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Disappointed Panthers, Saints seek strong finish

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Disappointed Panthers, Saints seek strong finish

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints are about to close the book on a season that may forever be defined by the word ``bounty.'' They want to do it by avoiding the ``losing team'' label, even if the playoffs are out of reach.

The Panthers had no such scandal overshadowing their season, only the disappointment of failing to reach expectations that may have been unfairly high after Cam Newton's stellar rookie campaign. Still, Carolina has won three straight and four out of five, offering hope that one productive offseason may be all the Panthers and their talented, dual-threat quarterback need to become contenders again.

So when the Saints (7-8) and Panthers (6-9) meet Sunday, what might otherwise look like an anticlimactic season finale between two teams going nowhere will mean much more to the players and coaches involved.

``You want to go out and play your absolute best and really feel good about our team, the way we were able to finish and the future despite not meeting some of the goals that we had for this season,'' said Brees, whose season has been about as wildly inconsistent as his team's. ``We want to finish strong, and we want to really have something we can build on moving forward. Over the last two weeks we've done that, but we have to complete that trifecta by doing it again this week. This is the most important game of the season.''

Brees, who held out until shortly before training camp for a five-year, $100 million extension, has been plagued by a league-high 18 interceptions, while at the same time remaining among the most productive quarterbacks in NFL history.

With one more touchdown pass, Brees will become the first quarterback to throw 40 scoring passes in consecutive seasons. With 4,781 yards passing, Brees is the first player in NFL history with three straight 4,500-yard seasons, and he needs 219 yards - well below his average - to be the first in NFL history with three 5,000-yard seasons.

``Well, let's hope we hit those. Let's hope we win the game. And then we'll reflect once the season is over,'' Brees said. ``In the end, as a quarterback, it's did you win or did you lose, did you go to the playoffs or did you not, did you have a chance at the championship or not? That's what drives you.''

For the Saints, the game is expected to be the last under assistant head coach Joe Vitt. He has served in an interim role while Sean Payton has served his season-long suspension in connection with the NFL's investigation into the Saints' cash-for-hits performance pool.

It might even be the last game Vitt coaches in any capacity. While appearing as a witness earlier this month on behalf of players appealing their bounty suspensions, the 58-year-old Vitt said he ``could've retired last August.''

``I'll make a decision after the season what I'm going to do with my career,'' Vitt said, according to transcripts of the closed hearing obtained by The Associated Press.

The Saints are expecting Payton to return as coach when his suspension ends following the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 - perhaps earlier if Commissioner Roger Goodell permits it. Payton agreed in principle to a multiyear contract extension Friday, the team confirmed.

Meanwhile, Carolina coach Ron Rivera's future is unclear as he concludes a second straight losing season. A loss would doom him to consecutive 6-10 finishes, but Rivera said he believes the team is headed in the right direction.

``This week we're playing the Saints and then after that we'll just go forward and see what happens,'' Rivera said, referring to the talk about his job security. ``It's crazy because you kind of wonder where it all came from and it never came from (Panthers owner Jerry Richardson) and that's the thing. I'm on the hot seat; at no point was I ever told that.''

Certainly, his players haven't given up on him as they look to close out the season.

``Everybody feels like we're playing well, but it's kind of a bittersweet moment, because we feel like we should have been playing like this all year long,'' Panthers receiver Brandon LaFell said. ``We know we have a good coach here. Hopefully he'll come back. We all want him back.''

One of Carolina's few early-season wins came in Week 2 over a Saints squad en route to an 0-4 start. The Saints' defense was playing much worse back then, however. New Orleans' defense started so poorly, in fact, that despite substantial improvement it remains on pace to give up more yards than any in NFL history.

The Saints have yielded 6,512 yards, 281 yards short of the record 6,793 allowed by the 1981 Baltimore Colts, a team on which Vitt served as a third-year assistant.

Vitt concedes the numbers are not flattering, but also said they don't tell the story of how the unit responded to a poor start under first-year coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

``You talk to any defensive member of the team and they're proud to be a part of that unit. The coaching staff certainly is,'' Vitt said. ``There has been improvement, there has been (a) shutout. Instead of being the negative part, the all-time leader, whatever that means, we have a chance to be 8-8 and be an improved defense. That's more important - not where we were, but how we finished.''

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‘Grateful for the opportunity’ A tale of the second Capital City Go-Go open tryouts

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Capital City Go-Go

‘Grateful for the opportunity’ A tale of the second Capital City Go-Go open tryouts

The Washington Wizards G League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go, held their second open local player tryouts at the Entertainment and Sports Arena Saturday morning in Southeast D.C.

Over 100 hopefuls filed into the arena with plans to impress Go-Go General Manager, Pop Mensah-Bonsu, head coach Ryan Richman, and his staff. 

Although each player in attendance has a unique path that’s led them here, they all shared one simple, yet intricate goal:

One shot in the G League. 

Adam Stanford, a prospect from California, traveled on a red eye to make the tryout on a less-than-ideal amount of sleep.

“My plane left at midnight from LAX, I had a two-hour layover in Denver, made it to Reagan National at five, checked into my hotel at six, took an hour nap and then Ubered here for tryouts,”  he said. 

“If I made this team it’d be big. Not just for me but for everyone who knows what I’ve been through from college to now.” 

Stanford is a 6-foot-4 wing from Campbellsville University, where he averaged 7 points, 5 rebounds, and was an academic All-American. 

Even with his positive outlook on the process, and an impressive showing Saturday morning, Stanford’s name wasn’t called for a follow-up workout later in the afternoon. 

The harsh reality that your chances are extremely slim to make a G League roster from an open tryout can be a tough pill to swallow, but as a guy who’s been on the opposite end of the chopping block, Mensah-Bonsu had an immense amount of respect for those who showed up to compete Saturday.

“Personally it’s tough because I never wanted to be that guy to read out the numbers of those who did make the team, and skip over those who didn’t,” Mensah-Bonsu said, “it’s heartbreaking. We always anticipate what the DMV has to offer in terms of the wealth of talent in this area.

"I was pleasantly surprised because we ended up selecting 15 guys to stick around for the afternoon portion, but going into this we were only planning to pick five.” 

Those who made the cut won’t be announced until a later date, which leaves the larger point of how those who were passed on respond?

The all-time leading scorer in Peach Sun Belt Conference history, Detrek Browning, was in attendance Saturday and put on a show. His combination of quickness, deep range shooting ability, and a knack for loose balls/putbacks captured the attention of every media member in attendance. 

However, his name wasn’t called for the next round of tryouts. 

Still, in a state of shock, he delivered words of encouragement not just for his self, but others to turn to after a similar letdown. 

“I for sure thought I was going to get a place here, but you just gotta focus and move on,” Browning said. “I quit my job in June to focus on basketball and it’s been paying off. I’ve seen my game increase exponentially.

“I did my best and that’s what matters,” he added. “I appreciate them not picking me up, it’s just going to make me work even harder.”

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Ravens looking to make a statement in Kansas City against the unbeaten Chiefs

Ravens looking to make a statement in Kansas City against the unbeaten Chiefs

Depending on who’s asked, Sunday’s game is either a statement waiting to be made, or just another game to play. 

In perhaps the weekend’s most anticipated game, the Ravens will head to Arrowhead Stadium to face the unbeaten Chiefs on Sunday at 1 p.m. It’s an opportunity for the Ravens to stake their claim as one of the NFL’s best, against the league’s most explosive offense.

“Every game for us is a statement game,” Ronnie Stanley said. “We’ve been downplayed since the beginning of the season. Every game (is), and this just happens to be the next one.”

But while it’s being billed as a game between two of the NFL’s hottest offenses led by two bright stars at quarterback, it’s still just the third game of the season. 

“Not really,” Marshal Yanda said on if this game is a measuring stick. “We focus on the gameplan. We focus on practice and sharpening things up, just getting better every single day. Obviously, we know that they’re a good football team, and we’re going to respect them. But we’re just more worried about what we can control in this building and just getting better every day.”

There’s two mindsets, but it’s impossible to look past what Sunday’s matchup could mean. 

Firstly, it would be at least a modicum of revenge for last year’s 27-24 overtime loss, a loss which Ravens players and coaches have said still sticks with them. 

But perhaps more importantly, it would give the Ravens a leg up early in the season on one of the favorites in the AFC. 

“We’re trying to make our way,” coach John Harbaugh said. “There will be a lot at stake at the end of the year when you count them up, but right now, both teams are trying to find who they are and are trying to win an early AFC matchup. It’s just kind of an early-season game.”

At 2-0, the opportunity is there on-paper for the Ravens to state their claim atop the conference, especially with the rest of the AFC North’s start to the season.

Cincinnati stumbled out of the gate and is 0-2, as is Pittsburgh, which just lost Ben Roethlisberger for the season to an injury. 

The Browns are 1-1 with the Rams coming to town on Sunday, meaning the opportunity is there for the Ravens to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the conference early on.

In order for the Ravens to do so, however, they’ll have to get by Patrick Mahomes and company.

“It’s a big challenge for us in the back end, a big challenge for the defense and for this ball club on the road against a playoff-caliber team,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “They have it all. We’re excited to see what we’re made of, so it’s a big challenge for us, trying to find a way to get to 3-0.”

Still, Sunday’s game is more than just a game on paper. The Ravens can firmly cement themselves as one of the NFL’s best amongst the minds of many in the league. Even if they knew that already themselves.

“My job is to control what I can control, and that’s my offense,” Lamar Jackson said. “I don’t really care about the hype. I don’t even care about the hype they’re giving us now. They were just doubting us the whole offseason. Like I said, we’re just going to go in there and perform.”

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