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Smith: Falcons not satisfied with 1 playoff win

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Smith: Falcons not satisfied with 1 playoff win

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) A slip of the tongue gave away Atlanta coach Mike Smith's focus.

Smith was just starting his review Monday of the Falcons' 30-28 win over the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC divisional playoffs when it became clear his thoughts were on this week's NFC championship game against the San Francisco 49ers.

``We knew the San Francisco Forty ... excuse me, the Seattle Seahawks, were a very good football team and they showed a lot of resiliency,'' Smith said before smiling after catching his verbal miscue.

``We were very fortunate to make the plays there at the end of the game and get the win,'' he said.

The win over Seattle Sunday was the first for Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan in four postseason games with Atlanta. There was much talk after the game that the long-awaited first playoff win was the most important for the Falcons and would allow Ryan and other players to relax.

Smith shot down both theories.

``I don't think we'll be able to play looser,'' Smith said. ``I think we've got to get back into our preparation mode. I know many people have talked about the outcome and what does it mean to the Atlanta Falcons. It means we have an opportunity to play again and in the playoffs you want to keep playing. I think our guys understand the challenge this week is going to be big.''

The Falcons are the top seed in the NFC playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Atlanta lost at home to Green Bay as the top seed following the 2010 regular season and then lost in the first round at the New York Giants last year.

Ryan and the Falcons built leads of 20-0 and 27-7 against Seattle before falling behind 28-27 with 31 seconds remaining. Then Ryan completed passes to Harry Douglas, for 22 yards, and Tony Gonzalez, for 19 yards, to set up Matt Bryant's go-ahead 49-yard field goal with 13 seconds remaining.

Smith said it was a ``fun'' win for the team and the city of Atlanta, but he said it didn't mean the Falcons have realized their goals.

``Our goals and our expectations are a lot higher than just winning one playoff game,'' he said.

The Falcons will be home again for Sunday's NFC championship game as they look to advance to the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history. The 1998 season ended with a Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos.

Ryan and some of his teammates acknowledged they are glad there will be no more questions about not winning a postseason game.

``But at the same time, our goal is not to win one playoff game,'' Ryan said. ``Our goal isn't to stop answering that question.

``Our goals are still in front of us. We still have two more games to go. That's the mind-set I have. That's the mind-set this team has.''

Asked if the monkey is off the team's back, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said ``maybe a little bit'' before also saying the team had bigger goals.

``The outsiders said we can't win in the playoffs, now they have to come up with other things to say,'' Weatherspoon said. ``Our goal is to get the next win and then the next one after that.''

Smith said he didn't sleep well Sunday night, but not because of a big celebration.

``No, not celebrating,'' he said. ``For everybody involved, that was a fun football game and it's hard to unwind from fun football games. I think for everybody at least here in Atlanta it certainly was. Then I got going this morning on San Francisco.''

There may be little sleep for Smith's defensive coaches this week as the Falcons prepare a plan to contain 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick passed for 263 yards and rushed for 181 yards - a playoff record for a quarterback - in San Francisco's 45-31 win over Green Bay on Saturday.

The Falcons couldn't stop Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, who had seven carries for 60 yards and a touchdown while passing for 385 yards and two touchdowns.

Smith said the 6-foot-5 Kaepernick is ``probably between Russell'' and Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who also had success against the Falcons this season.

Newton ran for 116 yards, including a 72-yard touchdown run, while passing for 287 yards and two touchdowns in the Panthers' 30-20 home win over the Falcons on Dec. 9. Newton ran for 87 yards with a touchdown and passed for 215 yards with two touchdowns in the Falcons' 30-28 win over Carolina on Sept. 30.

Wilson had only 26 yards rushing in the first half as the Seahawks were held scoreless. The rookie quarterback gained momentum after Falcons defensive end John Abraham aggravated his left ankle injury midway through the second quarter. Abraham did not play in the second half.

Smith said he expects Abraham to be back in practice ``before the end of the week.''

