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Smith wants Falcons to clean up inconsistencies

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Smith wants Falcons to clean up inconsistencies

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Leading the NFC with a 10-1 record isn't nearly enough to satisfy Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith.

His team is playing too many close games and still making too many mistakes for Smith to say that Atlanta is one of the NFL's few elite teams.

He will only say that if the Falcons keep winning, they will put themselves in position to earn a top playoff seed.

Tight end Tony Gonzalez, the NFL's No. 2 career-leading receiver, agrees with his coach. Atlanta just escaped with a 24-23 victory at Tampa Bay, which had won four straight and five of six, but Gonzalez knows the Falcons still have plenty to prove.

``Everyone was saying they were the hottest team in the NFC South, and they probably were,'' Gonzalez said. ``To be honest, we could have played a little better, but when you win close games like that, it's only a positive.''

With just three days to prepare for Thursday night's home game against New Orleans, the Falcons want to clean up inconsistencies in the running game, red-zone offense and pass rush.

The Saints (5-6) are coming off a 10-point home loss to San Francisco, but Atlanta has lost 11 of its last 13 matchups against New Orleans and quarterback Drew Brees.

Not only did the Falcons suffer their first loss of the season three weeks ago at the Superdome; they did so by turning the ball over on downs late in the game from inside the 5-yard line. Atlanta also was forced to settle for two field goals in the red zone

Running back Michael Turner was held to 15 yards rushing on 13 carries while New Orleans' Chris Ivory gained 10 more yards on his 56-yard touchdown than the Falcons managed all day.

Since that loss, Atlanta has managed to squeak past Arizona despite five interceptions by quarterback Matt Ryan. With two more Ryan turnovers at Tampa Bay, the Falcons are now minus-7 in turnover margin the last two games.

But they have two wins to show for it.

Against the Buccaneers, Atlanta held powerful rookie running back Doug Martin to a season-low 2.4 yards per carry. Ryan and Julio Jones connected for an 80-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter that wiped away Tampa Bay's second lead of the afternoon.

Michael Turner's 3-yard TD run midway through the fourth quarter gave Atlanta the game's final lead, and Ryan's smart clock management consumed all but 8 seconds of the final 3:22 and all but secured the victory.

Though the last possession sputtered when Matt Bryant missed his second straight field-goal try - this one a 48-yarder - of the game, the Falcons still did enough right to sneak out of Tampa Bay with a big win.

A critical third-down pass from Ryan to Roddy White covered 8 yards and moved the chains to the Tampa Bay 37. One play later, the Bucs were forced to use their final timeout.

``We feel really good where we are at,'' White said. ``We've got a game coming up against the Saints on Thursday night and that's going to be a big one for us in the division. So we've got to move past this one and move on and get ready for the next game.''

Atlanta's declining turnover margin - the Falcons have created just two takeaways in their last five games - needs attention, too.

But Gonzalez believes that the Falcons will follow Smith's lead and focus more on what they need to correct rather than what they've done well.

``It doesn't matter what your record is,'' Gonzalez said. ``You just want to be playing some good football come playoff time and right now we've got to hopefully put something together and try to get that home field advantage.''

Notes: After a walkthrough Monday night, Smith said that CB Asante Samuel (right shoulder) and DT Peria Jerry (quadriceps) would not have participated in a live practice. Players who would have been limited in participation included LB Sean Weatherspoon, LB Stephen Nicholas, DT Vance Walker, LT Sam Baker and WR Harry Douglas.

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How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

The Capitals found themselves in deep trouble on Saturday.

Game 5 at Capital One Arena provided Washington a golden opportunity to take a 3-2 lead in their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. A loss -- another home loss -- would have been a devastating blow.

After battling back from a 2-0 series deficit, to lose in Washington would mean facing elimination in Columbus. Game 5 was the game the Caps needed and it would have slipped away from them if not for Nicklas Backstrom.

The Caps’ most underrated superstar -- the one who is constantly overshadowed by the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby -- took center stage on Saturday as he tipped a Dmitry Orlov shot past Sergei Bobrovsky at 11:53 of overtime to seal the victory for Washington.

