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Falcons say 49ers' Kaepernick poses new challenge

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Falcons say 49ers' Kaepernick poses new challenge

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Michael Turner's trademark high-pitched laugh filled the Falcons' locker room.

Asked about San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Turner grinned Thursday and said ``I'm glad I'm not on defense.''

Turner, the big running back, and the Falcons' offense want to hold the ball and limit Kaepernick's time on the field in Sunday's NFC championship game.

The Falcons have seen enough in Kaepernick's eight starts to respect the versatile quarterback with the long stride and strong right arm.

Kaepernick comes to Atlanta after running for 181 yards - an NFL record for a quarterback - with two touchdowns in last week's win over Green Bay. Kaepernick also threw for 263 yards with two touchdowns. He became only the third quarterback, after Otto Graham and Jay Cutler, to run and throw for at least two touchdowns in a postseason game.

It's little wonder the Falcons are impressed, even after facing such other dual-threat quarterbacks as Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson this season.

Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon says the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Kaepernick is unique.

``I think he's just a different guy altogether,'' Weatherspoon said. ``He's a taller guy, obviously. He broke the record last week, so that makes him special and different. I think he has a lot more speed. Russell is more of a quick guy. Colin is a faster guy.''

Wilson and Griffin are scramblers. Kaepernick looks more like a 200-meter sprinter with his unusually long stride.

``That's the thing,'' Weatherspoon said. ``You look at him and you think long striders are not fast, but then you look and he's covering a lot of ground and passing a lot of people. You can tell he can run. Speed won't be a surprise to us. We've watched the tape. We'll be ready to go.''

The 49ers don't have to be told they'll bring an unusually gifted quarterback to the Georgia Dome. In only half of a season, Kaepernick has given the San Francisco offense a facelift.

``He's super-fast, athletic and he can throw the ball,'' said 49ers running back LaMichael James. ``Once he breaks the pocket he's always looking downfield. He's looking to throw the ball more than run the ball. But once he takes off, he's faster than a lot of running backs and linebackers. He's an incredible athlete.''

Kaepernick has avoided the big hits that have made it difficult for such other running quarterbacks as Griffin and Michael Vick to avoid injuries.

He said his strategy is ``Run where they're not.''

``You want to run away from where the defensive players are,'' Kaepernick said. ``When they get close, get down.''

The Falcons' defense has reason to worry about the matchup. Atlanta survived its 30-28 divisional playoff win over Seattle last week despite Wilson's fourth-quarter dominance. The Falcons led 27-7 at the start of the quarter but trailed 28-27 before winning on Matt Bryant's late 49-yard field goal.

Wilson passed for 385 yards with two touchdowns and led Seattle with 60 yards rushing and a touchdown.

Falcons coach Mike Smith said he is preparing for the 49ers' ``traditional offense that we're used to seeing'' as well as the pistol formation with read-option plays that Kaepernick ran in college at Nevada.

``We're going to have to be prepared to stop him,'' Smith said. ``We're going to see things we haven't seen in terms of what they'll do with their formations.''

Wilson found open room when he took off on long runs after first looking to pass. Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud said Kaepernick shows more determination to run.

``With Kaepernick, I think once he tucks the ball he's looking to run,'' DeCoud said. ``There will be a few rare instances where he has his eyes looking downfield. More times than not, if he's dropping back and tucks the ball, he's taking off to run where Russell, he had his head up looking downfield and wasn't really looking to cross the line of scrimmage. He was just trying to buy time for his guys to get open.''

Kaepernick's big game last week earned him the promise of more attention from the Falcons defense.

``We definitely have to have somebody accounting for him,'' DeCoud said, adding defensive backs have to be ready to leave their assignments to help contain Kaepernick's runs.

``Last week we kind of bought into plastering the receivers if (Wilson) broke containment because of the fact he likes to find the open receivers,'' DeCoud said. ``This week, we'll have to be cognizant of maybe coming off coverage if he crosses the line of scrimmage to thwart him making a big play on us.''

Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson said the one obstacle Kaepernick can't dodge with his speed is inexperience. Sunday's game will be Kaepernick's first playoff game on the road.

``You've got to get in his mind and change the looks up on him,'' Peterson said. ``He's a great quarterback, doing a lot of good things for his team, but the common denominator is that he's still a young quarterback.

``He can't run from that.''

NOTES: Smith said CB Christopher Owens (hamstring), who hasn't played since Dec. 22, ``looked well-rested and recovered from his injury'' in practice. ... DT Jonathan Babineaux (shoulder) and DE John Abraham (left ankle) had limited participation in practice for the second straight day.

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Jeff Green lifts Wizards as fellow Hoya Otto Porter watches late again

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USA Today Sports

Jeff Green lifts Wizards as fellow Hoya Otto Porter watches late again

The Wizards’ 117-109 win over the Orlando Magic Monday night was the tale of two Hoyas.

Washington brought Jeff Green back home this summer to help anchor the second unit with his defensive versatility and scoring spurts. Both aspects were on display in the fourth quarter, as the Wizards finally broke free from the Magic.

Another former Georgetown star, Otto Porter, was nowhere to be found in the fourth. Zero minutes for a third consecutive game for the Wizards’ highest-paid player, thus adding another layer of weird to his season.

The why is a topic. For a team that registered its first winning streak of the season after a 2-9 start, all that matters is finding success. That was the postgame message from Scott Brooks.

There’s no detective work required as to why Green turned into a late-game staple.

