The Falcons are undefeated no more

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The Falcons are undefeated no more

From Comcast SportsNetNEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The Atlanta Falcons can forget about perfection, thanks to their resurgent rivals from the City that Care Forgot.Of all the teams to end Atlanta's unbeaten run, it had to be the New Orleans Saints. And it had to be a memorable, drama-filled game that left the Falcons frustrated by the 1 meager yard they could not get to take a lead inside the final 2 minutes of a 31-27 loss Sunday."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."If the Falcons (8-1) want to beat the Saints (4-5) in their rematch in Atlanta on Nov. 29, it would help to learn how to stop dynamic young tight end Jimmy Graham, who caught seven passes for a career-best 146 yards and two touchdowns.Still, Atlanta might have pulled it out, but Jabari Greer made a diving, touchdown-saving pass breakup on a late fourth-down pass intended for Roddy White."It's not like they came out here and won a game today," White said. "I think we kind of gave it to them. ... We play them in three weeks and we'll be ready."Greer's play represented a measure of redemption for the veteran, who'd given up two long passes earlier in the game that led to Atlanta scores."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 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 his Atlanta counterpart, Gonzalez, were superb in a game that showcased all the intensity and momentum changes expected from such a passionate and longstanding rivalry."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.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 an 0-4 start. It was also New Orleans' 11th win in 13 games against Atlanta since Brees joined the Saints in 2006.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."The Saints still had to punt the ball back to Atlanta with about 40 seconds left, but Gonzalez could not handle a fourth-down throw in tight coverage along the sideline."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.Ivory used a hesitation move to get to the corner past Asante Samuel, slipped a tackle by Thomas DeCoud, kept his balance, cut back and then stiff-armed Dunta Robinson before trotting into the end zone.The Saints' largest lead was 28-17 on Brees' scoring strike to Marques Colston, the 55th 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 after New Orleans' second red zone stand of the game.New Orleans briefly interrupted Atlanta's momentum when Graham's 46-yard catch set up Garrett Hartley's 31-yard field goal.Atlanta opened the game with an 80-yard scoring drive, highlighted by White's 49-yard reception to the New Orleans 1, setting up an easy TD toss to eligible offensive tackle Mike Johnson.Samuel then made a diving interception of Brees' first pass and returned it to the Saints 12. However, Samuel drew a penalty for taunting fans, moving the Falcons back to the 27 and Bryant kicked a field goal.New Orleans vaulted into the lead with touchdowns on two straight possessions, the first on Ivory's long run and the second on Brees' first TD connection with Graham from 29 yards.The Falcons pulled back in front on Gonzalez's 1-yard catch, capping a drive on which Atlanta converted three times on third down -- all on Gonzalez catches.Then Graham helped New Orleans regain the lead before halftime, making three catches for 47 yards, the last a 14-yard TD to make it 21-17 at halftime.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. ... Ivory's previous career-long run was a 55-yard score at Cincinnati in 2010. ... Brees has now 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 now has 101 career TDs, one of only eight players ever with 100 or more. ... All 55 of Colston's TD passes were thrown by Brees, tying the tandem for ninth with Joe Montana and Jerry Rice with San Francisco and Dan Marino and Mark Duper with Miami. ... The performances by Graham and Gonzalez marked the first time in NFL history two tight ends had at least 120 yards receiving and two TD catches in the same game.

Instant Replay: Warriors overcome poor shooting, hold off 76ers

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AP

Instant Replay: Warriors overcome poor shooting, hold off 76ers

BOX SCORE

Despite struggling from 3-point distance for most of game, the Warriors managed to grind out a 119-108 victory over the 76ers Monday at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

All five starters scored in double figures, with Kevin Durant putting in a game-high 27 points to lead the way. Klay Thompson had 21 points, Stephen Curry 19, Zaza Pachulia 16 and Draymond Green 14.

Curry had the toughest night of all, shooting 7-of-23 from the field -- and 0-of-11 from deep, the worst such performance of his career. The Warriors as a team were 6-of-29 from deep.

The Warriors (50-9) shot 44.9 percent overall, only the third time this season they’ve been below 45 percent in back-to-back games. They shot 42.0 percent in beating Brooklyn last Saturday night.

Six players scored in double figures for the 76ers (22-37), with forward Dario Saric totaling a team-high 21 points.

STANDOUT PERFORMER:
Green and Pachulia share the honors, with Pachulia becoming an offensive force and Green being such a dynamo that even his turnovers couldn’t negate his positive impact.

Green’s line: 14 points (5-of-10 from the field, 1-of-3 from deep, 3-of-6 from the line), 11 assists, six rebounds and five steals. He played 37 minutes and finished plus-22.

Pachulia’s line: 16 points (5-of-5 from the field, 6-of-7 from the line), five rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal. He played 19 minutes and finished plus-1.

TURNING POINT:
After a Robert Covington 3-point pulled Philadelphia within three, 59-56, with 11:19 left in the third quarter, the Warriors came back with a 10-0 run -- requiring only 79 seconds -- to go up 69-59 with 10:00 remaining.

The 76ers got no closer than seven over the remainder of the game.

INJURY UPDATE:
Warriors: F Kevin Durant (L hand contusion) was listed as probable and upgraded to available 90 minutes before tipoff. C Damian Jones is on assignment with Santa Cruz of the NBA Development League.

76ers: G Jerryd Bayless (L wrist surgery), C Andrew Bogut (personal), C Joel Embiid (L knee contusion), F Ben Simmons (R foot fracture) and C/F Tiago Splitter (R calf strain) were listed as out.

