Wizards

Saints end Falcons unbeaten run with 31-27 win

201211111241456717669-p2.jpeg

Saints end Falcons unbeaten run with 31-27 win

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Roddy White and the Atlanta Falcons came up just short in their bid to stay unbeaten.

Not that White was about to give the rival Saints too much credit after New Orleans pulled out a dramatic 31-27 upset of previously unbeaten Atlanta on Sunday.

``It's not like they came out here and won a game,'' White said. ``I think we kind of gave it to them. ... We play them in three weeks and we'll be ready.''

White's comments weren't the only potential bulletin board material for the rematch on Nov. 29 in Atlanta.

Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton, who left the Falcons after last season in free agency, dismissed the notion that New Orleans and Atlanta had a genuine ``rivalry'' because the Saints have won 11 of the past 13 meetings.

``The team out on the field today was the reason why I came to the Saints,'' said Lofton, who joined New Orleans only to see his former team get off to its best start in franchise history. ``We're finally starting to come together.''

While the Saints (4-5) were celebrating their fourth victory in five games after a 0-4 start, the Falcons (8-1) walked out of the Superdome ruing their failure to get the 1 yard they needed to take a lead inside the last 2 minutes.

``It's very frustrating,'' said Falcons coach Mike Smith, who is 2-7 against the Saints and 49-15 against the rest of the NFL in his four-plus regular seasons as Atlanta coach.

``We were close. ... This will be something we will learn from.''

The Falcons struggled to cover dynamic young tight end Jimmy Graham, who caught seven passes for a career-best 146 yards and two touchdowns.

Then veteran New Orleans cornerback Jabari Greer, who had been beaten deep twice earlier in the game, came through with a diving, touchdown-saving pass breakup on a late fourth-down pass intended for White.

``I was kind of depressed before that play,'' Greer said. ``I saw my name on the waiver wire. ... Being able to go out there and make a play for our team and be able to celebrate after everything that happened and just to win that way, it's a gift.''

Matt Ryan was 34 of 52 for a career-best 411 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. The game was there for him to win when his 9-yard pass to Harry Douglas gave Atlanta a second-and-goal at the 1.

But Ryan could not connect on a second-down pass for tight end Tony Gonzalez, the Saints stuffed Michael Turner for a 1-yard loss on third down, and then came Greer's play.

``I could have put that ball in a better spot - a little higher and more in front of him to give him a chance to catch it,'' Ryan said. ``We've always played them tough and haven't had the outcomes we wanted.''

Both Graham and the veteran Gonzalez were superb. Their performances marked the first time in NFL history that two tight ends had at least 120 yards receiving and two TD catches in the same game.

``Tony, he kind of paved the way for me,'' said Graham, who like Gonzalez had a college basketball background. ``It seemed like every drive I'm kind of going up against the things that he did the last drive.''

Gonzalez finished with 11 catches for 122 yards and two scores for Atlanta, becoming the first tight end to catch 100 touchdown passes.

Drew Brees threw for 298 yards and three TDs as the Saints won for the fourth time in five games, keeping alive hope of getting back into the wild-card race after a 0-4 start. The Saints can even their record with a win at Oakland next weekend.

``That's something we feel like we're capable of and we envisioned being able to do that, because we know the type of team we have,'' Brees said. ``We knew we dug ourselves a hole. We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we also knew we have the right type of people.''

``No one is going to go around crying or panicking or anything like that,'' Gonzalez said. ``We're a good team. Our confidence hasn't changed.''

Although the Saints came in allowing a league-worst 176.5 yards rushing per game, they held Atlanta to 46 yards on the ground.

New Orleans rushed for 148 yards, highlighted by Chris Ivory's career-long 56-yard scoring run that gave the Saints a spark after Atlanta had a 10-0 lead.

The Saints' largest lead was 28-17 on Brees' scoring strike to Marques Colston, the 55th TD of Colston's career, tying Deuce McAllister for first in Saints history. The touchdown capped an 81-yard drive which started with rookie Corey White's interception.

The Falcons pulled to 28-27 on Gonzalez's second TD and Matt Bryant's field goal, but Graham' 46-yard grab set up Garrett Hartley's field goal that gave the Saints a late four-point lead and set the stage for a tense last few minutes.

Notes: Ivory's 56-yard run was the longest from scrimmage by a Saint since Oct. 8, 2006, when McAllister ran 57 yards vs. Tampa Bay. ... Brees has passed for touchdowns in 52 straight games, extending an NFL record he set earlier this season. ... Julio Jones missed much of the first half after an undisclosed leg injury, but returned in the second half. ... Gonzalez has 101 career TDs, one of only eight players with 100 or more.

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Brandon Clarke

2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Brandon Clarke

The Washington Wizards will have the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2019 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Brandon Clarke

School: Gonzaga
Position: Forward
Age: 22 (turns 23 in September)
Height: 6-8
Weight: 207
Wingspan: 6-8
Max vertical: 40.5 in.

2018/19 stats: 16.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.2 spg, 3.2 bpg, 68.7 FG% (6.8/9.7), 26.7 3PT% (0.1/0.4), 69.4 FT%

Player comparison: Montrezl Harrell, Dominic McGuire

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 17th, NBADraft.net 23rd, Bleacher Report 19th, Sports Illustrated 25th, Ringer 11th

5 things to know:

*Clarke is a forward who probably swings more towards the four-spot at the NBA level. He is considered one of the best defensive players in this draft, having won the West Coast Conference defensive player of the year award this past season. He averaged 3.2 blocks and 1.2 steals per game for Gonzaga and was known for his versatility to guard multiple positions. 

