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Saints' Sean Payton returns to work at Senior Bowl

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Saints' Sean Payton returns to work at Senior Bowl

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton likes to jot down to-do lists and notes on yellow pads.

Payton has had time to fill a nice stack of those this season. The Saints coach returned to work Wednesday following a nearly yearlong suspension for his role in the team's bounty program with some catching up to do.

The newly reinstated Payton watched the Senior Bowl practices and planned to meet later in the day with the staff to evaluate a defense that struggled during a 7-9 season and opened with four straight losses. Payton said there are plenty of challenges, from fixing the defense to replacing departed coaches and evaluating staff and players. Then, of course, there's getting ready for the draft and studying available free agents.

Payton said during a 45-minute meeting with reporters that he and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell agreed not to discuss specifics about whether there was an organized bounty system or of their 4-1/2-hour meeting on Monday.

``We're at a point where it's time for closure. It's time for us as a team, it's time for us as a league, to take this next step forward,'' Payton said.

Goodell lifted Payton's suspension Tuesday, nearly two weeks earlier than expected. Payton characterized his relationship with the commissioner as ``very good'' and said the discussion also ranged to topics like player safety, youth football and the NFL's current crop of quarterbacks.

He also said he feels that New Orleans fans will extend Goodell a ``gracious'' welcome during Super Bowl week despite any residual anger over the bounty saga.

The coach watched the Senior Bowl's North squad practice from the stands, chatting with assistant head coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis.

The NFL suspended Payton, Vitt, Loomis and four current or former Saints players, including linebacker Jonathan Vilma, after an investigation found the club had a performance pool offering cash rewards for key plays, including big hits. The player suspensions eventually were overturned.

Payton said he wasn't involved in the appeals process.

``I followed the process but I wasn't really privy to how those appeals went, how the meetings went, the specifics, and I'm still not,'' he said.

Payton said his situation was different because as head coach, ``it all falls under your umbrella.'' He said he wouldn't allow himself to get ``disappointed or upset, and I was just going to be patient to keep waiting and making sure I did everything the right way.''

Loomis was suspended for eight games, Vitt for six and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams remains suspended indefinitely

Payton said he has not spoken to Williams and ``I have no interest in talking to Gregg.''

He said he missed football ``quite a bit'' but that the hardest part was missing the daily interaction with colleagues like Loomis and Vitt and players like quarterback Drew Brees and defensive lineman Will Smith.

Brees said Wednesday from the Pro Bowl that he is excited to have Payton return. He said he texted briefly with the coach and they plan to talk more during Super Bowl week.

``That's just overtime,'' Brees said. ``It's not all going to happen in one sit-down.''

Saints guard Jahri Evans said he looked forward to catching up with Payton just to see how he's been doing. He called Payton ``a special guy'' for his play calling and coaching ability.

Evans expects the Saints will benefit from Payton's observations from afar during this season.

``I think he had a different view of the game and he's going to use that to his'' advantage, Evans said.

One advantage of the forced hiatus for Payton was getting to coach his son's youth league team for two practices and a game each week.

``We got to the Super Bowl but we lost that game,'' Payton said. ``I needed those players on that team probably more than they needed me.''

He has had quite a bit of success with big boy football, too.

Payton, who recently signed a five-year contract extension through 2017, has steered the franchise to its most successful period, including three NFC South division titles and four postseason appearances. Two of his teams advanced to the NFC Championship and the 2009 squad won Super Bowl XLIV.

He said the challenges of rebuilding after a losing season will be painful and that his comeback won't guarantee an immediate return to winning.

Payton said the Saints' struggles defensively and running the ball early in the season, along with problems with special teams at times, made it tough to win - with or without the bounty scandal.

Payton, citing advice from Bill Parcells, noted that his presence won't mean an automatic return to big success. It was the Saints first losing season since 2007

``Coach Parcells said to me that this mind-set that you're back and all of a sudden you're back to winning 11, 12, 13 games doesn't exist, because you very well could win five the next year,'' he said. ``He's right. We've got a lot of things we've got to correct to get to where we want to go. That's just the truth.''

He said he hadn't started talking to Loomis regarding any possible changes in the coaching staff . The rest of the staff conducted its evaluation of the offense on Tuesday.

Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer has left to become the Bears offensive coordinator.

