Redskins

Panthers come from behind to beat Saints 44-38

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Panthers come from behind to beat Saints 44-38

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Even as Drew Brees and the Saints walked out of the Superdome disappointed by another loss that sealed their worst record since 2007, they could look forward with certainty to the return of Sean Payton and the opportunity to leave behind the bounty scandal that overshadowed a difficult season.

The Carolina Panthers, by contrast, could not be sure who their coach might be next season, even though they celebrated a fourth-straight victory and fifth in six games.

If Ron Rivera does not return as Carolina's coach after a second straight losing season, he can at least take pride in the fact this his players never quit on him, even rallying from 11-points down, on the road, in a low-stakes season finale, to beat the Saints 44-38 on Sunday.

``I tip my hat off to everybody that played and coach for the last month and a half,'' Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said, adding that it would have been ``easy for a lot of people to just give up and tap out and say, `Well, we are not playing for anything.'''

Rivera clearly appreciated the effort. His eyes were red after he stood by the locker room door and exchanged hugs with players walking off the field.

``I'm proud of the fact that those guys showed up every day and worked, did the things we asked and did them very well,'' Rivera said. ``This is a good group of men.''

Rivera said he wants to be back and expects to meet with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson in Charlotte in the next couple days.

``Mr. Richardson has been fair and I appreciate the opportunity he has given me, and we will see how things unfold,'' Rivera said.

DeAngelo Williams rushed for a career-high 210 yards, including touchdown runs of 54 and 12 yards, for Carolina (7-9). His 65-yard gain set up the first of three 1-yard scoring runs by Mike Tolbert. Cam Newton added 248 yards passing and Graham Gano kicked field goals of 20, 31 and 42 yards. The Panthers finished with 530 yards, which doomed the Saints' defense to a dubious distinction in their first season under coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

The Saints (7-9) gave up 7,042 yards this season, breaking the old record of 6,793 allowed by the 1981 Baltimore Colts.

``You get what you deserve,'' Saints linebacker and defensive captain Jon Vilma said of the record yardage total. ``You don't play good defense, that's what's going to happen. Be a man and suck it up.''

Brees continued to make history of a more flattering kind.

He passed for 396 yards, giving him 5,177 this season, the third most in league history behind the 2011 totals of himself (5,476) and New England's Tom Brady (5,235). Brees became the first player to eclipse 5,000 yards three times (none of the other three QBs to hit 5,000 - Dan Marino, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford - have done it more than once). Brees' four TD passes gave him 43 in 2012, and he's the first player with 40 TD passes in consecutive seasons.

Brees was still perturbed that his 19th interception, which wound up tying with Dallas' Tony Romo for the most in the NFL, led to the score that put the Panthers ahead to stay in the third quarter.

Brees predicted Payton, who was suspended this season in connection with the NFL's bounty probe, will return this winter with ideas of how to clean up the errors that doomed the Saints this season.

``It's going to be an eye-opener for some people, I'm sure, as it should be, because this is not our standard, what happened this year,'' Brees said. ``Sean's going to come in chomping at the bit and we're going to have to be ready to roll. This offseason can't come fast enough.''

Payton, who agreed to a contract extension through 2017, is expected to return to work after the Super Bowl is played in New Orleans on Feb. 3.

Although the Saints' defense had a rough day, the unit gave New Orleans its first lead, 14-10, when Vilma intercepted Newton and ran 18 yards for a touchdown. The Superdome crowd roared in support of Vilma, a central figure in the bounty scandal who initially had been suspended the whole season. He never served one game of the ban after he, defensive end Will Smith, and former Saints Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove fought successfully to have their suspensions of various lengths overturned.

Leading 24-13, the Saints looked ready to seize control in the third quarter. Panthers tight end Greg Olsen fumbled along the sideline in Carolina territory, and defensive back Johnny Patrick appeared to recover. Initially, the play was blown dead and Olsen ruled down. Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt challenged the call, and the play was ruled a fumble, but Patrick's right foot was so close to the sideline that referee Al Riveron could not determine if the Saints took possession.

The ball remained with the Panthers, and Williams ran for his long TD soon afterward.

Two of Brees' scoring passes went to Marques Colston for 7 and 9 yards. He also hit tight end Jimmy Graham for a 19-yard score and Darren Sproles for a 33-yard TD in the fourth quarter as the Saints, who trailed 41-24 with 8:23 left, nearly mounted a late comeback.

