Nationals

Win over Giants saves Bengals' season

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Win over Giants saves Bengals' season

CINCINNATI (AP) By drubbing the defending champions, the Bengals have given themselves a second chance.

A 31-13 win over the New York Giants on Sunday moved Cincinnati (4-5) back to the periphery of the playoff chase with a couple of games ahead against struggling teams. The Bengals will get a chance to make it interesting.

The lopsided victory also represented a breakthrough. The Bengals haven't been able to beat a good team the past two seasons, going 0-6 against AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore. They went 0-8 last season against other teams that reached the playoffs.

This one was notable, even if a lot of their fans missed it.

``Yeah, man, that was huge for us,'' defensive tackle Domata Peko said on Monday. ``We really needed that win. It was important because they're world champions and when you can compete against a team like that, it shows us we can compete against anybody.''

With its season on the line, Cincinnati played its best game of the season by far. Andy Dalton threw a career-high four touchdown passes, the defense sacked Eli Manning a season-high four times and caused four turnovers, and Adam ``Pacman'' Jones returned a punt 68 yards to set up a touchdown.

``We got rolling pretty good,'' safety Chris Crocker said. ``The test for us was when we got up. We were pretty confident we'd come out of the gates really fast. It was just when we got up, how would we respond? That's been our Achilles heel this season.''

The Bengals have gotten pushed around in the second half for most of the season. They blew a 14-3 lead and lost to Pittsburgh at Paul Brown Stadium, then had the Broncos rally in the fourth quarter for a win a week ago.

The back-to-back losses left them with a four-game losing streak and cost them credibility with fans. Cincinnati sold out its first four home games - two more than last season - but couldn't fill Paul Brown Stadium for the Giants game. There were nearly 9,000 empty seats on a sunny, 70-degree afternoon.

``You never know when we're going to have a sellout,'' Crocker said. ``I thought we would have, having the Super Bowl champions coming in here.''

The Bengals' best game of the season was blacked out on local television.

``That stinks,'' left tackle Andrew Whitworth said on Monday. ``It's terrible. None of us wants that for the fans in this area. But it is what it is. And the key for us is we need to keep putting them back to back and get ourselves on a hot streak and the fans will get plenty of chances to see us.''

There's still a chance to win `em back.

The Bengals play at Kansas City - last in the AFC West - then host Oakland, which is 3-6 and coming off a 55-20 loss to the Ravens. They're at San Diego (4-5), home against Dallas (4-5) and at Philadelphia (3-6) before finishing at Pittsburgh and at home against Baltimore.

The tiebreakers aren't in their favor - Cincinnati is 1-3 against the division and 2-5 against the AFC - but the impressive win over the Giants gave them some confidence heading into a favorable stretch of the schedule.

``I think guys realized that there's no reason to keep talking about it,'' coach Marvin Lewis said. ``At the end of the day, you can't talk about it. You've got to do it. Too much has been said.''

NOTES: Lewis said C Kyle Cook will start rehabilitation work on his surgically repaired right ankle this week. Cook hurt the ankle in the final preseason game and went on injured reserve, but could return this season. Lewis said it's too early to judge whether he'll be able to play again. ... LB Ben Jacobs of Fresno State was signed to the practice squad. OT Jeff Adams was released from the squad.

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2018 MLB Wild Card Playoff Race: The Dodgers are back

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USA TODAY Sports

2018 MLB Wild Card Playoff Race: The Dodgers are back

The Los Angeles Dodgers have flipped the National League West, the Tampa Bay Rays are making a valiant run, and the Washington Nationals are hanging in there.

Races heading into the 2018 Major League Baseball postseason still find a way to stay interesting after 150 games. 

The NL Central, NL West, AL and NL Wild Card battles are all going to be watched under a microscope with less than two week's worth of games remaining. Not too far away either is the NL East. 

Joining the Boston Red Sox, the Cleveland Indians are only the second team to clinch a postseason spot. They claimed the AL Central crown and will make the playoffs as the No. 3 team in the AL Bracket. No one though has clinched a position in the National League yet, and likely will not until the final week. 

Eight spots left unclaimed with the Astros and Yankees not being too far away from joining the list. At the rate the Dodgers are winning games (six of their last seven), they probably are not far off either. No matter what, Los Angeles is in a good spot after they once were at risk for missing the playoffs for the first time since 2012. 

One team that has fallen out of that conversation is the Atlanta Braves who were a game and a half from the top seed in the NL. Now they have lost four straight and leave the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals still holding out hope. 

National League Postseason Picture:

Central: Chicago Cubs 89-62

West: Los Angeles Dodgers 84-68 

East: Atlanta Braves 83-68 

National League Wild Card Standings (Games remaining against Wild Card teams): 

Milwaukee Brewers: 86-66         +3.5 (3)
Ramaining:
vs. Cincinnati (1)
@ Pittsburgh (3)
@ St. Louis (3)
vs. Detroit (3)
St. Louis Cardinals: 84-68         +1.5 (3)
Remaining:
@ Atlanta Braves (1)
vs. San Francisco (3)
vs. Milwaukee (3)
@ Chicago Cubs (3)
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Colorado Rockies: 82-69            -1.5 (10)
Remaining:
@ LA Dodgers (1)
@ Arizona (3)
vs. Philadelphia (4)
vs. Washington (3)
Philadelphia Phillies: 77-73        -6.0 (4)
Remaining:
vs. NY Mets (1)
@ Atlanta (4)
@ Colorado (4)
vs. Atlanta (3)
Arizona Diamondbacks: 78-74    -6.0 (3)
Remaining:
vs. Chicago Cubs (1)
vs. Colorado (3)
vs. LA Dodgers (3)
vs. San Diego (3)
Washington Nationals: 77-75      -7.0 (3)
Remaining:
vs. NY Mets (4)
vs. Miami (3)
@ Colorado (3)

Since the last update, the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals have not done much to add to their leads in the Wild Card. Milwaukee playing against lower teams at home in the division, only won two games in their past two series, with one being Christian Yelich's cycle. St. Louis lost three out of four to the Dodgers, but rebounded to take two against Atlanta.

