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Superhero Brees looks to save Saints season

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Superhero Brees looks to save Saints season

METAIRIE, La. (AP) Drew Brees dressed as Iron Man for Halloween.

He may have to play like a superhero to save the season for New Orleans.

With the Saints (2-5) hindered by a historically poor defense and nonexistent running game, all eyes are on Brees to find some way to turn things around, beginning with Monday night's game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

``I have high standards and expectations for myself,'' Brees said. ``To me, it's about what can I do to make the plays to win the game, lead my guys, (and) instill confidence in them. That's my job.''

A year ago, Brees set an NFL record for yards passing (5,476) and guided the Saints to a 13-3 mark, tying the franchise record for wins. After some contentious negotiations, he agreed to a five-year, $100-million contract that provided the largest amount of guaranteed money ($60 million) in NFL history.

Brees is certainly earning his money, ranking second in yards passing (2,310) with 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions. But he's essentially been a one-man show, carrying a franchise rocked by a bounty scandal that led to a one-year suspension for coach Sean Payton and the banishment of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Without Williams making the calls, the New Orleans defense has become the first since at least 1950 to give up more than 400 yards in seven straight games and is on pace to surrender an NFL-record total. Without Payton guiding the offense, the running game ranks last in the league.

Last week, the Saints got a striking reminder of just how much they've come to rely on Brees.

Having bounded back from an 0-4 start with two straight wins, New Orleans traveled to Denver to face Peyton Manning and the Broncos in a prime-time showdown. Brees completed just 22 of 42 for 213 yards - his lowest total since the final game of the 2010 season - and the Saints were blown out, 34-14.

Naturally, Brees must resist the urge to do more than he can.

``I'm sure that along the way we've all done a little bit of that,'' he said. ``It's human nature. It's natural to feel like there is a piece missing or certain pieces missing that you would need to do more or extra. That might add pressure.''

But Brees' teammates insist they've noticed no change in his routine, which has provided a level of comfort during the tough times.

``His consistency is his most impressive attribute,'' offensive tackle Zach Strief said. ``The consistency in his preparation and the way he prepares, in his schedule every week, is identical. That is the same in good times and bad times. That is very comforting to an offensive player to know a guy that is leading the group doesn't have hills and valleys. That's very important.''

In fact, Strief said it's hard to tell much difference in Brees from one season to the next.

``It would been very easy for him last year,'' the lineman said, ``to say, `Ah, I know it now. I'm good.' He's not that guy in those times. He's not that guy in these times. He's got a schedule he believes in and a consistency about him. A lot of guys feed off that, because you know what you're going to get out of him.''

Brees is a near-mythical figure in the Big Easy, where he will always be revered for signing with the Saints just a few months after Hurricane Katrina, for putting down roots in the battered city, for guiding New Orleans to its first Super Bowl championship during the 2009 season.

He's been accepted by the locals as one of their own, and Brees reciprocates through his extensive charitable work and willingness to open up about his personal life. On Halloween, he tweeted a picture wearing his Iron Man costume before he went out trick-or-treating with his young son Baylen and wife Brittany (who was dressed as a princess).

``First of all, I do not pick my Halloween costumes,'' Brees said with a smile. ``Baylen is old enough now that he can tell me what I'm going to wear for Halloween, so he was going as little Iron Man and I was going to be daddy Iron Man.''

So, why was Baylen wearing pajamas in the picture?

``Unfortunately, at the last second, he did not want to put on his Iron Man costume,'' Brees said. ``He decided to go with pajamas instead, so he rolled in pajamas and bare feet with his Koala bear stuffed animal, trick-or-treating until he ate the first or second piece of candy, got on a quick sugar high, and then we couldn't keep up with him.''

Now, Brees must pull off a pretty slick trick of his own: Save the Saints.

``It's really one of those weeks that says, `How are you going to respond?''' he said. ``Last week was extremely disappointing, the result of the game and our overall performance as a team. We just did not play up to our standard, certainly with the hype going into that game. We were all hurt by it.

``But,'' he added, ``it also lights a fire within all of us that we don't want that to be the lasting memory that people have of our team. We're better than that and we need to show them on Monday night.''

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Bradley Beal's phantom foul and the Wizards' most important rally of the season

Bradley Beal's phantom foul and the Wizards' most important rally of the season

After calling an inconsistent game throughout the night, the referees made a decision with five minutes to go in Game 4 that nearly altered the entire series between the Wizards and Raptors.

DeMar DeRozan was chasing a rebound on the baseline and ran into Bradley Beal. Beal, who had a team-high 31 points, was levied a sixth and final foul with the score tied. 

Beal had unloaded for 20 points in 12 minutes in the second half, but now the Wizards would have to close it out without their All-Star shooting guard. Somehow, they were able to seal the win and tie the series.

Beal heard the whistle as he laid on the ground. He immediately hopped up and unleashed a tantrum that nobody could blame him for.

