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Falcons savor NFL's last perfect record during bye

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Falcons savor NFL's last perfect record during bye

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Then there was one.

The Atlanta Falcons (6-0) woke up Monday as the NFL's last unbeaten team, the distinction all to themselves after Green Bay knocked off Houston the night before. They'll be able to savor their status, too, with a bye coming up and nothing on the schedule the rest of the week.

Coach Mike Smith broke with the way he's done things in previous years, deciding to give his players the entire week off rather than holding a couple of practices. Several dozen players came in to the training complex the day after a 23-20 victory over Oakland, but that was merely to get treatment and maybe look at a little film.

Otherwise, they're free to go.

See you next Monday.

``It's very important for us - the players and the coaches - to disconnect a little bit,'' Smith said.

The decision had nothing to do with the Falcons' glittering record. The coach graphed out this schedule back in April when he saw where the bye week fell, essentially right in the middle of the 20-week schedule (counting the four preseason games).

``I try to let the guys know well in advance what the schedule is going to be,'' Smith said. ``This is just the way we wanted to approach it this year. You don't get a whole lot out of those two practices during the bye week. It's like pulling teeth. It's like the last day before Christmas vacation.''

The Falcons are off to the best start in franchise history and already hold a commanding lead in the NFC South - 3 1/2 games ahead of Tampa Bay, 4 1/2 ahead of both defending division champion New Orleans and Carolina.

But Smith doesn't want his team thinking about loftier goals, such as home-field advantage throughout the playoffs or even winning the franchise's first Super Bowl championship, although being the last team to lose in any given season is often a good title omen.

There's still plenty of work to do, starting with the running game.

Atlanta has put much more emphasis on moving the ball through the air, wanting to take advantage of myriad weapons (quarterback Matt Ryan, tight end Tony Gonzalez, receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones). Nothing wrong with that decision, but spreading things out seems to have taken a toll on the once-dominant ground attack led by Michael Turner.

Also, the Falcons have struggled to prevent other teams from running, a double-whammy that Smith plans to address with his assistants even while the players are enjoying their down time.

``We've got to be consistent in everything we do,'' he said. ``We haven't run the ball consistently, and we're not stopping the run. Those two things stand out the most.''

The Falcons are averaging just 86.5 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 25th in the league, and they struggled in short-yardage situations against the Raiders. For instance, after John Abraham caused a fumble and Ray Edwards returned it to the Oakland 2, Atlanta was forced to settle for a field goal. After an incomplete pass, Turner was stopped short of the end zone and Jason Snelling was thrown for a 2-yard loss on third down, with the ball no more than a foot from the goal line.

Just as troubling, the Falcons surrendered 149 yards rushing to the Raiders, who came in averaging a league-worst 60.8 per game. Atlanta is surrendering 143.8 overall, a dismal 27th in the league rankings.

``We had a bunch of missed tackles - about twice as many as we expect in a normal game,'' Smith said. ``That lent itself to the explosive plays we saw from the Raiders. Most of the time in those situations, it's not great execution by the offense. The majority of time, it's missed assignments and missed tackles.''

One thing Smith isn't concerned about: winning three straight close games, by a total of 12 points, against teams that wouldn't be considered among the NFL elite.

The Falcons rallied to beat Carolina (1-4) on Matt Bryant's field goal with 5 seconds remaining, and needed another clutch kick from Bryant - a 55-yarder with 1 second left - to get by the Raiders (1-4). In between, Atlanta edged the Redskins (3-3) after knocking Robert Griffin III out of the game with a concussion.

Smith and his players aren't fretting over style points.

They only care about scoring more points.

``Bottom line, we just need to keep winning,'' said Ryan, who bounced back from three first-half interceptions against Oakland to complete five passes on the final drive of the game, setting up Bryant's field goal. ``Certainly we all have the mindset that we need improve, and we do. Everybody needs to take some time on the bye week and evaluate themselves, self-scout a little bit, and determine areas where we need to get better.''

But, he quickly added, ``At this point in the NFL regular season, it's all about getting wins. We've done a good job of that so far.''

