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Browns' Shurmur gets defensive on punt

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Browns' Shurmur gets defensive on punt

BEREA, Ohio (AP) Browns rookie linebacker Craig Robertson walked into the locker room Monday wearing a black T-shirt with ``Fourth & Inches'' written across the front.

Apparently someone forgot to tell him ``4th-and-1'' was in fashion.

Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur defended his decision to punt on 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 17-13 loss to Indianapolis, a choice that didn't sit well with new owner Jimmy Haslam, who folded his legs in his suite and frowned as the Browns lined up to kick the ball back to the Colts with 6:38 left.

Shurmur, who fell to 5-18 in his second season, reasoned there was still enough time left for the Browns (1-6) to give the ball back to quarterback Andrew Luck. With two timeouts, Shurmur hoped to pin the Colts deep in their own end of the field, force them to punt and get the ball back with a chance to win.

That's what happened, except for the win part, as the Browns failed to convert on a 4th-and-6 with less than two minutes left and dropped their 11th straight road game.

Still, Shurmur felt he handled the situation properly. Given another chance, he wouldn't change a thing.

``I would do that again,'' he said.

Haslam's dissatisfied reaction to the punt came moments after the truck-stop magnate, whose $1 billion purchase of the Browns was approved last week, had angrily swiped his hand at the air when rookie Josh Gordon dropped a certain touchdown pass at the goal line. Gordon failed to handle rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden's perfect throw under pressure, a miscue that cost the Browns a possible win.

The error was emblematic of Cleveland's so-far lost season - a string of near misses.

``When you're fighting for inches, fighting for victories, it's important you make every play,'' Shurmur said. ``There was a lot that went on in the game and, of course, we're all focusing on really a handful of things. And if one or two of those handful of things go the way that we all would like them to, then the outcomes are different.

``But that's the same in every game. Every game you watch played yesterday involved a handful of things that could've determined the outcome for either team. That's real.''

And for Shurmur, the new reality is that Haslam is watching his every move, analyzing his every decision. Shurmur said he was unaware of Haslam's emotional response, which was caught by television cameras. The two men have exchanged text messages, but Shurmur said they had not discussed his conclusion to punt.

``No, I haven't talked to him about that, and I haven't watched the TV copy, so at this point it wouldn't be right for me to comment on it,'' Shurmur said. ``Games are emotional and we all have attachment to a team and a game. I try to keep my emotions in check.''

Another issue hanging over from Sunday was the condition of Browns running back Trent Richardson, who played with a rib injury and was benched after gaining just 8 yards on 8 carries. Richardson wore a flak jacket to protect the rib cartilage injury, but it was obvious that he wasn't himself and Shurmur decided to sit him.

Shurmur indicated there was a chance Richardson could miss some time. The Browns will host San Diego this week and Baltimore on Nov. 4 before their bye. Shurmur said Richardson will be evaluated on a weekly basis.

``If he's ready to play, he'll play,'' he said. ``If we see this is bothering him to the point where he can't perform, then we'll make those decisions as we go.''

Following the game, Richardson acknowledged he wasn't running as hard as usual. He said Shurmur made a ``smart'' decision in resting him, but the first-round pick also indicated his injury is perhaps more severe than he or the Browns are letting on.

Shurmur said Richardson prodded him to stay on the field.

``Trent wanted to play that whole game,'' Shurmur said. ``He was constantly trying to convince me to keep him in there, and I've got to evaluate it the way I see it, and there were some things happening out there where we weren't having efficiency running the football that were no fault of Trent's.

``But I'm watching the player and we try to make decisions based on what's best. He's a warrior and he's going to be a great player around here for a long time, and he wanted to be in the game and that's important for everybody to know. But when I look at it, I want to make sure that we consider him, his health and everything as we move forward.''

The Browns only gained 55 rushing yards against a Colts defense that allowed 252 on the ground the previous week against the New York Jets. Without Richardson at 100 percent, Cleveland's offense was missing a vital component, but Shurmur wouldn't use that as an excuse.

``We need to be better,'' he said. ``Rushing yards as a team is a team thing, just like stopping the run is a team thing, just like stopping sacks is a team thing, just like getting a bunch of completions is a team thing. A combination of things has to get better there.

``We need to do a better job doing it - call better plays, block better, run better. That's it. I wish I could give you some theorem that makes it happen that way, but we just need to do it.''

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NOTES: Shurmur said DT Phil Taylor will begin practicing this week. He's been out all season since undergoing surgery to repair a chest muscle he tore lifting weights. ... Shurmur said the team would not be trying out new punters. Reggie Hodges averaged 41.4 yards on five kicks, but only got off a 21-yarder in the fourth when the Browns were trying to pin the Colts deep. ``We're going to work with the guys we have,'' Shurmur said.

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Dustin Hopkins isn't 100-percent so the Redskins reportedly worked out five kickers

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USA TODAY Sports

Dustin Hopkins isn't 100-percent so the Redskins reportedly worked out five kickers

Lost in the fact that Tress Way is having a stellar season is that his fellow specialist, Dustin Hopkins, is getting it done, too.

The Redskins' kicker has made 17 of 19 field goals so far in 2018, giving him an 89.5-percent conversion rate on kicks. Against Carolina, he nailed a career-long 56-yarder, plus he's 17-for-17 on extra points.

