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Defense keys end to Cardinals' victory drought

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Defense keys end to Cardinals' victory drought

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Cardinals' 2 1/2-month victory drought is over, thanks to a little thievery by their defense.

The relief that the nine-game losing streak had ended was palpable at coach Ken Whisenhunt's day-after news conference. A week earlier, he was trying to explain the Cardinals' 58-0 loss at Seattle, the most one-sided defeat in franchise history.

``It's a lot better. No question about it,'' he said. ``I hate losing and it was a tough stretch. To get a win, it was something that makes it a lot better Monday.''

Whisenhunt, who gave the players Monday off, credited a strong performance by the defense for leading Sunday's 38-10 victory over the Detroit Lions, the team's first win since beating Miami on Sept. 30.

The Cardinals intercepted Matthew Stafford three times, returning two of them for touchdowns and setting up a TD with the other.

With the performance, Arizona leads the NFL in interceptions with 22. That's a dozen more than the team had all of last season. The Cardinals have one more interception than Chicago, and host the Bears next Sunday in Arizona's final home game of the season.

Patrick Peterson leads the way with seven interceptions, including one in each of the last four games. His was the first of the three picks on Sunday, and he returned it 29 yards to the Detroit 3 to set up the go-ahead touchdown.

Rashad Johnson returned the next interception 53 yards for a score with 30 seconds left in the half to make it 21-7. The most spectacular pick came in the fourth quarter when, with the Lions at fourth-and-2 on the Arizona 4, Greg Toler intercepted in the end zone and, behind a wall of blockers, returned it 102 yards for the score that put the Cardinals up 31-10 with just over five minutes to play.

It was the longest interception return in Cardinals history, tied for fourth-longest ever in the NFL and the longest in the league in four seasons. Arizona's previous long was 99 yards by Adrian Wilson against Atlanta in 2006 and matched by Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie against St. Louis in 2008.

The pick came after a Detroit TD pass was called back by a delay-of-game penalty.

``I was kind of mad at the play before,'' Toler said. ``I know as a defensive player, you just need to move on to the next play because they could be coming at you at any point so you have to expect the ball coming your way. We were in a `cover three' and he (Stafford) just overthrew the ball to the out route, and I just jumped it.''

When he caught it, he saw nothing but Cardinals blockers.

``I saw the red in front of me,'' Toler said, ``so I was just hoping the guy behind me didn't come take me down.''

The difference between this year and last, Whisenhunt said, is that the defensive players are making the catch when they have the chance. Last year, there were a host of dropped would-be interceptions.

``Our guys believe in what they are doing and they're playing hard, and it's nice to see them making some plays,'' he said.

Whisenhunt credited the play up front of Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett and David Carter, who was filling in for injured nose tackle Dan Williams. Campbell, in his second game back after missing two games with a calf injury, had a team-high eight tackles (seven solo), a sack, four tackles for loss and a pass deflection.

``Coach Horton (defensive coordinator Ray Horton) is a genius,'' Campbell said. ``We've got a lot of good athletes. We're smart.

Peterson, often matched against star receiver Calvin Johnson, had seven solo tackles to go with his interception. Peterson had proclaimed himself the best cornerback in the NFL earlier in the week.

``He backed it up,'' Whisenhunt said. ``He did a good job and it was going against a very good football player. I think you can see that in Patrick. We've talked about that at different times over the last two years, about his commitment to wanting to be great and how he works on the practice field, how he works in the classroom.''

While Campbell, Peterson and linebacker Daryl Washington are the young faces of the Arizona defense, the old-timer Wilson reached some rarified company when his late sack of Stafford made him only the sixth player in NFL history to have 25 career sacks and 25 interceptions.

After the game, Wilson's voice cracked as fought back tears while speaking of the achievement.

``Believe it or not, I'm a very emotional person and I put a lot of stock in what I do to play here and to give everything I have here,'' said the five-time Pro Bowl safety who took a pay cut to come back for his 12th season with Arizona. ``It feels good, and we won. A lot of the emotions that are coming out now are just thinking through the hard times and being where we're at now.''

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Second-half eruption leads Wizards to pivotal Game 4 win over Raptors

Second-half eruption leads Wizards to pivotal Game 4 win over Raptors

The Washington Wizards beat the Toronto Raptors 106-98 in Game 4 of their first round playoff series on Sunday night.