The way things are going, the Falcons sort of hate to take a week off. Still, given what awaits them after the break - a trip to Philadelphia to face Michael Vick and the Eagles, followed by a prime-time game at home against the Dallas Cowboys - this is a good time to pause.

``We certainly wish we could keep playing, but a bye week is always good for a ballclub,'' White said. ``We're going to relax, get healthy and prepare for two tough weeks of football.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Game 60: Capitals vs. Lightning Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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USA TODAY Sports

Game 60: Capitals vs. Lightning Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Lightning will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Lightning game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

You can also stream the game online with no cable TV subscription on fuboTV (try for free!).

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING GAME?

The Capitals (34-18-7) take on the Lightning (39-17-3) Tuesday, February 20 at 7:00 p.m. ET in Washington.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING GAME ON?

The Capitals-Lightning game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 6:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 10:00 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11:00 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Capitals vs. Lightning
9:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:00 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING GAME?

Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Lightning game:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defensemen
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Madison Bowey

Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches: Alex Chiasson, Taylor Chorney

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING GAME?

The Capitals-Lightning game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

The game is also available to stream, along with all the pregame and postgame shows, on fuboTV (try for free).

CAPITALS-LIGHTNING OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

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Need to Know: Redskins' Junior Galette will be a valued free agent

Need to Know: Redskins' Junior Galette will be a valued free agent

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, February 20, 22 days before NFL free agency starts.

I’m out this week so I’ll be re-posting some of the best and most popular articles of the past few months. Some may have slightly dated information but the major points in the posts still stand. Thanks for reading, as always.

Galette to be a valued free agent

Originally published 12/13/17

Like the Redskins, the Broncos are no longer relevant in 2017. Both teams’ fan bases have started to look towards the coming offseason.

To give their readers what they want, the Denver Post published an article by Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus that discussed some of the top pending free agents who have done the most to increase their values in the past year. There were two Redskins named, one you would expect to see on such a list and one that might surprise some people.

Kirk Cousins is at the top of the list. “The Washington signal-caller is grading as a top-10 quarterback (82.8), and soon he’ll have the long-term contract of one,” Renner wrote. “Only this time its value will be exponentially higher than any one he would have signed back when he first became a free agent in 2016.”

But the surprising name is that of Junior Galette. After missing the last two seasons with two torn Achilles tendons, he played this year on a one-year, $800,000 deal. And while he hasn’t been on fire in the sack department with just two on the year, he has been getting pressure on the passer.

“He’s accumulated the 27th-highest pass-rushing grade of any edge defender this season, but in only 264 snaps,” wrote Renner. “At 29 years of age, it’s doubtful he ever gets back to the level of the contract that he once had on the table with New Orleans. With how he’s played this season though, some pass-rush-needy team will pay handsomely for his services.”

One team that could be considered to be pass rush needy is the Redskins. Preston Smith is the starter and supposedly one of the Redskins’ top pass rushers. But in 100 fewer pass rush snaps this year, Galette has only three fewer quarterback hits than Smith and six more hurries.

And after missing those two seasons, Galette has remained healthy. Although he was limited with a hamstring during much of the preseason, he has not missed a practice or appeared on an injury report this year.

But would the Redskins be willing to pay him “handsomely”? Perhaps a good comp would be Connor Barwin, who moved from the Eagles to the Rams this past offseason at the age of 31. He had five sacks in Philly in 2016. That got him a one-year deal worth $3.5 million.

Barwin likely will have more sacks on his ledger going into free agency so let’s say Galette could command around $3 million. Perhaps he could offer Washington a bit of a hometown discount and agree to something in the $2.75 million range. If that is the case, the Redskins would be smart to keep him around for another year.

Plenty of things could alter the equation. If Galette gets hot in the last three games and posts a few more sacks his price could rise. With Smith and Ryan Kerrigan both back next year, perhaps Galette will want to go somewhere that he might get more playing time.

The details need to be sorted out but don’t be surprised if Galette gets a lot of attention in free agency, as much as teams need pass rush, and if the Redskins have to make a very tough decision about how much he is worth.

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.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 9
—NFL Draft (4/26) 65
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 201