The Canadian Press
NEW ORLEANS — Nearly two hours after the New Orleans Saints’ season had ended, Drew Brees stood on the Superdome field in street clothes, throwing passes to his children while his wife, Brittany, captured images of those moments with her cellphone. Brees routinely throws the ball around with his kids after home games, but after a 30-20 playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night, he lingered longer than usual — and there was no telling whether that familiar postgame scene would play out again. Two days after Brees’ 42nd birthday, his 20th NFL season ended with statistically his worst playoff performance. Brees threw three interceptions, his most in 18 post-season appearances. His 134 yards passing were a career-playoff low. And because of COVID-19 restrictions, there were fewer than 4,000 fans in the 73,000-seat Superdome to bid him farewell — if indeed it was his final game in a Saints uniform. For now, Brees won’t say. But he’s also said nothing that would lead one to believe he’s prepared to play next season, his last under contract. “I’ll answer this question one time and that is that I”m going to give myself an opportunity to think about the season, think about a lot of things just like I did last year and make a decision,” Brees said. That decision for the NFL’s all-time leader in yards passing will come after a fourth straight season that saw the Saints (13-5) win 11 or more games and go to the playoffs, only to come up short of the Super Bowl. This season, Brees missed four games with multiple broken ribs and a punctured lung, but came back in time to see New Orleans through to its fourth straight NFC South crown and a convincing playoff victory over Chicago in the wild-card round. “I would never regret it. Never. No complaints, no regrets,” Brees said. “I’ve always tried to play this game with a great respect and a great reverence for it, and I appreciate all that this game has given to me. “There are obviously so many incredible memories and so many incredible relationships that have come as a result of playing this game,” Brees continued. “You find out so much about yourself and you have to fight through so much when you play this game. And I’d say this season I probably had to fight through more than I’ve ever had to in any other season in my career, from injury to all the COVID stuff, to just crazy circumstances. And it was worth every moment of it. Absolutely.” Brees said the way this season ended “won’t have anything to do” with his decision on whether to retire. As for what will go into the decision, Brees said, “I’ll keep that to myself right now.” Saints coach Sean Payton seemed to be taking his cue from Brees when he, too, sidestepped a question about what his decade-and-a-half relationship with Brees has meant to him. “That’s probably for another press conference,” Payton said. “Obviously he’s been tremendous for this team, this city. I could go on and on, but let’s wait and answer that at the right time.” Other teammates didn’t wait, though. “He’s been everything you could imagine a leader could be,” said Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, Brees’ teammate since 2011. “He’s the first one in, the last one out. Every stereotypical leadership core value you think of, Drew has. He exemplifies everything that he does in terms of wanting to be a better teammate.” Veteran linebacker Demario Davis said playing with Brees has meant “everything” to him. “When I came to New Orleans, I wanted to help Drew Brees win another Super Bowl because I feel like he deserves it for the accomplishments that he’s had,” Davis said. “I wanted him to have some more championship trophies on the mantle. “He’s a great teammate, a great leader, a great man, a great husband and a great father,” Davis added. “He’s just an example for all us to try to emulate.” Brees, who brought the Saints their only Super Bowl appearance and win in the 2009 season, is not only the all-time leader in yards passing with 80,358, but also completions 7,142. He began this season first in touchdowns, but is now second with 571, behind the 581 of Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady, who is moving on to his 14th conference title game at age 43. When the game ended, Brees greeted a couple of Bucs players, including Brady, who he’s known since college, and then pointed to the stands and blew kisses as he jogged to the tunnel leading to the Saints locker room. When he first emerged from the locker room back onto the field in street clothes, he shared a long embrace with Brittany while his three sons and daughter played nearby. “I always soak in the moment and I’m looking up at my family and blowing kisses to my wife and my daughter and fist-pumping my boys,” Brees said. “They’ve become so much a part of this as my kids have gotten older, and they are so invested in this as well. That’s what makes the moment special, to be able to share it all together.” ___ More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL Brett Martel, The Associated Press
Source: – Yahoo Canada
Resolute despite injuries, distractions Leafs winning with consistency – Sportsnet.ca
The commute across the pedway connecting the JW Marriott to Rogers Place is familiar for anyone who spent time in Edmonton during the NHL’s western bubble last summer.
Heck, it’s already a well-worn path for a group of Toronto Maple Leafs players that have kept things pretty locked down despite the unseasonably warm weather they’ve found on their second business trip through this season.
“For the most part you’re just at the rink and your hotel room,” said Leafs defenceman T.J. Brodie, with a sense of deja vu after spending a chunk of August doing that very same thing in the very same place with the Calgary Flames.
“It’s pretty much the same (as the summer), I guess. Obviously, you can go outside if you want to, but other than that it’s the same.”
Add it to the list of things that made Monday’s 3-0 victory over the Edmonton Oilers so impressive.
In substance and in style, it looked like a reasonable copy of the game they played in the same building 48 hours earlier, right down to the fact they emphatically grabbed another two points with Auston Matthews and Frederik Andersen watching injured from the stands.
In this second of a three-game set, the Maple Leafs were also down goaltender Jack Campbell after he tweaked a previous leg injury while delivering a shutout on Saturday night. No bother. Michael Hutchinson, No. 4 on the team’s depth chart in January, stepped up with another strong performance and stopped 31 shots to make it two Leafs doughnuts in a row.
“I just want to open it up with comments about our goalies. I think the past two nights they’ve been outstanding and I don’t think they get enough credit,” Morgan Rielly said before taking any questions on his post-game Zoom call.
That the backups blanked Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is a testament to their performance, but also a level of connected play the Leafs struggled to reach last season. They are really settling into a groove and sit at an absurd 17-4-2 — good for an eight-point advantage over Edmonton, head-and-shoulders above the rest in the North Division.
Just as importantly, they are slowly putting to rest some former demons. They have been prone to distractions in years gone by. And this season played amid a pandemic is full of plenty of those for everyone involved.
Yet the Leafs didn’t get satisfied after Saturday’s big win, or get rattled by another night without key contributors, or get knocked off course while spending 72 hours walking back and forth indoors between the hotel and rink.
“That’s been a big area of growth for us,” said Rielly.
“We had a lot of games last year that we were completely dominant, but I think we also had games where we were completely falling apart,” noted Travis Dermott. “I think this year we’re really focused on being consistent and showing up every day — whether we’re playing, whether we’re practising, or whether it’s an off-day and we have to be taking care of ourselves at home — I think everyone is just buying into a team plan that we’re going to be ready to go every day.”
After arguably their most complete win of the season on Saturday, head coach Sheldon Keefe ran an animated practice Sunday afternoon. He believes his team has reached the point where it’s proven that it can defend well, and the decline in high-danger rushes and chances against is a testament to that.
On Monday, they gave up a few more of those than they’d like, but some early saves on McDavid and Dominik Kahun set the table for a 3-0 lead by the first intermission. Zach Hyman and William Nylander continued hot streaks — Hyman with a goal in his second straight game, and Nylander with his fourth in the last three — before Rielly trickled one through Mikko Koskinen on the power play.
That gave Toronto its third win of the season with Matthews out of the lineup, and all three have come against Edmonton. The first, at Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 22, instilled some confidence.
They’ve been winning consistently no matter who goes down.
“We’ve been without Wayne Simmonds for a good period of time here now. We’ve played without Joe (Thornton), now we’re playing without Auston,” said Keefe. “We’ve been playing without (Frederik Andersen), we played without (Jake Muzzin).
“It really forces you to fall back on your structure, play as a team, get guys to step up at key moments.”
There’s no guarantee any of the injured players will be back to close this series out against Edmonton on Wednesday night.
So the challenge may remain constant: Prepare for the NHL’s top two scorers, find a way to compensate for your own lineup losses and keep the mind fresh while walking back and forth on the most boring pedway in hockey.
Oh, and maybe find some time for a socially distant conversation with Zach Bogosian, who lifted the Stanley Cup in Edmonton just over five months ago. He’s got a great bubble story to tell.
“I mean obviously we were here for quite a while. Our meal room at the hotel, that was a little bit of a different scene the night that we won,” said Bogosian. “It’s just cool to be back. Obviously, it’s something I’ll remember forever so, yeah, it’s nice.”
Sometimes there’s a little excitement to be found on the other side of the monotony.
After another loss to Senators, Flames’ season may hinge on next three games – Sportsnet.ca
Here’s the thing about Bingo.
If you don’t take advantage of the free space in the middle of the card, you’re increasing the odds of everyone else around you.
