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Ryan regroups as Falcons rally past Cards, 23-19

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Ryan regroups as Falcons rally past Cards, 23-19

ATLANTA (AP) The comparison of starting quarterbacks just didn't seem fair.

Arizona's John Skelton was benched after only five incompletions. Atlanta's Matt Ryan kept throwing after five interceptions.

Michael Turner scored the winning touchdown on a 1-yard run with 6:40 remaining, and Atlanta bounced back from its first loss of the season to rally past Arizona 23-19 Sunday, giving the Cardinals their sixth-straight loss.

Even in the ugliest of wins, Ryan managed to find himself linked with a legend. He became the first quarterback since Green Bay's Bart Starr in 1967 to win a game despite throwing five interceptions with no touchdowns, according to STATS LLC.

``That's good company to be in,'' Ryan said with a chuckle.

The Falcons (9-1), who clinched their fifth straight winning season, found a way to bounce back from the team's first loss at New Orleans.

Atlanta rallied after trailing the Cardinals 13-0 in the first quarter.

Coach Mike Smith stuck with Ryan, who led the 70-yard touchdown drive that gave Atlanta its first lead in the fourth quarter.

Ryan, who completed 28 of 48 passes for 301 yards, said it was important he remained confident for his teammates.

``I think that there are a lot of hats you wear as a quarterback,'' Ryan said. ``Part of it is player, and part of it is keeping everybody on the same page and being relaxed.''

Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald couldn't hang on to a fourth-down pass that would've given the feeble Cardinals a chance to pull it out.

The Falcons (9-1) turned it over a total of six times, but Ryan set up Turner's winning run with four completions for 64 yards, including a 9-yarder to Tony Gonzalez that was just short of the end zone. Turner scored on the next play.

Coming off a bye, the Cardinals (4-6) tried to bolster their anemic offense by switching quarterbacks, replacing Skelton with rookie Ryan Lindley. Arizona was held to only 178 yards.

``We said during the bye week we were going to make changes that we thought necessary, and that's what we're going to do going forward,'' Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

Lindley completed 9 of 20 passes for 64 yards with no interceptions and no touchdowns. He said he was ``geeked up'' and rushed his decisions in the first half.

``I was too excited,'' said Lindley, a sixth-round draft pick from San Diego State. ``After that, I felt more calm. I think I made better decisions.''

Skelton completed only 2 of 7 passes for 6 yards.

``We missed some throws when we had opportunities early,'' Whisenhunt said. ``We're trying to win, so we gave Ryan a chance to make the throws.''

The Cardinals took a 19-16 lead on Jay Feely's fourth field goal of the game, set up by Ryan's fourth interception - before the Falcons finally came alive on a 70-yard drive.

Ryan completed passes of 11 and 26 yards to Harry Douglas. Following an 18-yard completion to Roddy White, Ryan passed to Gonzalez, who stretched for the goal line, getting his helmet knocked off in the process.

The officials ruled him down about a foot short. Turner carried it in from there.

Arizona had one more chance, after Ryan had a pass deflected at the line, the ball wobbling into the arms of Cardinals linebacker Sam Acho at the Falcons 32.

On fourth-and-2 with just over 3 minutes remaining, Lindley threw a pass that Fitzgerald appeared to haul in at the 5 before tumbling out of bounds. But as he took a hit from William Moore, Fitzgerald rolled over and the ball came loose. The Falcons took over and ran out the clock.

``It's disappointing,'' Fitzgerald said. ``I had an opportunity late in the game to make a play, and that is going to bother me for a while.''

LaRod Stephens-Howling had 22 carries for 127 yards.

``It's extremely frustrating,'' Cardinals center Lyle Sendlein said. ``If you would have told us yesterday we'd get the ball four or five times on their side of the 50, I'd have said, `Yeah, we're going to beat them, and beat them by a large margin.''

The turnover tone was set on the very first snap.

Ryan threw a little behind White, the ball bouncing off his hands and right into the arms of Arizona safety Rashad Johnson for the interception. He returned it to the Atlanta 9, and the Cardinals punched it in two plays later on a 3-yard run by Stephens-Howling.

