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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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Barry Trotz finds contract he was looking for, officially named New York Islanders new head coach

Barry Trotz finds contract he was looking for, officially named New York Islanders new head coach

Barry Trotz did not remain unemployed for very long.

Trotz, who led the Capitals to the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup title, resigned from his post less than a week after the team's championship parade in Washington, D.C.

But on Thursday, the Capitals' now former bench boss was officially named the head coach of the New York Islanders.

Trotz's contract was expected to expire at the end of the 2017-18 season, but upon winning the Stanley Cup, an automatic two-year extension was triggered, raising his $1.5 million yearly salary by $300,000. But Trotz wanted to be compensated as one of the top five coaches in the NHL.

While the terms of his deal have yet to be finalized, according to Elliotte Friedman, Trotz's deal could be in the 5-year, $20 million range.

With the Islanders, Trotz inherits a team that finished 35-37-10 last season under head coach Doug Weight, despite having John Tavares, one of the best centers in the NHL, and several young studs like Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle, and Josh Ho-Sang. But Tavares enters the offseason as a free agent, and many teams will be looking to pay top-dollar for his services. 

Trotz will report to Lou Lamoriello, who was named the Islanders' president and general manager in May after spending three seasons in the same role with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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The Caps' Cup-winning roster is a lesson in building through the draft

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USA TODAY Sports

The Caps' Cup-winning roster is a lesson in building through the draft

Every year, the Stanley Cup-winning team shows the importance of building through the draft. This year, that team is the Washington Capitals.

With the NHL Draft starting on Friday, let’s break down the Capitals roster from the playoffs to see just how it was put together.

Acquired by the draft: Nicklas Backstrom, Madison Bowey, Travis Boy, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Shane Gersich, Philipp Grubauer, Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Alex Ovechkin, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Nathan Walker, Tom Wilson

Acquired as a free agent: Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson, Brett Connolly, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Devante Smith-Pelly

Acquired by trade: Lars Eller, Jakub Jerabek, Michal Kempny, T.J. Oshie

The first thing to note is that the vast majority of Washington’s roster is made up of draft picks. Specifically, the majority of the Caps’ top six on offense, three of its top six defensemen and both goalies were drafted by the team.

Of the free agent signings, only two were big money players in Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. In 2014, defense was a major question mark for the Caps and Brian MacLellan made a splash as the new general manager by signing both blue liners to big deals. The majority of the signings, however, are cheap, low risk and high reward players.

Finally, the trades include players who filled obvious needs. The Caps needed Oshie to shore up the top six, Eller was brought in to be the third line center, Kempny stepped in as a top-four defenseman and Jerabek was brought in for defensive depth.

So what does this show us?

First, the draft is absolutely critical to building a team’s core. True superstar players are hard to come by. Once a team gets one, they do everything they can to keep them. The draft is a team's first opportunity to acquire a certain player and, if they have superstar potential, sign them long-term. John Tavares this season looks headed to free agency and the buzz around him stems from the fact that he is very much the exception, not the rule. The base of the Caps’ Stanley Cup team was built by drafting star players like Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Carlson, Holtby, etc.

This also shows the importance of the draft for depth. In the salary cap era, teams need to find enough cap room for their stars and their depth players. Having young players is absolutely critical because their low cap hit allows for the team to sign the expensive stars and make the important addition in free agency  or by trade. This is a formula that only works if those young players are productive as well.

Players like Vrana and Burakovsky, for example, played big roles in the playoff run, but also carried low cap hits.

So the Caps built a core through the draft and filled key roles with trades and mostly cheap free agent signings.

There is no formula for how to win a Stanley Cup, if there was everyone would do it, but this is about as close as you can come to one. A team has to draft very well and then build around those draft picks to be successful. You cannot hope to build simply through trades and free agency because of the cost. Trades always require sending an asset the other way and very often that asset turns out to be prospects or draft picks. Free agency, meanwhile, requires team overpay for top targets leading to serious cap trouble down the line.

There are always trades and free agent signings that prove to be important, but those are only pieces to a much large puzzle. To win a Stanley Cup, you have to build through the draft.

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