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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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Ravens reportedly agree to a deal keeping John Harbaugh in Baltimore long term

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USA Today Sports

Ravens reportedly agree to a deal keeping John Harbaugh in Baltimore long term

The Ravens have reportedly agreed in principle to a new contract extension with head coach John Harbaugh, a move already being praised by national pundits everywhere. 

It was nearly a month ago that the Ravens announced Harbaugh would be returning as the team’s head coach in 2019, which was noteworthy considering his status as a potential lame duck head coach.

In the same release, the team announced they were working towards a contract extension with Harbaugh, whose current deal was set to expire next year.

Despite reports from national NFL insiders, including Jason La Canfora and Peter King, that Harbaugh might prefer to hit free agency as a highly sought-after head coach after the 2019 season, it appears the Ravens will keep him in Baltimore for the foreseeable future. 

This news comes on the heels of a busier-than-usual coaching carousel, with a quarter of the 32 NFL teams changing head coaches in the last month, including two AFC North rivals. Harbaugh almost certainly would have been the cream of the crop among coaching free agents no matter when he became available, so the Ravens were looking to lock him up long term.

After a tough November home loss to the Steelers that put the team at 4-5, Harbaugh was asked about his job security, and he remained steadfast and confident.

"I've never been someone who's worried about keeping a job," Harbaugh said. "It's always been, for me, [about] doing the job. I've got a bunch of great coaches and a bunch of great players that bust their tails every day to do the best job they can. I feel really good about the way this team has been coached for the last 11 years, and for the last number of weeks we've been in the season. So, there are no regrets. Never been any regrets here with me."

After that game, the Ravens rattled off six wins in seven games to make the playoffs, and many players credited Harbaugh with keeping the team together. It was prior to Week 16 when the front office announced Harbaugh would be returning no matter how the season ended, but the strong finish and AFC North title certainly made the decision easier.

A coach with a special teams background, Harbaugh is an anomaly in the current era of young, offensive-minded head coaches. He won Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, and holds a 104-72 career record in Baltimore.

The terms of the new deal have not yet been released, but it will be interesting how many years the team is committing to Harbaugh.

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Bradley Beal's agent says guard's not looking for a trade: 'He wants to win'

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Bradley Beal's agent says guard's not looking for a trade: 'He wants to win'

Bradley Beal, his agent Mark Bartlestein told Bleacher Report, would like to stay in Washington - even as he's a hot topic among front offices as the trade deadline approaches.

From Bleacher Report:

His agent, Mark Bartelstein, is not looking for a trade. "Brad wants to win, Bartelstein told B/R. "He wants to win at the highest level, and he wants to compete for championships. I think he's seeing progress, and he's going to do everything he can to lead this team. They got themselves into a huge hole, and he's going to do his best to get them out of it.

The Wizards are facing tough decisions when it comes to the future of the franchise as this season's trade deadline approaches. Beal, as NBC Sports Washington's Ben Standig detailed this week, is among the most tradable assets they have, especially when it comes to their three major contracts. But owner Ted Leonsis took a firm stance against tanking while speaking to reporters in London, and Beal is integral to their playoff hopes with John Wall sidelined. 

This isn't the first time this season that Beal has denied wanting to be anywhere but DC. When drama swirled around the team earlier this season, Beal denied a report that he had requested a trade.

"That's nonsense," he said at the time. "I heard it earlier before the game and I was like, 'If it didn't come from the horse's mouth, it wasn't me.' I got this Washington jersey on and I come here and work everyday, you know, until otherwise. This is where I wanna be."

Earlier this season, it was reported that the Raptors were interested in Beal but couldn't afford what the Wizards were asking for him. According to the latest report on Beal from Bleacher Report, there are a number of teams who may still be interested. 

Again, from Bleacher Report:

There are so many teams in the mix trying to make that extra push that want Beal," a Western Conference executive told B/R.

But even if some fans are clamoring for a big trade at the deadline, the price tag for Beal - who had 26 points in the Wizards' comeback win over the Knicks this week - only seems to be rising. 

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