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Saints defense shines in 41-0 win over Bucs

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Saints defense shines in 41-0 win over Bucs

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Jabari Greer made a leaping, twisting interception of Josh Freeman's short pass to the right flat, stalling a first-quarter drive deep into New Orleans Saints territory.

In the fourth quarter, Greer outran receiver Tiquan Underwood along the sideline to pick off Freeman's deep pass to the end zone.

In between, the rest of New Orleans' defense did about everything right to secure the franchise's first shutout in 17 years, while Drew Brees and the Saints' offense made their share of big plays in a 41-0 rout of the Tampa Bay on Sunday, eliminating the Buccaneers from playoff contention.

What was easily New Orleans' most complete performance of the season probably came too late, with the Saints (6-8) needing to win out and needing four teams to lose their last two games to sneak into the last NFC wild card spot. Yet, for Greer, playoff possibilities were beside the point.

``We are accountable to one another and no matter what situation we're in, we're going to band together,'' Greer said. ``We were going to play for the men in our locker room and the fleur-de-lis on our helmet, and that's what we did.''

New Orleans' defense produced five turnovers in all, four on interceptions of Freeman and one on defensive end Cameron Jordan's strip and recovery on his sack of Freeman.

The fans who stayed in the Superdome until the end got an additional moment to celebrate as the Saints stopped Tampa Bay one last time at the New Orleans 10, preserving the club's first shutout since a 12-0 win in the 1995 season finale against the Jets in New York.

The shutout meant a lot to a unit that came in ranked last in the league, in large part because of high yardage totals allowed early in the season while adjusting to the scheme of new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

``We've come a long way. Our defense the first four or five games was on pace to be one of the worst defenses ever,'' Saints linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. ``It's just good to finally get a game to where we can be like, `All right, defense. This is us. This is what we're really all about.'''

The Saints' offense also looked more like the unit that set a slew of records last season.

Brees passed for 307 yards and four touchdowns. He avoided an interception for the first time in three games and connected on his scoring passes with tight end David Thomas, running back Darren Sproles and receivers Lance Moore and Joe Morgan. Mark Ingram added an 11-yard touchdown run.

``Even though maybe that Super Bowl trophy can't be ours this year, we still have a lot to play for,'' Brees said. ``We have a very prideful group of guys, but also we have a group of guys that understand the big picture, and that is that we're going to be together for a long time and we can start building the foundation of something now that will carry over for years to come.''

Freeman by contrast, was pulled in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach.

``It's my job to make sure everybody is educated as to what the play is. I've got to do a better job,'' Freeman said. ``Some of those turnovers were really odd. Chalk it up to miscommunication.''

Rafael Bush intercepted a pass thrown directly at him at the New Orleans 9, returning it 40 yards to set up a Saints touchdown drive. Isa Abdul-Quddus intercepted a long pass that Freeman seemingly threw up for grabs.

New Orleans also bottled up standout rookie running back Doug Martin, holding him to 16 yards on nine carries as the Buccaneers lost for the fourth straight time and suffered by far their most lopsided drubbing this season.

``We got our butts whipped, and that's it,'' Bucs guard Donald Penn said . ``You can't sugarcoat it. We didn't perform today, and it's really tough and frustrating because we have so much talent.''

The Saints will still be alive for a playoff berth when they kick off at Dallas next Sunday, but will have to finish in a multi-team tie at 8-8, which would require several other teams to lose their last two games. While the Bucs could finish 8-8, they would lose all possible tiebreakers.

Brees had been intercepted nine times during New Orleans' recent three-game skid. That he would rebound well against Tampa Bay made sense; the Bucs came in giving up a league-worst 311.6 yards per game. Brees eclipsed 200 yards by halftime but eased off after his 34-yard touchdown to Morgan in the second half.

Brees finished with more than 300 yards passing and four TDs for the 17th time in his career, passing Dan Marino (16) for the most times in NFL history.

Ingram finished with 90 yards rushing and the Saints had their third-best total on the ground this season with 149 yards against a Tampa Bay rushing defense that came in first in the league, allowing 78.2 yards per game.