“It was just a good shot from [Orlov],” Backstrom said after the game. “I thought before he had a chance to block it, and I got a tip on it, and it’s usually what happens in the playoffs. Tip goals or rebound goals. That’s the way it is. It was nice.”

Backstrom’s overtime goal capped off a three-point night for the veteran center, who also scored in the first period and assisted on a goal from T.J. Oshie.

The team ended up needing every one of his points.

From the start, Columbus outplayed Washington. With the series tied 2-2, a best-of-three mentality took over and the Blue Jackets pushed hard for the pivotal Game 5 win.

It is in those very moments that team needs its superstar players to step up. In Game 3, it was Holtby who stole the show to help Washington steal a win in Columbus.

On Saturday, it was Backstrom.

Columbus converted a shorthanded goal to seize a 1-0 lead in what was shaping up to be a dominant first period. A fluke goal from Backstrom, however, made sure the score was knotted up, 1-1, after the opening frame.

With the puck behind the goal line, Backstrom tried to slip a pass through the crease. Bobrovsky got a piece of the puck with his stick, but the amount of spin on the pass forced the puck to carom off the stick, off the back of Bobrovsky himself, and into the net.

“I was trying to make a pass,” Backstrom said. “Honestly, got lucky. I don’t know who came back-door there but I was trying for him. I’ll take it.”

After a back and forth game, the Blue Jackets came out swinging to start the third. Down 3-2, Columbus tied the game just 2:30 in and made a real push to win the game in regulation. Washington was outshot 16-1 in the third and looked like they had no push at all.

But the Caps looked like a different team when they took the ice for the extra frame. What happened in between periods?

“As I was leaving the room after the period, I could hear guys, the right guys, all saying the right things,” head coach Barry Trotz said.

When later asked if one of those guys was Backstrom, Trotz said, “Absolutely. He's one of the leaders on our team. They were all talking about let's make sure we're doing the right things. There's a lot of pride, lot of good leadership in that room.”

Whatever Backstrom and the other leaders said did the trick. Washington made a strong push in overtime leading to Backstrom’s game-winning goal.

This isn’t the first time Backstrom has delivered. Saturday’s overtime tally is the fourth of his career. That’s the most in franchise history and tied for fifth in NHL history.

Through his efforts on the ice, the Caps were able to erase a bad first period and steal the win in overtime. But it also took a big effort off the ice to get the job done.

“If you just look at the scoresheet, that doesn't say enough of about Nick Backstrom, his contribution from in the dressing room to on the ice to key moments to key faceoffs,” Trotz said.

“I've been on his soapbox about how complete a player he is and I never really worry about Nick Backstrom. He's got enough games under his belt, he's got enough stats to back it up and he's played huge minutes and he's one of our leaders. He's a tremendous hockey player.”

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John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

After losing Game 1 and Game 2 at home, Alex Ovechkin declared "It’s going to be fun when we bounce back and going to tie the series and come back here and play Game 5 at home.”

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella seems to be taking a similar tactic.

The Capitals won Game 5 in overtime on Saturday in a game that could prove to be emotionally draining for the Blue Jackets in a number of ways.

  • It was Washington's third straight win
  • Columbus was the better team for the majority of the game, but still took the loss
  • The Blue Jackets now face elimination despite holding a 2-0 series lead to start and losing only once in regulation

Tortorella has become famous for his fiery postgame press conferences in the past, including abruptly walking out after Game 4's presser when he declared "We sucked" to the media.

Saturday's was another fun one.

In a presser that lasted less than two minutes, Tortorella twice said, "We'll be back here for Game 7."

After such a draining game, Tortorella was asked how he would get them ready for what is sure to be an emotionally charged Game 6.

"I won't have to say a damn word to them," Tortorella said. "No. We'll be back here for Game 7."

The Blue Jackets will have to win Game 6 in Columbus to make that happen.

Barry Trotz was asked for his reaction after Tortorella's comments.

"What else are you going to say? That's good. He wants to get it out there, he believes in his team just as I believe in my team. It's our job for that not to happen."

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