Nationals

NFL lifts suspension of Saints coach Sean Payton

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NFL lifts suspension of Saints coach Sean Payton

NEW YORK (AP) Sean Payton is back as coach of the New Orleans Saints.

Payton's season-long suspension for his role in the Saints' bounty program was lifted by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday, nearly two weeks earlier than expected.

The decision allows Payton to attend the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., on Saturday, where some of the top college players available for the NFL draft will be competing.

Payton, along with assistant head coach Joe Vitt, general manager Mickey Loomis, and four players including Jonathan Vilma, was suspended after an investigation found the club had a performance pool offering cash rewards for key plays, including big hits. The player suspensions eventually were overturned.

``I clearly recognize that mistakes were made, which led to league violations,'' Payton said in a statement. ``Furthermore, I have assured the commissioner a more diligent protocol will be followed.''

The suspension was scheduled to end after the Super Bowl on Feb. 3, but was moved up after Payton and Goodell met on Monday.

``Coach Payton acknowledged in the meeting his responsibility for the actions of his coaching staff and players and pledged to uphold the highest standards of the NFL and ensure that his staff and players do so as well,'' Goodell said in a statement. `''Sean fully complied with all the requirements imposed on him during his suspension.

``More important, it is clear that Sean understands and accepts his responsibilities as a head coach and the vital role that coaches play in promoting player safety and setting an example for how the game should be played at all levels.''

Saints owner Tom Benson welcomed back his coach.

``We are all thankful that Sean Payton has been reinstated,'' Benson said. ``We have a lot of work to do and we are in the middle of it right now.''

Payton also needs to fill a key position on his coaching staff following the departure last week of offensive line coach and running game coordinator Aaron Kromer, now the offensive coordinator in Chicago.

Loomis and Vitt are in Mobile evaluating players. Loomis said he was caught off guard by the news of Payton's return. But he said having Payton back sooner than expected will help the Saints.

``Every day makes a difference. We've certainly missed Sean in terms of the football team and all the things that go with our business and the game. But look, I miss his friendship. We all miss his friendship. We miss him as a person. I'm excited that he's going to be back here and fired up that he's back.''

Vitt said he talked to Payton Tuesday morning and that he should join the Saints' contingent in Alabama on Wednesday.

``We just found out on the way to practice,'' Vitt said. ``Mr. B called Mickey and we're all excited. Sean went and spent the day in New York (Monday). He just got back in Dallas. I talked to him on the phone about 5 o'clock this morning. He's packing his bags so we'll expect he'll be here some time'' Wednesday.

Vitt agreed with Loomis that the timing of Payton's return is good for the team.

Payton is ``going to hit the ground running with both feet. His jaw is going to be set. He'll have a note pad full of thoughts and ideas and he's going to have to get himself caught up with the evaluation process of our team and looking at film, which he'll do. This is perfect, getting him back now, because he's going to be here for the readings of our players. He's going to be here for the readings of these college seniors. We start handing out unrestricted free agent tape on Thursday and Friday of this week.

``This is where you're building the foundation of your football team, with the evaluation process of these draft eligible juniors and seniors and the free agents that are out there.''

There remains one outstanding issue for the Saints stemming from the bounty probe: What will become of the Saints' second pick next spring. As part of the bounty punishment, Goodell fined the Saints $500,000 and took away second-round picks in 2012 and 2013. However, Goodell left open the possibility of restoring the 2013 second-rounder and instead docking the team a later-round pick if he is satisfied with the club's level of cooperation in the bounty matter.

What the Saints do know is that the 49-year-old Payton is set to return to New Orleans for the next five seasons. Earlier this month he signed a contract extension running through the 2017 season.

The coach is the last person punished in the bounty probe to return to work. Before Tuesday, Payton had not been at work since mid-April, when Goodell rejected the coach's appeal of his suspension.

Loomis was suspended for eight games, Vitt for six and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams remains suspended indefinitely

Vilma and current Saints defensive lineman Will Smith, along with former Saints Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove, were given suspensions of various lengths, but never served a game. Their punishments were overturned after lengthy appeals which also coincided with exhaustive litigation in federal court.

The litigation included Vilma's defamation lawsuit against Goodell, which was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan last week.

Payton's reinstatement is one more step for the Saints to return to normalcy, but for Vitt, said it doesn't bring closure to the bounty scandal.

``It doesn't for me. You're going to have ask Sean that question, Mickey that question, Vilma that question. It certainly doesn't for me. I can forgive. I'm not going to forget. It is what it is.''

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The forgotten home run: Kurt Suzuki’s go-ahead blast in Game 2 of the World Series

The forgotten home run: Kurt Suzuki’s go-ahead blast in Game 2 of the World Series

The Nationals and Astros were in the midst of a pitching duel between two all-time greats.