NOTES: The Saints had a halftime presentation for former left tackle Willie Roaf, who last summer became only the second Saints player inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Roaf was given the customary Hall of Fame ring as he stood behind his bronze bust, which will be returned to Canton. The only other Saints Hall of Famer is linebacker Rickey Jackson, inducted in 2010. ... The Bucs were shut out for the first time since Sept. 27, 2009, against the New York Giants.

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Capitals vs. Pengiuns Preview: Three keys to how this year could be different for the Caps

Capitals vs. Pengiuns Preview: Three keys to how this year could be different for the Caps

The Washington Capitals enter the 2018 NHL Playoffs Eastern Conference Second Round in a similar position. A Metro division championship in hand and a seven-game series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. But while this year appears the same, the Caps are hoping for a different outcome. Will they finally be able to beat their arch rival and reach the conference final?

Here are three keys that will determine if this year will be different for the Caps.

Capitals vs. Penguins Preview:

Key to Victory No. 1: Discipline:

In the Capitals' two victories over the Penguins this season, Washington did not give up a power play goal. No team had a better power play unit during the regular season than the Penguins and we already saw how much foolish penalties hurt the Caps in the first round. Washington took 24 penalties in six games against the Blue Jackets and that is far too many.

They cannot win that way against the Penguins.

The problem is that in the second round with a heated rival, tempers can flare a bit. Just look at the last time these two teams played when Malkin was shooting Oshie's stick off the ice and tried to fight Kuznetsov for speaking Russian to him. Still, the Caps are going to have to keep their emotions in check.

Key to Victory No. 2:  Getting the goaltending advantage: 

The scoring depth of Pittsburgh is unmatched. The fact that a team can have Crosby, Malkin and Kessel all on the same team in the salary cap era is mind-boggling. Oh, and by the way, Jake Guentzel scores every time he touches the puck in the playoffs. Washington cannot win this series if they do not get better goaltending than Pittsburgh.

The good news is that Murray was not lights out in the first round. Yes, he had two shutouts, but there were also three games in which he let in at least four goals. A .911 save percentage is not where the Penguins really need him to be. The bad news is that while Holtby is statistically one of the best playoff netminders in NHL history, he struggles against Pittsburgh. In last year's series, Holtby managed only a .887 save percentage and 2.57 GAA.

One thing to keep in mind, on April 1 Grubauer started a critical game in Pittsburgh and was phenomenal. Could Trotz possibly think of going back to Grubauer if Holtby struggles against the Penguins?

Keys to Victory No. 3: The Mind Games

 Let's face it, there is a mental aspect to the Capitals' postseason struggles. When it comes to beating Pittsburgh or getting past the second round, this has become a mental hurdle. They have to come into this series with confidence they can win and maintain that confidence throughout, regardless of whether they get down in a game or in the series, regardless of whether there is a bad penalty call, regardless of whether Murray stands on his head again, regardless of any of the struggles they may face, they have to stay mentally confident.

When the Caps went down 0-2 against Columbus, Ovechkin said that the series would return to Washington tied at 2. The way he said it, it wasn't a guarantee or some massive proclamation, it was a statement of fact. Both he and the rest of the team believed they were going to come back and win the series. They need that level of confidence against Pittsburgh as well.

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Dez Bryant turned down multi-year deal from Ravens, is banking on himself in 2018

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Dez Bryant turned down multi-year deal from Ravens, is banking on himself in 2018

If you want to sign Dez Bryant in 2018, it will have to be on a one-year deal.

The 29 year-old wide receiver turned down a multi-year offer from the Baltimore Ravens in hopes of finding a one-year deal that enables him to test the open market again in 2019, Ed Werder of The Doomsday Podcast first reported.

Bryant - who finished 2017 with 69 receptions, 838 yards and six touchdowns -  is predicating a bounce back season in 2018 with hopes of a big money, long-term contract in 2019.

The offer was similar to that of Michael Crabtree's three-year, $21 million deal, according to NFL Insider Ian Rapoport. The Ravens had to offer Bryant a multi-year deal in order to fit his number under the salary cap.

Since turning down their offer, the Ravens signed former Saints WR Willie Snead to a two-year, $10.4 million contract. 

Bryant will now have to wait until after the 2018 NFL Draft to work out a deal with an organization, if one is still searching for a wide receiver going in to the tail end of his career. 

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