To simply keep pace with division rivals, wins over the last-place Senators are a must, which is why the Flames’ season may very well hang in the balance over their next three games.
A Saturday matchup against the Edmonton Oilers is bookended by visits from a Senators team that just took the Flames’ lunch money once again.
A 5-1 loss Monday, combined with a 6-1 defeat Thursday, saw the rebuilding Senators outscore the Flames 14-8 over three games.
Sure the Senators are a hard-working squad that has improved steadily of late, winning six of their last nine.
But they’re still the Senators, a team the Oilers beat all four meetings, the Vancouver Canucks beat all three meetings and the Jets topped in four of five.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are 3-1-1 against their provincial rivals, leaving the sinking Montreal Canadiens as the only team that has played them to a draw at 1-1-2.
Then there are the sad-sack Flames, who lead the league in losses to last-place teams, giveaways and consecutive defeats while scoring just a single goal.
They increased that last dubious record to seven games Monday.
“All the teams in this division are good — there’s not much of a difference from the top teams to the bottom,” said Elias Lindholm, whose club escaped the first period with a scoreless draw before being outshot 22-6 in the second.
“Today, our first period was pretty solid and everything we did good in the first we did the opposite in the second and third. I think our patience out there was pretty bad and we started making some tough plays and turning pucks over — the kind of things we need to stop doing.”
The Senators opened the scoring after Sam Bennett was unable to handle a bad pass in the neutral zone from Milan Lucic.
Drake Batherson’s first of two goals put the Senators up 2-0 before a Lucic power-play marker lifted the Flames’ hopes. Briefly.
Eighty-four seconds later David Rittich got in on the giveaway game by mishandling a dump-in he promptly batted to Batherson, whose shot deflected in off of Mark Giordano as the Flames netminder tried scrambling back into the net.
It was another in the growing collection of moments that deflated the Flames’ bench and made it tough to create any offence as Ottawa sat on the lead and padded the humiliation with an empty-netter and a late deflection.
“We’ve got to come up with the solutions ourselves,” said coach Geoff Ward, whose team now sits closer to last place than it does to second-place Edmonton.
“As a team, we’ve got to be more committed to playing the game the right way. We’ve got to make sure we don’t let things compound. When something happens that’s not the way we want it to be we can’t fall back — we have to get a push in the right direction. Right now, when things are rolling the way they are for us, I think the confidence gets a little fragile and things start to compound, and we’ve got to find a way to make it turn the corner the other way.”
The Flames finish their gruelling, six-game roadie 2-3-1 and return to host Ottawa on Thursday having lost seven of their last 10.
Moral and consistency issues abound.
The players are struggling to come up with answers to the same old questions, and Matthew Tkachuk was so despondent after the latest setback he couldn’t muster up any of the fury you’d expect to hear from a leader on a team slipping closer and closer to losing control on the season.
“The easy answer is we’re at 10-11-2,” said Tkachuk when asked where his team was at.
“We’ve got to figure this out in the next two days before we play them again. We’re getting way too used to games where we’re down a couple in the third.”
Especially against teams previously considered the free spot on the Bingo card.
ATP roundup: Andy Murray rallies for win in Rotterdam
Qualifier Andy Murray rallied from three games down in the third set to defeat Dutchman Robin Haase 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3 on Monday at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
The former world No. 1 of England needed nearly 2 1/2 hours to secure his first tour-level victory since the 2020 U.S. Open.
In other action, Japan’s Kei Nishikori upset No. 7 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada in straight sets, qualifier Marton Fucsovics of Hungary needed three sets to defeat American Reilly Opelka, and England’s Cameron Norrie toppled Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili in straight sets.
Seeded players ruled the day in Buenos Aires as No. 6 Pablo Andujar and No. 7 Laslo Djere advanced in the Argentina Open.
Spain’s Andujar defeated Argentine Juan Ignacio Londero 6-3, 6-0 and Djere of Serbia needed three sets to hold off Italy’s Marcus Cecchinato 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-3.
In other action, Brazil’s Thiago Monteiro toppled Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain in straight sets and Germany’s Dominik Koepfer outlasted Argentinian qualifier Thiago Agustin Tirante 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.
–Field Level Media
Resolute despite injuries, distractions Leafs winning with consistency – Sportsnet.ca
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