Stephen Strasburg and Justin Verlander had each tossed six frames with just two runs allowed. Verlander took the mound for the top of the seventh to face the bottom of the Nationals’ lineup. 36-year-old catcher Kurt Suzuki stepped up the plate 1-for-2 with a single on the night.

On his 100th pitch, Verlander threw a 1-0 fastball over the heart of the plate and Suzuki got every bit of it. With a smooth uppercut, Suzuki sent a pitch 381 feat off the facing of the brick wall above the leftfield seats at Minute Maid Park. It silenced the crowd of 43,357 and gave Washington the momentum it so desperately needed.

It was a moment that could’ve lived in Nationals lore forever, had the team gone on to win a nail-biter. But the Nationals’ offense exploded, scoring nine more runs over the next three innings to blow out the Astros 12-3 in front of their home crowd. Adam Eaton and Michael Taylor joined the home run parade. Every starter not named Victor Robles ended up reaching base at least twice.

Three months later, Suzuki was at the Nationals’ annual WinterFest event at their home stadium. He sat down with NBC Sports Washington’s Nationals Talk crew and reflected on his big moment getting buried under the offensive onslaught his team brought upon Houston.

“Honestly, I was hoping we’d score a ton of runs because I didn’t want to play a nerve-wracking game,” Suzuki said. “I wanted it to be a nice, easy win, go right back into it and to tell you the truth, when I hit that home run it was just like—I was just so in shock that I was just like, ‘Oh, I just hit a home run. Cool, we’re winning. Like, what?’

“You weren’t just really like, ‘Ahh, this is so exciting.’ You’re just kind of in shock that I’ve hit a home run in the World Series and it gave us the lead in the seventh inning. It was pretty neat.”

CLICK BELOW TO LISTEN TO KURT SUZUKI'S FULL INTERVIEW ON THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST

It may not be an iconic moment in Nationals history, but Suzuki’s home run brought the team one step closer to winning the World Series. It was without a doubt the biggest hit of his career.

"It feels great," Suzuki told reporters after the game. "I've waited 13 seasons for this moment to be able to play in the World Series. I kind of joked with a lot of the guys, Anthony [Rendon] in the training room, 'Now I've got energy now.' This is the last series of the season now, no matter what. We're playing for it now. If you can't get up for these games, I think you're in the wrong sport, you should retire or something, because this is it."

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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One important thing that Ron Rivera will bring to the Redskins, according to an NFL agent

One important thing that Ron Rivera will bring to the Redskins, according to an NFL agent

What will Ron Rivera bring to the Redskins in 2020 and beyond (well, besides lots of people who worked with him in Carolina)? That's a question everyone's trying to figure out.

Many are hoping for more wins, obviously. Washington's been one of the league's worst franchises for the past decade, while Rivera was a two-time Coach of the Year with the Panthers who made it to the playoffs four times in nine seasons there.

Beyond that, however, there's an expectation that Rivera can also elevate the Burgundy and Gold's day-to-day operations, making the organization more professional, consistent and stable — words that haven't been used to describe their operations in a long time.

In an interview with the Redskins Talk podcast, longtime NFL agent Andy Ross spoke to that second point.

"I will say this," Ross, who reps players such as Morgan Moses and Taysom Hill, told the podcast. "The one thing that Ron really instilled in the players, because I've had players on Carolina, was accountability. These are young men that are growing into men, so he wants to teach them to be strong men, be strong leaders. And I think that's something he's going to bring into Washington."

CLICK BELOW TO LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH ANDY ROSS ON THE REDSKINS TALK PODCAST

The 2019 campaign was beyond chaotic for the Redskins, and one of its major turning points came when Dan Snyder made the decision to fire Jay Gruden after five straight losses to open the year. One of the most popular criticisms of Gruden was a lack of accountability. According to Ross, that won't occur now that Rivera's in charge.

The 58-year-old also possesses another quality that'll be incredibly valuable as he tries to turn around the Redskins, a place that's been plagued by distractions, leaks and fracturing season after season.

"He doesn't allow the outside influence to affect his football team," Ross said. "So I think you're going to see, with the Redskins going forward, that everything is going to be really kept in-house."

Rivera's reputation precedes him. Right after he was hired by Snyder, in fact, Panthers defensive lineman Gerald McCoy said he would tell players in Washington that "one of the best things in your career is about to happen."

Ross is yet another person to echo that kind of praise for the head coach. With each passing day, it sounds more and more like the Redskins landed someone with an approach that's precisely what everyone involved with the team needs.

"They have some really good, young talent," Ross concluded. "And I think he's really going to mold a lot of these young players into really strong men, and that should be good for the culture."

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