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8-0 Falcons try to play down talk of perfection

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8-0 Falcons try to play down talk of perfection

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Todd McClure can tell this is becoming a special season for the Atlanta Falcons, just from all the extra time he's spending on the phone.

He's getting hit up for tickets. And extra tickets. And anything with a signature on it.

``I guess it comes with the territory,'' the Falcons' longtime center said Wednesday, ``so I'm embracing it.''

McClure is also embracing the idea of perfection, the goal that every team strives for but few will ever reach. The Falcons have won their first eight games, the best start in franchise history and halfway to a 16-0 season.

The 1972 Miami Dolphins are the only team in the modern era to make it through an entire year without a loss. The 2007 New England Patriots are the lone squad to go undefeated in a 16-game regular season (before losing, of course, in the Super Bowl).

Now, along come the Falcons.

Can they reach perfection?

``We can,'' McClure said without a hint of hesitation. ``There's no reason we can't. If we play our game, go out and do what we're supposed to go, we can. The sky's the limit for this team. Is it going to be hard? Yes. Will it be hard this week? Yes.

``But,'' he added, ``if we approach it week by week, it's definitely possible.''

An 8-0 start is not all that usual - the Falcons are the 10th team to do it in the last two decades, according to STATS LLC - but this is where the pressure starts to mount. There's more and more media attention, more and more questions about the streak. Opposing teams start to play with a little extra fire, eager to be the team that ends the unbeaten season.

That's why another Falcons' lineman, right tackle Tyson Clabo, is realistic about the chances of going 16-0.

``We're only halfway there,'' he said. ``Statistically, the chances of that are really slim. I mean, we base our game plans on statistics. Statistically, this what's going to happen, so we're going to do this. So I don't think we should deviate from our entire mindset based on this big, golden cow that everybody thinks we should try to get to.''

Besides, despite being the league's only unbeaten team, the Falcons are still searching for a little national respect.

Outside of Atlanta, there's still a great deal of skepticism about whether this team will end up holding the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season, no matter how good it looks at the moment.

The Falcons have defeated only one team (Denver in Week 2) with a winning record. The combined record of their first eight opponents is a rather dismal 24-41. Perhaps the two toughest games are still to come - Sunday's contest at New Orleans against the surging Saints, Atlanta's fiercest rival. Then there's a December contest against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, who thoroughly dominated when the teams met last season in the playoffs.

``At this point, we have so many other goals that are more important than'' going 16-0, Clabo said. ``Like winning the division. Like trying to get a game in the (Georgia) Dome in the playoffs. We have a whole bunch of things we have to do before we even worry about doing that other thing.''

Still, the odds of the Falcons running the table start to look much better if they get to 9-0. Other than the NFC East-leading Giants (6-3), the remaining opponents on the schedule are a cumulative 17-24 (Atlanta still has two games left with division rival Tampa Bay). Four of the last seven games are at the Georgia Dome, where the Falcons have a 30-7 record since Mike Smith took over as coach in 2008.

``I think we've got the pedigree to do it,'' receiver Roddy White said. ``Offensively and defensively and how we are as a team. The locker room is very, very united right now. We go into every week expecting to win. ... We've still got to be consistent, don't turn the ball over and get turnovers. That's been the key to winning games all over this league. If we continue to do that, we'll be just fine.''

Indeed, Atlanta is among the league leaders in two categories that Smith considers the key to success: turnovers and penalties.

The Falcons have lost only one fumble all season - when quarterback Matt Ryan took a hit - and are plus-10 in turnover ratio, which ranks fourth behind Chicago, the Giants and New England. They are by far the least flagged team in the league, called for just 26 penalties (17 fewer than any other team) accounting for 207 yards (118 below the next-lowest total).

``Coach Smith is always pointing out the penalties that players have and how they affect the game,'' defensive back Robert McClain said. ``You don't want to be the guy who gets called out.''

The Saints (3-5) have shown signs of bouncing back from an 0-4 start, and they've won their last three meetings against the Falcons. New Orleans would love nothing better than to snuff out hope of an unbeaten season in Atlanta.

``We've got an opportunity to do something nobody's been able to do this year, and that's beat Atlanta,'' Saints offensive lineman Jahri Evans said. ``I'm kind of glad that they're undefeated.''

But much like the Falcons have to ward off the natural tendency to look ahead, New Orleans must guard against putting too much emphasis on ruining the Falcons' perfect season.

``That doesn't make a difference really,'' linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. ``It would be great for the fans. I know Saints fans would love that, but for us, we can't get caught up in all that hype and hoopla. They're a good team. They're 8-0 for a reason. It's not by luck that they're 8-0, so we have to understand who we're facing.''

The Falcons know that this season won't be judged on how many games they win during the regular season. This team has been one-and-done in all three trips to the postseason under Smith, so there truly are bigger goals than going 16-0.

Winning in the playoffs is the main thing.

``That's what everybody is waiting for us do,'' running back Michael Turner conceded. ``We've been winning here for a while now. This is nothing new. We just happen to be 8-0.''

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AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in Metairie, La., contributed to this report.

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Wizards' John Wall reveals he's about to start jogging in rehab from Achilles injury

Wizards' John Wall reveals he's about to start jogging in rehab from Achilles injury

A couple of weeks ago, John Wall was spotted at a Washington Mystics game with no brace to support his Achilles injury, a sign that his rehab from the injury was moving in the right direction. 

On Monday night at the 2019 NBA Awards, the Wizards point guard gave affirmation that he is indeed continuing to get healthier and stronger.

"I feel great, man," Wall told NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller on the red carpet. "I'm doing a great job with my body, taking care of that."

Specifically, Wall has been able to slowly increase what he can do on his legs. The recovery and rehab for an injury as severe as his is a long road, and the point guard is making sure not to speed up the process and risk hindering the progress. However, he's about to reach a pretty big milestone in the journey during the coming weeks.

"I'm about to start jogging in like two weeks. Just riding the bike, I get to do exercises standing up now, so I don't have to sit down. I'm able to move, do ladder steps, doing those types of things," Wall said. "Just taking my time and progressing and letting everything heal the right way so I don't force myself back and get another injury."

As Wall continues to work to get back on the court, he's had plenty of motivational factors pushing him through some grueling months. His recent string of injuries have left some wondering if he'll still be an elite player when he finally.

He's heard those comments and he's using them to his advantage.

"I'm one of those guys that's very driven by all the hate and all the negative talk I'm getting. Keep it going," Wall said.

"Everybody said I can't be myself, I won't be nowhere near as good again. That's all the other stuff that's going to fuel me. I don't get upset about it, you're entitled to your own opinion. Please keep it going."

The haters have given Wall some extra juice, but so has his son Ace. Spending the offseason getting right has allowed Wall to work in another area of life: fatherhood.

The newest addition to his family has taken his desire for greatness to new heights.

"I've always had that drive that I want to be the greatest. To have a son like that, that's watching everything I can do. Even though he doesn't understand what's going on, he's putting memories in his head," Wall said. 

"So that gives me extra, extra motivation to another level I never thought I could. Like I said before, that's the best blessing a man could ever ask for is to have a son."

While Wall's offseason has been a busy one as he juggles rehab and being a dad, he's still been very involved in everything going on inside the franchise.

He's already chatted with first-round draft pick Rui Hachimura, and is excited for what is to come for the Wizards. Wall is also hoping that Hachimura will help improve his Japanese so that he can grow a larger following internationally. 

As the calendar slowly turns to July, both Wall and the Wizards' offseasons will ramp up. It's been an up and down time for both lately, but he's excited about the future.

"I think it's good," Wall said about the Wizards situation. "We added some pieces. See what we do in free agency to add some guys to bring back or we're going to go after somebody new. I think we'll be fine."

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Bradley Beal wins the 2019 NBA Cares Community Assist Award three years after John Wall

Bradley Beal wins the 2019 NBA Cares Community Assist Award three years after John Wall

While he was putting together the best season of his career, Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal was also making a profound impact off the court and those efforts have earned him a significant honor, the NBA's 2018-19 Community Assist Award.

The news was revealed at Monday's NBA Awards in Santa Monica, CA as Beal got the nod over nine other finalists. He is the second Wizards player to win the honor in just the last four years following John Wall in 2015-16.

Beal was involved in a variety of charitable efforts this past season. He has partnered with the Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Northeast Washington to help underprivileged youth. He visited the school in December and gave out shoes.

During the All-Star break in February, as he made his second appearance in the annual showcase, Beal handed out meals at a food bank alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This past year he also gave out Christmas presents in the Washington area and took a group of kids on a tour of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.

Beal was named a finalist for the Community Assist Award in April along with Jarrett Allen (Nets), Mike Conley (Jazz), Khris Middleton (Bucks), Donovan Mitchell (Jazz), Dwight Powell (Mavs) and Pascal Siakam (Raptors). Part of the criteria was based on fan voting through social media that was held from April 24 through May 25.

Beal, 25, continues to ascend on the court as well. This year he posted career-highs in points (25.6/g), assists (5.5/g) and rebounds (5.0/g). He nearly made All-NBA in late May with the most votes of any guard that was left out.

In Beal and Wall, the Wizards have quite the combination. Both have been All-Stars on the court and now both can say they won the NBA's top honor for charity work as well.

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