Nationals

Falcons eager to end playoff drought vs Seahawks

Falcons eager to end playoff drought vs Seahawks

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The Atlanta Falcons know what it takes to win in the regular season.

When it comes to the playoffs, that's another story.

Perhaps no team faced a greater burden going into this postseason than the Falcons (13-3), the NFC's top-seeded squad for the second time in three years. They've yet to win a playoff game under the current trio of quarterback Matt Ryan, coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff - one-and-done in all three appearances going back to the 2008 season, the last two not even close.

Not surprisingly, the players keep insisting the previous years don't matter; they're only looking forward to Sunday's divisional game with the streaking Seattle Seahawks (12-5).

But the senior member of the team, center Todd McClure, concedes there will probably be some additional pressure when the Falcons take the field at the Georgia Dome.

That makes a quick start crucial to Atlanta's hopes.

``We've been disappointed a few times,'' said McClure, who's been with the Falcons for 13 years. ``I think we've got guys in this locker room who are hungry and ready to get over that hump.''

The Falcons have gone 56-24 in the regular season since Dimitroff and Smith took over in 2008 and drafted Ryan with the No. 3 overall pick - more wins than any team during that span except New England (60-20). But the significance of five straight winning seasons, two division titles and, now, a fourth trip to the playoffs has been undermined by the lack of success in January.

It wasn't that big a deal when Atlanta, after surprisingly making the playoffs as a wild card one year after the Michael Vick debacle, lost to Arizona in the desert 30-24.

But the loss two years ago was a stunner, the No. 1-seeded Falcons - who, like this team, went 13-3 and earned a first-round bye - getting blown out at home in the divisional round by sixth-seeded Green Bay 48-21.

Then came last year, when Atlanta went 10-6 but was viewed as an underachieving squad, a perception that proved factual in the playoffs when the Falcons' high-powered but inconsistent offense was completely shut down by the New York Giants, who romped to a 24-2 victory on their way to capturing the Super Bowl title.

Carrying around all that baggage, the Falcons can't help but be a little skittish about facing a team that might be hotter than anyone in the league. The Seahawks have won six straight games, including last week's 24-14 victory over Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins in the opening round of the playoffs.

``We can't get too tight,'' McClure said Wednesday. ``There's going to be some added pressure, I'm sure. I'm not going to say there's not. But if we come out, start fast of both sides of ball, some of that will die down. Then we can just go out and play football.''

Seattle coach Pete Carroll shrugged off the notion that his team has some sort of psychological edge on the Falcons.

``This has nothing to do with years past or story lines,'' he said. ``We're playing a terrific team, with a terrific coach and a terrific quarterback, and we're on the road. It's a monstrous task.''

Much of the burden for turning things around in Atlanta falls on Ryan, who set numerous franchise passing records and was voted to the Pro Bowl for the second time.

That said, his career numbers in the regular season are much better than his postseason stats. He's yet to throw for 200 yards in a playoff game. He's tossed more interceptions (four) than touchdowns passes (three), including a crucial pick that was returned for a touchdown right before halftime in that loss to the Packers. His passer rating is about 20 points lower in the postseason.

Ryan certainly tries to learn from his mistakes, but he won't spend much time talking about what happened before this season.

``I don't worry about it, I don't think about it,'' he said. ``My focus is for this locker room and for these guys and this coaching staff, making sure we're all together. We worked really hard during the course of the offseason and through training camp to give ourselves an opportunity to be playing at this time of year. We want to play our best football. That's really the only thing I'm worried about.''

Ryan certainly has plenty of the offensive weapons, with a pair of Pro Bowlers (receiver Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez) plus another receiver who probably should've made it (Roddy White). While the running game has tailed off dramatically, the Falcons are much more capable of hitting big plays and putting up points in a hurry, a testament to the scheme installed by first-year coordinator Dirk Koetter.

``I'm confident in the guys around me,'' said Ryan, who has completed nearly 69 percent of his throws for 4,719 yards and 32 touchdowns. ``We've proven we can go out there and be successful. You have to buy into that. You have to believe in that. I feel more comfortable with the guys around me.''