*There are questions about whether Clarke's shot-blocking will translate to the next level. There aren't a ton of 6-foot-8 rim protectors in the NBA and there have been many before Clarke who racked up blocks in college but then couldn't in the pros. His height suggests a potential problem and also his lack of a plus-wingspan. But working in Clarke's favor is his 40 1/2-inch vertical leap. Only three players had better numbers at this year's combine and all were guards. That type of jumping ability is rarely seen with players at Clarke's size.

*A big concern for Clarke is that at this point he can't shoot from the outside. He attempted only 24 threes in his three years in college and made six of them. If he can't develop a three-point shot, he will need to live in the midrange and around the rim and that's just not how the best players his size play these days. Clarke doesn't need to become a sharpshooter, but a respectable three would open up his game.

*Clarke is going to be 23 years old by the time the season tips off. That is quite old for an NBA prospect, as many of the top players will only be 19 at the start of the year. That could mean he will contribute right away in the NBA, but it could also tell teams that his ceiling is limited compared to younger, less-polished players. Clarke just took a little longer to develop into a pro prospect after starting his college career at San Jose State. He transferred and played one year at Gonzaga. Dropping a guy's stock just because of his age, though, can be risky. Malcolm Brogdon has been making teams pay for that decision for years.

*He is from Canada. The country continues to pump out top NBA prospects and this year alone can claim Clarke, R.J. Barrett of Duke and Nickeil Alexander-Walker of Virginia Tech. Though many have come from the Toronto area, Clarke hails from Vancouver, in the western part of Canada. He also spent much of his youth in the United States, having moved to Arizona when he was three.

Fit with Wizards: The Wizards like Clarke, as evidenced by their interview with him at the NBA combine. And there are reasons to suggest he would fit in quite well with what they are looking for.

He would be plug-and-play and provide an instant impact at a position of need. Depending on what they do with their free agent forwards, he could even start as a rookie at the four.

They also need a complete overhaul defensively and he would help them improve on that end of the floor. He would provide rim protection and help shore up their midrange defense as well. 

Clarke plays smart, team-oriented defense and the Wizards need more of that. He could help them change their mindset on that end of the floor. Clarke seems like the type of player good defensive teams like the Bucks and Pacers would covet, that too often in recent years the Wizards have overlooked.

Best highlight video:

MORE WIZARDS NEWS:

Quick Links

Team meetings like the one the Nationals had this week are no guarantee of a turnaround – but it can happen

doolittlestare.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Images

Team meetings like the one the Nationals had this week are no guarantee of a turnaround – but it can happen

Sometimes the doors shut on the outside world and struggling teams find clarity inside the sanctuary of a locker room. Sometimes they do not. 

The Nationals experienced the downside of a players’ only meeting this week when a clear-the-air session on Wednesday at Citi Field in New York was followed by two horrifying losses to the NL East rival Mets.

Now 12 games under .500, the season slipping away, their manager facing daily questions about his job security, the hardest part is here: Where do the Nationals go after a team meeting doesn’t solve the problem? 

Washington doesn’t need to go too far back into the history books to see that team meetings are often just exercises in frustration, They held one after a 3-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox last July 4. It capped a 9-20 stretch where they were shut out eight times in 34 days. 

You know what happened next. The Nationals drifted through an 82-80 season and failed to reach any of their preseason goals. A team 10 games over .500 and tied for first place in the NL East on May 31 was a game under .500 (42-43), seven games out and never got closer than five again. 

Of course, if there were no problems there would be no meetings. But sometimes players can root out issues by shutting out everyone, including the coaches. The Capitals did it each of the past two seasons. 

It’s easy to forget in the wake of winning the Stanley Cup in 2018 and a fourth straight Metropolitan Division title in 2019 that the Capitals had plenty of problems to work through. Former coach Barry Trotz blistered his team after a 6-2 loss at Colorado on Nov. 16, 2017 and left his players to sort things out. Washington was floundering at 10-9-1. 

The message got through. They won 12 of their next 15 games and finished the rest of the season 39-17-6. They went on to win the Cup – though there were a few more bumps in the road and a defensive overhaul following another team meeting in March. 

This year an embarrassing 8-5 loss at Chicago left the Capitals in third place in the Metro at 27-16-5. Maybe that doesn’t seem too bad, but they were in the midst of what would become a seven-game losing streak. They were teetering. Again the brutally honest talk after the loss to the Blackhawks eventually helped turn the tide.

“At the end of the day we’re pretty close, we’re a team. This group isn’t guys yelling,” Capitals forward Tom Wilson said after that Jan. 22 game. “We’re close, we know how we need to play. We just needed to address it, we needed to talk it out a little bit, get on the same page.

 But it took two more losses – one a brutal 7-6 overtime defeat at home to San Jose where they coughed up a two-goal lead twice, gave up the game-tying goal with one second to go and lost in overtime. Even productive team meetings rarely have linear results. 

 But they can also make things worse. The Wizards had a team meeting in January 2018 and soon after got destroyed by Charlotte 133-109. They rallied and beat Detroit two days later and their record was 26-20. 

But the fruitless meeting couldn’t solve Washington’s underlying issues. And while injuries played a factor, the Wizards only made the playoffs as the No. 8 seed and lost to Toronto in the first round in six games. 

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: