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Falcons make big statement in 34-0 rout of Giants

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Falcons make big statement in 34-0 rout of Giants

ATLANTA (AP) Maybe now, the Atlanta Falcons will get a little respect.

Certainly, no one can accuse them of lacking a quality win.

Not after the pounding they gave the defending Super Bowl champions on Sunday.

Matt Ryan threw three touchdown passes and the defense handed New York its first regular-season shutout since 1996, carrying the Falcons to a 34-0 rout of the Giants with the playoffs approaching.

``They have the hardware and they have the history,'' Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud said. ``This is a good benchmark game to play against a championship-caliber team.''

The Falcons (12-2), who have already clinched the NFC South, moved a step closer to home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. One more win - next Saturday at Detroit, or the regular-season finale at home against Tampa Bay - would ensure that any postseason contests before the Super Bowl are held at the Georgia Dome.

Despite their lofty record, Atlanta has received plenty of criticism for struggling to beat inferior opponents. A 30-20 loss to last-place Carolina the previous week only seemed to reinforce the notion that the Falcons are headed for another short stay in the playoffs. They have yet to win a postseason game since Ryan took over as the quarterback in 2008, going 0-3.

``We love the haters, man,'' said Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel, who had the first of two interceptions against Eli Manning. ``The haters keep us going. So keep your hate coming. We love it. It makes us play with a chip on our shoulder.''

For the Giants (8-6), it was a miserable performance when they had control of their own destiny, at a time of year when they normally play some of their best football. They dropped into a three-way tie for the NFC East lead when both Washington and Dallas won.

``Atlanta was very, very good. We were very, very bad,'' New York coach Tom Coughlin said. ``There's no excuse for what happened here.''

Julio Jones caught a couple of scoring throws from Ryan, who broke his own franchise records for completions and passing yards in a season. Matty Ice finished 23 of 28 for 270 yards.

Manning, on the other hand, was 13 of 25 for 161 yards, leaving him with a dismal 38.9 rating - his worst since a Dec. 23, 2007, win at Buffalo.

The Giants went 0 for 3 on fourth down and also missed a short field goal, putting them in a vulnerable position heading into next Sunday's game at Baltimore.

``We know that we can overcome losses and we can bounce back,'' Manning said. ``The team has good leadership and veteran guys and we understand the importance of this next game. I think the mindset will be good and we'll have a great week of preparation and go out there and take our best shot.

The Falcons extended the NFL's longest active streak since consecutive defeats to 49 games, going back to the 2009 season.

``Our focus was heightened from other weeks,'' coach Mike Smith said. ``We've got a lot of great leaders and mentors in that locker room. They took the message from the meetings and took it out on the field.''

After thoroughly dominating the Giants, the Falcons have surely sent a resounding message to the rest of the league: beware of this team in the playoffs.

``Last week everybody was talking smack about us,'' defensive end John Abraham said. ``We just continue what we're doing.''

Manning threw his first pick on the second play of scrimmage, setting up a quick, 16-yard touchdown drive for the Falcons. Coughlin made a curious call late in the first half, passing up another short field-goal attempt when his team was almost 2 yards shy of the marker. Samuel batted down a short pass intended for Victor Cruz, sending Atlanta to the locker room with a 17-0 lead and all the momentum.

``I was thinking we needed to engender a lift for our sideline,'' Coughlin said. ``That did not work out either.''

Nothing did.

It was all Falcons after Lawrence Tynes missed a chip-shot kick from 30 yards, ruining an impressive second possession by the Giants. Atlanta took it 80 yards from there, with Ryan going to Harry Douglas on a 37-yard gain for the biggest play. Then, on third-and-11 from the 12, Ryan went to his favorite target, Tony Gonzalez, for a 12-yard touchdown.

``We have two games left and we have to win those two games,'' Manning said. ``What else happens after that, we don't know and can't control.''

Early in the second half, the Falcons blew it open on Ryan's 40-yard touchdown pass to Jones down the left sideline. Finally, after a drive that used up more than 9 minutes in the fourth quarter, Ryan went to Jones for a 3-yard TD.

The Giants turned it over one more time in the closing minutes, finishing off their first shutout in the regular season since a 24-0 defeat at Philadelphia on Dec. 1, 1996. The performance came just a week after they put up 52 points on the New Orleans Saints.

