Wizards

Falcons look to bounce back from dismal showing

201212091431522948688-p2.jpeg

Falcons look to bounce back from dismal showing

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The Atlanta Falcons finally played a stinker of a game.

They don't want it to become a habit.

Certainly not at this time of year.

The Falcons (11-2) already clinched the NFC South title but have struggled to win in the playoffs, so they are especially mindful of having some momentum going into this postseason.

``A lot of teams get hot at the right time. They can string a couple of wins together and carry that into the postseason,'' safety Thomas DeCoud said. ``On the other side of the coin, you definitely don't want to drop a couple of games going into the postseason, because that will be in the back of your mind and keep you from progressing in the postseason like you want to.''

The players normally get the day off after victories, so it was a rare Monday appearance for many of them at the team's suburban training complex. They studied film and met with the coaches, trying to figure out what went wrong in their worst performance of the season.

Atlanta lost to division rival Carolina 30-20 in a game that wasn't really that close. The last-place Panthers (4-9) raced to a 23-0 lead midway through the third quarter and were never seriously challenged.

``We didn't play up to our standards in any phase,'' coach Mike Smith said. ``The first thing you have to do is make the corrections from the tape of the game. Believe me, there were plenty of them in all three phases.''

After taking 24 hours to review their shoddy performance, the Falcons will turn their attention to hosting the defending Super Bowl champions on Sunday. The New York Giants (8-5) are clinging to first in the NFC East and desperate for a win to stay in front of Washington and Dallas.

Last season, the Giants routed the Falcons in the opening round of the playoffs 24-2 - the third straight one-and-done postseason appearance for Atlanta since Smith took over in 2008.

These guys know they can't afford another postseason flop.

``The teams playing their best football at the end of the season are usually the teams that get to where they want to be in the last ballgame,'' Smith said.

For some reason, the Falcons looked totally flat against Carolina, a team going nowhere that played with a fire and passion totally missing on the Atlanta side. The Panthers took 28 of the first 34 snaps and built a 356-86 edge in total yards before the visiting team showed any sign of life.

At that point, it was far too late.

Smith was especially troubled by his team's dismal performance on third downs - both offensively and defensively. The Falcons converted just 2 of 8 times, while the Panthers came through on 9 of 15. That's why Carolina built a commanding edge in time of possession, holding the ball more than 10 1/2 minutes longer than Atlanta.

``We weren't the type of team we wanted to be, that's for sure,'' Smith said. ``You kind of get behind the eight ball when you can't get off the field on third down. We've got to be much better on both sides of the ball on third down.''

Despite their impressive record, the Falcons have struggled at times against seemingly inferior opponents, leading a number of pundits to speculate that the team is headed for more disappointment in the playoffs. Naturally, the loss to the Panthers stirred up even more doubts about Atlanta's ability to make a deep run in January.

DeCoud shrugged off the negativity.

``We can't be tuned into that type of stuff,'' he said. ``After a while, that stuff becomes a distraction.''

The Falcons know the skeptics will become even louder if they lose two in a row. Sure, they still have the inside track to home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, but that didn't do them a bit of good in 2010, when they were routed at home by the Green Bay Packers.

After losing to Carolina, Smith knows his team must send a clear signal to the rest of the league: Beware of Atlanta in the playoffs.

``It's very important,'' he said. ``There are a lot of things that are going to happen over the next four weeks that affect the Atlanta Falcons and affect probably eight or nine other teams in the league. That's what makes it fun. We've got to go out, first and foremost, and play our best football here in the fourth quarter'' of the season.

Obviously, that was the goal last week, as well.

``We've just got to move on,'' offensive guard Justin Blalock said. ``We have gotten to this point because of a certain mind-set. You have to have a short-term memory and hope there's not too many days like that one yesterday. But there's going to be some.''

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

---

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

Quick Links

How one half of assertive basketball may turn around the Wizards' season

How one half of assertive basketball may turn around the Wizards' season

The fat lady wasn’t warming up to sing an operatic number, not with 66 games left in the regular season. Then the flailing Washington Wizards, coming off consecutive double-digit losses, came out flat yet again. They trailed the Los Angeles Clippers by 19 points at halftime some 36 hours after the general public heard about their private quarrels and following weeks of basketball nightmares. 

So, she might have at least begun some mental prep for an upcoming performance. Then came the comeback within the comeback. The Wizards rallied for a 125-118 win when all the world was ready to say sayonara. 

Did Washington indeed save its season by outscoring Los Angeles 71-45 in the second half?

Answering 'yes' presumes all is right with the gang that has struggled to defend throughout the season and possibly has chemistry issues even a family therapist couldn’t fix with thrice-weekly sessions. 

The day began with coach Scott Brooks and the team’s stars addressing leaks of intense arguments among players and a scolding by All-Star John Wall directed to the head coach. There was no spark initially, just a dismal first half that saw them down 24 points and 73-54 at halftime.

The first half served as a season-long microcosm. It’s why rumors of breaking up the team seemed plausible. 

Over the remaining 24 minutes, the Wizards finally woke up. They flew around the court defensively and passed to the open man. The stars played like a team wanting to play each other, willing to do whatever necessary for a win.

John Wall finished with 30 points. Bradley Beal scored 27. Otto Porter grabbed 14 rebounds to go with 11 points. Six players scored in double figures. Everybody ate. 

“That’s how we need to play,” Bradley Beal told NBC Sports Washington.

“Not going to say everything is fixed because we were still down [24 points], still have a lot of work to do. Got a lot of to change and get better. Our effort was there in the second half. That’s the type of intensity we have to have for the full 48.”

Numerous moments and performances stood out in the second half beyond the main players. Tomas Satoransky’s hustle helped begin the turnaround. Thomas Bryant, who started with Dwight Howard sidelined, provided interior energy. Jeff Green dropped 20 points. Markieff Morris, coming off the bench for the first time since Feb. 29, 2016, showed more than in recent games.

One play deep in the fourth quarter showed the difference between 16 games of defensive slumber and Tuesday’s resolve. 

The clock ticked under five minutes with Los Angeles leading 109-107. Clippers forward Tobias Harris crushed the Wizards early and finished with 29 points. He had the ball near the left corner when Wall and Beal sprung an aggressive trap as the shot clock wound down. Morris hustled for support. The late arrival helped. Shot clock violation. The Wizards then took the lead with a Morris 3-pointer. They soon pulled away with an 11-2 run. Their main players showed the way.

“We have to,” Beal said to NBC Sports Washington. “When it’s coming from the main guys. John and I have to give more, more and more. That’s something we realize and tell each other that. That’s that only way we’re going to get out of it. We just have to give more.”

The Thanksgiving holiday provides a natural break.

Washington resumes game action Friday at Toronto. At 6-11, the Wizards have to do, but at least they can catch their breath after a surreal span. 

“It’s a whirlwind. It’s a whirlwind,” Beal said. “We embrace it. Everything is a challenge. It’s adversity. We’ve been in this situation before. We’ve been in this situation where everybody thinks we have an issue. I think we did a great job of ignoring it as best we could. Doing what we could to get a win. A  much-needed win at that.”

Clippers coach Doc Rivers monitors the Wizards because of his son, Austin, Beal’s primary backup. More film work came leading into the second meeting between the teams. Los Angeles hammered Washington 136-104 on Oct. 28. Things were only getting worse for the Wizards. Then came the second half.

“They just forgot about the stuff they’re going through and got back to playing basketball,” Doc Rivers said of the Wizards.

“I’ve always thought that’s what you have to do. Every guy out there on both teams, they played basketball all their lives. Then you get all the, what I call ‘stuff.’ The clutter starts affecting your game. Tonight you could see the clutter was killing them early. Then when they saw they had a chance to win, they started playing basketball again.”

Assume nothing but sunshine and swishes going forward if you must. Ideally, the Wizards do not. They have work remaining. In the second half against the Clippers, Wall, Beal, and crew rose up. In doing so, the fat lady took a seat.

We’ll see for how long.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS:

Quick Links

Markieff Morris unhappy with leaks coming out of Wizards' locker room

Markieff Morris unhappy with leaks coming out of Wizards' locker room

The Wizards had just completed a 24-point comeback against the L.A. Clippers, but something wasn't sitting right with power forward Markieff Morris.

When asked by a reporter if it was nice to get the win given their recent losing and the media controversy surrounding the team, Morris couldn't help but wonder who it was who leaked comments made by players behind closed doors at a practice last week.

There were very specific quotes cited by several media outlets and Morris wants to know where they came from. 

"It's f***ed up what's going on," he said.

"The comments that's coming from the locker room, that's f***ed up."

Morris went on to say that anonymous sources leaking information shouldn't "happen in sports." Many professional athletes see the locker room and team-only events like practice as sacred. Anyone who breaks that code is, in their eyes, a traitor.

If Morris knew who the information came from, it sounds like he would do something about it.

"I don't know who it is, so it's hard to address. But it's messed up," he said.

Which player or member of the organization spilled the beans could be a question for this team all season. It doesn't sound like Morris will forget that it happened.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS: