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Falcons still unbeaten after edging Raiders 23-20

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Falcons still unbeaten after edging Raiders 23-20

ATLANTA (AP) Asante Samuel won't be lingering over the Falcons' latest win.

He's already looking forward to his return to Philadelphia.

Samuel brought back an interception 79 yards for a touchdown in the closing minutes and Matt Bryant connected on a 55-yard field goal with 1 second remaining, lifting unbeaten Atlanta to a sloppy 23-20 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

As far as Samuel was concerned, it was a thing of beauty.

Especially his pick.

``You might go for your breakfast, you might go for your lunch,'' he said. ``But when you go for that dinner, you know deuce-deuce (22, his uniform number) has got to step up.''

Overcoming three interceptions by Matt Ryan, the Falcons (6-0) extended the best start in franchise history and became the NFL's only unbeaten team when Houston lost to Green Bay. But they'll have plenty to work on during their bye week.

``Even when you win, there's still a long laundry list of things you've got to do better,'' coach Mike Smith said.

The Falcons' next game is Oct. 28 at Philadelphia, where they'll face former Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick and Samuel will get a chance to go against the team he played for the last four seasons. He was traded to the Falcons during the offseason.

``They love me,'' Samuel quipped. ``They're going to scream when I come out of that tunnel. Philly, y'all better scream when I come out of that tunnel!''

The pesky Raiders (1-4) bounced back from Samuel's pick to tie the game with less than a minute to go, but left a little too much time on the clock for Atlanta's final possession.

Ryan completed four short passes, the last of them a 13-yarder to Tony Gonzalez that got Bryant in range for his longest field goal since joining the Falcons in 2009 - and his second game-winning kick in three weeks. He beat the Panthers 30-28 on a 40-yard field goal with 5 seconds left.

``He knows how to get himself prepared, how to calm himself down, how to get it through those pipes,'' Ryan said. ``He's made a lot of clutch kicks for us through the years.''

Bryant actually missed one early, pulling a 43-yarder wide left to break a streak of 23 consecutive field goals going back to last season. He bounced back to connect from 41 and 20 yards before making the one that really mattered.

After a mostly ugly game, the final 3 minutes were thrilling. Tied at 13, the Raiders were in position for a go-ahead field goal when Samuel stepped in front of Carson Palmer's pass at the Atlanta 21 and returned it for a touchdown, racing to the end zone right in front of the Falcons' bench.

Palmer shook off that huge mistake, leading the Raiders down the field for the tying score. He connected with Derek Hagan on a 38-yard pass to the Atlanta 5, and Darren McFadden scored on a 2-yard run with 40 seconds left.

``You don't want to tell your back to take a knee,'' Raiders rookie coach Dennis Allen said. ``We wanted to use up as much time as we possibly could, and unfortunately we gave them a little bit too much.''

Ryan finished 24 of 37 for 249 yards and equaled his career high for picks, matching the three he had against New Orleans in 2009.

But, again, he came through with the game on the line.

``We've been in these situations before,'' Ryan said. ``We know what we need to do.''

Palmer was 23 of 33 for 353 yards, putting up much better rating than Ryan. But the Raiders quarterback was kicking himself for that one devastating play: the pick by Samuel.

``Put the blame on me,'' Palmer said. ``It's completely my fault.''

Ryan came into the game with three interceptions in the first five weeks. He doubled his total by halftime. Joselio Hanson picked one off over the middle. Michael Huff snatched another away on a deep throw. And Tyvon Branch grabbed a fluttering ball after Ryan was hit as he threw.

The Raiders seized on Branch's interception. Palmer flipped a short pass to Denarius Moore, who took it all the way to the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown that gave Oakland a 13-7 lead at halftime.

John Abraham had a huge day on the Falcons' defense. He sacked Palmer three times and gave Atlanta's sputtering offense a chance to retake the lead in the third when he stripped the ball from the quarterback just before his right arm came forward. Ray Edwards scooped up the fumble and rumbled to the Oakland 2.

But the Raiders held. Jason Snelling was thrown for a 2-yard loss on third-and-goal from inside the 1, forcing Atlanta to settle for Bryant's 20-yard field goal that tied the game at 13.

NOTES: Smith improved his career record to 49-21, tying Dan Reeves as the winningest coach in team history. ... The Raiders rushed for 149 yards, more than double their NFL-worst average. But McFadden had another tough day, averaging 2.6 yards on 27 carrries. ... One week after making 13 catches against the Redskins, Gonzalez was held to four receptions for 42 yards.

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Five observations from Wizards' loss to the Pacers despite Bradley Beal's big night

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Five observations from Wizards' loss to the Pacers despite Bradley Beal's big night

The Washington Wizards lost to the Indiana Pacers 109-101 on Monday night. Here are five observations from the game...

