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Brees, Robinson lead Saints past Eagles 28-13

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Brees, Robinson lead Saints past Eagles 28-13

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Two teams with the same record. Two teams heading in strikingly different directions.

Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints appear to be on the rise again.

Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles are down, and nearly out.

Brees threw two touchdown passes, extending his NFL record streak to 51 games in a row, while Vick was sacked seven times and took an awful beating as the Saints romped to a 28-13 victory over the Eagles on Monday night.

Not that Philadelphia didn't have its chances. But four first-and-goals resulted in two measly field goals, a tipped pass led to Patrick Robinson's 99-yard interception return for a New Orleans touchdown, and the Eagles messed up a trick play when they had the home team totally fooled, costing them a score.

``As coaches and as players, we obviously have to do a better job,'' embattled coach Andy Reid said of the Eagles (3-5), who are mired in a four-game losing streak. ``That starts with me.''

The Saints (3-5) revolve around Brees, of course, and he played much better than he did the previous week in a 34-14 loss to Denver. But his performance was more efficient than spectacular, as New Orleans seemed intent on proving it's not just a one-man team.

The NFL's worst-ranked running game relied on a trio of backs - Chris Ivory, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas - and finished with 140 yards, nearly double its season average. Ivory had a 22-yard touchdown run.

The defense came up with two huge turnovers near its own end zone. There was Robinson's interception and return, which matched Darren Sharper's franchise record. Then, with just over 3 minutes left and the Eagles down to their last gasp, Brent Celek caught a pass at the New Orleans 8 but fumbled it away.

The Saints recovered, and the Superdome celebration was on.

``There are defining moments throughout a season,'' Brees said. ``Big plays, big wins, that kind of bring you together and let you see a vision of what you can be, what you can accomplish. Here we are the midway point. It's gone by fast.

``This,'' he added, ``is the type of momentum we want going into the second half of the season.''

Another dismal performance by the Eagles is sure to keep the heat on Vick and Reid.

Vick threw a 77-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson in the third quarter, but that was about the only highlight for the visiting team. The elusive quarterback matched his career high for sacks; he also went down seven times when playing for the Atlanta Falcons against the New York Giants on Oct. 15, 2006.

``It's very frustrating,'' Vick said. ``These are games that we have the opportunity to win, or get back in the game. At this point, everything has to be dead on. You can't miss, and you almost have to be perfect on every drive.''

Philadelphia was far from perfect, but sure had plenty of chances. The Eagles outgained New Orleans and finished with 447 yards - the eighth straight team to put up more than 400 on the Saints.

But the offensive line just couldn't keep Vick upright, a problem that got worse after right tackle Todd Herremans went down in the first half with a strained ankle tendon. He didn't return.

``These are correctable mistakes,'' Reid said, repeating a familiar theme. ``With some of those sacks you can look at coverage, and with some of them you can look at play calling, but we have to do better. The bottom line is we have to block the guys and do a better job.''

Rubbing salt in the wound, Philadelphia squandered a chance to get back in the game with a unique trick play on a kickoff return. Riley Cooper laid flat in the end zone, unseen by the Saints, then popped up to take a cross-field lateral from Brandon Boykin.

Cooper streaked down the sideline for an apparent touchdown. Only one problem - Boykin's lateral was actually an illegal forward pass by about a yard, and the officials caught it. Cooper stood with his hands on his hips, in disbelief, when he saw the yellow flag.

Brees kept his record touchdown streak going, hooking up with Marques Colston on a 1-yard scoring pass and Jimmy Graham from 6 yards out.

The Saints quarterback finished 21 of 27 for 239 yards, a big improvement on his 22-of-42 showing against the Broncos.

Meanwhile, a Saints defense that had endured much ridicule kept the heat on Vick, and the brutal pounding made it tough for No. 7 to establish any rhythm. He finished 22 of 41 for 272 yards and really couldn't be blamed for Robinson's interception, which went off the hands of Celek, the first major miscue on a tough night for the tight end.

Cameron Jordan had three sacks, matching his total for the season, while Will Smith took down Vick twice - also matching his sack total through the first seven games.

Reid moved quickly to snuff out any talk about replacing Vick, which has become a weekly ritual.

``Michael Vick will be the quarterback,'' the Eagles coach said.

The Saints raced to a 21-3 halftime lead, putting the Eagles in a big hole for the second straight game. Over the last two weeks, they have been outscored 45-10 in the first and second quarters.

New Orleans was on the verge of blowing it open when it took the second-half kickoff and drove deep into Philadelphia territory. But the Eagles defense came up with a big turnover, as Brandon Graham stripped the ball from Brees and fell on it at the Eagles 17. Two plays later, Vick found Jackson wide open down the right side on a deep throw, and he took it the rest of the way for a touchdown.

