Nationals

Brees sets mark, Saints beat Chargers 31-24

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Brees sets mark, Saints beat Chargers 31-24

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Drew Brees got suspended coach Sean Payton in the building, broke a prestigious NFL passing record and led New Orleans to a desperately needed first win of the season.

For one memorable night, at least, the entire beleaguered Saints organization and its frustrated fans could celebrate a special moment in football history and recapture that winning feeling that had become commonplace before an offseason overshadowed by the NFL's bounty investigation.

Brees broke Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas' half-century-old record by throwing a touchdown pass in his 48th straight game, and the Saints defeated the San Diego Chargers 31-24 on Sunday night.

``I guess you really couldn't have written a better script for tonight,'' Brees said. ``To break the record, to get the win, and the fashion in which we won - really a complete team effort all the way around.

``The amazing thing about a record like this is it spans over the course of four seasons and hopefully we can keep it going to for a while,'' Brees said. ``There are so many people that are a part of this.''

Brees' 40-yard pass to Devery Henderson eclipsed the mark of 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass Unitas set from 1956-60.

Brees said he was honored and humbled to break a record by a player he saw as a pioneer who stood for ``everything that's great in this league.''

Brees finished with four touchdown passes, including three to Marques Colston, giving the seventh-year receiver a franchise-record 52 TD catches with the Saints (1-4).

At Brees' request, the NFL allowed Payton, assistant head coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis - all serving various suspensions in connection with the NFL's bounty investigation - to attend the game. They and Unitas' son, Joe, saw Brees pass for 370 yards, enough to put Brees over 30,000 yards passing as a Saint in his 100th game with the club.

Afterward, Brees took an elevator near the Saints' locker room up to the Superdome's suite level to share a few moments with Payton, Loomis and Vitt.

``It gave us a good mojo for sure,'' Brees said of Payton's presence. ``I love my coach, so glad he could be here. Mickey and Joe Vitt as well. It is special for our team, special they could be a part of this record.''

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the one who suspended Saints personnel in the bounty matter but also granted Brees' request for Payton, Vitt and Loomis to attend the game, chimed in on his Twitter page shortly after the record fell, writing, ``Congrats to (at)drewbrees & his teammates on breaking Unitas' record. Amazing accomplishment by great QB & leader. We're proud of you, Drew.''

Philip Rivers passed for 354 yards and two touchdowns to former Saint Robert Meachem, but had two costly turnovers in the final quarter.

``I can't tell you how tough it is to lose a game like this,'' Rivers said. ``We were right there. We were up by 10 points and just didn't get it done. We have a great team, a championship caliber team. But we have to win close games like this.''

The first late turnover was Roman Harper's interception and 41-yard return on a pass tipped by fellow safety Malcolm Jenkins. That set up the Saints' final score on Garrett Hartley's field goal. San Diego (3-2) still had a chance to tie in the final minute until defensive end Martez Wilson stripped Rivers and recovered the fumble to seal the victory.

The Saints' defense, which entered the game ranked least in the league, had a hand in the victory not only with the turnovers but five sacks.

``You really have to credit our defense getting pressure on the quarterback,'' Interim head coach Aaron Kromer said. ``That's what made a difference in the game.''

After his record-setting completion, Brees trotted to the end zone to hug Henderson. The rest of New Orleans' offense pursued and swarmed around Brees in celebration while the jubilant Superdome crowd roared and then howled an elongated, ``Dreeeeeeew!''

Brees took the game ball to the sideline where he continued to accept congratulations. The scoring pass capped an 80-yard drive in which Brees completed all three of his third-down passes, including the touchdown.

Colston finished with nine catches for 131 yards, while Henderson had eight catches for 123 yards.

Colston's second TD late in the third quarter eclipsed a franchise mark set by Joe Horn in 2006 and pulled the Saints back within a field goal shortly after the Chargers appeared to have gone ahead 31-14 on Demorrio Williams' interception return for a touchdown. Williams' TD was nullified, however, by Melvin Ingram's late hit on Brees' chin, which drew a roughing-the-passer flag and extended what wound up to be an 87-yard scoring drive.

``Obviously it was a critical play,'' Chargers coach Norv Turner said. ``You can't make those kinds of errors, and we will learn from them.''

Vitt is expected to take over the coaching staff when his six-game suspension ends. Loomis was docked eight games. As the Saints headed into their bye week, the desperately needed win offered hope, however faint, of making a run for a fourth-straight playoff appearance when Vitt and Loomis are back.

Colston made his first touchdown catch on a pass Brees lofted perfectly to the back of the end zone. That gave New Orleans a 14-10 lead that lasted until Meachem's 44-yard touchdown catch in the final minute of the half.

San Diego went ahead 24-14 on Ryan Mathews' 13-yard run around left end, capping a three-play drive that started when Henderson tipped a pass that Brees threw behind him, allowing Quentin Jammer to intercept it and give San Diego the ball on the New Orleans 25.

Notes: Brees set his latest passing record against the team that drafted him in 2001 and for which he played his first five seasons in the NFL before coming to New Orleans in 2006. ... The last game Brees played without throwing for a TD was Oct. 4, 2009, in a victory over the New York Jets. ... Chargers PK Nick Novak, who was filling in for the injured Nate Kaeding, made a 20-yard field goal but missed a 55-yard attempt in the second quarter. ... Saints CB Jabari Greer left the game with what team officials said was a hip injury. He was hurt late in the second quarter and did not return. ... Saints TE Jimmy Graham hurt his right ankle in the first half. He returned but was not a factor.

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Nats rookie Juan Soto makes second MLB debut, retroactively hits HR on first-ever MLB at-bat

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USA Today Sports

Nats rookie Juan Soto makes second MLB debut, retroactively hits HR on first-ever MLB at-bat

The Washington Nationals hosted the New York Yankees to finish a once-suspended game, tied at 3-3 in the sixth inning. Though it seemed like just a makeup, it was anything but for rookie Juan Soto.

It’s true that Soto struck out as a pinch hitter in his first-ever game on May 20. Since then, the 19-year-old has caught fire, batting .312 with five home runs and 12 RBI in 23 games this season.

But the makeup of the suspended game took place on May 15, five days before Soto was called up from Double-A to give the Nats an extra bat. Soto would make his major league debut once again.

Though it’s uncommon for a player to compete in a game prior to his major-league debut, it’s been done before. Barry Bonds hit a go-ahead single in a suspended game that dated a month before his debut. Closer Jeff Reardon threw a scoreless inning and picked up a win in a suspended game nearly two months before his debut, as well.              

After Anthony Rendon hit an opposite-field single in the bottom of the sixth, Soto pinch hit for Matt Adams who has missed the previous two games with a hand injury.                                                  

And Soto, with a chance to change his first career at-bat from a pinch-hit strikeout to anything but, did just that. He turned on a fastball and sent a rocket to right field. Aaron Judge took a few steps before looking up toward the bleachers. The ball landed in the second deck.

Talk about a first career at-bat. A no-doubt, two-run shot to give the Nationals the lead in a game that took place before his first major-league debut.

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Texas A&M big man Robert Williams likes potential fit with Wizards, John Wall

Texas A&M big man Robert Williams likes potential fit with Wizards, John Wall

In terms of the needs on their roster and the guys most likely to be available when they are on the clock at No. 15 in the first round, few players in this draft class seem as obvious a fit with the Washington Wizards more than Robert Williams of Texas A&M. So, it was no surprise that he not only visited them in Washington on Monday, but received the only individual public workout they have held during this year's predraft process.

Williams could be the answer to their longstanding quest for an athletic big man. No need to bring in five other guys for the usual six-player workout when Williams deserves a longer and more extensive look than most prospects they are considering.

The 20-year-old was put through a variety of drills Monday afternoon, just days before the 2018 NBA Draft. He likes the fit with Washington, if that's how things end up sorting out.

"I definitely feel like they could use a big like me, a defensive-style athletic big like me. I definitely see myself fitting here," he said.

Williams is one of the best big men in this year's draft. He is 6-foot-9 and 240 pounds with a 7-5 wingspan. He used that length to dominate in the paint at the college level.

Williams averaged a modest 10.4 points for the Aggies in 2017-18, but also 9.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. That was his sophomore year. He averaged 8.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks as a freshman.

He was a shot-blocking force the day he stepped on campus and believes those skills will translate to the professional ranks. In the NBA, Williams believes he can thrive because his defensive versatility will be even more valuable in a day and age where switching is paramount.

"I feel like I can guard all positions. That’s one of my biggest attributes," he said. "It’s just about embracing it, having fun stopping a guard. Once you’re comfortable with it, you can do it."

Williams may adapt to the NBA quickly on the defensive end and that's where the Wizards need help the most. They haven't had a consistent rim-protector in years. Last season, point guard John Wall led the team in blocks per game.

Offense is where the questions lie with Williams. He wasn't a big scorer in college and does not have much of an outside shot. The fact he shot just 47.1 percent from the free throw line this past season suggests he has a lot of work to do before he can stretch the floor.

Williams will need to find a niche offensively, likely as a rim-runner off pick-and-rolls. He sees a lot of potential in a possible pick-and-roll pairing with Wall.

"He’s an elite passer and an elite guard. Coming off a pick-and-roll, you have to pay attention to him as well as have to pay attention to me as well. It’s a win-win situation," Williams said.

Williams believes his offensive game will open up with more space at the NBA level. The Wizards have Wall surrounded by three-point shooters in Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and Markieff Morris. Toss Williams into the middle and he could go to work in the paint doing the rest.

If Williams were drafted by the Wizards, he could look at Clint Capela of the Houston Rockets as a model to follow. Like Houston, the Wizards have two All-Star guards. An athletic big man who doesn't need plays run for him could be the perfect complement.

No one needs to tell Williams that, he is well-aware. He said that at nearly every stop during the predraft process Capela's name has come up.

"I knew that’s what you were going to say," Williams said to a reporter (raises hand) who asked about the Capela comparison.

Williams continued to say they are different players and it's not entirely fair to compare them. That exchange showed Williams has an edge to him, sort of like Morris. He's clearly not afraid to be honest when some players would not.

Despite downplaying the comparison, Williams can see what makes Capela successful.

"I’ve watched him. He’s a great player," Williams said. "He is around the right people. He just plays his role. He runs off a lot of screens. He gets up there and does what he has to do."

Williams is gearing up for Thursday's draft and trying to decide who he will walk the stage with, as the NBA has introduced a new tradition of each player walking with two people. He said it will likely be his mother and sister. Perhaps by the end of the night he will also walk that stage wearing a Washington Wizards hat.

For more on Williams, check out our extensive draft profile on him.

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