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Falcons overcome mistakes to beat Buccaneers 24-23

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Falcons overcome mistakes to beat Buccaneers 24-23

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Atlanta coach Mike Smith spoke highly of the Falcons' defense. Without its solid performance, Matt Ryan may not have had an opportunity to lead his latest game-winning drive.

The Falcons (10-1) held off Tampa Bay 24-23 Sunday, overcoming two turnovers by their star quarterback in part because the Buccaneers settled for a pair of field goals rather than touchdowns after Ryan threw a second-quarter interception and lost a fumble on a fourth-quarter sack.

``I thought our defense did an outstanding job again. They were put in some tough situations after turnovers,'' Smith said, adding that limiting Bucs rookie Doug Martin to 50 yards rushing on 21 carries was a key to the game as well.

``We knew it was going to be one of our `musts,' and I thought we did a nice job,'' Smith added. ``I thought we played the run extremely well, controlled the line of scrimmage. That is an outstanding running back.''

Ryan completed his first 10 passes and finished 26 of 32 for 353 yards and one touchdown, an 80-yarder to Julio Jones, who had nine receptions for 147 yards despite playing on a sore right ankle that limited him in practice.

Atlanta got a lift from the return of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who was back after missing three games with an ankle injury.

Josh Freeman threw for 256 yards for Tampa Bay, however he was sacked twice and failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 14 games. Martin scored both of his team's TDs on 1-yard runs and Connor Barth kicked three field goals.

``It's hard to win games by threes,'' coach Greg Schiano said. ``Sevens add up considerably quicker.''

The Falcons (10-1) kept pace with the Houston Texans for the NFL's best record and ended a four-game winning streak by the up-and-coming Bucs (6-5).

``They are playing with a lot of confidence,'' said Ryan, who has won seven of his past eight starts against the Bucs. ``It's always been a tough place for us to come play. They play with great effort, and I think they have a good football team.''

Ryan teamed with Jones on his long TD midway through the third quarter, but the Falcons found themselves trailing 23-17 after the Bucs marched to Martin's second TD, then used a sack-fumble to set up a field goal that left Atlanta needing another fourth-quarter comeback to win.

Ryan obliged by a leading a six-play, 64-yard march that Michael Turner finished with a 3-yard TD run that put the NFC South leaders ahead for good with 7:55 remaining.

Barth missed a 56-yard goal for Tampa Bay in the closing minutes, and the winning streak that's helped the Bucs climb back into playoff contention following a 1-3 start ended when Freeman's desperation pass fell incomplete in the Atlanta end zone with no time left on the clock.

``The last drive, that's something we've done before this season,'' Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez said. ``I really think that's a positive for us to be able to come up with plays like that when we have to like that. ... I'm really happy with the way we responded.''

It's getting to be a way of life. Ryan has also led late marches to beat Carolina, Washington, Oakland and Arizona this season and has put together 21 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime since entering the league in 2008 - four of them against the division rival Bucs.

The Falcons won't have long to celebrate this one. They host the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night in a rematch of the only game they've lost.

``Ten and 1 is great, but I'll tell you what I've said since the beginning of the season: We're just jockeying for position,'' Gonzalez said. ``We just want to put ourselves in the best position, playing the best football. Right around this time is when you want to start jelling as a team and take it on into the playoffs because that's the most important thing.''

The win stopped the Bucs, who've won five or seven following a 1-3 start, from tightening the NFC South standings. Turner also scored a fourth-quarter TD that helped the Falcons overcome six turnovers to beat Arizona 23-19 last week.

``It was a hard-fought game by both teams, a very physical game,'' Schiano said. ``But I do think missed opportunities were a big part of it. There were some chances both offensively and defensively, and in the kicking game.''

NOTES: Martin scored on a pair of 1-yard run for the Bucs. ... After throwing seven interceptions in Atlanta's first nine games, Ryan has thrown six the past two weeks. ... Falcons CBs Asante Samuel (shoulder) and Dunta Robinson (head) left the game with injuries in the third quarter, but returned.

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Are the Wizards waiting too long to choose a new team president?

Are the Wizards waiting too long to choose a new team president?

The Washington Wizards have operated throughout their search for a new team president with patience and for a while it appeared that approach had paid off, as they got close to filling the position over the weekend before Tim Connelly returned to Denver. That patience, though, could be put to the test very soon.