NOTES: The Giants wore ``SHES'' decals on their blue helmets in honor of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Also, Cruz dedicated the game to 6-year-old victim Jack Pinto, a big Giants fan. ... New York's last shutout loss came in the playoffs after the 2005 season, a 23-0 setback at Carolina. ... Ryan has thrown for 4,202 yards and 27 touchdowns this season.

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Kevin Durant gives his NBA Finals predictions

Kevin Durant gives his NBA Finals predictions

While a number of teams are fighting to be the favorite heading into the NBA Playoffs, the Los Angeles Clippers picked up a key endorsement from Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant.

When asked who he thought will win it all this year, Durant chose the Clippers defeating the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals and upsetting the No. 1 seed Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. 

"They're just so deep," Durant said of the Clippers on “Play For Keeps” podcast. "They haven't had their whole team together at once for a long period of time yet, and that talent is just undeniable. When you have [Paul George] and Kawhi [Leonard] at the wings, that's what you need to win is wings. You got those two at the wings, arguably top three, top four at the wing position on one team."

So far in Orlando, the Clippers have gone 1-2 after defeating the New Orleans Pelicans and falling to the Lakers and Phoenix Suns. As of now, they hold the two-seed in the Western Conference playoff picture and would face the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. However, they are currently just a half a game ahead of the Denver Nuggets with five seeding games remaining.

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The Lakers clinched the one-seed last week and are up six games in the standings over their cross-town rivals.

ESPN’s playoff odds gave the Clippers a 10% chance of winning it all. They ranked third behind the Bucks with a 49.7% chance and the Lakers at 18.7%. 

Durant chose Los Angeles over his own team, the Brooklyn Nets, who are also in a good position to make the playoffs as the current seven-seed in the East Conference. However, the Nets are playing in Orlando without eight players including a number of starters like Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie and Durant, who missed the entire regular season after tearing his Achilles during the 2019 NBA Finals.

If his team retains the seven-seed heading into the playoffs, they would likely face the Toronto Raptors, who Durant projected would fall to Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference Finals.

But regardless of seeding, Durant acknowledged it’s still anyone’s game.

“I hate doing that s---,” he said about predicting a winner. “You never know what could happen – you seen that with us last year.”

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Orioles fans hoping for a Ryan Mountcastle sighting in majors soon as MLB rosters adjust

Orioles fans hoping for a Ryan Mountcastle sighting in majors soon as MLB rosters adjust

Last night, the Orioles sent outfielder DJ Stewart to the team’s alternate training site at Double-A Bowie after an 0-for-14 start to the season. The move got the roster down to 28 players ahead of the deadline.

But even with Stewart now down and the roster full, it’s natural to be curious where the organization's most pro-ready prospect, Ryan Mountcastle, is and why he hasn’t been called up yet. 

The Orioles have four outfielders on the 28-man roster currently: Austin Hays, Dwight Smith Jr., Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander. They’ll have to make another roster move in the coming days, when pitcher John Means comes off the bereavement list, too.

Still, there is a natural curiosity about what the International League’s Most Valuable Player from a year ago could accomplish at the major league level. 

Last year at Triple-A Norfolk, Mountcastle slashed .312/.344/.527 and had 25 home runs in 127 games. While he predominantly played the corner infield spots, he played the outfield for the first time in his professional career.

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Now, the Orioles want to develop him as a corner outfielder. 

What Mountcastle’s time at the development site shows, however, is that they value the camp more so than regular games for him right now. 

With Hays and Santander in center and right field, the two options for left field are Mullins and Smith, who are batting .083 and .167, respectively. Neither is getting on-base at a clip better than .250. In terms of hindrances to Mountcastle’s job in the major leagues, there aren’t many right now. 

The Orioles are carrying three catchers, which is one area the eventual roster move could come from when Means is back on the roster, but until Mountcastle comes up, those questions won’t be quelled. 

The team has already acquired an extra year of club control by keeping Mountcastle down for the first week of the season, meaning the reasons for keeping him down at this point relate strictly to his development. 

That means he’ll be in Baltimore once the Orioles think he’s ready to play major league defense and take major league at-bats. 

As for when that is, however, is solely up to the organization at this point.

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