Protecting Ryan has been in an issue in the last three playoff losses, so the onus will be on an often-maligned line to keep the Seahawks out of the backfield - no easy task facing a defense that is willing to stack the line and leave its cornerbacks in single coverage.

But the biggest task for Smith and his coaching staff might be getting the players to have a convenient case of amnesia. He doesn't want them lingering over those last three trips to the playoffs.

``We're a much more mature team because of our experiences,'' Smith said. ``We feel very good about we've accomplished thus far this year. We have expectations. We set our goals, and we've been clicking along pretty well this season. I like the way we've played through the first season.''

Now comes the second season.

The one that really matters.

Notes: DE John Abraham (left ankle) and S William Moore (hamstring) were limited in practice Wednesday, but Smith said he expects both to play on Sunday. Moore hasn't played since a Nov. 29 victory over New Orleans. ... The only players to miss practice were a pair of backup defensive backs, rookie S Charles Mitchell (calf) and CB Christopher Owens (hamstring).

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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3 things to watch when the .500 Nationals head to Colorado

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3 things to watch when the .500 Nationals head to Colorado

The Nationals face the Rockies at Coors Field for the first half of this work week. Here are three things to watch for:

  1. Can the Nationals stay above .500? Stephen Strasburg’s impressive start along with Ryan Zimmerman’s two homers and two RBI kept Washington from being swept by the lowly Marlins.

  2. Who will produce with Anthony Rendon out? While the Nats 3B was sidelined with an elbow injury after being hit by a pitch in Saturday’s outing against the Marlins, Howie Kendrick started in his place. Kendrick went 1-for-3 vs Miami with one RBI and one strikeout. In terms of replacing Rendon’s hitting prowess, Victor Robles has started a streak of his own. The youngster is hot on a seven game hit streak, including a bunt over the infield Sunday.

  3. Will the Nationals ever sure up their end game? Yesterday’s ninth inning was on the brink of disaster. Kyle Barraclough allowed back-to-back walks, then Sean Doolittle loaded the bases. Luckily for the Nats, crisis averted.

Download the MyTeams app (https://www.nbcsports.com/washington/myteams-nbc-sports ) for even more Nationals content, and check out the latest episode of the Racing Presidents podcast below.

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NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Blues eliminate Jets, Stars and Capitals pull ahead 3-2

NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Blues eliminate Jets, Stars and Capitals pull ahead 3-2

Friday saw the Toronto Maple Leafs pull ahead 3-2 and the Colorado Avalanche eliminate the favored Calgary Flames. Saturday provided another elimination game and two teams pulled ahead 3-2 in their series.

Here are the results from Saturday.

St. Louis Blues eliminate Winnipeg Jets with 3-2 win

The Blues return to the second round of the playoffs after they were eliminated in the first round last season.

The Blues rally started 23 seconds into the game, when Jaden Schwartz put home a Brayden Schenn rebound.

Schwartz followed with two more goals, completing the hat trick. It's the second natural hat trick in a playoff series clinching game since Geoff Courtnall in 1992.

The Blues await the winner of the Nashville-Dallas series.

Dallas Stars pull ahead of Nashville Predators in 5-3 victory

The Stars were able to steal one from the Predators at Bridgestone Arena thanks to Jason Dickinson and Alexander Radulov's two goal performances.

Tyler Seguin added a goal of his own to pull the Stars ahead 4-2 at the end of the second period, and Ben Bishop recorded 30 saves.

The Stars have a chance to close the series at home Monday night.

Washington Capitals take upperhand on Carolina Hurricanes with 6-0 shutout

After dropping Game 4 in Carolina 2-1, the Caps exploded for six goals against the Hurricanes in a 6-0 win.

Nicklas Backstrom scored the opening two goals. He leads the Capitals in playoff goals with five and had a four point night.

The Caps also got production from their bottom six with Brett Connolly's goal and Nic Dowd's converted penalty shot. It's the first penalty shot a Caps player has successfully made in the playoffs.

Braden Holtby's shutout gave him seven in the playoffs, surpassing Olaf Kolzig's six for the franchise lead. The Caps have a chance to win the series in Carolina Monday night.

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