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Vitt defends Brees, says Saints still have hope

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Vitt defends Brees, says Saints still have hope

METAIRIE, La. (AP) Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt scoffs at the idea that Drew Brees' recent and uncharacteristic interception epidemic is to blame for New Orleans' fading playoff hopes.

Vitt doesn't want the Saints' franchise quarterback to change a thing.

``When you have a great quarterback on your team, great quarterbacks can't have a conscience. They're going to stick tight throws. They're going to make great plays. And those great plays that great quarterbacks make take great courage. And that's just the truth,'' Vitt said Friday. ``When you're on a little bit of a dry spell and maybe you wish you had a throw back or two, potentially bad things happen.''

A lot of bad things have been happening to Brees in the past two losses.

Against San Francisco last Sunday, Brees had two interceptions returned for touchdowns in an 11-point loss. Then it got even worse in Atlanta on Thursday night, when Brees threw five interceptions and had a late-first-half lapse in clock management in a 23-13 loss to the rival Falcons.

Even Brees' NFL record 54-game streak with touchdown pass came to an end.

``I couldn't believe it. I've never seen anything like it,'' said Saints safety Roman Harper, the only player available Friday for interviews. ``All I'm used to is the Drew we see every Sunday, not a Drew that has five turnovers or things like that and it was just off.

``We should have won the game. We just did not take advantage of the opportunities we needed to whether it's right before the half or a couple of the turnovers,'' Harper said. ``We just can't put it all on Drew and say, `Hey, if Drew has a bad game, we don't win the game.' Sometimes we've got to bail him about because he's bailed us out plenty of times.''

Brees still threw for 341 yards, highlighted by numerous downfield completions. Perhaps the interception that deflected off of running back Chris Ivory's hands was bad luck. Perhaps the end of Brees' streak was bad luck, too, given Lance Moore's drop in the end zone.

But Brees blamed himself for the turnovers after the game, and for losing track of the clock late in the first half, when the Saints got inside the Atlanta 5 and came away empty.

Vitt said the best thing Brees can do now is have ``amnesia'' and come back ready to prepare for the New York Giants next week.

``We're all in this situation here now, and I'm talking about the success we've had over the last six years, because of guys like Drew Brees,'' Vitt said.

Vitt then praised Brees for his touchdown-pass streak, which earlier this season surpassed a half-century-old mark held by Hall-of-Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas.

Vitt said Brees' streak belongs alongside the 2,632 straight Major League Baseball games played by Cal Ripken, Yankee great Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, or Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game.

``That record is something he'll have forever and it's really guaranteed his enshrinement as a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer,'' Vitt said.

Brees' recent woes, however, have contributed to a two-game skid that has left New Orleans at 5-7. By the end of this weekend, the Saints could be as many as two games out of the final NFC wild card with four games left.

The Saints figure they'll have to run the table to have a chance. The good news is their defense and running game have both looked better. The Saints yielded a season-low 283 yards to Atlanta, and Vitt said it was clearly the unit's best game this season.

``This defense is getting better every week,'' Vitt said.

New Orleans also rushed for 101 yards against the Falcons despite trailing the whole game, averaging 4.4 yards per carry.

Vitt told his players that in 1983, he was an assistant with a Seattle team that went 9-7 and not only made the playoffs but advanced to the AFC title game. He noted that in 2004 he was on staff with a St. Louis squad that made the postseason with an 8-8 record and won a playoff game. On the flip side, he said, he was with a 10-6 Seahawks team in 1986 that missed the playoffs. His message was that the Saints should only worry about playing great for four games and see how it shakes out in the end.

Harper said the Saints aren't ready to give up their playoff hopes yet, and will play with pride either way.

``There's no more time. We're a desperate team. We've got to act like it. We've got to play like it and we've got to become that team,'' Harper said. ``All we got to do is win. Winning out could do it. You just never know. This league is a crazy league.''

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GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

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GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

DALLAS—The Caps are “really close” to signing star defenseman John Carlson to a long-term extension, GM Brian MacLellan said Friday night.

“We’re getting closer,” MacLellan said following the first round of the NHL Draft. “Hopefully we can get it done here over the next few days. We’re really close.”

Earlier in the day, the Caps cleared significant space under the salary cap ceiling by trading Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to Colorado for a second round draft pick (47th overall). 

That space will now be used to lock up Carlson, who could become the best defenseman on the open market if he were to reach it.

MacLellan met with Carlson’s agent, Rick Curran, here on Thursday night.

MacLellan did not divulge any figures, but it’s expected that Carlson’s new contract could come in at eight years and $8 million per—or perhaps a bit more. 

He earned $4 million last season.

Carlson had a career year in 2017-18 and was critical during the Caps' run to the Stanley Cup. He led all defensemen in the regular season with 68 points (15 goals, 53 assists). The 28-year-old also skated a career-high 24:47 per game.

MacLellan has long said that re-signing Carlson was the Caps’ top priority this offseason. And now it looks like that could happen within days, assuming the talks do not hit any snags.

“We’re going to do our best to sign John,” MacLellan said. “We’ve said it all along. We waited until the end of the year. We’ve had discussions. We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

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Capitals go to the WHL again, select defenseman Alex Alexeyev with first-round pick

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Capitals go to the WHL again, select defenseman Alex Alexeyev with first-round pick

The last time the Washington Capitals had a first-round draft pick, they selected a WHL defenseman. They did not go off script on Friday.

With the last pick of the first round, selecting for the first time as defending Stanley Cup champions, the Capitals selected Alexander Alexeyev, a left-shooting, two-way defenseman from St. Petersburg.

Alexeyev, 18, certainly boasts NHL size at 6' 4", 196 pounds. He currently plays for Red Deer in the WHL, a junior league that has become a major pipeline for the Capitals. In his second season with Red Deer, he tallied 37 points in 45 games.

The NHL Central Scouting's rankings list Alexeyev as the 22nd best North American skater of the draft. TSN projects him to be a top-four, two-way defenseman.

Analyst Craig Button described Alexeyev as a "Smart, effective defenceman who moves the puck, plays with a calm and doesn't make things complicated for himself."

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