The NBA Combine is already in the books. So, unless they decide to promote interim president Tommy Sheppard, the person who will ultimately be making the call with the ninth overall pick on draft night will have been absent from the face-to-face interviews they conducted in Chicago, IL. It is not ideal, but by waiting this long clearly the Wizards have made peace with that.

They still have some time between now and the NBA global camp on May 30 and Wizards pre-draft workouts are not scheduled to begin until the first week of June. The draft is still about a month away and the deadline to extend qualifying offers to their restricted free agents is June 30. 

Whomever leads this team will need to decide on guys like Tomas Satoransky, Thomas Bryant and Bobby Portis. But still, there is time. 

What could throw the biggest wrench into the Wizards' timeline is the impending announcement of All-NBA teams. If Bradley Beal makes All-NBA, which the ballots that have been made public already suggest he has a very good chance to do so, he will be eligible for a supermax contract. 

That would present the Wizards with a complicated situation, one that wouldn't need to be settled overnight but would instantly become the most important story surrounding the team. 

A supermax for Beal is projected to be worth $194 million over four years and would start in the 2021-22 season. With John Wall already signed to a supermax contract, it would be difficult to afford both and still fill out the rest of a competitive roster. Two players would make 70-plus percent of the cap.

If the Wizards determine they can't pay both Beal and Wall long-term, something will have to give. It could lead to a trade.

Deciding on Beal's future, one could argue, may end up being one of the most important calls the Wizards' next team president will have to make in their entire career in Washington. And they would be faced with it as soon as they take the job.

Depending on the timing, the question could even define their introductory press conference. The new president and owner Ted Leonsis would certainly be asked about it.

That is all not to mention how the job could be viewed if Beal makes All-NBA before the position is filled. Anyone who takes the Wizards job will already be doing so with an understanding that it may take time to build a contender given Wall's contract and the fact he is coming off Achilles surgery.

On top of all that, there would be questions about whether the Wizards would offer Beal the contract and, if they offered it, whether he would take it. Beal already raised some doubt about whether he would accept the money, given he has already made plenty in his career and wants to win. 

That standoff could lead to a barrage of trade rumors, which can overshadow just about anything in today's NBA. Just ask the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Beal decision technically would not have to be made for months. If he makes All-NBA, he won't be able to sign the supermax until July 6, when the free agency moratorium ends. They can sign Beal to an extension all the way up until the day before the 2019-20 regular season begins.

But it could become a pressing issue very soon and before the Wizards' next team architect even takes the job.

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Mike Rizzo: Nationals are 'aggressively' trying to re-sign Anthony Rendon

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Mike Rizzo: Nationals are 'aggressively' trying to re-sign Anthony Rendon

The Washington Nationals have every intention of trying to reach a long-term deal with Anthony Rendon, GM Mike Rizzo said, looking to quell concern after a report Tuesday that he may be on his way out after the 2019 season.

"Anthony Rendon is a guy that we drafted, developed, signed and watch turn into a star in front of our eyes," Rizzo said on The Sports Junkies Wednesday. "He’s a guy that we’d like to have long-term. We’re certainly going to be aggressive and try to make that happen and hopefully, it will."

Nationals fans are growing anxious after the front office couldn't get a deal done with Bryce Harper, hoping a repeat wouldn't happen with Rendon who has had a breakout career with the Nats.

"We have shown that we’re not afraid to sign our own players, we’re not afraid to sign free agent players, and we’re not afraid to spend money on stars of the game and I don’t think Anthony Rendon would be any different," Rizzo said.

Grant Paulsen said on Tuesday on 106.7 The Fan's "Grant and Danny Show," that he believes the Nationals have missed their opportunity to re-sign Rendon.

"Here's something I heard from someone who recently talked to Scott Boras," Paulsen said. "Apparently, he told that person that the Nationals already missed the boat on getting a deal done with Anthony Rendon." 

Rizzo and the Nationals have already offered Rendon a contract extension in late March, to which he turned down. Since then, nothing has come to fruition. 

"It also takes two to get a deal done," Rizzo said. "We're aggressively trying to sign Anthony Rendon. We’d love to have him here as a National long-term.”

The Nationals look to bounce back after two straight losses to the New York Mets tonight at 7:10 p.m.

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