WHAT’S NEXT:
The Warriors return to action Tuesday, when they visit Verizon Center to face the Washington Wizards. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:05 p.m. Pacific.

2017 spring practice important for Cal, Stanford for different reasons

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AP

2017 spring practice important for Cal, Stanford for different reasons

It’s only February, but this week marks the beginning of the 2017 football season in the Bay Area. Spring practice has arrived.

Most schools now begin “spring” practice in the winter. In the Pac-12, for example, Oregon State began on February 17, Arizona on Feb. 18 and Colorado on Feb. 22. Stanford’s drills start this Tuesday, while Cal’s kick off on March 15.

Schools are limited to a total of 15 sessions, and safety concerns have led the NCAA to strongly recommend that only eight involve full-contact drills. Indeed, if you ask most head coaches what they hope to gain from spring ball, the first thing most of them say is, “I hope no one gets hurt.”

There’s more to it than that, of course. Typically, spring is the time teams look to fill spots lost to graduation, resolve competition for starting spots, move players to new positions, and evaluate redshirts and early-admit freshmen. It also can be a time to find a quarterback and install a new system, which is the case at Cal this spring.

In certain parts of the country, spring practice is a much bigger deal than it is here in the Bay Area. As longtime Texas sports information director Jones Ramsey used to say, “we only have two major sports at Texas—football and spring football.”

In the SEC and Big Ten, huge crowds are commonplace for the spring intra-squad game. Last year for example, Ohio State drew 100,129 fans to its spring game. Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Penn State and Nebraska routinely draw 75,000 to 90,000. Cal and Stanford are thrilled if 3,000 fans show up.

Perhaps the most significant spring practice in the history of Bay Area football took place in 1968 at Stanford. Head coach John Ralston had been recruited from Utah State in 1963 to turn around a moribund program that had won 14 games in five years, low-lighted by an 0-10 record in 1960.

But Ralston’s run-oriented attack wasn’t producing the kind of results Athletic Director Chuck Taylor had hoped for when he hired him. Taylor, a member of Stanford’s 1941 Rose Bowl championship team that introduced the T-formation to college football, and coach of Stanford’s ‘52 Rose Bowl team that lived and died by the forward pass, made a not-so-gentle suggestion to Ralston after three middling seasons: throw the football.

So Ralston recruited a couple of local quarterbacks who could sling it—Jim Plunkett from San Jose’s James Lick High School and Don Bunce from Woodside—and announced that he would switch to a pro-style passing game for the ’68 season. Spring practice would serve as the test kitchen for Ralston’s new offense.

Back in those days I was a wet-behind-the-ears sports editor of the Stanford Daily. My timing was good, as I was fortunate enough to cover the ’68 spring practice and football season. In the spring game, Plunkett completed 22 of 39 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns to solidify his hold on the starting job.

That fall, Stanford opened with San Jose State and Plunkett made his debut by throwing for four touchdowns—including three bombs to quarterback-turned-wide receiver Gene Washington—in a 68-20 rout. No one who was in the stadium that day will ever forget it…it was the beginning of a new era in Stanford football and, in many ways, a new era in college football.

Two years later, Plunkett led Stanford to the conference title and an upset win over Ohio State’s team of the decade in the Rose Bowl. He also won the Heisman Trophy over Notre Dame’s Joe (don’t call me THEES-man) Theisman.

Bunce, the forgotten quarterback, backed up Plunkett for two years before red-shirting his senior year (1970) so he’d have the job to himself in 1971. All he did was win another Pac-8 championship and Rose Bowl.

This spring has the potential to be another important milestone for Stanford and Cal with a new coaching staff at one school and major holes to fill at both.

Cal: New coach Justin Wilcox and his team open spring ball on Wednesday, March 15. The Bears will have three open practices—Friday March 24 at 3:30, Saturday, April 8 at 11 a.m., and the spring game on Saturday, April 22, also at 11. The Pac-12 network will televise the spring game and admission is free. Cal’s March 24 practice will be preceded by “Pro Day” (also open to the public) at 10 a.m., when selected graduating players will work out before NFL scouts and coaches.

In addition to installing a new system and introducing a new coaching staff, Wilcox must find a replacement for record-setting quarterback Davis Webb (a key attraction on Pro Day). Wide receiver Chad Hansen, last season’s breakthrough star, returns to make the new QB’s job easier.

Stanford: The Cardinal divides spring practice into two sessions—February 28-March 12 and April 3-15, separated by a three-week break for dead week, finals and spring break. Four practices will be open to the public—Saturday, March 4 at 10 a.m., Sunday, March 12 at 11:45, Saturday, April 8 (time tbd), and the spring game on Saturday, April 15 at 1:00 p.m., which also will be televised on Pac-12 network.

Stanford’s “Pro Timing Day” on Thursday, March 23 is open to the public at 11:15. The main attractions will be running back Christian McCaffrey and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, both of whom are turning pro after their junior seasons. Unlike McCaffrey, Thomas played in the Sun Bowl and elevated his pro stock with several game-changing plays.

Coach David Shaw has a quality replacement for McCaffrey in junior Bryce Love, who averaged 7.4 yards per carry during the season and broke two long plays in the bowl game. But he will have to replace Thomas, record-setting kicker Conrad Ukropina, and possibly quarterback Keller Chryst, who is rehabbing from knee surgery.

We’ll be back with a roundup after the conclusion of spring ball. In the meantime, let's hope both Cal and Stanford unearth a few nuggets and that no one gets injured.