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Saints LB Vilma wants to play more against Denver

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Saints LB Vilma wants to play more against Denver

METAIRIE, La. (AP) New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma hopes to play a bigger role on the Saints' defense in his second game of the season.

Playing for the first time while appealing his season-long suspension for his role in the New Orleans' bounty program, Vilma played 18 snaps last Sunday against Tampa Bay.

``I felt a little rusty, especially with the new defense, getting used to some of the new guys on the team and not being around them,'' he said. ``I didn't get a chance to practice in OTAs or training camp or preseason, so for me this is a crash course in everything - the new defense, the new guys, playing, getting into shape.''

The fact that he is playing at all is somewhat surprising.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him for the season in May. Even after he got a reprieve two days before the season opener against Washington when a three-man appeals panel vacated that suspension and asked Goodell to clarify the rationale, the Saints placed Vilma on the Physically Unable to Perform list due to a lingering left knee problem.

Goodell suspended him again on Oct. 9. Vilma declined Friday to talk about any bounty-related topics leading into his appeals hearing Tuesday with former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who will decide whether to uphold Goodell's ruling.

Vilma readily talked about his health and playing against the Broncos.

He said his knee, and his entire body, held up very well after the Tampa Bay game. He did not make a tackle but had one deflection and forced a near interception by pressuring Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman as New Orleans won its second in row, 35-28, after losing its first four.

``It's a great feeling,'' Vilma said. ``Aside from all the other stuff going on outside of football, it was just really good to get our second victory. We're starting to play a little bit better. We're definitely playing a lot harder with a lot more conviction, and it shows on the field.''

Vilma played almost exclusively in the nickel package and never at his accustomed middle linebacker spot. Curtis Lofton, the Saints' leading tackler, took over that role soon after he signed in March.

But just having Vilma on the field can help the Saints' struggling defense, which ranks last in the NFL in yards allowed.

``Leadership is something that you really can't coach and really can't fake,'' safety Malcolm Jenkins said. ``He's a great, natural-born leader, so whenever he steps out there his presence does bring a sense of leadership that you really can't get out of other people.''

For the first time since 2008, when the NFL allowed a defensive player on each team to wear a headset connected to a coach on the sideline, Vilma went without the earpiece against Tampa Bay. That did not stop him from dictating formations while he played.

``I don't have the headset, so that's different,'' Vilma said. ``But lining up the guys, making checks and all that, that never changes.''

The headset was the only part he did not enjoy about playing middle linebacker for former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

``I'm actually kind of relieved,'' Vilma said. ``Gregg used to tell me like a million things and wouldn't tell me the play, and then finally he'd tell me the play with like five seconds left. I'm in my own world now. I'm not in Gregg's world. I'm in my head.''

He will face one of the headiest NFL quarterbacks in Denver's Peyton Manning on Sunday. Because he is playing in the nickel, and because teams usually defend the Broncos' no-huddle offense in nickel formations, Vilma's play count should rise significantly.

The last time the Saints played Manning, they beat him and the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV. Saints interim coach Joe Vitt estimated this week Vilma called defensive audibles in that game about 45 percent of the time, matching wits with Manning.

Despite his rustiness, Vilma can't wait for another opportunity.

``I'm dead serious - unless they take me out, I'm staying in,'' he said. ``I'll find a way to make some plays.''

Notes: Vitt said tight end Jimmy Graham, who has a sprained right ankle, would be a game-time decision. Graham was limited in practice all week after missing the Tampa Bay game. Said Graham: ``I think I'm ready now, and hopefully they'll allow me to play.'' . Vitt labeled linebacker David Hawthorne a game-time decision, too. Hawthorne has missed three straight games after hurting his right hamstring against Kansas City.

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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.