Saints, Bucs strive to become more consistent


Saints, Bucs strive to become more consistent

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Slow starts that have dumped the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers into a hole in the NFC South haven't changed the way they feel about themselves.

The division rivals enter Sunday's meeting of inconsistent teams at Raymond James Stadium eager to build on victories they hope will set the tone for the rest of the season.

The Saints (1-4) continue to deal with fallout from the bounty probe that led to the suspensions of coach Sean Payton and others. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma is appealing the season-long ban the NFL ordered for his role in the program and actually could make his season debut against the Bucs (2-3).

Vilma has been on the physically unable to perform list while rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee and practiced for the first time on Wednesday. Interim coach Aaron Kromer has not ruled out the prospect of plugging the ninth-year pro into a defense that's allowed an NFL-high 456 yards and nearly 31 points per game - even if Vilma pro's return winds up being brief, with appeals hearings set for NFL headquarters in New York on Tuesday.

``Is there a need?'' Kromer asked in response to a question about using the middle linebacker's help. ``There's always a need for Jon Vilma on the field if he's the Jon Vilma that we remember, that we all know who flies around the field and makes every tackle that's near him.''

Drew Brees agreed Vilma's presence makes a difference.

``Of course it would be great to have him back. His leadership, his productivity,'' the New Orleans star said. ``But in the end, you worry about the guys that you do have.''

Brees believes the Saints, coming off a bye week that gave them a chance to rest and savor their first victory, have the makeup to turn their season around following an 0-4 start.

The record-breaking quarterback threw for 370 yards and a season-high four touchdowns to pace a 31-24 win over San Diego two weeks ago, also moving ahead of Johnny Unitas for sole ownership of the league mark for consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass at 48.

Unitas held the previous record for 52 years.

``We're a prideful group. We've got great leadership, great work ethic, great character. So you start like that and you go: `Man, this is not what we all anticipated or all expected.' Yet life is going to throw that at you sometimes, football is going to throw that at you sometimes. You've just got to find a way to stick together, stay positive and encouraging,'' Brees said.

``I think we've always felt like as long as we do things the right way, good things are going to happen to us, we're going to catch a break. It just seems like everything that could have gone wrong went wrong those first four weeks,'' Brees added. ``But we got better. If you want to look at the positive side of it, the bright side, each week you'd turn on the film and it was like: `Hey, I know it didn't end up in a winning result, but we got better and we got closer and closer.''

Tampa Bay opened the season with a victory over Carolina, then dropped three straight to the Giants, Cowboys and Redskins. First-year coach Greg Schiano used the team's bye week to make some adjustments, and the Bucs returned last week to rout struggling Kansas City 38-10.

Josh Freeman threw for a season-high 328 yards and three touchdowns, while the defense limited then-NFL rushing leader Jamaal Charles to 40 yards on 12 carries.

Receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams rank among the league leaders in average yards per catch, and there finally are signs of a consistent running game with rookie Doug Martin sharing the workload with LeGarrette Blount.

So are the Bucs, with their newfound downfield passing attack equipped to win a shootout with the high-scoring Saints?

``We're going to be prepared to do whatever it takes,'' Freeman said.

Schiano is counting on an improved defense to do its part. That means stopping the run and, of course, getting pressure on Brees.

``You have to play run defense, but I wouldn't sound very intelligent if I got up here and said No. 9 isn't their team,'' Schiano said.

``You're not going to stop Drew Brees, but you need to do what you can do to slow him down. There's a lot of ways to do that that I'm not going to get into. Ways we think. We'll see if it works. ... It's funny when you watch video and you see things: `Oh, that was their thought. That didn't work. That was their thought. That didn't work.' There's a lot of people where that didn't work because they're scoring points as they as always do.''

This will be Kromer's final game as Saints interim coach. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt is set to return from his suspension and will lead the team the remainder of the season.

``It's been an unprecedented situation, but I wouldn't say it's awkward,'' Kromer said. ``We didn't start fast, but we're hoping to finish fast.''


