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Rookie RT Harris braces for elite 49ers defense

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Rookie RT Harris braces for elite 49ers defense

METAIRIE, La. (AP) Saints rookie right tackle Bryce Harris is so grateful to have a chance to play in the NFL he isn't about to complain about the timing of his first career start, which is likely to come this Sunday against a San Francisco defense featuring some of the best pass-rushers in the NFL.

``I'm just glad to have the opportunity to start,'' Harris said following practice Thursday. ``I'm lucky for all this to happen to me. I've just got to take advantage of my opportunities.''

Harris entered the NFL with Atlanta as an undrafted rookie out of Fresno State and made the Falcons' practice squad before being signed to New Orleans' active roster in early September. Harris did not play a down until being pressed into service last week at Oakland, after Charles Brown went down with a right knee injury. Brown had been playing in place of injured starter Zach Strief, who has been sidelined since Nov. 5, when he injured his left groin during a victory over Philadelphia.

``It was nerve racking, obviously. Not warmed at all,'' Harris recalled of his unplanned debut in Oakland. ``My head was just racing.''

The Saints went on to win 38-17, and although Harris was beaten a few times after he first went in, he seemed to settle into his role as the game wore on.

``Bryce did a good job last week,'' said Strief, who returned to practice on a limited basis this week. ``Obviously, he gets tossed into the fire in the middle of a two-minute drill. That's less than ideal. I feel his pain. I've been in this situation before. It's not easy physically. It's not easy mentally, especially as your first reps in a live game.''

Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt said Thursday that Strief looked good in practice and appears to be ahead of schedule, but he stopped short of saying whether the veteran starter would be ready to play by Sunday.

For now, all signs point to Harris making his first start against the 49ers, whose lineup features defensive stars such as linebackers Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith.

The 49ers allow an NFL-low 13.4 points per game. They have allowed 277.2 yards per game, which ranks second in the league. Aldon Smith has 15 sacks this season. Defensive end Justin Smith and linebacker Ahmad Brooks are also top play-makers on one of the league's best defenses.

Harris said he doubts the 49ers would change to their already successful defensive scheme just to challenge him, but he expects San Francisco to try to test him early, one way or another.

``I'm sure the first play Brooks is going to come off full blast and try to knock me out and just try to put that intimidation into me,'' Harris said. ``I'm expecting it and I'm just going to handle it accordingly.''

Harris said that if he does start, he will be glad he had last week's experience, along with a full week of practice with the first team. Coaches have also noted that there are ways to help inexperience tackles by having running backs and tight ends deliver more ``chip'' blocks.

``Last week let me get all the nerves out so I don't feel nervous,'' Harris said. ``This week I got all the reps with the first-team. So I got what (the 49ers are) going to do defensively.''

Harris noted that Strief has been tutoring him and that playing alongside right guard Jahri Evans, and All-Pro last season, helps as well.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees said he thought Harris looked ``very calm and comfortable'' for a player seeing his first NFL action. Strief echoed those comments.

``He's a really good athlete, strong player,'' Strief said. ``He has picked our stuff up extremely well. We have a lot of nuances in our technique and he's really on top of that stuff. ... You see so much improvement week to week and he's a good player. He's a guy I think all of us have plenty of faith in.

Notes: CBs Corey White (right knee) and Elbert Mack (concussion) missed their second day of practice this week, meaning the Saints might have only three healthy cornerbacks Sunday: starters Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson, and cornerback Johnny Patrick. Vitt said Malcolm Jenkins, who was drafted as a cornerback before moving to safety in 2010, could step in as a cornerback if necessary. ... Also not practicing were defensive end Junior Galette (left ankle) and linebacker Ramon Humber (illness). RB Darren Sproles (left hand), who has missed the last three games, practiced fully.

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

You may think this was an ugly four-game road trip for the Caps, but with a 3-2 win in Buffalo on Monday, Washington managed to earn five out of a possible eight points.

Here is why the Caps beat the Sabres and managed to save the road swing.

A missed high-stick (maybe) from Ovechkin

Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game in the second period as he deflected a high-shot from Christian Djoos down past goalie Chad Johnson. But did the deflection come on a high stick? The play was reviewed and the goal was ultimately upheld. According to the NHL, it was determined that "video review supported the Referee's call on the ice that Alex Ovechkin's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he tipped the puck into the Buffalo net."

NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May broke the play down during the second intermission and made his case for why the NHL actually got the call wrong.

Was that a high stick? I don't know. As compelling an argument as May made, it still looks inconclusive which means the review made the right call. What surprises me is that the referee did not disallow the goal on the initial call.

Whether the review is truly inconclusive or flat out wrong, Washington was fortunate to walk away from this sequence with the goal.

MORE CAPITALS: BIZARRE SEQUENCE LEADS TO CAPS SCORING AND GETTING PENALIZED AT THE SAME TIME

A centimeter of ice

Hockey is a game of inches and it took less than an inch to put Washington up 2-0. When an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot hit off the boards and bounced back to the front of the net, it sparked a scrum next to goalie Chad Johnson. Eventually, John Carlson was able to get a swipe on the puck sending it trickling to the goal line, but Kyle Okposo was there waiting and appeared to kick it out to safety just before it crossed. A review triggered by the Situation Room, however, revealed that the puck had just barely managed to cross the goal line before Okposo got to it.

Here's the view the NHL released after the review:

Philipp Grubauer's third period

After dominating the first 40 minutes of the game and taking a 2-0 lead, Buffalo predictably made a late push in the third period with two goals to pull within one. Washington outshot the Sabres in the first and second periods, but Buffalo reversed that trend in a big way in the third as they outshot the Caps 17-6. Grubauer turned aside 15 of those shots and was impressive after barely being tested in the first two periods.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-SABRE

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3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson.

Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's first two goals. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.