Still, they hold the final two spots and have benefited with the Dodgers running through the NL West.

While the Dodgers jumped past the Rockies for the lead in the division, if Colorado can rebound it will make for a interesting finish in the National League as a whole.

However, the Rockies can't even beat the lower tier teams, shut out twice in the Bay. The Rockies will have a say in how the remainder of the season plays out, especially in the NL East, playing the Phillies and the Nats as both are grasping for straws with the Braves sinking. 

Once again the Nationals are on the way out, looking in. They remain in the update only because they have a slight chance in the division (6.5 games back), and a real favorable schedule. At the same time, write-off the Arizona Diamondbacks, they are 4-13 in their last 17.

American League:

East: Boston Red Sox: 103-48 -- clinched postseason spot

West: Houston Astros: 95-56 

Central: Cleveland Indians: 84-66 -- clinched division

American League Wild Card Standings (Games remaining against Wild Card teams):

New York Yankees: 92-58      +8.0 (4)
Remaining:
vs. Boston (2)
vs. Baltimore (3)
@ Tampa Bay (4)
@ Boston (3)
Oakland Athletics: 90-61        +5.5 (0)
Remaining:
vs. LA Angels (2)
vs. Minnesota (3)
@ Mariners (3)
@ LA Angels (3)
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Tampa Bay Rays: 84-66          -5.5 (4)
Remaining:
@ Texas (1)
vs. Toronto (4)
vs. NY Yankees (4)
vs. Toronto (3)

Just when it looked like the Yankees and the Oakland Athletics were going to be in a foot race for the top Wild Card spot, it evaporated. Losing once to the Baltimore Orioles, twice to the Tampa Bay Rays and another to the Los Angeles Angels, the Athletics faded. On the flip side New York got a huge win at home against the MLB-leading Red Sox.

The remaining schedule for each remain polar opposites as the calendar winds down. A race will still likely present itself.

Tampa Bay missed a golden chance to give themselves an outside shot. A sweep against Oakland, combined with the other results would have got them within 4.5 games. An extra-inning loss at home essentially ended their far hopes. Their record post All-Star break? 35-19.

MORE MLB NEWS: 

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Are the Redskins running the ball too much on first down?

Are the Redskins running the ball too much on first down?

After one loss, the play calling of Redskins head coach Jay Gruden is already under fire. After years of being criticized for abandoning the running game, some are saying that he is now running too often, at least on first down. 

The decision of what to do on first-and-10 is one of the basic quandaries of play calling. Running the ball is likely to get you ahead of the sticks but if the play gets stuffed you are facing second-and-8 or 9. Defenses often are geared to stop the run on first down so that affects the success rate. 

Passing on first down can be a more attractive option. Even a quick pass with a few yards after the catch can get you into second and short in a hurry. But passes are incomplete about a third of the time and that leaves the offense looking at second-and-10. The occasional sack or holding penalty can quickly kill a drive. 

This season, Gruden has leaned heavily towards taking the lower risk, lower reward route of running the ball on first down. The Redskins 39 first-down runs are the most in the NFL, one more than the Texans and considerably more than the NFL average of 27 first-down runs. (The numbers here are from Pro Football Reference and are complete through Sunday’s games.) 

Those are the raw numbers. When you break it down into first-down rush percentage, the Redskins are fifth in the league at 58.2 percent. Still, that leans heavily towards the run in a league that passes on first down (51.7%) more often than it runs (48.3%).

In looking at just 2018 we are dealing with a small sample size. The two Redskins games were very different. In their first game, they never trailed, and runs were called on 69 percent of first down plays (25 of 36). Against the Colts where they never led and ran on 45 percent of first downs (14 of 31). 

Looking at a larger set of data covering games from the start of the 2017 season through Sunday’s game, Gruden called runs on 58.5 percent of first-down plays. That was the fifth-highest percentage in the league. The league average seems to shift to more running as the year wears on as over the last full season plus two games teams ran on first down 52.4 percent of the time. 

Looking at the big picture, you might wonder why Gruden ran it so often on first down last year with such a poor (27thin NFL) rushing game. They averaged 3.16 yards per first down run. That was the worst average in the league.

We will track this occasionally as the year goes on. This year, again a small sample size, they are averaging a respectable 4.3 yards on first-down rushing attempts, 10th in the NFL. Let’s see if the strategy shifts, if the defense adjusts and keys to stop the run on first down, and/or if they are having trouble consistently moving the ball. 

Redskins analysis

-Running game struggles: No immediate answers
-Shuffling the receivers: Redskins acquire Floyd after signing Perriman

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS and on Instagram @RichTandler