Capitals

Falcons not too impressed with NFC South title

201211292207796304464-p2.jpeg

Falcons not too impressed with NFC South title

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The Atlanta Falcons aren't too impressed with winning their second NFC South title in three years.

In fact, the latest division championship hardly stirred excitement when coach Mike Smith congratulated the players on Tuesday.

``We've won the division before, so it's not that big of a deal, you know what I mean?'' receiver Roddy White said. ``When coach said, `Congratulations,' nobody was woo-wooing or nothing like that, which is good.

``We've got our eye on the big prize.''

First among those goals is to earn the top playoff seed and secure home-field advantage through the conference title game.

The Falcons are mindful, however, that their 2.5-game conference lead is no guarantee, particularly after earning the No. 1 seed two years ago and collapsing in a second-round blowout loss to Green Bay at the Georgia Dome.

Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon believes the entire team knows that there's too much at stake to feel complacent.

``You have to be happy with where you're at right now, but ultimately it's all about finishing it,'' Weatherspoon said. ``We set our goals high. That's just part of the step, so now it's on to the next part.''

Smith did his part to keep players energized by giving the team four days off following last Thursday's home win over New Orleans. The mini-bye week, as Weatherspoon calls it, marked the second time this season that Smith rewarded his team for winning.

After an Oct. 14 home victory over Oakland that improved the Falcons to 6-0, Smith gave the players an entire week off. Center Todd McClure, now in his 14th season, credits the fifth-year coach with having a good feel for knowing when to motivate his players and when to back off.

``Smitty knows this locker room,'' McClure said. ``He's down here a bunch. He knows how everybody's feeling physically. He knows when we need rest. He knows when we need to turn it on and when we need to go harder and keep the pads on in practice. He's got a great vibe of the locker room, and I think that's what's making him successful as a head coach.''

On Tuesday, Atlanta's first workout on the field since the win over New Orleans, Smith and his staff sent the team through a session he calls ``Falcons on Falcons.''

Smith took the same approach after the bye week, and Atlanta responded on Oct. 28 with a 30-17 victory at Philadelphia a few days later.

The goal is to remind players of the rudimentary importance of technique and timing. Coaches keep the focus on one-on-one matchups, scheme assignments and third-down efficiency as offensive starters practice against defensive starters.

``You're getting the best in-season work, except on game day, because you're going against one another and not working off cards,'' Smith said. ``You're actually getting a crisper play run when you're working against yourself. I think it gets the guys focused, and it gives them an opportunity to come out and compete.''

Third downs were a significant problem against New Orleans. The Falcons' offense, which ranks second in third-down efficiency, went just 1-for-11. Defensively, Atlanta dropped to 29th against the run and 15th on third down, but still stayed in the top five in scoring.

``In this league, you have to understand those guys on the other side are getting paid just like we do,'' cornerback Dunta Robinson said. ``So they're going to make some plays, but it's about how you strong you stand ultimately, and I think we do a good job.''

Extra rest could help over the next four games as cornerback Asante Samuel (shoulder) and nose tackle Peria Jerry (quadriceps) try to rehab their way back.

Though Smith said that Jerry might practice on Wednesday as the Falcons (11-1) install their game plan for Sunday's visit to Carolina (3-9), he added that it was too early to predict Samuel's status.

The Falcons were encouraged, however, that Christopher Owens played one his better games after Samuel lasted just three snaps against the Saints.

Running back Michael Turner believes having backups like Owens compete at a high level fuels confidence of the entire team and keeps Atlanta on track to keep winning.

``The last couple of years it's come down pretty tight at the end (of the regular season), but to get that part out of the way - that first step - is pretty good,'' Turner said. ``Now, with so many different contributing to the team's overall success, we can finish out the regular season strong.''

---

Follow George Henry athttp://www.twitter.com/georgehenryAP

Quick Links

Capitals are the class of the Metropolitan Division for fifth year in a row

Capitals are the class of the Metropolitan Division for fifth year in a row

You know what’s fun? Winning Metropolitan Division titles. 

No, it’s not as good as the big prize. The Capitals will never top their 2018 Stanley Cup championship. But winning a competitive division against their biggest rivals five years in a row? Pretty, pretty good. 

Washington took its fifth in a row officially on Tuesday when the NHL announced that the regular season had concluded thanks to the ongoing coronavirus. The Capitals just outlasted the Philadelphia Flyers with 90 standings points to 89. The difference over 69 games? One extra Caps game going into overtime for a single point. 

Credit to the Flyers for making a late run. No one was playing better in the NHL than Philadelphia just before the season was halted. Whether that carries over into the Stanley Cup Playoffs remains to be seen. 

But the Capitals should take pride in that streak. It’s hard to do in an age of parity. They play in a division where the Pittsburgh Penguins won two Stanley Cups in the previous four seasons. The two teams slugged it out three times in the second round. That’s the luck of the draw, and so four straight division titles -- and two Presidents’ Trophies -- meant just one Cup for Washington. 

CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE CAPITALS TALK PODCAST

It’s also rare to dominate a division the way the Capitals have for five years. The Anaheim Ducks won the Pacific Division title every year from 2013 to 2017. Prior to that, the Detroit Red Wings won the Central Division an astounding eight times from 2001 to 2009. It doesn’t get you a championship -- Washington won the expired Southeast Division from 2008 to 2011 -- but it does mean you played great hockey year after year.

And to do it in the reconstituted Patrick Division, where long-time rivals like the Penguins, Flyers, Rangers, Islanders and Devils joined with newer rivals Carolina and Columbus, makes it even sweeter. Add another banner to the rafters at Capital One Arena. The Caps are the class of the Metropolitan Division yet again. 

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Nationals will not lay off full-time business or baseball employees amid coronavirus pandemic

Nationals will not lay off full-time business or baseball employees amid coronavirus pandemic

The Washington Nationals decided to use “partial furloughs” to keep their baseball and business employees at work through the end of their contracts or the calendar year.

The road map works like this:

All full-time business and baseball employees will receive a reduction in pay and hours ranging from 10 to 30 percent. If the employee’s contract runs to the end of baseball season -- typically Oct. 31 -- then these parameters apply from now until then. If the employee is not on contract, these reductions persist until Dec. 31.

No full-time employee is being laid off because of the economic impact from coronavirus.

An example: If a person works a 40-hour week, and has the 10 percent reduction in pay and hours, they are down to a 36-hour week at 10 percent pay cut.

The reduction scale slides. The highest-paid employees, like Mike Rizzo, are taking the largest reduction in pay. Then on down the line.

CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST

The Nationals deciding to do this now allows their staff to know what the future holds as opposed to wondering month-to-month what decision the organization will make in regard to their job status.

Major League Baseball organizations remain uneasy about their financial future in 2020 since the season has stalled. The league and its team owners are in the midst of negotiations with the MLBPA while attempting to find a safe, revenue-satisfactory path back to the field.

Meanwhile, teams across the league are assessing their non-player finances, and the approach varies. For instance, the Anaheim Angels decided last week to furlough some non-playing employees.

In Washington, no full-time employee will be laid off because of this salary adjustment.

USA Today was first to report the Nationals’ overall decision.

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: