Nationals

1st-place Redskins 'not just a one-trick pony'

201212161243458321369-p2.jpeg

1st-place Redskins 'not just a one-trick pony'

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) The team that was supposedly riding the coattails of Robert Griffin III kept right on winning when those coattails disappeared.

It can no longer be argued that the Washington Redskins are overachievers who were prospering only because of a multidimensional rookie quarterback who stubbornly refuses to give up. They look legitimately like a first-place team - which they now are - having won five straight to put themselves in control of their playoff fate.

With backup Kirk Cousins leading Sunday's 38-21 win over the Cleveland Browns, Washington (8-6) now has the same record as the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants atop the NFC East and holds the tiebreaker over both clubs. The Redskins next visit the struggling Philadelphia Eagles (4-10) before hosting a potential all-or-nothing regular season finale against their biggest rival, the Cowboys.

``I've never underestimated the importance of Robert,'' offensive lineman Kory Lichtensteiger said. ``That guy has put the team on his back many times throughout the year, and we'd certainly like to have him back whenever he does come back on the field.

``But it's nice, it's really good, for Kirk to step in and to perform like that. It's good for the offense as a whole to kind of tell the football world that we're not just a one-trick pony of having a triple-threat quarterback that can do everything and that's the only reason we're winning. Robert certainly is the man, but being able to show that you're capable without him is a pretty fulfilling thing for us.''

Griffin missed his first game of the season with a sprained right knee and is awaiting the doctors' OK to see if he can return for the Eagles' game. Without him, the Shanahans - head coach Mike and offensive coordinator Kyle - had their finest hours Sunday since arriving in Washington.

Kyle Shanahan has enjoyed a fun and productive season as a play-caller, experimenting with new concepts because of Griffin's ability as a passer and a runner, but he made the most of Cousins' talents and adjusted masterfully against the Browns, using play action and bootleg to counter an aggressive defense.

``A lot of three-and-outs to start that game,'' Lichtensteiger said. ``But thankfully the coaches really hunkered down and figured out what was working.''

The rest of the roster assembled by Mike Shanahan is coming together at the right time. A defense that couldn't stop anyone in September or October has clamped down in the second halves during the winning streak - even though linebacker Brian Orakpo, defensive lineman Adam Carriker and safety Brandon Meriweather were lost many weeks ago for the season with injuries.

The offensive line, theoretically the weak spot headed into the season, has helped anchor the NFL's top rushing attack even though right tackle Jammal Brown never suited up because of a hip injury. There's concern this week, however, because center Will Montgomery sprained his left knee in Sunday's game and right tackle Tyler Polumbus suffered a concussion. Polumbus' backup, Jordan Black, was suspended for four games Monday for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing substances.

The roster has more its share of rookie contributors: quarterbacks Griffin and Cousins, running back Alfred Morris and punt returner Richard Crawford. Kicker Kai Forbath, who counts technically as a ``first-year player'' instead of a rookie because he spent a season elsewhere on injured reserve, is one 3-pointer shy of tying the NFL record for consecutive successful field goals to start a career.

Shanahan has had his slip-ups, among them his poor choices in quarterbacks during his first two seasons in Washington and his statement this year that the playoffs were essentially a lost cause at 3-6. Fortunately, his players didn't believe the latter - he backpedalled the next day, anyway - and now the team is on the cusp of its first playoff berth since 2007.

``I understood we were going to struggle the first couple of years,'' Shanahan said. ``We didn't have a football team. It was getting the right guys on the football team where we felt like we could make a run. I told our football team at the beginning of the year that, `You guys don't know it, but you guys are a lot better than you think you are.' They've obviously been proving that now.''

---

Follow Joseph White on Twitter:http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

Nationals cut trumpet inspiration Bonifacio, after mistake filled start

Nationals cut trumpet inspiration Bonifacio, after mistake filled start

Thursday marked the first -- and last -- cut down deadline of the 2020 baseball season.

Rosters need to be trimmed from 30 to 28, but will hold at 28 for the rest of the season as opposed to dipping to 26. Multiple coronavirus outbreaks have caused a multitude of scheduling problems. So, Major League Baseball decided to leave the rosters expanded for the remainder of the season.

The Nationals chose to send reliever James Bourque to the alternate training site in Fredericksburg and designated utility man Emilio Bonifácio for assignment.

These were simple and direct moves. The signing of Josh Harrison and Juan Soto’s return meant Bonifácio was expendable. His upbeat vibe -- and creation of the trumpet celebration -- was not enough to keep him on the roster.

CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST

Borque pitched 1 ⅓ innings out of the bullpen. He was the last option among the large reliever group.

The expanded rosters allow the Nationals -- and everyone else -- to wade through the rest of the season with more pitching. It will be necessary to handle prospective doubleheaders and other scheduling problems the remainder of the season.

The Nationals are 4-5 after losing 3-1 to the New York Mets on Wednesday. They were off Thursday. Baltimore comes to Nationals Park for a three-game series beginning Friday.

Stay connected to the Nationals with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Nationals cancel 2021 Winterfest due to COVID-19

Nationals cancel 2021 Winterfest due to COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic will prevent fans from attending Nationals games during the 2020 season and it appears will also cost them an annual offseason tradition.

The Nationals announced Wednesday their plans to cancel Winterfest 2021. The convention was originally scheduled for January 2021.

"Due to the continued uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel Winterfest 2021, which was scheduled to be held in January," the team said in a statement. "We know how important this event is to our fans. That said, we look forward to offering a variety of alternative opportunities for our community to come together to celebrate our team."

RELATED: LOSING MAX SCHERZER AND STEPHEN STRASBURG IS THE NATIONALS' BIGGEST NIGHTMARE

Details regarding the alternative opportunities are unknown as of this writing. 

In the meantime, Washington will continue to play its 2020 season without fans. They are 4-5 entering a series with the Orioles Friday and had to take four days off after the Marlins experienced a COVID-19 outbreak within their clubhouse and the Nats' series with Miami was postponed. 

Stay connected to the Nationals with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: