Nationals

Vilma gives Saints 'D emotional lift against Bucs

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Vilma gives Saints 'D emotional lift against Bucs

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Inspired by Jonathan Vilma's return, New Orleans' porous defense found a way to keep Tampa Bay out of the end zone, then did it again to preserve the Saints' second straight win.

Drew Brees threw for 377 yards and four touchdowns, however Sunday's 35-28 victory over the Buccaneers wouldn't have been possible without a third-quarter goal-line stand and another stop to end the game.

``I don't know how much better we got. I know we won the game. That's always a positive,'' safety Roman Harper said. ``We were always finding ways to lose a game, and now we're finding ways to win a game.

With Vilma playing for the first time while appealing a season-long suspension for his role in the Saints bounty program and Brees shrugging off an early interception that led to Tampa Bay's first touchdown, New Orleans (2-4) took another step toward turning around its season following an 0-4 start.

Vilma provided an emotional lift, if not any game-changing plays. Brees extended his NFL record for consecutive games with at least one TD pass to 49 and launched a 95-yard scoring drive that put the Saints up 14 points after the defense stopped four straight Bucs running plays from the New Orleans 1 late in the third quarter.

Safety Malcolm Jenkins began the sequence by hustling across the field to stop Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson from scoring on a 95-yard reception. LeGarrette Blount was stopped for no gain on three straight carries from the 1, then defensive end Cameron Jordan chased Josh Freeman out of bounds for a 4-yard loss on a quarterback keeper to prevent the Bucs from tying the score.

Twelve plays later, Pierre Thomas scored on a 5-yard run to make it 35-21.

``All of the sudden, they're about to tie the game, and Malcolm - an unbelievable individual effort to run Vincent Jackson down, and then a goal-line stand,'' Brees said.

``Now in their mind, they're thinking: `Hey, we went for it on fourth down because now we've got them pinned back and we're just expecting to stop them and have them punt it to us and get great field position.' But we had a different plan in mind. We get one first down, a big play, and all of the sudden we're going down and making it a two-possession game.''

Despite missing a third-quarter field goal and failing to get anything out of the longest offensive play in franchise history, Tampa Bay (2-4) still nearly found a way to get the game into overtime.

Freeman, who threw for a career-best 420 yards and three touchdowns, marched the Bucs from their own 19 to the New Orleans 9 in the closing seconds.

On the game's final play, Freeman rolled to his left before throwing to Mike Williams for an apparent tying touchdown. But the receiver had been pushed out of the back of the end zone before coming back into the field of play. So, instead of heading to OT, the reception was wiped out by a penalty for illegal touching.

Bucs coach Greg Schiano said he didn't see what happened.

``It really doesn't matter. If it's called, it's called. You live with it. There's nothing you can do about it,'' Schiano said. ``So whether he did, didn't, we'll see it on tape. That's life.''

Brees was 27 of 37 and threw TDs passes of 17 yards to Marques Colston, 9 yards to Darren Sproles, 48 yards to Joseph Morgan and 20 yards to David Thomas to overcome the New Orleans defense yielding a season-high 513 yards.

Vilma, who has a hearing on his appeal scheduled for Oct. 30, finished with one quarterback hit but no tackles.

``I tried to not let my emotions get the best of me,'' Vilma said. I didn't want to put myself in a situation where I was going to hurt the team or anything like that, so I tried not to be overexcited.''

Teammates said it was good to have him on the field.

``Having him back just, emotionally, really made a difference in this game,'' interim Saints coach Aaron Kromer said. ``We were trying to get him in in certain packages, and we had a couple of linebackers go down early in the game.''

Vilma was very business-like, answering questions while getting dressed in the locker room. He said he wasn't sure how many snaps he played, but that he felt fine and believed he was in good enough condition to play an entire game.

The ninth-year pro said he had always believed he'd get an opportunity to play this season.

``Most people didn't, but it was a long, drawn-out process, and for good or bad, it ended up this way and I was able to be back on the field with my teammates. That was a great feeling,'' Vilma said.

Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has been appointed as arbitrator for Vilma's appeal, as well as the hearings for three other players facing suspensions of various lengths.