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Trade to Caps potentially offers Jerabek what he never got in Montreal

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USA TODAY Sports

Trade to Caps potentially offers Jerabek what he never got in Montreal

Defenseman Jakub Jerabek is really happy about the opportunity to play with the Washington Capitals, but it could have come at a better time. The trade came with his parents already on their way from the Czech Republic to visit him.

“It was crazy days past three days because I had my parents on the way to Montreal and they didn't know so it was a big surprise for them,” Jerabek told reporters Saturday after his first skate with the team.

A native of the Czech Republic, Jerabek signed his first NHL contract with the Montreal Canadiens in May 2017. After spending some time in the AHL and struggling to consistently earn a spot in the Canadiens’ lineup, he knew a trade was possible.

“My family, maybe we expected some trade. When its come with Caps and it was Washington, I was really happy.”

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Jerabek said he came into the NHL with no expectations and was simply happy for the opportunity, but it is fair to wonder if he was not just the least bit frustrated with how he was utilized by Montreal.

For a player with experience playing for the national team, the Czech league and the KHL, getting only 25 games with a bad Montreal team seems a bit low.

“In first two weeks, I didn't know what's going on because the coaches just told me that I played well, but we just make some competition between the [defensemen] and that I have to wait for my next chance,” Jerabek said. “It was hard, but now I'm happy down here.”

Washington now offers a very different opportunity. In need of help on the blue line, Jeraebek has the chance to earn consistent playing time for a team on pace to reach the postseason.

Jerabek will not play in Saturday’s game against Buffalo, but he was hopeful he would be in the lineup for Monday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

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For now, Jerabek and head coach Barry Trotz are unclear as to what his ultimate role on the team will be. With eight defensemen now on the roster, Trotz cautioned any lineup decision could not be rushed because of the trickle-down effect it will have on the other players.

“You always look at chemistry and all that with your group depending how high that player goes up the lineup, it affects different people,” Trotz said. “In a forward group, if you get a guy that you all of a sudden stick on the first line, there's four other guys that are bumped down and one guy's bumped out.”

The addition of Jerabek, however, offers the Caps another defenseman who can quickly move the puck out of the defensive zone, something the team has struggled with immensely throughout the season. Though he shoots left, he also said he is comfortable playing on the right said and has played there regularly over the past few years. That provides the lineup with some flexibility on the third pair behind Matt Niskanen and John Carlson.

As for Jerabek’s parents, they will be arriving in Washington on Saturday.

“I tried to figure out the situation with them to get them to here and they will come today,” he said. “So I'm really happy.”

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Warriors will visit D.C. kids instead of White House when they play Wizards

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Warriors will visit D.C. kids instead of White House when they play Wizards

Instead of visiting the White House when they come to Washington this week to play the Wizards, the defending-champion Golden State Warriors plan to hold an event with D.C.-area kids.

Their invitation was rescinded by president Donald Trump following a back-and-forth between the two sides last year. After the Warriors won the title, they openly questioned whether they should follow the tradition given many of the players and coaches disagree with his policies. Trump took the opportunity away before they came to a final decision.

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The Warriors' event will be closed off to the media and held at an undisclosed location. It is set for Tuesday, the day before they play the Wizards at Capital One Arena. The Warriors had the option of holding a ceremony with other politicians in the Democratic party, but decided that would send the wrong message. 

"It's their championship. They got disinvited to the White House, so it's up to them what they wanted to do. So they made their plans," coach Steve Kerr said. "I want the players to have a good day and to do something positive and to enjoy what they're doing."

The Warriors are the first NBA team to make this choice since Trump was elected president. Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers held their celebration with president Barack Obama in November. They did so just days after Trump was elected and LeBron James questioned at the time whether he would visit the White House with Trump in office.

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Sports teams visiting the White House goes back to the mid-1800s. The first World Series title team to visit was the 1924 Washington Senators. By the 1960s, NBA teams were going and by the 1980s NFL and NHL teams made it a tradition.

Entire teams snubbing the White House is unusual, but many players have turned down the opportunity. In the NBA, some famous cases include Larry Bird in 1984 and Michael Jordan in 1991, according to Rolling Stone.

Perhaps the Warriors start a trend, or maybe it will be a one-off thing. Regardless, the alternative they chose is a respectable one. 

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