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With another low shot total for Otto Porter, Coach Brooks says Porter needs to do more to help himself

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With another low shot total for Otto Porter, Coach Brooks says Porter needs to do more to help himself

After a night in which Otto Porter Jr. only took nine total shots, just two of them in the second half, many questions from Wizards reporters in the postgame locker room centered on how the team can get him more involved. This came on the heels of a seven-shot, zero-three outing for Porter against the Heat on Thursday and a preseason in which getting him more attempts was a persistent storyline.

It sounds like some are tired of talking about it. Point guard John Wall, who is part of the equation as the team's main distributor and highest usage player, put it in relatively strong terms.

"This will be the last time I talk about Otto Porter getting threes," Wall said. 

Wall went on to explain how it's a combination of defenses taking away the three-point line for Porter and the flow of the game creating better shots for others. It's a common explanation Wall has given on the matter in recent weeks, and it's understandable.

Head coach Scott Brooks has admitted his own role in Porter not getting enough shots, how more plays could be called for the small forward. But after the loss to Toronto, one in which Porter played just south of 25 minutes, he was a bit more blunt in his assessment.

Brooks believes Porter can be doing a lot more to help himself.

"Gotta get yourself open," Brooks said. 

When asked about Porter playing fewer minutes than usual, Brooks went on about the need for guys to play hard. That warranted a follow-up, as it seemed Brooks was questioning Porter's hustle.

Brooks explained what he meant by that in detail.

"You've got to move. You've got to set yourself up. You've got to run the floor. We got a fast point guard. I don’t know if you guys know that but he’s fast and if our wings aren’t running, what good is it when you’re going to have a one-man break? What makes teams play with pace is guys running." 

"I love Otto. You guys know that. But he has to play faster. He has to. Physically, he’s not going to jump over anybody and dunk over everybody, but he has to get himself into position. He’s a big-time player for us. He’s a glue guy. He makes winning basketball plays. He gets in plays but he has to do that consistently for us. He can’t do it for a half. He has to do it for the entire game. The guy can do it. I’ve seen it. He didn’t do it tonight but he’s going to bounce back. He didn’t do it the first two games but he’s going to bounce back and do it. And we need it.”

Porter, 25, was the Wizards' most efficient player last season, but averaged only 11.5 shots per game. With one of the best three-point shots in the NBA, the numbers suggest he should have a larger role.

The Wizards insist they are trying to get him more involved. In their eyes, it's time for Porter to do his part.

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Bradley Beal honored to pass Gilbert Arenas on all-time three-pointer list

Bradley Beal honored to pass Gilbert Arenas on all-time three-pointer list

Saturday night produced a link between some of the best players in recent Wizards/Bullets franchise history.

With a fourth-quarter three, Bradley Beal surpassed Gilbert Arenas on the franchise list for career triples

Beal, an All-Star last season, has already established himself as one of the best to play for Washington in decades. Afterwards, he paid homage to the man whose record he broke.

"I was always a fan of Gil. He was Agent Zero," Beal told NBC Sports Washington. 

"I loved everything about him; his confidence, his swagger on the floor. Granted, everyone talks about his off-the-court stuff, but what he did on the court is just untouchable. It's untouchable. He's a legend, for sure. Part of me wishes I could have played with him and just learned from him in a lot of ways. That's an accomplishment for me. I'm happy I was able to surpass it because he is a legend, in my opinion anyway."

Arenas' tenure with the Wizards was epic for its highs and lows. At his peak, he was arguably the most dangerous scorer in the NBA. But his downfall both on the court and off has left him as a notorious figure in the game's recent history.

John Wall, who has assisted on many of Beal's three-pointers, played with Arenas back in the 2010-11 season as a rookie. He is happy for his current teammate, who now has a distinct place in the team's history books.

"He's probably the best shooter I've ever played with in my eyes, so it's great to see him accomplish that," Wall said. "He's going to keep setting the bar higher and higher."

Beal passed Arenas in just the second game of his seventh NBA season. He's only 25 years old, so odds are he will keep adding to his franchise record for many years to come.