``I think it's a good first step for Paul to be the neutral arbitrator,'' said Vilma, who played mostly in passing situations on Sunday. ``We expect that he's going to do things in a neutral capacity, which will allow us to cross-examine some of the witnesses and allow us to see the evidence, if there is any evidence.''

NOTES: Jackson had seven receptions for a Bucs-record 216 yards. ... Lance Moore had nine receptions for 121 yards for the Saints. ... It was Kromer's last game as interim coach. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt returns from his suspension this week and will lead the Saints in Sean Payton's absence the rest of the season.

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Hunter Strickland explains the weight-room mishap that broke his nose

Hunter Strickland explains the weight-room mishap that broke his nose

PITTSBURGH -- Hunter Strickland’s face has been fixed. A small piece of tape still resides in the middle of his broken nose, but the good news is the break was clean. When he went to a local hospital for X-Rays, his nose was reset and clearance to pitch was provided. His ego remains a work in progress.

Strickland broke his nose Tuesday when a weight-lifting bar was inadvertently pulled onto his face. The Nationals large reliever -- 6-foot-3, 225 pounds -- went to use a red cord tethered to a squat rack above the empty bar for hip mobility exercises. And, well, we’ll let him tell it:

“So I pulled the cord in front of the bar so this wouldn’t happen, and obviously it didn’t work out too well,” Strickland said. “When I sat down to get on the ground to do the hip stuff, I went to reach up and grab the cord, and I guess one of the loops still got hung up behind it. And when I grabbed it, I guess my weight pulled the bar off it, and it crushed me.”

Tuesday, Strickland went to throw afterward and felt fine. The doctors also told him he couldn’t further damage his reset nose -- harken back to the wise words of Max Scherzer, “You don’t pitch with your nose” -- so he felt ready to pitch. Davey Martinez opted not to use him a few hours after the incident. 

Strickland had never broken his nose prior. He comes from a large family which jousted in athletics, where he is the middle child with two older brothers, a younger brother and two younger sisters, but never broke his nose. So, the shot to the face was a surprise, to say the least.

“I had no idea,” Strickland said. “I didn't know what happened. Obviously, it hit me pretty good so it kind of dazed me for a second there. After that, I looked up in the mirror. My nose was crooked and bleeding everywhere. Just kind of put two and two together -- got knocked out by a bar.”

Members of the Nationals medical staff immediately came to him in the cramped visitor’s clubhouse workout space. The area is so tight, players were throwing a medicine ball off the concrete wall just outside entrance Wednesday. Blood and confusion made Strickland briefly worry something more significant had happened. Wednesday, he was relieved and available.

“That’s why I’m thrilled it’s not as bad as it could be,” Strickland said. “That’s one of the things they look at with the X-rays, to make sure the passages are still straight and clear. I’m able to breathe and get the blood out of there, so we’ll be good to go. It’s good. Everything checked out.”

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NFL analyst Warren Sharp bullish on Lamar Jackson headed into season

NFL analyst Warren Sharp bullish on Lamar Jackson headed into season

Warren Sharp held nothing back when discussing Lamar Jackson’s 2018 season. 

In a blog post on his website, Sharp posted an article titled ‘You’re Wrong About Lamar Jackson’ that detailed why he thinks Jackson isn’t only underrated but poised for a breakout year. 

Sharp, a former engineer, is a football analyst who specializes in advanced statistics in relation to football. And when it comes to the Ravens second-year quarterback, he’s as high as ever. 

On The Daily Line, Sharp said, “I just think he’s severely underestimated with what people saw last season. What people don’t realize is that out of the 11 rookie quarterbacks in the NFL who started when they were 21-years older or less, Lamar Jackson had the best passer rating in NFL history.”

Jackson, who started the last seven games of the Ravens season last year, finished 6-1 as a starter, but left some doubting his ability to sustain that success. Notably, it was his passing touch that left analysts and fans questioning whether or not he was the right quarterback for the Ravens.

But Sharp is one analyst who is confident in what Jackson’s skillset can do for the Ravens, who are expected to run the ball more than any team in the league. 

Jackson also posted a snippet of the blog to his Instagram story on Tuesday, too. 

The Ravens open up the season on Sept. 8 against the Dolphins, where Jackson will begin his quest to prove his doubters wrong — and Sharp right. 

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