Rookie Travaris Cadet, filling in on returns for the injured Darren Sproles, fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Philadelphia recovered again. Vick broke off a 14-yard run to the 8, but yet another sack stifled the drive.

The Eagles settled for Alex Henery's second field goal from 37 yards.

It was that kind of night for the Eagles.

NOTES: Graham led the Saints with a season-high eight catches for 72 yards. ... Jackson finished with 100 yards receiving on just three catches. ... Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy had 19 carries for 119 yards, but only 18 yards came after halftime. ... New Orleans gave up a season low in points. The previous best was a 31-24 victory over San Diego. ... The Saints lost two players to injuries. OT Zach Strief (groin) went down in the third quarter, and DE Junior Galette (ankle) was hurt in the first. Neither returned.

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Looking ahead to a busy offseason

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Looking ahead to a busy offseason

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

Have a Caps question you want to be answered the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

I have written about this before, but Jakub Vrana’s contract has to be priority No. 1. Vrana is absolutely going to be back, but he is going to take a sizable chunk of what little cap room Washington has remaining. General manager Brian MacLellan needs to know how much cap space he is working with this offseason before he can make any decisions about the other free agents like Brett Connolly and Carl Hagelin.

The second most important move would be a trade to free up cap space. Everyone assumes that Matt Niskanen would be the player on the trade block, as you noted. With the free agents the Caps could potentially lose and a prospect pipeline devoid of any high-end offensive skill, I just do not see how the Caps can add enough quality forward depth this offseason without clearing cap space.

Fans should circle June 20-22 as target dates for a possible trade. June 20 is the NHL general managers meeting and June 21-22 is the draft. When you get all the general managers together in the same place, that can spark trade deals. Don’t forget, the draft was when Brooks Orpik and Philipp Grubauer were traded to the Colorado Avalanche last year.

As for Backstrom and Holtby, while I am sure MacLellan would like to get those deals done if possible, these do not rank as high on the priority list as both players are still under contract for another season.

Maclellan was asked on breakdown day if he wanted those deals done this summer and he said, “I don’t think it matters. We’ll have conversations and if it feels like it’s going in the right direction, then we can get more assertive on it.”

The Caps have plenty of issues to deal with for this season to worry too much about Backstrom and Holtby right now.

Jacob C. writes: How does Washington adjust their offseason knowing that they have a $1.15 million dollar cap penalty? 

Washington was hit with a cap penalty because of some late performance bonuses that pulled the team over the cap ceiling.

The money situation was going to be tight for the team regardless of the cap penalty so it is hard to know if anything the team does will be directly related to that, but if I had to guess I believe the player the most affected by this will be Andre Burakovsky.

As a restricted free agent, the Caps will have to give him a qualifying offer of $3.25 million in order to retain his rights and prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent. That is high for a player who has scored 12 goals in each of the past three seasons.

Maybe you could justify the risk of overpaying him because the team could potentially see both Connolly and Hagelin walk, but with $1.15 million less to spend that may force MacLellan to not qualify Burakovsky and attempt to convince him to sign for less.

Jack Hughes.

OK, so obviously that is not going to happen. I assume your question is more aimed at who I think the Caps would want of the players who may actually fall to them at 25. The team’s philosophy when it comes to the draft is to take the best available player, which it should be, but the Caps have not taken a forward in the first round since 2014 and that lack of offensive talent is really starting to catch up with them. If forwards start dropping off the board, they cannot afford to wait and see who falls to them. My prediction is that that team is going to come into this draft with the goal of drafting a forward. They will have grades on every first round prospect and, if it looks like a number of forwards could fall their way, great. If a bunch of forwards get taken early, however, I would not at all be surprised if MacLellan tries to trade up to make sure he gets a high-end forward prospect.

Next, let’s look at where the Caps like to get their players from. In the last five drafts, Washington has taken nine players from the WHL and 11 players from European leagues. Knowing that, here are the players I would predict to be high on the Caps’ list:

Kirby Dach C, Saskatoon, WHL
Dylan Cozens C, Lethbridge, WHL
Peyton Krebs C, Kootenay, WHL
Ilya Nikolaev C, Russia
Nils Hoglander W, Sweden

The three WHL players I have seen go pretty high in most mock drafts so if you get down to say, pick 15 and one of those guys is still on the board, that’s when it is time to really pay attention and see if MacLellan tries to jump up to snag him.

