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Smith expects injured Abraham to start vs. 49ers

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Smith expects injured Abraham to start vs. 49ers

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) It's too early for the Atlanta Falcons to know how much defensive end John Abraham will play in Sunday's NFC title game.

Abraham, the NFL's active sacks leader, made it through just 15 snaps in last week's divisional playoff victory over Seattle before aggravating a left ankle injury that forced him to leave in the second quarter.

``You don't want to lose a good player,'' Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. ``We won the game, so there's something we did right. But it does change things.''

The Falcons are making contingency plans in case Abraham is unable to play at full strength against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

Abraham, who has not been available to speak with reporters this week, missed practice on Wednesday even though coach Mike Smith listed him as having limited participation.

But it's clear that the Falcons (14-3) will be pleased to have Abraham on the field for any length of time against San Francisco (12-4-1).

``He's a sack master,'' linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. ``That's what I like to call him - Father Abe. We look forward to getting him back out there this week. I think the guys that had a chance to play in his absence did a good job stepping in and doing what they need to do in order to help the team get the win.''

Abraham, 34, was initially hurt in the regular season finale loss to Tampa Bay, limping off the field with the help of trainers.

Coach Mike Smith said that he expects the 13th-year veteran to start on Sunday. Even so, the Falcons are giving reserve ends Cliff Matthews, Jonathan Massaquoi and Lawrence Sidbury more work this week in case Abraham has to make an early exit.

Matthews took the balance of the work against Seattle, playing 46 snaps and making two tackles opposite Kroy Biermann, Atlanta's other starting end.

Abraham, though, is a special talent.

``Obviously he's an integral part of this defense,'' Biermann said. ``When you lose a player like that, it kind of puts a little bit of strain on you, but the guys behind him know that they've got to step up, play that role and get it done.''

The 49ers present several problems for Atlanta's defense.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is coming off an impressive playoff win over Green Bay, passing for 263 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 181 yards and two TDs. He set an NFL single-game record for yards rushing by a quarterback.

Smith knows the Falcons must do their best to contain Kaepernick in the pocket while keeping tight coverage on receivers Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss and tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker.

Running backs Frank Gore and LaMichael James also create issues in the passing attack, too.

``They have playmakers at both levels with their offense,'' Smith said. ``You're going to have to put together a plan to try to slow down certain aspects of it. It's a very explosive offense they've created.''

Though Abraham's 122 career sacks rank 13th on the NFL career list, he hasn't had one since Nov. 29 when he took down New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees to help seal a 23-13 victory.

The following week, Atlanta won its second NFC South title in three years.

Before the Falcons traded for him in 2006, Abraham had a long injury history in six years with the New York Jets. He's overcome assorted ailments and offseason surgeries with Atlanta, however, and has missed just two games over the last six seasons.

``When you watch the film, he played through the pain a little bit,'' strong safety William Moore said. ``It was hard to even tell. He rotates a lot, so I didn't even know he was out at one point.''

Moore learned of Abraham's absence soon enough while Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks were carving up Atlanta's defense in the second half. After Vance Walker sacked him early in the third quarter, Wilson completed 13 of 18 passes for 230 with two TDs.

The Falcons did a decent job covering deep routes, but they struggled badly in trying to defend tight end Zach Miller and other targets Wilson hit in the middle of the defense.

``Those were still miscues on our end,'' free safety Thomas DeCoud said. ``We were short on a drop here or there or someone didn't carry someone here or there. Those things were more about us rather than things that they did.''

Notes: S William Moore has a cast on his right hand but participated fully in practice. ... CB Christopher Owens (hamstring) remains out. He hasn't played since a Dec. 22 victory at Detroit. ... DT Jonathan Babineaux (shoulder) also had limited participation in practice.

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NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

There was a lot of excitement to start the season for the Caps. First, there was the home-opener and the banner raising against the Boston Bruins. Then there was a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the rival Penguins. After that, it was a Stanley Cup Final rematch against the Vegas Golden Knights.

And all of that was followed up with a trip to Newark.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

With all due respect to New Jersey, given the slate the Caps faced to start the season, it was no real surprise to see the team struggle to get up for Thursday’s game against the Devils, a game in which the Caps were blown out 6-0. Of all the games Washington faced to start the season, the trip to New Jersey was definitely the least exciting.