Here's analysis of what went down...

Brand New Series: After going down 0-2, most may have written the Wizards off knowing the near-insurmountable odds of coming back not only from that deficit but as an eight-seed going up against the best team in the Eastern Conference. It would have been understandable to doubt these Wizards who have for so much of this season allowed teams to bully them to an uncharacteristic degree.

With another win in Game 4, however, the Wizards have recalibrated this series.. Not only did the Wizards even things up, they ensured at least one more home game where they have now won eight straight in the postseason.

Controversial Foul Out: The Wizards were dealt a tough blow with 4:58 left as Bradley Beal picked up his sixth foul and was bounced from the game. 

Not only was Beal dominating with a team-high 31 points, but the sixth foul was very questionable. He made contact with DeMar DeRozan inadvertently and it is tough to see how he could have avoided it.

Here is the play:

That should simply not be called in that moment. It was a crucial development and both Beal and head coach Scott Brooks were understandably furious. If the Wizards had lost, that would have been a major reason why. There is no excuse for referees to impact a game like that.

Sluggish Start: Outside of John Wall (27 points, 14 assists, six rebounds) and Beal, who had 12 points and 11 points in the first half, the rest of the Wizards' team was slow-moving early on. The team shot just 34 percent in the first half, 16-for-47, and 1-for-7 from three. They even missed their free throws, going 7-for-13 in the first two quarters.

The Raptors did a good job putting pressure on the, but only Wall and Beal were able to break through. Otto Porter, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds, had one point in the first half. Markieff Morris (six points, five rebounds) had four points at the break.

Even Mike Scott, who has had a huge series, went scoreless in the first half. That was partly due to him getting in early foul trouble.

The Raptors were particularly good at stopping the Wizards in transition. Despite committing 11 turnovers in the first half, they won the fastbreak point advantage 17-4. That was a big point of emphasis coming out of Game 3 according to head coach Dwane Casey and his players followed the lead.

Big Third Quarter: The Wizards' offense was not held down for long as they came out of the gate on fire in the second half. Beal and Porter led the charge.

Porter erupted for 10 points in the frame. Beal got hot from three and scored 12. The only thing that stopped Beal was foul trouble, as he picked up his fourth personal with just under five minutes left in the quarter and later left with six.

The third quarter shooting numbers overall were impressive. The Wizards shot 15-for-23 (65.2%) from the field and 5-for-6 (83.3%) from three. That'll do.

The Wizards outscored the Raptors 40-29 in the third. It was their biggest postseason quarter since last year's Game 4 against the Celtics. That was when they went on an absured 26-0 run.

Hella Free Throws: Many people blamed the refs for the Wizards' loss in Game 1, though the numbers didn't back up that claim. If Wizards fans wanted to gripe about Game 4, they had a better case for a while in this one.

It was kind of ridiculous, especially early on. The Raptors shot 30 free throws in the game compared to 31 for the Wizards, so it evened out.  But Toronto shot 16 free throws in the first quarter alone and 12 of them were attempted by DeRozan. He is one of the best in the business at drawing fouls, but that a bit extreme.

DeRozan, in fact, finished the first quarter with nine points and all of them were at the free throw line. He was 0-for-5 from field goal range. 

When DeRozan is getting to the line, he can control games and early on that was the case in this one. He set a new playoff career high with 18 attempts and made 14 of them.

The refs called the game much tighter than they did previously in this series. Perhaps that was a response to the chippiness in Game 3.

Up Next: The series moves on to Toronto for Game 5 on Wednesday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington with pregame coverage beginning with Wizards HangTime at 6 p.m.

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John Wall puts 7-foot Jonas Valanciunas on a poster

John Wall puts 7-foot Jonas Valanciunas on a poster

WASHINGTON -- Things were not looking good for the Washington Wizards to start Game 4. Honestly, there were some flashes back to the team’s performance in the first two games of the series against the Toronto Raptors.

That all quickly changed when John Wall did what he does best: drive to the basket.

Not only did Wall drive to the basket, he went and put Raptors' center Jonas Valanciunas on a poster.

Valanciunas is a 7-foot Lithuanian.

We get it John, it’s your city and we’re all your residents.

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WIZARDS DOMINATED GAME 3 BECAUSE EVERYONE ATE... LITERALLY