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Somehow, the Redskins still have a fairly straightforward playoff path. Somehow

Somehow, the Redskins still have a fairly straightforward playoff path. Somehow

You're going to feel absurd for reading the following sentence, but probably not as absurd as it felt to type the following sentence.

The Redskins, who are on their fourth option at QB, who made the '18 Giants look like the '72 Dolphins and who are large underdogs this weekend to the 4-9 Jaguars, actually still have a straightforward path to the playoffs.

Now, the word "straightforward" only applies to the path on paper, because realistically, there's nothing straightforward about fixing the litany of issues that are plaguing Washington at the moment.

Regardless, by losing on Monday night to the Seahawks, the Vikings blew a chance to separate themselves from a pack of NFC teams chasing(?) them and their final wild card spot. The Redskins are one of those teams, and here's how they could pass Minnesota to qualify for the postseason:

With the way the season is unfolding, you'd expect the Burgundy and Gold's playoff scenario to involve a bunch of teams losing a bunch of times in these final three weeks. The tweet above illustrates that's clearly not the case. They only need Minnesota to drop one more to go along with the Redskins winning out.

Of course, the Redskins stringing three straight plays together without committing a holding penalty feels like too much to ask for, so anyone expecting a three-game winning streak is either a bit crazy or a relative of Josh Johnson. But still, they're not out of the hunt quite yet. Somehow.

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Ravens have formula for both playoff and quarterback success down final stretch

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Ravens have formula for both playoff and quarterback success down final stretch

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- After experiencing misery in each of the past two Decembers, the Baltimore Ravens are looking to rewrite the script in their quest to end a three-year playoff drought.

In 2016, a loss to Pittsburgh on Christmas night ended Baltimore's bid to reach the postseason. Last year, a defeat at home against Cincinnati on New Year's Eve sent the Ravens home.

Now, with three games left, the Ravens find themselves in a familiar position. Baltimore (7-6) has a shot to reach the playoffs as either AFC North champions or as a wild-card team, and there's really only one can't-miss way to make it happen.

"The way we look at it, we need to win three games in a row," coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "We've been here before. Let's do it. But all we need to think about right now is Tampa Bay, our upcoming opponent."

There's a good chance the Ravens will have quarterback Joe Flacco available for the first time since Nov. 4 when they face the fading Buccaneers (5-8) at home on Sunday. Flacco, a former Super Bowl MVP and veteran of 15 playoff games, appears ready to return from a right hip injury that sidelined him for four straight games.

Fortunately for the Ravens, rookie Lamar Jackson has done a credible job in his first stint as a starter. Subbing for the injured Flacco, the former Louisville star and first-round draft pick guided Baltimore through three straight wins before Sunday's 27-24 loss in Kansas City on Sunday.

Jackson hurt his ankle in overtime against the Chiefs, but the injury evidently was not serious.

"Should be fine. Looks like it's OK," Harbaugh said.

If both quarterbacks are ready to go, Harbaugh must decide who to start and how to play them. Perhaps he already has.

"I'll just have to let you know -- if we want. It could entail anything right now," the coach said. "I know what we want to do. I have a plan. We have a plan. We talked about it. We have to talk to the guys about it, and whether we share that publicly, we'll decide as the week goes on."

The plan likely involves using both quarterbacks, just as the Ravens did before Flacco's injury. The difference now is that Jackson has more experience, and the Ravens have played exceptionally well with him at the helm.

"I haven't had a chance to sit down and talk with all the parties involved, but I think it stands to reason that if Joe's ready to go, he'll be part of the game plan," Harbaugh said. "He's too good a player not to be. We'll just figure that out as we go this week, to what degree and how it works. Everybody will know going in, except perhaps everybody outside."

Baltimore currently sits a half-game behind Pittsburgh within the division, thanks to the Steelers' surprising loss in Oakland on Sunday. Harbaugh learned of the defeat shortly before the team charter touched down on its trip from Kansas City.

"I was happy. Very happy," he said.

The Ravens have Tampa Bay, the Los Angeles Chargers (10-3) and Cleveland (5-7-1) left on the schedule. Pittsburgh (7-5-1) has New England (9-4), New Orleans (11-2) and Cincinnati (5-8).

Baltimore is also the sixth and final wild-card team in the AFC, so if the Steelers don't falter, the Ravens can still reach the postseason for the first time since 2014.

"It helps, sure," Harbaugh said of having multiple routes to the playoffs. "We just need to win games and let all that take care of itself."

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