Matchup of Elites I: Johnson vs. Tillman

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Matchup of Elites I: Johnson vs. Tillman

Every so often a game brings together not just elite players but elite players for two teams in exactly opposing positions, with the prospect of going against each other virtually every snap.
 
Such will the case be on Sunday when the Bears and Houston Texans line up against each other (assuming that one is not called away to be with his wife in childbirth):
 
Texans WR Andre Johnson vs. Bears CB Charles Tillman.
 
Bears WR Brandon Marshall vs. Texans CB Johnathan Joseph.
 
All four have been Pro Bowl selections. Both cornerbacks were chosen last year. Marshall has represented the AFC three times (MVP once), Johnson five times. Johnson is 6-3, the opponents' big receiver against whom 6-2 Tillman has been matched ever since his rookie year.
 
Johnson has an NFL record 60-plus receptions in each of his first eight seasons, 42 this year, tied for 18th in the NFL. Tillman, who endured Johnsons 10 catches, 148 yards and two touchdowns in Houstons 2008 game-16 win that cost the Bears the playoffs, has shut down Calvin Johnson this year to go with his two interceptions, both returned for touchdowns.
 
I knew that about Tillman last time we played him, Johnson said. Whenever you get the ball, you just have to make sure youve got it tucked away well and make sure youve got it protected.
 
Lovie Smith saw Johnson in 2004, Smiths first as Bears coach, Johnsons second with the Texans (drafted third overall in 2003, the year Tillman was drafted in the secod round). He saw Johnson again in 2008. Four more years have not dimmed the luster of an elite at his position.
 
He was a great player back then. We see the same thing now, Smith said. The last couple of years he had some injuries thats hurt him a little bit. When hes healthy, hes as good as there is. We played some good receivers this year, and hes as good as there is out there.

Jonathan Marchessault's hat trick leads Panthers rout of Blackhawks

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AP

Jonathan Marchessault's hat trick leads Panthers rout of Blackhawks

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) -- Jonathan Marchessault scored his first career hat trick, James Reimer stopped 25 shots for his first shutout of the season and the Florida Panthers routed the Chicago Blackhawks 7-0 on Saturday night.

Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and three assists, and Aleksander Barkov added a goal and two assists for Florida. Reilly Smith and Nick Bjugstad also scored to give the Panthers their largest margin of victory since an 8-0 win over Toronto on Feb. 5, 2008.

Marchessault had two goals in a 3-1 win over Arizona on Thursday. He has nine goals over his last nine games and leads the Panthers with 28.

Corey Crawford stopped 21 shots for the Blackhawks before being lifted at 4:59 of the third for Scott Darling, who allowed three goals on six shots.

Already leading 3-0, the Panthers poured in four goals in the third.

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."