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Falcons' short-yardage struggles prove costly

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Falcons' short-yardage struggles prove costly

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The Falcons' short-yardage woes in their first loss of the season stirred memories of similar struggles the last time they lost - in the playoffs.

In each case, Atlanta couldn't come up with just one yard.

The Falcons couldn't score after they had a second down at the Saints' 1-yard line late in Sunday's 31-27 loss at New Orleans. The Falcons, who had been the NFL's last unbeaten team, fell to 8-1.

In the 24-2 loss at the Giants in last season's NFC wild-card game, the offense was stuffed on two fourth-and-1 quarterback sneaks and a third-and-inches run.

Center Todd McClure bristled Monday when asked if there were parallels between the two losses. McClure said the offensive line is unfairly blamed for the short-yardage struggles.

``That's two totally different ballgames and that's what (upsets) me off more than anything, that you guys are going to write about how bad we are up front, that we can't get in the end zone,'' McClure said.

``But there's more to it than just blocking up front, and that's all I'm going to say about that because I get really frustrated when I hear things and read things, knowing there's more to it than the five guys up front, but we take the brunt of the blame. I don't want to talk about that anymore because I don't want to say anything I'll regret.''

The Saints ranked last in the NFL with their average of 176.5 yards rushing allowed per game before holding the Falcons to 46 yards rushing on 18 carries, an average of 2.6 yards per attempt. Michael Turner had 13 carries for only 15 yards. Jacquizz Rodgers led the team with 29 yards rushing on three carries.

New Orleans led 28-17 through three quarters before the Falcons rallied. Matt Ryan, who passed for a career-best 411 yards with three touchdowns, threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Tony Gonzalez and Matt Bryant added a 20-yard field goal in the final quarter.

Ryan's 9-yard pass to Harry Douglas gave Atlanta a second-and-goal at the 1 just after the 2-minute warning. Ryan's second-down pass for Gonzalez was incomplete, Turner lost a yard on third down, and Saints cornerback Jabari Greer broke up a fourth-down pass for Roddy White.

``We get the ball on the 1, we're expected to get it in,'' McClure said. ``I just get frustrated sometimes over the past couple of years. There's more to it than just lining up and blocking the guys wherever they line up. That's it. I can't talk about it anymore.''

Coach Mike Smith seemed to point to the offensive line in his postgame analysis.

``We are not getting the surge that we need to on the run plays,'' Smith said after the game. ``We've got to be able to move the line of scrimmage on those third down-and-one situations.''

On Monday, Smith said blame can't be pointed to only one part of the offense.

``We've got to do a lot of things better,'' Smith said. ``It's not one position group, it's not one guy, it's the entire offense.''

Smith said the offense ``did not execute well.''

``We had too many unblocked guys in the hole and it's hard to get running that way,'' he said. ``There are a number of reasons why and we addressed those in the meeting today and we'll continue to address them.''

There also were problems on defense.

Smith said the Falcons had four missed tackles on Chris Ivory's 56-yard scoring run. That play turned the momentum after Atlanta's early 10-0 lead.

``You can't have missed tackles or they will lead to explosive plays,'' Smith said. ``We've got to do a better job across the board. It is an issue that has probably been our Achilles' heel.

``It was not for lack of effort. That was a hard-fought football game yesterday.''

The Falcons, who are home this week against the Arizona Cardinals, won't have to field more questions about the possibility of an undefeated season. The players insisted Monday those questions would not have been a distraction.

``I'd much rather be answering those questions being 9-0 than answering these questions being 8-1,'' said cornerback Dunta Robinson.

The Falcons are still in excellent position. They lead the NFC South by three games over Tampa Bay and still boast the NFC's best record, one game better than Chicago.

Robinson said he expects a strong recovery this week.

``We have a veteran football team, so we've won games and we've lost games and it's all about the way you bounce back,'' he said. ``One thing I know about this team in the years that I've been here is that we've always bounced back after a loss and I don't expect anything different. I mean, we're 8-1, you know what I mean, so you can't be too down and you can't be too disappointed about that. ... We're still excited about our future.''

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One crazy stat that connects Dwayne Haskins with Cam Newton, but also Mark Sanchez

One crazy stat that connects Dwayne Haskins with Cam Newton, but also Mark Sanchez

The Redskins selected Dwayne Haskins with the 15th overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. While his record at Ohio State was impressive, Haskins didn't log many starts. 

Washington head coach Jay Gruden talked about Haskins back in March during the league meetings, before the Burgundy and Gold drafted the quarterback, and said that because he played just one year in college he would need significant time to learn the NFL game. 