But not every game is going to be a big rivalry matchup or a playoff rematch. With every team gunning for the Caps, they better make sure they can get themselves ready for the grind of an 82-game season that won’t always feature a big-time matchup.

A trip to Newark may not be flashy or exciting, but it still counts as two points.

The Caps dropped the game in New Jersey and lost a tight contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Where do they stand now after two straight losses?

FIND OUT HERE IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS

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The five key plays in the Redskins’ win over the Panthers

The five key plays in the Redskins’ win over the Panthers

Every play in an NFL game is important but some matter to the outcome more than others. Here are the key plays in the Redskins’ 23-17 win over the Panthers.

Q1, 10:41—Tress Way punts 51 yards to CAR 21, D.J. Moore to CAR 22 for 1 yard (Shaun Dion Hamilton). FUMBLES (Hamilton), RECOVERED by WAS-Jeremy Sprinkle at CAR 21. Sprinkle to CAR 22 for -1 yard. 

The Redskins did not get off to a promising start on offense as they went three and out on their first possession and punted. Panthers rookie D.J. Moore fielded the punt and tried to find some running room. He found Hamilton, who stripped the ball away and Sprinkle pounced on it. It only took one play for the Redskins to cash in as Alex Smith found Vernon Davis wide open—as in nobody else in the picture open—for a touchdown to put the home team up 7-0. 

Q1, 8:50—Alex Smith pass short middle to Jordan Reed to WAS 45 for 7 yards 

The Redskins were looking to add to their lead on their possession following the Davis touchdown. On third and eight at their own 38, Smith threw for Reed in the middle of the field. The pass was high and inside, forcing Reed to jump, reach back and stab the ball with his right hand. It was a true one-handed catch because he never touched the ball with his left hand. 

The only thing Reed did wrong on that play was to signal for a first down. It was short, but Smith got the first with a sneak on the next play. Some Adrian Peterson runs and a 21-yard pass from Smith to Davis helped get the Redskins down to the two-yard line. On third down from there, Smith found Paul Richardson for a TD to make it 14-0.

Q2, 11:32—Cam Newton pass short middle to Moore to WAS 37 for 17 yards (Josh Norman). FUMBLES (Norman), RECOVERED by WAS -Mason Foster at WAS 33. 

Norman got his first interception since 2016 earlier in the second quarter but the offense couldn’t do anything with the possession. The next time the Panthers had the ball, Newton went to Moore on a crossing Pattern. He had some running room and it looked like the Panthers would advance well into Redskins territory. But as defenders converged on Moore, Norman reached in and stripped the ball out. “He never saw me coming,” said Norman. Foster recovered, and the Redskins drove for a field goal to go up 17-0. 

Q4, 13:43—Alex Smith sacked at CAR 46 for -6 yards (Julius Peppers). FUMBLES (Peppers), recovered by WAS-Trent Williams at CAR 46. Williams to CAR 38 for 8 yards.

The Panthers had rallied to make it a one-score game at 17-9. On third and seven from the Carolina 40, Smith was immediately swarmed by the pass rush. The ball popped out and it fell into the hands of Williams to the left of the scrum. Going on sheer instinct, Williams headed upfield. Starting from six yards behind the line of scrimmage Williams rumbled eight yards for a net gain of two. That’s not much but it was enough to have Jay Gruden send Dustin Hopkins into the game to attempt a 56-yard field goal. The boot just made it over the uprights and Hopkins’ career-long kick had the Redskins up by two scores at 20-9. 

Q4, 0:38—Cam Newton pass incomplete short right to Jarius Wright.

After the Redskins kicked a field goal to go up by six, Newton led a final drive that kept everyone on edge. Starting with 3:15 to play, Newton was sharp, completing six of seven passes for 50 yards to move the Panthers from their own 16 to second and five at the Washington 16. The Washington defense finally stiffened, and Newton’s next three passes fell incomplete. The last one went harmlessly to the ground, not particularly close to Wright or any other receiver. The Redskins and their fans could finally exhale and celebrate. 

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