that essentially ended any hope of a Rams comeback.

``It's unbelievable,'' Ponder said on Wednesday. ``For us as an offense to just cross a certain threshold on the field and know that there's a good chance of the ball getting put through the uprights and getting some points on the (board) is big for us. It takes a lot of pressure off of us. The guy's done an unbelievable job.''

Perhaps as important as his big leg, Walsh has a strong mental approach that has allowed him to avoid the crunch-time struggles that many kickers experience.

``His approach mentally has been terrific and it's shown on the field,'' coach Leslie Frazier said. ``He's got ice water in his veins when it comes to making clutch kicks and doing the routine things as well. The fact that he's very coachable has been a plus for us.''

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer and assistant Chris White worked in the offseason to tweak Walsh's delivery, smooth out his routine and try to instill more consistency in his approach to get him out of the funk that plagued him as a senior at Georgia when he missed 14 of his 35 attempts.

``You have to keep locked in the whole game,'' Walsh said. ``Good or bad, I have a rule where I take about five or 10 seconds to reflect on what happens. Then I let it go and get on to the next kick.''

If the Vikings (8-6) are going to make the playoffs, Walsh is likely going to have to make a few more big ones. They play at Houston on Sunday against the stingy Texans defense, then host rival Green Bay in the finale.

His performance thus far has earned Frazier's faith to run him out there in any situation.

``We weren't afraid we would be in a situation where we were putting ourselves on a shorter field,'' Frazier said. ``We felt very confident that once he went out there, it was a very good chance that he would make the kick and he did.''

NOTES: LT Matt Kalil missed practice on Wednesday because of an illness. ... DE Brian Robison (right shoulder) did not practice. Frazier said it was too soon to say if he would be ready for Sunday. ... Peterson was given the day off to rest.

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Can Nationals’ key six make it through three more wins?

Can Nationals’ key six make it through three more wins?

HOUSTON -- Going 1-0 is taxing.

Ask the Nationals pitchers. Just make sure to talk with the select few being used. 

Washington is trying to finish a World Series win behind six pitchers. Maybe six-and-a-half, at most seven, if Tanner Rainey and Fernando Rodney are included. No matchup guys. No bullpen depth. Just a formula of tying the yoke to one of four starters that day, then Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle when necessary.

The question is if those six people can make it through three more wins.

A few things have made this approach viable. One is the starting rotation being populated with guys accustomed to a lot of innings. Washington finished with two of the top five in innings pitched this year (Stephen Strasburg at No. 2 and Patrick Corbin at No. 5), in addition to Max Scherzer, who routinely leads the league in innings pitched. Another is a willingness to accept varied roles and workload in the bullpen. The idea of a “closer” has been tossed outside. A person to obtain key outs is inserted into the game at the most crucial -- and beneficial -- time. 

“I think it’s Huddy,” Sean Doolittle said when asked why the bullpen has worked this way. “I think when you have an anchor like that at the back of the bullpen, it kind of lets guys slide into certain spots in front of him. And when he can go multiple innings and come in early in the game with runners on base -- that’s tough. Not a lot of guys who pitch in that closer’s role are comfortable doing that. But he has experience pitching in so many different roles, he brings that versatility to our group.”

Corbin has helped. He came out of the bullpen again Tuesday to wipe three more outs away and help the Nationals earn a 1-0 series lead. He appears likely to start Game 4 in Nationals Park after pitching his “bullpen session” in Game 1 of the World Series. Among the questions for Corbin, and Davey Martinez, is if Corbin is available for one out Wednesday night in Game 2. Picture left-handed Michael Brantley up with two runners on base and two out in the seventh inning. Brantley’s career OPS against left-handed pitchers is 125 points lower than it is against right-handed pitchers. Martinez said he would speak to Corbin late Monday to see what’s next.

Doolittle was already prognosticating after Game 1. Tomorrow may always be just a day away, but it might as well not exist in this current formula.

“Regardless of the score, the situation, I think we all expected to be in there in some capacity,” Doolittle said. “And I think guys are willing to go multiple innings -- we’ll figure tomorrow out tomorrow. Stras is going to give us a good start and we feel good about having him out there, and he’s going to go as long as he can. We’ll piece it together after that. I think that’s how we’ve thought about it here for a while.”

And, is there enough juice for the six pitchers to handle the current day, eventually turning “tomorrow” into a parade?

“Oh my gosh,” Doolittle said. “Are you kidding me? YES. Yes. We just had a few days off. Us old guys got to put our feet up and rest a little bit. Then we had a couple really good workouts before we came down here. But, at this point in the season, you’re feeding off adrenaline so much. We’re all a little bit tired, sure. Not a lot of guys have been here before. This is the latest they’ve ever played. But when you’re out there, there’s so much adrenaline, there’s so much energy you’re just feeding off that so much. I think we are absolutely in a good spot physically and mentally for the rest of the series.”

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The Vikings will be without Adam Thielen against the Redskins in Week 7

The Vikings will be without Adam Thielen against the Redskins in Week 7

When Kirk Cousins faces the Redskins on Thursday for the first time since leaving the franchise in 2018, the quarterback will be without arguably his favorite wide receiver.

Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen will miss Thursday's contest vs. Washington with a hamstring injury. ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported the news.

Thielen injured his hamstring crashing into a barricade after hauling in a touchdown in the Vikings' 42-30 victory over the Lions on Sunday. The injury isn't expected to be serious, and Thielen might have been able to play this week had the Vikings not been playing on Thursday night. Minnesota expects him to return to action next week.

The wide receiver is a considerable loss to the Minnesota offense, as only Stefon Diggs has more receiving yards for Vikings this season than Thielen. His six receiving touchdowns lead the team, too.

The Vikings have won four straight games, and even with Thielen's injury, are still more than a two-touchdown favorite over the 1-6 Redskins.

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