Is this the best team in the NFL?

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Is this the best team in the NFL?

From Comcast SportsNetTAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- No one has led more late game-winning drives during the past five seasons than Matt Ryan, and the Atlanta Falcons quarterback did it again with his fifth one this season.Matty Ice threw for 353 yards and overcame two critical turnovers to stop Tampa Bay's four-game winning streak with a 24-23 victory on Sunday.The Falcons (10-1) are tied with the Houston Texans for the NFL's best record, and Ryan had plenty of help in withstanding a challenge from the up-and-coming Buccaneers (6-5)."They are playing with a lot of confidence," said Ryan, who has won seven of his past eight starts against the Bucs. "It's always been a tough place for us to come play. They play with great effort, and I think they have a good football team."Ryan teamed with Julio Jones on an 80-yard TD midway through the third quarter, but the Falcons found themselves trailing 23-17 after the Bucs marched for a touchdown, then used a sack-fumble to set up a field goal that left Atlanta needing another strong finish from their quarterback.Ryan obliged by a leading a six-play, 64-yard march that Michael Turner finished with a 3-yard TD run that put the NFC South leaders ahead for good with 7:55 remaining.Connor Barth missed a 56-yard goal for Tampa Bay (6-5) in the closing minutes, and the winning streak that's helped the Bucs climb back into playoff contention following a slow start ended when Josh Freeman's desperation pass fell incomplete in the end zone on the final play."The last drive, that's something we've done before this season," Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez said. "I really think that's a positive for us to be able to come up with plays like that when we have to like that. ... I'm really happy with the way we responded."It's getting to be a way of life. Ryan has also led late marches to beat Carolina, Washington, Oakland and Arizona this season and has put together 21 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime since entering the league in 2008 -- four of them against the division rival Bucs.The Falcons won't have long to celebrate this one. The host the New Orleans Saints Thursday night in a rematch of the only game they've lost."Ten-and-1 is great, but I'll tell you what I've said since the beginning of the season: We're just jockeying for position," Gonzalez said. "We just want to put ourselves in the best position, playing the best football. Right around this time is when you want to start gelling as a team and take it on into the playoffs because that's the most important thing."The win stopped the Bucs, who've won five or seven following a 1-3 start, from tightening the NFC South standings. Turner also scored a fourth-quarter TD that helped the Falcons overcome six turnovers to beat Arizona 23-19 last week.Doug Martin scored on a pair of 1-yard run for the Bucs, however the rookie who began the day leading the NFL in total yards from scrimmage was limited to 50 yards rushing on 21 carries.Barth kicked field goals of 22, 42, and 48 yards, the latter giving the Bucs their six-point lead after cornerback E.J. Biggers sacked Ryan to force a fumble. Ryan threw a second-quarter interception -- his sixth pick in two weeks -- that led Barth's field goal that made it 10-10 at the half.Ryan completed 26 of 32 passes, including four straight on the drive that Turner finished with his TD run. Jacquizz Rodgers had a 5-yard TD run in the first quarter, and Jones finished with six receptions for 147 yards despite playing on a sore right ankle that limited him in practice.Ryan started the game with 10 straight completions before Ronde Barber's interception and 28-yard return to the Atlanta 31 led to Barth's first field goal.The Falcons drove to the Tampa Bay 4 in the closing seconds of the half, but wasted an opportunity to regain the lead when Matt Bryant hooked a 22-yard field-goal attempt wide left as time expired. The Atlanta kicker missed a 48-yarder with 8 seconds left, giving the Bucs one more chance to pull out what would have been their first signature victory under first-year coach Greg Schiano."It was a hard-fought game by both teams, a very physical game," Schiano said. "But I do think missed opportunities were a big part of it. There were some chances both offensively and defensively, and in the kicking game."Freeman finished 19 of 30 for 256 yards, and Vincent Jackson had five catches for 96 yards. A big factor in the loss, though, was Atlanta's held the Bucs to field goals after each of Ryan's turnovers, once after Tampa Bay had 1st-and-goal at the Atlanta 3."I thought our defense did an outstanding job again. They were put in some tough situations after turnovers," Falcons coach Mike Smith said, adding that slowing Martin was one of the keys to the game as well."We knew it was going to be one of our musts,' and I thought we did a nice job," Smith added. "I thought we played the run extremely well, controlled the line of scrimmage. That is an outstanding running back."NOTES:Falcons starting cornerbacks Asante Samuel (shoulder) and Dunta Robinson (head) left the game with injuries in the third quarter. ... Barber, who made his 210th straight start to tie Jim Otto for the seventh-most consecutive starts in NFL history, has 47 career interceptions. ... Martin has 1,050 yards rushing yards, eighth-most in a season by a Tampa Bay running back. ...Gonzalez had five receptions for 62 yards, and Roddy White had six for 57 yards for Atlanta.

Source: Giants trade Chris Heston to Mariners

Source: Giants trade Chris Heston to Mariners

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Faced with a crowded depth chart and a need for a roster spot, the Giants shipped right-hander Chris Heston to Seattle on Wednesday night, a source confirmed to CSNBayArea.com.