Ryan threw two more interceptions before the first quarter was done, the second of which led to another field goal by Feely to make it 13-0.

John Abraham hit Lindley, forcing a fumble. Players on each side stood around, thinking it was an incomplete pass, before Abraham motioned for Jonathan Babineaux to pick up it up. Babineaux ran 15 yards for the touchdown.

``Multiple players told me they heard a whistle,'' Whisenhunt said.

NOTES: Stephens-Howling had only 184 yards rushing coming into the game. ... The Falcons lost CB Asante Samuel (right shoulder) in the first half, and WR Julio Jones (right ankle) hobbled off in the fourth quarter. .... Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson was slowed by a hamstring injury.

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Almost a quarter into the season, Todd Reirden still does not have his full roster 

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USA TODAY Sports

Almost a quarter into the season, Todd Reirden still does not have his full roster 

In his first year as an NHL head coach, Todd Reirden is well aware that all eyes are on him. Stepping in to coach the defending Stanley Cup champions is a favorable position in many ways, but it does mean Reirden will be under more scrutiny than most coaches in their first year.

For a first-year coach already facing pressure to succeed, it does not help that the season has already thrown a number of curve balls in terms of the roster.

“Coaching the defending champions is a unique challenge in itself,” Reirden told NBC Sports Washington in a recent interview, “But I think for the most part that I haven't had much time to spend on that because I've been busy working on different lineups every night.”

With very few departures in the offseason, Washington was able to bring back the vast majority of its Stanley Cup winning team for the 2018-19 season, something that was considered a major strength of the team heading into the new season.

So far, however, we have seen much more roster attrition from the Caps than consistency.

Now 18 games into the season, Reirden has not had his full roster available to him at any point.

Tom Wilson missed the first 16 games of the season due to suspension, Brooks Orpik is currently on long-term injured reserve, Michal Kempny missed the start of the season because of a concussion and missed Wednesday’s game due to an illness, Travis Boyd has played in only five games due to a lower-body injury he suffered in training camp and Braden Holtby was a surprise scratch on Wednesday with an upper-body injury that required the team dress an emergency backup goalie in Winnipeg. Even John Carlson sat out a game with a lower-body injury.

Things may get worse before they get better given Evgeny Kuznetsov left Wedensday’s game early with an upper-body injury, T.J. Oshie appeared dazed after getting slammed to the ice by Josh Morrissey and Holtby is still considered day-to-day.

The rest of the league, however, does not care about the Caps’ suspensions and injuries. Washington does not get extra points in the standings because they have missed so many players and there are no asterisks next to Reirden’s head coaching record.

In the early part of the season, Reirden’s focus has had to shift from bringing the defending champs back to their championship form to simply surviving the team’s current roster attrition while facing questions as to why the team has been so inconsistent all the while.

Reirden has enjoyed the challenge.

“I think it's allowed us to really focus on what gives us the best chance to win, putting guys in different situations, manipulating lineups against other teams and what they have as the strengths in their lineup and how we can combat that,” he said. “So it's been a challenge from that standpoint in terms of moving our lines around and different components. That's made it a little bit more challenging, but that's the part I really enjoy is making those adjustments in house and figuring out how to set up things for success.”

Reirden has certainly not been shy about changing his line combinations or the defensive pairings early in the season as he searched to find the right fit for each spot, each situation. The return of Wilson certainly seems to have made things more clear on the offensive lines, at least in terms of the top-nine.

But while the early suspension and the team’s early injury woes have led to some early struggles and while this certainly is not the start that Reirden would have hoped for in his first season, he is taking a big picture view of it all and stressing the positives.

There’s not much more that this season could throw at the Caps that Reirden and the team has not already had to adjust to.

“It's probably been part of the reason we've had some inconsistency is because of the different changes we've had with different lines and different D-pairs,” Reirden said. “But in the long run, it'll actually help prepare us for adversity that comes to us down the road.”

