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Rookie Hayward shows knack for Woodson-like plays

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Rookie Hayward shows knack for Woodson-like plays

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Casey Hayward wasted no time finding a spot in Green Bay's defensive backfield.

Good thing, because the Packers are going to need him - and his sticky hands - more than ever this next month.

The Packers (4-3) have a big hole in their secondary with Charles Woodson out approximately six weeks with a broken collarbone. While Hayward plays cornerback and Woodson is technically a safety, the rookie has shown a knack for the kind of big-impact plays that are Woodson's trademark. Hayward has four interceptions in the last three games, and is tied for the league lead in picks.

``From the first day, you could see his ball skills,'' Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday. ``He's a playmaker. Any time you take a rookie and play him in a couple different positions in a multi-scheme defense, I think that says a little bit about the young man. Now that he's getting opportunities, he's taken advantage of them.

``He's got his hands on the ball again today a couple times, so he's getting better with every opportunity.''

The Packers thought enough of Hayward to take him in the second round of the draft. His seven interceptions last year tied him for third most in the country, and his 15 overall matched the Vanderbilt record set by Leonard Coleman. Hayward also holds the Vanderbilt marks for passes defended in a career (46), and single season (17), and was second-team all-SEC in both of his last two years.

But picking off guys in college, even in the big, bad SEC, is one thing. The NFL is quite another.

``You always come in with a confident attitude and I'm a confident guy,'' Hayward said. ``So I felt like whenever I got my opportunity I was going to take the best of it. The ball was going to come to me. You're going to get caught on some, but I felt like I was going to make some plays, as well.''

Watching Woodson in training camp only made the adjustment easier.

An eight-time Pro Bowler, Woodson has 55 interceptions, 11 of which he's returned for touchdowns. But it's not just the picks that have made him so disruptive. He can - and does - play all over, and quarterbacks can never be sure exactly where he'll pop up. He's also one of the most physical players in the secondary, and his linebacker-like hits have forced countless drops and fumbles.

The Packers moved Woodson to safety in their base defense this year, but he still plays slot cornerback in the sub packages.

``He's a guy people have to account for every time,'' Aaron Rodgers said. ``I know if I was playing our defense, I would want to know where he's at, whether he was at the high safety or whether he was down in the slot or whether he was coming on a pressure. He gets a lot of hits on the football. He's forced a lot of fumbles here over his time.''

Though Rodgers may be the face of the franchise, Woodson is every bit as important to the Packers. Just as Rodgers does the offense, Woodson takes charge of the defense, making sure everyone knows the various packages and the coverages that go with them. He can often be seen signaling to his teammates when he spots something on the field or catches someone out of position. On the sideline, he's always tutoring the younger players.

``Just watching him I was getting more comfortable, just seeing how a Pro Bowler does it,'' Hayward said.

Playing opposite Tramon Williams helped, too. Williams was a Pro Bowler in 2010, when he had six interceptions and the Packers won the Super Bowl. He led the Packers last year with 24 passes defended, a career high, and had four more picks. He has two interceptions so far this year, and leads the Packers again with 13 passes defended.

Given a choice between throwing to Williams' side of the field or Hayward's, offenses are going to go to the rookie every time.

``No doubt,'' Hayward said. ``You don't want to go at Tramon. He's going to pick the ball as well. He's capable of doing it this season already with two early and a lot of passes defended. So when I'm out there, I'm going to be looking for the ball to come to me.''

After seeing his playing time increase in Green Bay's first four games, Hayward made a big impression against Indianapolis when he picked off an Andrew Luck pass meant for Reggie Wayne. He was even better the following week with two picks against the previously unbeaten Texans, the first multi-interception game by a Packers rookie since Mike McKenzie in 1999.

Hayward's first interception snuffed out a Texans scoring drive, as he picked off Matt Schaub in the end zone. (He'd broken up Schaub's two previous passes, too.)

``He has a lot of poise,'' McCarthy said. ``You can see the game wasn't too big for him from the first time we lined up.''

Hayward got his first start last weekend in St. Louis and, sure enough, he came up with the ball again.

It's the first time since Tom Flynn in 1984 that a Green Bay rookie has had four picks in three games. The four interceptions are also the most by a Packers rookie since McKenzie had six in '99 - and there are still nine games to play.

While teams might start going away from Hayward if he keeps this up, he won't mind if they keep picking on the rookie.

``You want the ball to come at you no matter if you're a Pro Bowler or not,'' Hayward said. ``The more opportunities you have to get the ball, that's what I like so they can keep throwing the ball at me all they want. They're going to catch a few balls here, but I feel like I'm going to make some plays as well.''

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How one half of assertive basketball may turn around the Wizards' season

How one half of assertive basketball may turn around the Wizards' season

The fat lady wasn’t warming up to sing an operatic number, not with 66 games left in the regular season. Then the flailing Washington Wizards, coming off consecutive double-digit losses, came out flat yet again. They trailed the Los Angeles Clippers by 19 points at halftime some 36 hours after the general public heard about their private quarrels and following weeks of basketball nightmares. 

As the Clippers scored 40 points in the first quarter and led 73-54 at halftime. she might have at least begun some mental prep for an upcoming performance. Then came the comeback within the comeback. The Wizards rallied for a 125-118 win when all the world was ready to say sayonara. 

Did Washington indeed save its season by outscoring Los Angeles 71-45 in the second half? Answering 'yes' presumes all is right with the gang that has struggled to defend throughout the season and possibly has chemistry issues even a family therapist couldn’t fix with thrice-weekly sessions. 

The day began with coach Scott Brooks and the team’s stars addressing leaks of intense arguments among players and a scolding by All-Star John Wall directed to the head coach. There was no spark initially even with a different starting lineup. 

The first half served as a season-long microcosm. It’s why rumors of breaking up the team seem plausible. 

Over the remaining 24 minutes, the Wizards finally woke up. They flew around the court defensively and passed to the open man. The stars led. The team played like a group wanting to play for each other, willing to do whatever necessary for a win.

John Wall finished with 30 points. Bradley Beal scored 27. Otto Porter grabbed 14 rebounds to go with 11 points. Six players scored in double figures. Everybody ate. 

“That’s how we need to play,” Beal told NBC Sports Washington. “Not going to say everything is fixed because we were still down [24 points], still have a lot of work to do. Got a lot of to change and get better. Our effort was there in the second half. That’s the type of intensity we have to have for the full 48.”

Numerous moments and performances stood out in the second half beyond the main players. Tomas Satoransky’s hustle helped begin the turnaround. Thomas Bryant, who started with Dwight Howard sidelined, provided interior energy. Jeff Green dropped 20 points. Markieff Morris, coming off the bench for the first time since Feb. 29, 2016, showed more than in recent games.

One play deep in the fourth quarter showed the difference between 16 games of defensive slumber and Tuesday’s resolve. 

The clock ticked under five minutes with Los Angeles leading 109-107. Clippers forward Tobias Harris crushed the Wizards early and finished with 29 points. He had the ball near the left corner when Wall and Beal sprung an aggressive trap as the shot clock wound down. Morris over hustled for support. The late arrival helped. Shot clock violation, Wizards ball. Washington then took the lead with a Morris 3-pointer. They soon pulled away with an 11-2 run. Their main players showed the way.

“We have to,” Beal said to NBC Sports Washington. “When it’s coming from the main guys. John and I have to give more, more and more. That’s something we realize and tell each other that. That’s that only way we’re going to get out of it. We just have to give more.”

The Thanksgiving holiday provides a natural break. Washington resumes game action Friday at Toronto. At 6-11, the Wizards have work to do, but at least they can catch their breath after a surreal span. 

“It’s a whirlwind. It’s a whirlwind,” said Beal, who remained in the game after suffering a cut over his eye following a head-butt collision with Clippers guard Tyrone Wallace. “We embrace it. Everything is a challenge. It’s adversity. We’ve been in this situation before. We’ve been in this situation where everybody thinks we have an issue. I think we did a great job of ignoring it as best we could. Doing what we could to get a win. A  much-needed win at that.”

Clippers coach Doc Rivers monitors the Wizards because his son, Austin, serves Beal’s primary backup. More film work came leading into the second meeting between the teams. Los Angeles hammered Washington 136-104 on Oct. 28. Things were only getting worse for the Wizards. Then came the second half.

“They just forgot about the stuff they’re going through and got back to playing basketball,” Doc Rivers said of the Wizards.

“I’ve always thought that’s what you have to do. Every guy out there on both teams, they played basketball all their lives. Then you get all the, what I call ‘stuff.’ The clutter starts affecting your game. Tonight you could see the clutter was killing them early. Then when they saw they had a chance to win, they started playing basketball again.”

Assume nothing but sunshine and swishes going forward if you must. Ideally, the Wizards do not. They have work remaining. In the second half against the Clippers, Wall, Beal, and crew rose up. In doing so, the fat lady took a seat.

We’ll see for how long.

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Markieff Morris unhappy with leaks coming out of Wizards' locker room

Markieff Morris unhappy with leaks coming out of Wizards' locker room

The Wizards had just completed a 24-point comeback against the L.A. Clippers, but something wasn't sitting right with power forward Markieff Morris.

When asked by a reporter if it was nice to get the win given their recent losing and the media controversy surrounding the team, Morris couldn't help but wonder who it was who leaked comments made by players behind closed doors at a practice last week.

There were very specific quotes cited by several media outlets and Morris wants to know where they came from. 

"It's f***ed up what's going on," he said.

"The comments that's coming from the locker room, that's f***ed up."

Morris went on to say that anonymous sources leaking information shouldn't "happen in sports." Many professional athletes see the locker room and team-only events like practice as sacred. Anyone who breaks that code is, in their eyes, a traitor.

If Morris knew who the information came from, it sounds like he would do something about it.

"I don't know who it is, so it's hard to address. But it's messed up," he said.

Which player or member of the organization spilled the beans could be a question for this team all season. It doesn't sound like Morris will forget that it happened.

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