Heston, who made 31 starts and threw a no-hitter for the Giants in 2015, would have been designated for assignment had a deal not gotten done. The Giants will receive a player to be named later, per MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. The move clears a 40-man roster spot for closer Mark Melancon, who signed Monday. 

Heston, 28, filled in after injuries to veterans in 2015 and posted a 3.95 ERA and 12 wins, one of which was a no-hitter in New York. He was a first-half savior for an unhealthy staff, going 9-5 with a 3.39 ERA in 18 starts before the All-Star break. The long season caught up to Heston down the stretch, and the Giants filled their rotation that December with free agents Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. 

Heston made just four appearances in 2016 after being moved to the bullpen. It was a transition that didn't quite take, and he ended up back in the minors, making 14 starts for the River Cats as he worked to regain some of the velocity that was lost when he dropped 15 pounds during offseason workouts. An oblique injury led to Heston being put on the 60-day DL in June and ultimately ended his season. 

This represents a needed fresh start for Heston, who was hopelessly blocked in the Giants’ system. The Giants acquired Matt Moore at the deadline and Ty Blach and Matt Cain will compete for the final rotation spot. Veteran Albert Suarez and top pitching prospect Tyler Beede are among the starters who had jumped ahead of Heston. In Seattle, he joins a team in need of starting depth, and he should get a shot to return to a big league rotation.

Marshall: Fuzzy memory of first meeting with Ward due to painkillers

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AP

Marshall: Fuzzy memory of first meeting with Ward due to painkillers

SANTA CLARA – Wide receiver Brandon Marshall supplied 49ers defensive back Jimmie Ward with the first learning experience of his NFL career early in his rookie season.

Ward has a vivid memory of the game – just his second in the NFL – and the three touchdowns passes Marshall caught on him to lead the Chicago Bears to a 28-20 victory over the 49ers in the first regular-season game played at Levi’s Stadium.

But Marshall, now a member of the New York Jets, admitted Wednesday to having a fuzzy recollection of that game due to painkillers he was prescribed in order to play in the game. Marshall, an 11-year NFL veteran, was in his third and final season with the Bears.

“Well, I don’t really remember much about that game because, uh, I worked really hard to get back from a high-ankle (sprain) . . . I don’t want to go there,” Marshall said, beginning to laugh on a conference call with Bay Area reporters.

“I’ll say it: I took a couple pain pills, so . . . I took a couple of pain pills to mask the pain. I really wasn’t supposed to play. I came back from a high ankle, you know, within 10 days. I was supposed to be out four-to-six weeks. So I don’t remember much from that game. I just remember catching those balls. That was pretty much it.”

Marshall was listed as questionable for the game. On the day of the game, ESPN reported, citing a source, that there was a "75 percent" chance neither Marshall nor Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) would play. Both receivers played in the game.

Marshall had five receptions for 48 yards with touchdown catches of 17, 5 and 3 yards while being matched in the slot against Ward, the 49ers’ first-round pick in that year’s draft. That game served as a study guide for Ward.

“Yeah, I watched it a lot,” Ward said. “It was my welcome-to-the-NFL game. Just looking forward to going against Brandon Marshall for the second time in my career.”

Ward will undoubtedly see plenty of Marshall on Sunday when the 49ers face the Jets on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. Marshall may not remember much from facing Ward two seasons ago, but he said he has been impressed with what he sees on film.

“I think he’s really tough,” Marshall said. “He’s tough and he’s crafty and savvy. This is a guy that seems to really study the game and understands his opponent. If you go out there and give him the same release two or three times in a row, nine times out of 10, he’s going to get the best of you. We have to do a better job than him this week of studying film and trying to outwork him mentally.”

Marshall’s revelation that his memory of the 2014 game against the 49ers is clouded due to the use of painkillers comes at a time when Warriors coach Steve Kerr last week said on the Warriors Insider Podcast that he tried marijuana in hopes it would provide relief during the back issues that forced him to take a leave of absence of nearly four months.

“I’m not a pot person; it doesn’t agree with me,” Kerr told CSN Bay Area’s Monte Poole. “I’ve tried it a few times, and it did not agree with me at all. So I’m not the expert on this stuff. But I do know this: If you’re an NFL player, in particular, and you’ve got a lot of pain, I don’t think there is any question that pot is better for your body than Vicodin. And yet athletes everywhere are prescribed Vicodin like it’s Vitamin C, like it’s no big deal.”

When asked for his stance on whether the NFL should reconsider its position to include marijuana as a banned substance, Marshall received some direction from a Jets public-relations employee who could be heard in the background of the call saying that Marshall “knows better than that.”

But Marshall answered the question, saying that he wants to learn more about the subject.

“I do not have a stance on that," Marshall said. "That is something that I actually want to research more this offseason when I have time. I’m not a guy that knows about the benefits of what it can do for pain and other things. But I’d like to hear others’ opinions and really research the effects it can have on us -- positives and negatives.”