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49ers face fierce challenge vs. Falcons receivers

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49ers face fierce challenge vs. Falcons receivers

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Carlos Rogers had one word to describe what his homecoming in Atlanta will be like when the San Francisco 49ers face the Falcons in Sunday's NFC championship.

``Expensive,'' he said, laughing.

The 49ers cornerback, born in Augusta and an offseason resident of Atlanta, grew up doing the ``Dirty Birds'' dance when the Falcons reached the Super Bowl during the 1998 season. He has paid for more than 30 tickets for friends and family as he makes an appearance in the Georgia Dome for only the third time in his eight-year career.

``I was a fan of the Falcons. I'm still a fan of the Falcons,'' Rogers said. ``Just not this week.''

What Rogers and the 49ers will encounter on the field could be taxing, too.

Julio Jones, Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez present all sorts of problems for San Francisco's secondary to solve. The trio is part of what Gonzalez calls the PYP offense - Pick Your Poison - that has shredded defenses while catching Matt Ryan's passes.

Even after shutting down receivers Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Larry Fitzgerald in victories this season, Atlanta's tandem has a unique combination of size and speed unlike any other the 49ers have faced.

``It's different. A lot of times we'll face a Calvin Johnson and an OK receiver on the other side. You face Brandon Marshall and an OK receiver on the other side. These guys, you're facing Roddy White and you look on the other side, it's Julio Jones. It's not an OK receiver. It's another elite receiver,'' Rogers said. ``Then there's an elite tight end, a Hall of Fame tight end. It's different facing them guys. Coach said, `We usually take one guy out of the game and let the other guy beat us. You can't do that. We have to challenge both of these guys.'''

Limiting the big play has been San Francisco's signature all season.

The 49ers allowed 157 plays of 10 yards or more, the fewest in the NFL. The unit also gave up a league-low seven touchdowns of 10 yards or more, often smothering the most vaunted receivers in the league.

Rogers and Tarell Brown, who intercepted a pass by Aaron Rodgers in last week's 45-31 win over Green Bay, have become two of the best cover corners. The duo has been significantly helped by Pro Bowl safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner, part of a hard-hitting secondary that will not be the biggest on the field this week.

``We've seen a lot of the bigger receivers in the National Football League,'' Whitner said. ``These guys are a little different. They have speed, quickness and size. We'll have our hands full.''

The 49ers are counting on their experience to serve them well.

They have beaten Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Rodgers (twice) while sticking to the same formula that brought them within a field goal against the New York Giants of making the Super Bowl last season: pressuring the quarterback without blitzing, dropping extra players in coverage and delivering big blows.

Marshall caught two passes for 21 yards in Chicago's 32-7 loss at San Francisco. Fitzgerald hauled in seven passes for 65 yards in two losses to the 49ers. And Johnson had 8 receptions for 94 yards in a Detroit's 27-19 loss to San Francisco, although most came with the game already out of reach.

Grounding the Falcons' air attack could prove more problematic.

White (92 receptions, 1,351 yards, seven TDs) and Jones (79 receptions, 1,198 yards, 10 TDs) make up one of four duos to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving this season. Atlanta nearly became the only team with three players to surpass the 1,000-yard mark, with Gonzalez finishing with 93 receptions for 930 yards and eight touchdowns.

``They're certainly up there as one of the best tandems in the league, if not the best,'' 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. ``But the whole crux of their offense is not just those two guys, it's all 11. You talk about defending the receivers and you have to, well how does that affect Gonzalez? How does that affect the running game? So you've got to have a good plan and a good mix to stop this offense. It's not just the receiver-driven offense.''

All-Pro linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman might draw the toughest assignment.

Both will have a big hand in defending the 36-year-old Gonzalez, who has caught more passes than anyone in NFL history except 49ers Hall of Famer Jerry Rice. Gonzalez is likely to retire at the of this season but is still a matchup nightmare, showing so much when he caught a 19-yard pass from Ryan to set up Matt Bryant's winning field goal in the final seconds against Seattle last weekend.

Willis said everybody will have to be focused on their role or Ryan and his receivers will carve up San Francisco's defense.

``The thing that guys once told me when I first got here, they say it's all good and dandy when you come in, you can run as fast as the fastest and move as quick as the quickest,'' Willis said. ``They told me the older you get the more you have to have it up (in your head) and I didn't understand that as much then as I do now.''

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NOTES: 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said he has not had any conversations with Randy Moss about next season but made no secret about how he feels about the wide receiver. ``I, for one, definitely want Randy to come back. Hope he feels the same way,'' Harbaugh said. Moss, who is on a one-year contract, turns 36 years old on Feb. 13. ... The team released K Billy Cundiff, signed on Jan. 1 to compete with David Akers. Cundiff was inactive against Green Bay last week.

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Bradley Beal fouling out nearly changed the series, but Wizards rallied

Bradley Beal fouling out nearly changed the series, but Wizards rallied

After calling an inconsistent game throughout the night, the referees made a decision with five minutes to go in Game 4 that nearly altered the entire series between the Wizards and Raptors.

DeMar DeRozan was chasing a rebound on the baseline and ran into Bradley Beal. Beal, who had a team-high 31 points, was levied a sixth foul. He was out of the game with the score tied.

Beal had unloaded for 20 points in 12 minutes in the second half, but now the Wizards would have to close it out without their All-Star shooting guard. Somehow, they were able to seal the win and tie the series.

Beal heard the whistle as he laid on the ground. He immediately hopped up and unleashed a tantrum that nobody could blame him for. He jumped up and down, screaming at the referees, who had just called by all accounts a questionable foul and in a key moment of a playoff game.

Both Beal and head coach Scott Brooks were incensed and with good reason.

“I was beyond emotional, beyond mad, frustrated," Beal said. "I honestly thought they were going to kick me out of the game I was so mad, but I was happy they didn’t do that."

Beal is probably lucky the referees didn't take offense to his reaction because it continued when he was on the bench. He walked past his teammates and leaned over with his hands on his knees, still furious. Then he returned to the sideline to yell at the refs. Center Ian Mahinmi helped convince him to step back and cool off.

Beal has made a major difference in this series. He averaged 14.0 points in the first two games, both losses. He has averaged 29.5 points in Games 3 and 4, two Wizards wins.

Getting him out of the game was a major break for the Raptors, but they couldn't take advantage. The Wizards closed the final five minutes on a 14-6 tear. John Wall stepped up to lead the charge with eight of those points.

The Wizards still had one star on the court and he played like one.

“Just go in attack mode," Wall said. "When Brad went out, I knew I had to do whatever it took... I just wanted to do whatever, so that we could advance to Game 5, tied 2-2.”

Once Beal composed himself, his confidence grew in his teammates. He and Wall feel comfortable playing without each other because they have done so often throughout their careers.

This year, Wall missed 41 games due to a left knee injury. Two years ago, Beal missed 27 games. Early on in his career, he had trouble staying healthy. Now he is an iron man who played in all 82 games during the 2017-18 regular season.

Beal has grown accustomed to being on the floor a lot, but he realized he can still affect the game from the sidelines.

"I just gathered my emotions, gathered my thoughts and told my team we were going to win, regardless. I knew if we still had John [Wall] in the game I loved our chances," Beal said. "Face the adversity that I had to overcome, just gather myself and be a leader, being vocal and keeping everyone encouraged in the game.”

Wall and others did the heavy lifting in the end. The Wizards used Kelly Oubre, Jr. as the shooting guard with Beal out and he made key plays down the stretch, including a steal on Kyle Lowry in the closing seconds.

The Wizards were thrown a significant curveball and they overcame it to put themselves in good position now having won two straight.

“You have to have resolve to win in this league," Brooks said. "You win playoff games and you win playoff series with having that. We have that, and we have to continue to have that because we have to win two more games and one of them has to be on the road."

When it comes to the officiating, the Wizards deserve credit for their resilience and restraint early in Game 4. The Raptors had 16 free throws in the first quarter compared to the Wizards' four. Washington perservered and ended up with more free throws (31) than the Raptors (30) did for the game.

In Game 1, the Wizards appeared to be affected by a lack of foul calls. That came was called loosely by the referees, while this one was officiated tightly. Though Beal went off, the Wizards for the most part stayed the course and were rewarded for it.

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The Wizards supplied all the highlights and fireworks; 5 must-see moments from Game 4

The Wizards supplied all the highlights and fireworks; 5 must-see moments from Game 4

WASHINGTON -- As the home team in a dire situation you have to take advantage, and that is exactly what the Washington Wizards did in their 106-98 win over the Toronto Raptors.

Highlight reel play after highlight reel play, the Wizards ignited the crowd with some of their best plays from the entire season to make it 2-2 in the series. Here are just a few of them:

1. John Wall collects posters in the first half

The first one was perhaps the best. Everything was going wrong for the Wizards, poor turnovers, bad shots, a three from Toronto. Then John Wall had enough. Not only did he fly past his defender Kyle Lowry, but he went up and slammed one home past the 7-foot Jonas Valanciunas. Up until that point, the Wizards were shooting 1-for-7.

Rinse and repeat, except this time Jakob Poeltl was Wall’s victim.

2. Wall to Beal alley-oop in transition

With the Wizards’ offense faltering, the Raptors remained on the verge of blowing the game open throughout the second quarter. But with a steal from Otto Porter Jr., Wall hung up the ball for Bradley Beal to slam home. The alley-oop kept the Wizards within single digits in the second with an uninspiring offensive effort.

3. Otto Porter breaks out of the half

A subdued offensive start to the game was due in part to the production from Porter. In the first half he went 0-for-4 with one point in nearly 17 minutes of action.

Throw that away in the second half. He broke out of halftime with back-to-back threes and 10 of the Wizards’ 26 in a monster 26-14 run to take the lead back in the third.

He finished the quarter with 10 points, an assist, and two blocks.

4. The Polish Hammer throwing it home

Are you convinced yet that Marcin Gortat’s new haircut is doing him some good? Gortat squeezed through two Raptors’ defenders, threw it down, gave a Goliath-type roar to the crowd before officially bringing the hammer down. 

5. Beal being called for his sixth foul of the game

Agree with the call or not, there is no denying that Beal’s removal from the game lit a fire underneath the Wizards. From that point Washington went on a 14-6 scoring run to end the game, closing out for the win.

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