Brees' TD streak ends in loss to Ryan, Falcons

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Brees' TD streak ends in loss to Ryan, Falcons

From Comcast SportsNetATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Falcons couldn't do anything offensively.Not to worry.The defense left Drew Brees with egg on his face.Brees threw five interceptions for the first time in his career and, rubbing salt in the wound, the Falcons also ended his NFL-record streak of touchdown passes. The result was a 23-13 victory Thursday night that pushed Atlanta to the brink of a division championship and might have finished off the Saints' fading playoff hopes.The Falcons (11-1) built an early 17-0 lead, then struggled to move the ball. They finished with 283 yards, by far the lowest total allowed this season by a Saints defense that was on pace to give up the most yards in NFL history.But William Moore had two interceptions, and Thomas DeCoud, Sean Weatherspoon and Jonathan Babineaux had one pick apiece. Another by Corey Peters didn't count because of a penalty."That's the first time that's ever happened to me, so that's extremely disappointing," Brees said. "I pride myself on being a good decision-maker and not someone who will be a detriment to the game."The Falcons will clinch the NFC South with a month to go if Tampa Bay loses at Denver on Sunday. The Saints (5-7) need to win out to have any chance, and even that might not be enough to get the defending division champs back to the playoffs."It looks pretty bleak right now," interim coach Joe Vitt said.Brees had thrown a touchdown pass in 54 consecutive games, breaking Johnny Unitas' long-standing record earlier this season. There was an apparent scoring pass to Darren Sproles late in the first half, but it was nullified by a penalty."I didn't realize that until we walked off the field," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "That's an unbelievable streak. Drew Brees is an outstanding quarterback. The way the defense played tonight speaks volumes. The guys had gone out there and thrown touchdown after touchdown game after game after game."After Sproles' TD was wiped off the board, Brees made another huge mistake with New Orleans inside the Atlanta 10, allowing the clock to run out in the first half without at least attempting a field goal.Four days earlier, Brees had two passes picked off and returned for touchdowns in a loss to San Francisco.This one was even worse. He finished 28 of 50 for 341 yards but had a rating of just 37.6, the third-lowest off his career."I feel we have one of the best secondaries in the NFL," Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson said, "and I think we came out and showed that."When the Saints arrived in Atlanta, their bus was pelted by eggs at the airport, epitomizing the long rivalry between the teams. New Orleans had dominated in recent years, winning four in a row and 11 of 13.This time, Michael Turner scored on Atlanta's opening possession, Tony Gonzalez hauled in a touchdown pass from Matt Ryan, and Matt Bryant booted three field goals, including a 55-yarder.The defense did the rest."We got the monkey off our back," DeCoud said.After winning so many close games, the Falcons started this one as if they were intent on routing the only team to beat them this season. New Orleans knocked off Atlanta 31-27 at the Superdome on Nov. 11, the bright spot in a tumultuous year that was marred by a bounty scandal and a season-long suspension for coach Sean Payton.Ryan completed a pass on the first play from scrimmage before turning it over to a running game that has struggled most of the season. Turner burst around right end for a 35-yard gain. Jacquizz Rodgers broke off two straight 14-yard gains. Finally, it was Turner going in standing from 3 yards out, giving Atlanta a quick 7-0 lead.That was Turner's 58th touchdown in five seasons with the Falcons, breaking the team record he had shared with Terance Mathis.Atlanta struck again in the opening minute of the second period. Julio Jones hauled in an 18-yard throw from Ryan, setting up a 17-yard touchdown pass to Gonzalez in the back of the end zone. He beat former teammate Curtis Lofton; maybe as a sign of respect, Gonzo just flipped the ball over the crossbar instead of his customary basketball dunk.Brees' second interception, this one a sloppy pass behind running Chris Ivory that deflected into the arms of Weatherspoon, set up Bryant's 45-yard field goal for a 17-0 lead.Then, suddenly, the game completely changed.For the rest of the second quarter and most of the third, the Saints totally dominated. Mark Ingram scored on a 1-yard run, capping an 11-play, 80-yard drive, and New Orleans should have tacked on more points at the end of the half. Brees made a rookie-like mistake with 12 seconds remaining, dumping a pass over the middle to Sproles with no timeouts. He was wrapped up at the Atlanta 3 and the clock ran out before the Saints could spike the ball."Honestly, I thought we had more time than we did," Brees said. "The last time I remember, we had 17 seconds. ... But it was down to 7 when I looked up after the completion. That wasn't enough time to get the spike. That's on me."But New Orleans got the ball to start the second half, and Brees went back to work. This time, he made a couple of nifty moves to avoid sacks, completing six passes on an 83-yard drive consuming 15 plays and more than 6 12 minutes. But the Falcons held again, forcing Garrett Hartley to boot a 21-yard field goal that cut it to 17-10.Hartley connected again from much farther out on the Saints' next possession, a 52-yarder that brought New Orleans even closer.The Falcons, meanwhile, failed to pick up a first down on five straight possessions, a stretch in which the Saints had a 289-30 lead in total yards and a staggering 18 first downs.But the Atlanta defense kept coming through when it counted.Late in the third, Brees rolled to his right and threw over the middle. Moore stepped in front of the receiver and returned it to the New Orleans 16. Ryan connected on first-down throws to Gonzalez and Roddy White to set up Bryant for a 29-yarder that extended the lead back to a touchdown.NOTES:Brees had two previous games with four interceptions. ... This was Brees' lowest-rated game since joining the Saints in 2006. With San Diego, he turned in a 35.7 at Washington in 2005 and a 26.8 at Chicago in 2003. ... Turner ran 12 times for 83 yards. ... Lance Moore of the Saints hauled in 11 passes for 123 yards.

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

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STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

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Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

SAN FRANCISCO - An enraged Bryce Harper charged the mound, fired his helmet and traded punches to the head with San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland after getting hit by a fastball, setting off a wild brawl Monday during the Washington Nationals' 3-0 win over the Giants.

Drilled in the right hip by a 98 mph heater on Strickland's first pitch in the eighth inning with two outs, none on and Washington ahead 2-0, Harper didn't hesitate. The slugger pointed his bat at Strickland, yelled at him and took off.

No one got in Harper's way as he rushed the mound. His eyes were wide as he flung his helmet - it sailed way wide of Strickland, it might've slipped - and they started swinging away. The 6-foot-4 Strickland hit Harper in the face, then they broke apart for a moment before squaring off again. Harper punched Strickland in the head as the benches and bullpen emptied.

Giants teammates Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija collided hard as they tried to get between the two fighters. Three Giants players forcefully dragged Strickland from the middle of the pack all the way into the dugout, while a teammate held back Harper.

Harper and Strickland were both ejected. They have some history between them - in the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland, and the All-Star outfielder glared at the reliever as he rounded the bases after the second shot in Game 4.