But on Tuesday, a report came out saying that Hopkins is "a bit banged up." As of now, the Redskins don't know if they'll have Hopkins or not this weekend vs. the Texans, which is why they worked out five kickers five days before the Houston matchup, per Field Yates.

Among the group of free agents was former 'Skin Kai Forbath, who made 32-of-38 three-pointers for the Vikings in 2017. He was with the Burgundy and Gold from 2012-2014 and also briefly in 2015. 

Washington also reportedly tried out two maligned kickers in Roberto Aguayo and Blair Walsh. 

The Bucs drafted Aguayo in the second round of the 2016 draft but he flamed out in Tampa and was gone after a single year and poor 2017 preseason. Walsh, meanwhile, hasn't been the same since missing a 27-yard game winning playoff attempt versus Seattle while he was with Minnesota.  

Rounding out the group was Sam Ficken and Jon Brown.

The Redskins have been very reliant on both Hopkins and Way this season, seeing as their offense has had its issues. They've needed Hopkins to cash in on field goals to avoid wasting points and Way to help win the field position battle each week.

For some franchises, losing a kicker for a week or two wouldn't be much of a problem. And while Washington could very well be OK without Hopkins, they'd rather not have to bring in a new foot for any amount of time.

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Capitals winger Tom Wilson returns from suspension, but has he learned his lesson?

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Capitals winger Tom Wilson returns from suspension, but has he learned his lesson?

WASHINGTON —Tom Wilson had his 20-game suspension reduced just in time by a neutral arbitrator Tuesday and the Capitals will welcome back their rugged winger tonight against the Minnesota Wild. 

Better late than never after Wilson missed the first 16 games of the season. The arbitrator, Shyam Das, actually knocked the suspension down to 14 games from the original 20, but there’s no time machine to put Wilson back in the lineup for home losses to Columbus and Arizona.

There’s also no time machine for Wilson to go back and avoid illegally checking St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist in the head. That play, during a Sept. 27 preseason game, was the final straw for the NHL, which had suspended Wilson three times in the previous 13 months. 

It was a bad hit at a pointless time in a meaningless exhibition game and gets right to the heart of the matter: Can Tom Wilson change how he plays? And if he does, is he worth what the Capitals invested in him this summer?

“The hitting aspect of the game is definitely changing a little bit, and I’ve got to be smart out there, and I’ve got to play within the rules,” Wilson said on Oct. 14. “And at the end of the day, no one wants to be in the situation that I’m in right now. I’ve got to change something because obviously it’s not good to be out and not helping your team.”

Washington signed Wilson to a six-year, $31 million contract in July. He is a unique player in the NHL, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound wrecking ball who can put the fear of God into opposing players, but isn’t just another goon. He can play. He had 14 goals and 21 assists last year, doubling his previous best, while playing on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Capitals believe Wilson has more in him.

"No, I don't think he has to change. I've been in this situation, too,” Ovechkin said. “To be honest with you, I don't want to talk about his game because he knows what he has to do. I think it's just a situation where you let it go…He just have to play the same way he played and don't listen to no one because it's your choice how you playing."

There is also an elephant in the room. Ovechkin is only under contract two more years after this one. Nicklas Backstrom is a free agent after next season. Both players will be well into their 30s when free agency hits. The Capitals would love them to retire here, but no one can say what will happen. Wilson is a potential captain, a gregarious, vocal presence who is under contract through 2024. He is young enough to lead the post-Ovechkin team the organization builds. 

But all of that investment goes to waste if Wilson can’t stay on the ice and that is the immediate problem. Because the next bad decision, the next time Wilson crosses the line the punishment only goes higher. Remember when he broke Zach Aston-Reese’s jaw in the second round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins last May? If that happens again Wilson will be staring at a 25-to-30 game suspension. That’s almost one-third of an entire season. 

Wilson’s teammates have been supportive. Ovechkin’s comments indicate that. T.J. Oshie has been outspoken on Wilson’s play since the playoffs last year when he had multiple close calls, including the Aston-Reese hit that earned him a three-game suspension during the Pittsburgh series. Wilson hit Columbus forward Alex Wennberg in the first round, but escaped supplemental discipline.    

“When I'm going to hit someone, I'm going to hit him as hard as I can. But that doesn't mean I want to hurt him,” Oshie told NBC Sports Washington on Oct. 2. “It means I want to change the way the game's going. I want to separate him from the puck. I want him to fall down so for a brief moment, we have five guys going and they've got four. Tom does it the same way. He gets penalized, I think, for his size and strength.”

There is a fine line, however, between being supportive and enabling a player and Washington’s players, coaches and executives at least walk that line with their public comments. The organization is still upset at the suspension for the Aston-Reese hit. Wilson himself, while acknowledging all the work he did last year to meet with NHL officials and understand what he can and can’t do, said after that hit that ex-players and friends around the league were texting him not to change a thing. 

Those mixed messages could prove troublesome because the NHL itself is unambiguous. Wilson is out of chances and no matter how the Caps feel about that interpretation, they need him to heed the warnings.     

“There are certain ways they are calling things,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. “You need to be aware of how they’re making their calls on suspensions. Tom is a big, strong guy who skates really well. There is a lot of force behind his contact. He needs to be aware of how they’re determining what’s legal and what’s illegal from the league’s standpoint.” 

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