After his 19-point outing in Saturday’s win at Miami, the streaky scorer had 10 of his 18 in the final period against Orlando with four 3-pointers. Defensively the 6-foot-9 forward offers Brooks an option the roster lacked last season: a versatile player capable of guarding on the perimeter and, as was the case against Orlando center Nik Vucevic, inside against bigger players.

“We need his all-around play,” Brooks said. “He can guard just about everybody on the floor. … I thought [Jeff] did a pretty good job on the big fellow.”

Green and Markieff Morris handled the interior spots the entire fourth quarter. When the forwards can match up with opposing four’s and five’s on defense, it typically means their scoring presence opens the court for penetrating guards John Wall and Bradley Beal on the other end.

Green sinking bombs throughout the game helped as well. He finished four of five from deep with two coming in the fourth. The career 33 percent 3-point shooter is 9 of 13 from beyond the arc overall during the last four games, and 21 of 28 overall.

“He's starting to get a little bit of rhythm from the three-point line, and we need that from him,” Brooks said.

Maybe Green isn’t the ideal athletic-4 Wall called for in recent years, but the on-court connection between the power forward and point guard is evident. During the decisive 14-4 run, the two hooked up for an alley-oop lob that's turned into a go-to play for Washington.

With shooters surrounding the duo, Wall dribbles toward the left elbow, taking all eyes with him. Green immediately turns down an open lane and rolls to the rim before rising high to meet the toss.

“We have shooters, we have guys that have to [be] respected,” Green said of the play. “It keeps [defenders] at bay, and with John’s speed, to get downhill at the rim, you have to help (on him).”

Wall passed on offering any keys to the play’s success (“We just tweaked a little bit of the play. I can’t tell you about, but it’s kind of working for us.”), but he praised Green’s performance with ease.

“That’s what we got Jeff for,” Wall said.

The Wizards matched that massive four-year, $106.5 million restricted offer sheet Porter signed with Brooklyn in 2017 for all kinds of reasons. Among them, he’s an instinct-rich player who makes winning plays and ranks among the most accurate 3-point shooters in the league. Those traits haven’t kept Porter on the court late in games recently in part because they haven’t shown in full-throated ways.

The term “benching” is harsh, though the situation is odd. Morris sat out the final periods at Orlando and Miami. Dwight Howard didn’t enter the fourth Monday despite finishing with 17 points and eight rebounds. Only Porter’s sit streak reached three games.

The small forward played a strong defensive game in Saturday’s win at Miami, but Brooks rode with a group that gained momentum as Washington surged past the Heat.

Porter is 9 of 16 on 3-pointers over the last four games. That’s only one aspect of the game. Brooks is looking for more. Porter took only one shot attempt in the first half Monday, lacked vigor defensively, and scored six points in 21 minutes.

"I mean, it's trying to find a blend of guys that are going to compete and going to play hard,” Brooks said of his lineup choices.

Asked specifically about Porter, Brooks said, “It’s just the way it is. Some games Otto is not going to have good games. Tonight isn’t one of them. He’ll bounce back. The guy is a winner. He knows how to play.”

Green and Porter honed their games at Georgetown under coach John Thompson III and turned into top-5 NBA Draft selections. The program is mostly closed off to the outside world, but a strong bond between the players exists regardless of when they played. The two forwards never joined forces until this season. Green knows Porter, enough to tell whether a helpful chat is required. This isn’t one of those times. 

“Otto is a pro, man,” Green told NBC Sports Washington. “I don’t have to say anything to Otto. He’s a team-first guy. He’s a guy who’s going to make sure whenever his name is called he’s going to be ready. He’s not worried about if he’s playing. I’m sure he’d like to be playing. He’s doing whatever it takes it to make sure the team is in a place to win.”

So is Scott Brooks. For now, that includes one former Georgetown star in the fourth quarter. It’s just not the obvious one.

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' 117-109 win over Magic, including Bradley Beal's big dunk

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' 117-109 win over Magic, including Bradley Beal's big dunk

The Washington Wizards topped the Orlando Magic 117-109 on Monday night. Here are five plays or moments worth revisiting...

1. Like most games the Wizards have played this season, on Monday they started out scorching on offense while defense appeared optional. 

This play was an exception. Bradley Beal, whom you will see plenty more from in this post, got a steal that led to a three for Otto Porter Jr. on the other end:

Though the Wizards won, Porter was held to just six points in 22 minutes of action.

2. Back to Beal. Though that first-half play was nice, he was quiet for much of this game. It wasn't until less than five minutes were remaining in the third quarter that he flipped a switch.

But when he did, there was nothing the Magic could do to stop him. This was one of the plays he made during his third quarter takeover. He used a nifty behind-the-back crossover to set up Dwight Howard for an and-1 bucket:

3. Beal accounted for 10 points in a three-minute stretch, capped off with this steal and dunk:

Beal started the game 3-for-13 from the field, but ended it with 21 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block.

4. John Wall (25 points, 10 assists) and Jeff Green (18 points, six rebounds) also had big nights. They connected on this alley-oop in the fourth quarter:

Green had 10 points in the fourth quarter and Wall had nine.

5. Wall kept it going late with this fadeaway jumper to force a Magic timeout. The way he toyed with the defense off the dribble was quite impressive:

Speaking of Wall, if you ask Beal, it was the media (and more specifically ESPN's Stephen A. Smith) that set the five-time All-Star off. Wall, Beal says, was playing with some extra motivation with Smith sitting courtside:

Don't question him. Just go with it.

The Wizards have now won two straight games. In a sign that it's still super early and probably not time to freak out about the big picture, the Wizards are now just 1 1/2 games out of the eighth seed in the East.

 

 

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