Defensively, the Saints allowed 7,042 yards, the most ever in a season, under first-year coordinator Steve Spagnuolo but also improved enough to later record the club's first shutout in 17 years.

``This meeting we're going to have is going to be painful,'' Payton said. ``We've got a lot of tough meetings ahead. That's what 7-9 is. Those are our biggest challenges.''

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Associated Press Writer Oskar Garcia in Honolulu contributed to this report.

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John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference

John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference

In each of the first three games of the series, the Columbus Blue Jackets always had an answer for the Washington Capitals.

The Caps built a two-goal lead in each game and Columbus was able to battle back and tie it each time.

In Game 4 on Thursday, however. the Blue Jackets had no answer in a 4-1 loss to Washington and that includes head coach John Tortorella.

"We weren't good," Tortorella said to the media after the game. "There's no sense asking me things about the game. I'm telling you, we laid an egg. I'm not going to break it down for you. We sucked. We sucked."

Tortorella is known for having some fiery interactions with the media. By his standard, Thursday's postgame presser was fairly tame.

The Capitals may have won Game 3, but Columbus certainly looked like the better team for most of the night. That was not the case in Game 4 as Washington dominated from start to finish. That led to the contentious postgame presser.

"We laid an egg," Tortorella said. "That's all I have to say, guys. I'm sorry, I'm not going to break it down for you. Nothing went well for us. It's on us, we have to figure it out and we will."

Reporters continued to press the head coach until he finally walked out.

Before you laugh too hard at this, it is important to consider that this may be a calculated move by Tortorella.

Sure, there have been times in which he has lost his temper in the past, but these outbursts may be more premeditated than we think.

Consider this. After their worst game of the series, a game in which the Blue Jackets only scored once and saw a 2-0 series lead evaporate in two games at home, we're talking about the head coach. We're not talking about the loss or the performance of the players. Instead, we are talking about Tortorella walking out on reporters.

Even if Tortorella was not willing to give any answers on Thursday, he will need to find some soon. The series now shifts back to Washington for Game 5 on Saturday with all the momentum on the Caps' side.

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4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

The Caps put together their best performance of the series Thursday in a 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 4 of their 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round series.

The win pulled Washington even with Columbus in the series 2-2.

Here's how the Caps got the big win.

4 Reasons why the Capitals beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

1. Tom Wilson factors in the offense

Wilson’s hands are good for more than just punching.

He proved that again on Thursday as he scored the first goal for the second consecutive game. Chandler Stephenson and John Carlson provided the pressure on Sergei Bobrovsky. With Bobrovsky scrambling in the crease, Evgeny Kuznetsov passed the puck back to Wilson who fired the one-timer past the Columbus netminder.

In the first two games of the series, Wilson had no points and no shots. In the last two games, he has two goals and 13 shots on goal.

2. A great keep-in by John Carlson

We saw how dangerous it was when penalty killers fail to clear the puck in Game 1 when the Caps failed to clear in the third period leading to the game-tying power play goal.

In Game 4, the roles were reversed. Trying to kill off an Artemi Panarin penalty, Cam Atkinson attempted to clear the puck with the backhand. Carlson skillfully corralled the puck out of the air at the blue line to keep it in the zone.

The power play was able to reset and T.J. Oshie scored the rebound goal soon after.

3. Braden Holtby closes the door to finish the second period

After the Caps took the 2-0 lead, the Blue Jackets made a late push to try to pull one back.

In the last 10 minutes of the second period, Columbus had 13 shot attempts, five of which were not net. Several of those shots were high-quality opportunities, but Holtby came up with the big saves that the team was not getting earlier in the series.

His play ensured the Caps took the 2-0 lead to the locker room.

4. Alex Ovechkin extends the lead to three

Washington entered the third period up 2-0. In each of the first three games, the Caps held a two-goal lead and allowed the Blue Jackets to battle back and tie the score. Even with a two-goal lead, it still felt at the start of the third that the next goal would decide the game. If Columbus pulled within one and got the crowd back on their side, we have seen what that momentum can do for them.

This time, however, Ovechkin struck first. After a board battle behind the net, the puck trickled out to the faceoff circle. Ovechkin grabbed it and quickly snapped the puck past Bobrovsky before anyone could react.

The goal gave Washington their first three-goal lead of the series and shut the Blue Jackets’ comeback down before it could begin.

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