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QB Brees says Saints' offense starting to click

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QB Brees says Saints' offense starting to click

METAIRIE, La. (AP) Drew Brees believes the Saints' offense is close to where it needs to be.

Even without injured Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham, the Saints had five touchdowns in a six-possession span at Tampa Bay in a 35-28 win.

``Definitely you feel that no matter what play is called, we're going to make it work and we have the opportunity to really make something happen,'' Brees said Wednesday. ``That's the feeling we want, when everybody's in sync and everyone's in rhythm.''

The Saints had that feeling for virtually all of 2011, when they set the NFL record for yards and first downs while Brees broke Dan Marino's 27-year-old mark for passing yards in a season. They - and Brees - started slowly this year in the absence of coach Sean Payton, who was suspended for the season for his role in the NFL bounty's investigation of New Orleans.

Through three games, Brees was 75 of 137 (54.7 percent) for 904 yards and seven touchdowns with five interceptions. The Saints lost all three.

In the last three games, he is 91 of 136 (66.9 percent) for 1,192 yards, 11 TDs and two interceptions. The Saints are 2-1 in those games; losing at Green Bay 28-27 before beating San Diego and Tampa Bay.

Against San Diego, they scored two touchdowns and a field goal on their last three series before Brees took a knee on the final play to run out the clock. The week before, they scored two touchdowns and kicked two field goals on four consecutive possessions in Green Bay.

Next up: a date in Denver with Peyton Manning and the Broncos on Sunday night.

``What they're doing now is just playing great as an offense,'' Denver linebacker Keith Brooking said. ``All 11 guys are holding up on their responsibilities. . (Brees) is playing better than he's played since I've been following him and watching him. He's one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the league.''

Brees' recent run has been even more impressive because of injuries to key receivers. Graham led the Saints with 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, but his absence due to a sprained ankle did not slow Brees against Tampa Bay.

He connected with wide receiver Lance Moore nine times for 121 yards and even threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Graham's backup, David Thomas.

Moore missed the San Diego game with a strained right hamstring. His backup, Greg Camarillo, converted three pivotal first downs as he caught his first four passes of the year.

``There are times when we have guys down and a little dinged up, and we have to manage,'' Brees said. ``By Lance Moore being down against San Diego, that gave opportunities for others. Jimmy Graham was down this week, and that gave opportunities for others.

``What you love is when you have access to the full arsenal.''

Brees has gotten hot without much help from a running game. New Orleans ranks last in the NFL in rushing, averaging 76.2 yards, and that weakness almost cost the Saints against Tampa Bay.

The Buccaneers stopped Darren Sproles on a third-and-3 run when the Saints needed one more first down to run out the clock just before the 2-minute warning. New Orleans punted, and Tampa Bay came within 9 yards of a tying touchdown in the final seconds.

``Obviously the running game is still a huge issue for us and something we're still working on,'' offensive tackle Zach Strief said. ``But the offense has felt at times how we should be feeling and we have gotten going the way we'd like to.''

NOTES: Interim coach Joe Vitt said Graham ran routes in practice on Wednesday and looked good but that his ankle still needed to be evaluated by trainers. . Sproles was excused from practice because of an illness in his family. . Linebacker David Hawthorne, who has missed three straight games with a right hamstring injury, returned to practice but was limited. Wide receiver Joe Morgan, who was taken to a Tampa-area hospital with a chest injury on Sunday, also was limited in practice.

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Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: Are the stars aligning for another Capitals Cup run?

Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: Are the stars aligning for another Capitals Cup run?

Let’s get one thing straight: There are no easy roads to a Stanley Cup. Capitals fans know that better than most after seeing their team dominate the regular season just to get upset in the first or second round of the playoffs for several years. Having said that, seeing Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Calgary and Winnipeg all lose in the first round, it seems like things are setting up very nicely for Washington.

The Caps should have one thing and one thing only on their minds on Monday and that is the Carolina Hurricanes. Washington still needs one more win to advance and they should not catch themselves looking ahead to possible future matchups.

But we can look ahead.

The top seeds in both conferences have been eliminated in the first round for the first time. Long-time nemesis Pittsburgh is out. Either Boston or Toronto will soon be joining them plus there is a possibility that both Nashville and San Jose could still lose as well.

This is not meant to discount any of the teams the Caps could still play. Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders swept the Penguins and earned a spot in the second round. He has proven his worth as a coach and his team is going to be incredibly tough for anyone to score on, let alone beat. The Columbus Blue Jackets jumped out to a 2-0 series lead on Washington last season and got better this year as they showed Tampa Bay with a four-game sweep. Whoever comes out of the West no doubt will be a great team as well.

But if you were to draw up the best-case scenario for the Caps through the first round, having Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Calgary and Winnipeg all lose would likely be part of that scenario.

The Cup is truly up for grabs. This is true every year in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it is especially true this year. If the Hurricanes find a way to win Game 6 and shock the Caps in Game 7, we are going to look back at this season as a missed opportunity considering the number of contenders ousted in the first round.

SEE THIS WEEK’S STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF POWER RANKINGS HERE

Here are a few recent observations and thoughts on the Caps.

  • The Caps are, at their core, a physical team. That is how they ultimately find success and they went away from that earlier in the series, especially in Games 3 and 4. When they reestablished it in Game 5, they blew the Hurricanes away. Any team can play well for one game. Any team can respond after losing a really good player for one game. The real test is to see how they play in Raleigh where they were beaten so thoroughly and the offense was held to only a single power play goal and zero 5-on-5 production.
  • If you want to know why physical play still matters in today’s NHL, watch Brett Connolly’s Game 5 goal again. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton is in a footrace with Alex Ovechkin to get the puck behind Carolina’s net and he completely gives up on the play. He does not go into the boards and put himself in a position to get checked by Ovechkin. It looked like he thought the play would be called icing, but if you’re not 100-percent sure you need to get to that puck even if it means taking a hit. Hamilton looked like he wanted no part of that which allowed Ovechkin to get the puck and set up a goal.
  • The Caps may finally have settled on defensive pairings. The defense has been a work in progress ever since Michal Kempny’s injury, but Todd Reirden may have finally found three pairs he can stick with. After making his playoff debut in Game 4, Jonas Siegenthaler played on the top defensive pair with John Carlson on Saturday. We have seen Reirden mix and match his defensive pairs throughout games, but things stuck in Game 5 as Siegenthaler and Carlson played 11:19 together at 5-on-5. The most Carlson played with any other defenseman at 5-on-5 during the game was 51 seconds. I asked Reirden afterward if he felt he had found his top defensive pair and he remained non-committal saying he still would mix and match as needed depending on the situation, but the numbers speak for themselves. Siegenthaler is a defensively responsible player, he has not looked rattled at all by the forecheck and, perhaps most importantly, he’s a left-handed shot allowing Carlson to play on his natural right side. I like the look of this pair a lot.
  • Nick Jensen has had a rough series. In fact, it looks like it has been a rough transition from Detroit to Washington since he was acquired. That’s OK. Sometimes players take time to adjust to a new team and a new system, but because of that, it benefits the Caps more to have him play on the third pair than the top, especially if moving him up means playing with Carlson on the left. That’s a lot to ask. With Siegenthaler up top, Jensen moved back down to the third pair on Saturday and it was easily his best game of the series. Pairing him with Brooks Orpik allows Jensen to step more into the offense, an area of the game in which his skills are greatly underrated. Jensen looked good on both ends of the ice in Game 5 and was particularly strong on the penalty kill. He can be a top-four defenseman, but I am not sure he is ready for that type of role in Washington yet. He is a definite asset on the third pair, however, and he showed that on Saturday.

The Caps are one win away from advancing to the second round. Here is where they stand among the other playoff teams in this week’s Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings.

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: 20 prospects linked to Baltimore at No. 22

Baltimore Ravens Roundup: 20 prospects linked to Baltimore at No. 22

We've made in to NFL draft week. Here's the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

Player/Team Notes: 

1. The 2019 NFL Draft is Thursday night in Nashville, Tn. While the chances of pundits predicting each team's first-round pick accurately is about the same as picking the Powerball numbers, we can't seem to stop ourselves from looking at them. Here's a look at 20 prospects mocked to the Ravens at No. 22, courtesy of the Ravens' website.  


2. One of the many exciting parts of the NFL draft is waiting to hear which organizations trade forward or backwards to acquire a pick. Just last year, the Ravens traded back from their No. 16 pick several times to select Hayden Hurst at No. 25, before trading back into the first-round to pick Lamar Jackson at No. 32. But which trade in Ravens history was the most impactful? ESPN's Jamison Hensley selected the Ravens' trade for running back Jamal Lewis.


"In 1999, the Ravens traded their second-round pick (No. 43) for Atlanta's first-round pick in 2000, which they used to land running back Jamal Lewis," Hensley wrote. "The Falcons selected tight end Reggie Kelly, and the Ravens got what turned into the No. 5 overall pick in the 2000 draft. Baltimore drafted Lewis, who carried the offense during the team's 2000 Super Bowl championship season and recorded the NFL's fifth 2,000-yard season in 2003."


3. As Marlon Humphrey enters his third year in the league, the cornerback will not only be expected to take on a leadership role within the Ravens' new look defense, but top his impressive sophomore season. In 2018, Humphrey contested 35% of targets thrown into his coverage marking the second-best rate in all the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. 


Looking Ahead:

April 25-27: 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville, Tn.

May 3-6 or May 10-13: Potential three-day rookie mini camp

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get long-term deal done with designated franchise tag player

The 2019 NFL schedule is set!  See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

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