1. Another loss: The Wizards just can't seem to put together a full, 48-minute performance, a collective effort good enough to beat a team that isn't among the worst in basketball. On Monday, they saw a Pacers team that despite missing Victor Oladipo is still very good, and they fell short of what could have been an epic comeback.

The Wizards stormed back from down 25 points, only to collapse in the final minute and get outscored 11-4 to close the game. The final result was another loss, their second straight. They are 11-16 on the year with the Boston Celtics up next on Wednesday.

The defeat spoiled another big night from Bradley Beal. He had 30 points, the fourth straight game he's dropped 27 or more. 

2. Otto went down: The Wizards found themselves in a tough situation on Monday with only nine available players after Otto Porter Jr. left in the first half with a right knee contusion. John Wall and Dwight Howard were already out, meaning the Wizards were down three starters. Markieff Morris then got into early foul trouble, giving head coach Scott Brooks a real dilemma.

Though Porter's injury doesn't seem serious, the Wizards can ill-afford losing anyone right now. It's worth a reminder that, as bad as the Wizards have started this season, they have done so with few injuries to blame.

3. Oubre came through: Not long after Porter went down, Kelly Oubre Jr. stepped in to fill the void. He had one of his best games of the season with 23 points, five rebounds, three steals, and a block.

Oubre shot poorly against the Cavs on Saturday, but overall he has been playing very well lately. This was the fourth straight game he's reached double figures and the third time in that stretch he's scored 19 or more.

In addition to scoring, Oubre did a lot of the things Brooks wants him to do. He drew an offensive foul, brought down two offensive rebounds and forced a few turnovers. Oubre's best attribute is his length and his ability to cause havoc defensively, especially off the ball. He came into this game sixth in the NBA in total deflections and second in deflections per 36 minutes.

4. Dekker debuted: The lack of options for Brooks detailed above and the lopsided score at least brought one positive and that was the debut of Dekker, who checked in with just under four minutes to go in the third quarter. 

Dekker actually played fairly well considering the circumstances and happened to help key a nice little run for the Wizards. Washington closed the third quarter on a 13-0 run once he came in. On one play during that stretch, Dekker got a steal and then finished with a dunk on the other end.

The run with Dekker on the floor extended to 19-0 in the fourth quarter and kept the Wizards within striking distance the rest of the game. Maybe Dekker was the missing piece all along.

5. Turner is good: For the second straight game, the Wizards had no answer for an opposing big man. Last game it was Tristan Thompson, this time it was Myles Turner. 

Turner had a huge first half on the defensive end and found his scoring groove in the second half. He had a monster stat-line of 26 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocks.

The strategy for opposing teams at the moment appears to be to attack the Wizards in the middle, knowing they are just trying to make do with Thomas Bryant and a collection of small-ball fives. Teams may keep doing that until the Wizards stop them.

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Tom Verducci gives more specifics on Bryce Harper's 2016 injury

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Tom Verducci gives more specifics on Bryce Harper's 2016 injury

Entering 2016, Bryce Harper was ready to take over the world. After putting forth one of the most impressive offensive seasons in recent memory in 2015, he was rewarded by being named the youngest unanimous MVP in the history of baseball. The following season, he was prepared to take another step forward.

Instead, he slashed .243/.373/.441 with 24 home runs, and questions abounded about why he was struggling.

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, one of baseball’s most accomplished reporters, wrote a story late in the season about how Harper had suffered a shoulder injury, according to a source. The Nationals vehemently denied these reports at the time, claiming that their doctors were not aware of any medical issues with Harper’s shoulder. Mike Rizzo said he asked Harper directly if he was hurt and was told no.

At this year’s Winter Meetings, Verducci spoke with NBC Sports Washington, and he doubled down on his reporting.

“2016, of course, that’s when he injured his shoulder. It was a slide in Milwaukee, about one-third of the way into the season, was never quite the same.”

Whereas in 2016 Verducci simply referred to “a source,” it appears this information came from Harper directly.

“As he told me,” Verducci says, “He could not lift weights upper-body wise through the rest of that season, he lost weight, didn’t have the same kind of power. He was compromised even throwing on defense, he had to compromise by playing much more shallow.”

“The numbers in ‘16 really are a function of the injury.”

One concern Nats fans have about signing Harper to a major deal is how his numbers in the post-MVP years have failed to match 2015. According to Baseball-Reference, his combined Wins Above Replacement total from 2016-18 is 7.5. His bWAR in 2015 alone was 10.0. Still, Harper never had an OPS+ below 114 in that stretch. Even his “down” seasons would still be considered quality years for most big league hitters.

Harper is also just now entering his prime, however, so presumably many of his best seasons are still to come. For one MLB insider, at least, there’s no real cause for concern about a long term deal as long as Harper can stay healthy.

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