"You would like a guy to play more than a year to see how he’s developed over the years. Haskins has a unique skillset. He’s big, strong and can really throw it," Gruden said. Then, "Is he going to be ready for the first year?"

After OTAs and minicamp, it's obvious Haskins has all the talent needed to play quarterback in the NFL. He's made touch throws and he's rifled balls into tight windows. At the same time, he seemed confused in spots about play calls and struggled with the speed of the pass rush. 

All of that is normal for a player with just 14 starts. But it's that number, the one year of starting experience in college, that makes one statistic stand out about Haskins. 

That's some serious company, both good, bad and ugly. 

As a rookie in 2011, Cam Newton went 6-10 with 35 total TDs and 17 interceptions, not to mention a Rookie of the Year trophy. His running prowess made up for average numbers in the pass game. The more important comparison for Redskins fans is that Newton eventually developed into an NFL MVP and got the Panthers to the Super Bowl. 

For Mark Sanchez, the rookie numbers and the career comparison aren't as kind. Sanchez threw 12 TDs and 20 INTs in 15 games as a rookie, though he was at the helm as the Jets got to two straight AFC title games. Still, for his career, Sanchez threw more INTs than TDs and could not keep a starting job after his rookie contract. 

Trubisky is a different deal. He's only started 26 games since being the second overall pick in the 2017 draft with a record of 15-11. He's thrown 31 touchdowns against 19 interceptions, and run for another five scores. It's hard to describe Trubisky's game. At times he's terribly inaccurate, but in other spots, he looks like a future Pro Bowler. 

Newton is the sure thing, Sanchez is the poor outcome. Trubisky is still to be determined. 

For Haskins, it's not good company or bad company. With only 14 starts at Ohio State before the Redskins drafted Haskins, it's just the company he's in.

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Tomas Satoransky set to enter unpredictable free agent market for point guards

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Tomas Satoransky set to enter unpredictable free agent market for point guards

Of the Wizards' players set to hit free agency on June 30, one who has a good chance to return is point guard Tomas Satoransky. He and center Thomas Bryant are atop the team's priority list with Bobby Portis likely too expensive and Jabari Parker set to enter the market unrestricted.

Satoransky will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Wizards can match any offers made by other teams. And in talking to members of the Wizards' coaching staff and front office, they speak of Satoransky like he is part of their future.

Still, nothing can be assumed and especially in a year in which many teams have money to spend. As Kevin O'Connor of the Ringer noted this week, there is more cap room available this summer than the previous two combined. That could lead to 2016-level contracts where role players get paid like starters and average starters get paid like stars.

What will make Satoransky's market interesting, though, is the fact there are some much bigger names available at his position. At point guard, teams with the most money can go after All-Stars like Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving and D'Angelo Russell. There is then a robust second tier that includes Malcolm Brogdon, Terry Rozier and Ricky Rubio. Then you have Derrick Rose, Elfrid Payton, Patrick Beverley, Darren Collison and Rajon Rondo.

It is a great year to be a free agent, but maybe not the best year to be a free agent point guard. The position class is absolutely loaded.

Satoransky, though, will still draw plenty of interest and among the teams expected to check in on him are the Mavericks, Pacers, Magic and Celtics, NBC Sports Washington has learned.

The Celtics have already been tied to Satoransky by Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports. But they also have their sights set on some of the bigger fish at point guard with rumors linking them to Walker, in particular.

The Utah Jazz were also set to pursue Satoransky, but their trade for Mike Conley Jr. has taken them off the list. The Phoenix Suns could also emerge as a suitor, though they are being linked to higher profile free agents at this point.

Both the Wizards and Satoransky expressed interest in a contract extension midway through the 2018-19 season, as NBC Sports Washington reported, but those talks didn't get much further. The Wizards ended up putting a lot of things on hold once they drifted out of the playoff race and ultimately fired team president Ernie Grunfeld.

With senior vice president Tommy Sheppard serving in the interim, though, Satoransky has a big proponent calling the shots in the Wizards front office. Sheppard scouted Satoransky before the Wizards drafted him and was key in convincing him to leave Europe for the NBA.

Satoransky likes playing in Washington and recognizes an opportunity at point guard with John Wall set to miss most of next season due to Achilles surgery. But he also recognizes this as a chance to earn the biggest payday of his career.

How much money Satoransky will ultimately receive is hard to predict. Those in his camp are apprehensive to throw numbers out there because even they aren't sure.

One potential comparison could be Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, who makes just over $9 million per year. Though VanVleet is arguably better, Satoransky is hitting the market with more money to go around. 

Many have tried to project Satoransky's market in the past few months. Soon we will find out just how valuable he is.

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