It depends on what you consider to be “major.” As I mentioned above, if the Caps want to compete for the Cup next season, I do not see how they can avoid making a trade. If trading Niskanen for what would likely be draft picks would be considered “major,” then yes.

Do I see them making a big multi-player trade for significant pieces? No. Do I see them pursuing a big-name free agent like Erik Karlsson or Artemi Panarin? No. Even if MacLellan does trade Niskanen that only frees up another $5.75 million in cap room and the Caps will need just about every penny to fill in their bottom six.

We could see a Niskanen trade, we could see a them trade up in the draft and the team will almost certainly be active on July 1 to find forward depth, but they are not in the running for any of the big name free agents.

Todd Reirden said on breakdown day, “We're going to go through a full review of all that stuff, but I do not anticipate any changes to my coaching staff."

Obviously, he left himself a little bit of wiggle room there, but it does not appear the team is going to make any changes to the staff.

In terms of how they operate, I anticipate Reirden taking a more hands-on approach to the defense. He really made a name for himself in the league for his defensive acumen and the improvement he brought with him as an assistant coach was not as evident last season with him as head coach.

I do not anticipate any major changes to the system the team plays, but I am curious what they do on special teams. I have not seen a team that consistently utilizes the slingshot well on the power play so I am hopeful the breakouts get an update to get rid of the slingshot. I do not know how you could evaluate the team’s play from last season and say, yeah, let’s keep doing that. But, the sling shot was all the rage across the NHL so clearly someone thinks it actually works.

Second, the penalty kill has to adjust for the personnel it has. The Caps tried a more aggressive penalty kill and it did not work for much of the season. Really, it did not seem to click until Hagelin came on board at the trade deadline. If he stays or Washington gets someone on the roster who can run it as effectively as he could, great. Otherwise, you hope the team can accept the fact that a guy like Chandler Stephenson just is not the same player as Hagelin and adjust accordingly. 

First, the defense as that seems like the easier prediction. I see a second pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Nick Jensen. I expected that to be the plan the moment the team re-signed Jensen. The bottom pair will be Jonas Siegenthaler and Christian Djoos. The Caps need to add too much on offense to commit the money to another defenseman. Siegenthaler looked good in the playoffs and Djoos will be entering his third year in the NHL so it is time for both players to step up. I think we could see someone like Tyler Lewington come in as a cheap No. 7 and as someone the team feels no pressure to get into the lineup.

The offense is trickier as this is where the team may add some free agents. Lars Eller and Nic Dowd will be the centers. That much we know. Travis Boyd remains under contract. I predict MacLellan will be able to work something out with Burakovsky and he stays. A return for Stephenson also seems likely. At that point, the Caps should have about $7.5 million of cap space for two more forwards. I think they could make a run at either Connolly or Hagelin, but not both. It just depends on where their priorities lie heading into free agency. If they cannot get any, they have to turn to free agency and hope they can find a top-nine player they can plug into the third line.

Now here’s where things get interesting. You have the money for one high-end bottom six guy (Connolly, Hagelin or their replacement), but a Stephenson, Dowd, Boyd line does not inspire much confidence. Looking at the prospects, the only prospect who seems close to the NHL is Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, but it is hard to tell given he only played 16 games in Hershey last season.

If the Caps think he is ready, they could look to Jonsson-Fjallby as a Hagelin replacement. If not, could they actually consider bringing back Dmitrij Jaskin? After all, Jaskin will be an RFA and the team could probably get him for pretty cheap. If they do that, Reirden would have to actually use him, but the cap situation makes this not outside the realm of possibility.

So here is what I would say for the third and fourth lines:

Free agent – Lars Eller – Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson – Nic Dowd – Dmitrij Jaskin
Travis Boyd

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Ravens rank higher than expected in preseason rankings

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Ravens rank higher than expected in preseason rankings

Kick off your Wednesday with the latest Baltimore Ravens news including a high preseason ranking for the Ravens.

Player/Team Notes: 

1. The Ravens ranked higher than expected in Peter King's preseason rankings. King ranked the Ravens at No. 12, surprising for a defense that is working on development during this offseason. However, with the Ravens' signing of All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, maybe he will bring the fire the Ravens need on defense.

2. With day 2 of OTAs in the books, the focus has been on quarterback Lamar Jackson. Ravens writer, Kevin Eck noted that during the offseason, Jackson had been working out with Ravens quarterbacks coach, Joshua Harris along with receivers Jordan Lasley and Jaylen Smith, so it remains to be seen throughout the summer on whether or not he has improved namely his passing game. 

Looking Ahead:

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get a long-term deal done with designated franchise tag players.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Baltimore Ravens for news points.

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