He jumped up and down, screaming at the referees, who had just called by all accounts a questionable foul and in a key moment of a playoff game.

Both Beal and head coach Scott Brooks were incensed and with good reason.

“I was beyond emotional, beyond mad, frustrated," Beal said. "I honestly thought they were going to kick me out of the game I was so mad, but I was happy they didn’t do that."

Beal is probably lucky the referees didn't take offense to his reaction because it continued when he was on the bench. He walked past his teammates and leaned over with his hands on his knees, still furious. Then he returned to the sideline to yell at the refs. Center Ian Mahinmi helped convince him to step back and cool off.

Beal has made a major difference in this series. He averaged 14.0 points in the first two games, both losses. He has averaged 29.5 points in Games 3 and 4, two Wizards wins.

Getting him out of the game was a major break for the Raptors, but they couldn't take advantage. The Wizards closed the final five minutes on a 14-6 tear. John Wall stepped up to lead the charge with eight of those points.

The Wizards still had one star on the court and he played like one.

“Just go in attack mode," Wall said. "When Brad went out, I knew I had to do whatever it took... I just wanted to do whatever, so that we could advance to Game 5, tied 2-2.”

Once Beal composed himself, his confidence grew in his teammates. He and Wall feel comfortable playing without each other because they have done so often throughout their careers.

This year, Wall missed 41 games due to a left knee injury. Two years ago, Beal missed 27 games. Early on in his career, he had trouble staying healthy. Now he is an iron man who played in all 82 games during the 2017-18 regular season.

Beal has grown accustomed to being on the floor a lot, but he realized he can still affect the game from the sidelines.

"I just gathered my emotions, gathered my thoughts and told my team we were going to win, regardless. I knew if we still had John [Wall] in the game I loved our chances," Beal said. "Face the adversity that I had to overcome, just gather myself and be a leader, being vocal and keeping everyone encouraged in the game.”

Wall and others did the heavy lifting in the end. The Wizards used Kelly Oubre, Jr. as the shooting guard with Beal out and he made key plays down the stretch, including a steal on Kyle Lowry in the closing seconds.

The Wizards were thrown a significant curveball and they overcame it to put themselves in good position now having won two straight.

“You have to have resolve to win in this league," Brooks said. "You win playoff games and you win playoff series with having that. We have that, and we have to continue to have that because we have to win two more games and one of them has to be on the road."

When it comes to the officiating, the Wizards deserve credit for their resilience and restraint early in Game 4. The Raptors had 16 free throws in the first quarter compared to the Wizards' four. Washington perservered and ended up with more free throws (31) than the Raptors (30) did for the game.

In Game 1, the Wizards appeared to be affected by a lack of foul calls. That came was called loosely by the referees, while this one was officiated tightly. Though Beal went off, the Wizards for the most part stayed the course and were rewarded for it.

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The Wizards supplied all the highlights and fireworks; 5 must-see moments from Game 4

The Wizards supplied all the highlights and fireworks; 5 must-see moments from Game 4

WASHINGTON -- As the home team in a dire situation you have to take advantage, and that is exactly what the Washington Wizards did in their 106-98 win over the Toronto Raptors.

Highlight reel play after highlight reel play, the Wizards ignited the crowd with some of their best plays from the entire season to make it 2-2 in the series. Here are just a few of them:

1. John Wall collects posters in the first half

The first one was perhaps the best. Everything was going wrong for the Wizards, poor turnovers, bad shots, a three from Toronto. Then John Wall had enough. Not only did he fly past his defender Kyle Lowry, but he went up and slammed one home past the 7-foot Jonas Valanciunas. Up until that point, the Wizards were shooting 1-for-7.

Rinse and repeat, except this time Jakob Poeltl was Wall’s victim.

2. Wall to Beal alley-oop in transition

With the Wizards’ offense faltering, the Raptors remained on the verge of blowing the game open throughout the second quarter. But with a steal from Otto Porter Jr., Wall hung up the ball for Bradley Beal to slam home. The alley-oop kept the Wizards within single digits in the second with an uninspiring offensive effort.

3. Otto Porter breaks out of the half

A subdued offensive start to the game was due in part to the production from Porter. In the first half he went 0-for-4 with one point in nearly 17 minutes of action.

Throw that away in the second half. He broke out of halftime with back-to-back threes and 10 of the Wizards’ 26 in a monster 26-14 run to take the lead back in the third.

He finished the quarter with 10 points, an assist, and two blocks.

4. The Polish Hammer throwing it home

Are you convinced yet that Marcin Gortat’s new haircut is doing him some good? Gortat squeezed through two Raptors’ defenders, threw it down, gave a Goliath-type roar to the crowd before officially bringing the hammer down. 

5. Beal being called for his sixth foul of the game

Agree with the call or not, there is no denying that Beal’s removal from the game lit a fire underneath the Wizards. From that point Washington went on a 14-6 scoring run to end the game, closing out for the win.

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