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Week 11 Redskins vs Texans: An opportunity for a statement game at FedEx Field

Week 11 Redskins vs Texans: An opportunity for a statement game at FedEx Field

If the Redskins want to make a statement, Sunday marks a real opportunity. 

Washington, sitting at 6-3 and in first place of the NFC East, hosts Houston, a team that sits at 6-3 and in first place of the AFC South. Despite their records, neither team gets much consideration among the real Super Bowl contenders in the NFL. 

Like any NFL team, both the 'Skins and Texans have weaknesses. And unlike the top NFL teams, both the Texans and the 'Skins have a few warts, too. 

The team that best plays to their strengths will leave FedEx Field on Sunday at 7-3, almost assured of a playoff spot and no longer looking for a signature win. 

Going streaking

The Texans started the season bad, losing their first three games. Since then, Houston hasn't lost. Bill O'Brien's team didn't play last week, enjoying their bye in the actual middle of the season unlike the Redskins, but it's possible the layoff slowed the momentum.

When Houston last played, the Texans escaped Denver with a narrow, last-second victory. A six-game win streak is incredibly hard to come by in the NFL, and a seven-game heater is even harder to put together.

So. Much. Talent.

Not many teams can boast the type of elite talent like the Texans. The team has two possible future Hall-of-Famers in J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins both playing in their prime. Watt has nine sacks in nine games, and the Houston defense aggressively moves him around on the defensive line.

That means Watt will face up against Redskins right tackle Morgan Moses, but also probably inside against right guard Tony Bergstrom. Charley Casserly described Watt against Bergstrom as a significant mismatch, and Washington will need to be creative to slow down the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

As for Hopkins, expect Redskins cornerback Josh Norman to travel with the athletic Texans wideout for much of the game. Hopkins is averaging nearly 100 yards receiving per game, and has seven touchdowns in nine games. He will be a major part of the Houston attack. Oh yeah, we didn't even mention Deshaun Watson or Jadeveon Clowney.

Ground game

The Redskins and the Texans run the ball well. Washington ranks 10th in the NFL on the ground, averaging 121.2 yards-per-game. Houston ranks 11th, averaging 120.2 yards-per-game.

For the Redskins, however, the run game is their only means of offense. Their pass game ranks in the bottom third of the NFL, and in four of his last five games, Alex Smith has thrown for fewer than 180 yards. Weirdly, all four of those sub-200 passing yard games from Smith have resulted in wins for Washington.

The Texans throw the ball better, ranked 18th in the NFL, but aren't the type of dominant offense that the Redskins have struggled against (cough Atlanta, cough New Orleans).

Turn around bright eyes

Few things change NFL games like turnovers, and the Redskins' win last week in Tampa might be the best example. Washington got dominated in just about every offensive category, but the Bucs turned the ball over four times, and the 'Skins skated with a 16-3 victory.

At +4 in turnover margin, the Texans take care of the ball, but not like the +11 Redskins. Watson has thrown seven INTs this season. Not a lot, but four more than Smith. A huge part of the Redskins winning formula is protecting the ball and generating turnovers, and certainly Jay Gruden wants to replicate that on Sunday. 

They said it

  • Jay Gruden on the Redskins mindset in first place: "We're obviously not satisfied or sitting in the lounge chair with our feet up right now relaxing. We've got to get back to work and continue to work. We know there is a lot of football ahead of us, a lot of great teams come in here to play and we have to go there to play and we have to do better. We have to do better on offense and there's a lot more for us to get offensively and defensively for that matter. I'm glad that we're winning without a doubt."
  • Alex Smith on facing J.J. Watt and the Texans defensive line: "They are one of the most disruptive fronts in football. I think when you just talk about just creating problems, penetration. They're all over the place. They obviously are really, really talented. They get up the field."
  • Texans coach Bill O'Brien on Redskins RB Adrian Peterson: "He is obviously one of the best to ever play the game. I mean, he's big, strong, fast, has got good vision, great cutting ability, very, very difficult to stop."

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The 1991 matchup between the Redskins and Oilers is the only game D.C. fans should think of when they hear Washington vs. Houston.