Nationals

Column: NFL's 'nice little story' gets even better

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Column: NFL's 'nice little story' gets even better

The Colts were a nice little story six weeks ago.

That's when a team that started 1-2 and had ``rebuilding'' written all over it responded to the loss of rookie coach Chuck Pagano with one of those how-did-they-do-it winning streaks - and that was supposed to be that. Considering the Colts finished 2-14 a year ago, then said goodbye to Peyton Manning and turned the rest of the roster upside-down, the season was already a success.

Fans in Indianapolis knew can't-miss rookie quarterback Andrew Luck was bound to improve, but explaining the 4-1 run after Pagano left the team to deal with leukemia was tough enough, especially because there was precious little room elsewhere for improvement. The Colts still can't run the ball, and they still start rookies at nearly every one of the skill positions. The defense? Don't ask.

Yet the story just got better.

Indianapolis was outgained by more than 200 yards Sunday in Kansas City. The Colts lost the time-of-possession battle but still won 20-13 and locked up an improbable playoff spot.

``Mission accomplished,'' Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said, as though he expected as much. ``That's all I can say. It's a fantastic feeling.''

And the story is about to get better still.

Pagano has been cleared to return, perhaps as early as Monday. He might have been the only guy in the entire organization who was expecting great things when he took over, but an entire squad and staff have come over to his side in his absence.

Arians, who stepped in for his close pal and consulted Pagano throughout his ordeal, is a candidate for coach of the year. And Luck, who threw for a modest 205 yards and a touchdown, still made up a lot of ground in his race against similarly impressive first-year quarterback starters Robert Griffin III of Washington and Russell Wilson of Seattle because of something he didn't do - throw a costly interception.

Even the much-maligned defense got into the act, with Darius Butler picking off Brady Quinn's pass and returning it for a touchdown five plays into the game, and whole unit rising up to stuff Quinn on a quarterback sneak late in the game, turning the ball back over to Luck in time for a rookie-record seventh winning drive.

``Whenever teams go for it on fourth down, the defense takes it personal,'' Indianapolis end Dwight Freeney said.

If the defensive stand was a surprise, what Luck did with the opportunity wasn't. The Colts' running game is still little more than a chance for Luck to catch his breath, and despite the emergence of receivers T.Y. Hilton and Dwayne Allen, just about everybody in Arrowhead Stadium was looking at veteran wideout Reggie Wayne. So was Luck, who saw him cut through a seam in the middle of the defense, then fired a high, hard pass that Wayne latched onto in the end zone for a 7-yard score.

Luck owns the rookie records for most yards, most 300-yard games, most winning drives, and the strike to Wayne put him closer to the rookie record of 26 touchdown passes set by none other than Manning. And just like Manning, to whom Luck was often compared before the season, the rookie knew exactly what to say about all of them.

``I think it definitely means something. After the season I'll have a chance to reflect back on it. Obviously, it is nicer to be in the playoffs and know that,'' Luck said, ``but it is nice to have a couple records that I'm sure will be broken in the next year.''

What he said next, though, came as something of a surprise.

``I think we were confident in the locker room from day one. I remember going in, trying to gauge the feel of what it was going to be like. Guys were confident on this team, like Reggie Wayne who had never missed a playoff until that year. Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, those guys are winners, they know how to win, so I think they imparted some of that magic, if you will, on some of the younger guys, the newer guys.

``It was a confident bunch, we never prepared to lose a game, we always prepared to win, and I guess that worked out.''

It's still a mystery exactly how, but Luck wasn't going to spend much more time dwelling on that than he did on accumulating records.

``I guess it will be an extra special Christmas,'' he said, referring to Pagano's return. ``There will be a lot of emotions when he comes through the door. It's funny, there are probably 10 guys who have never met Chuck on the team, but I think they will be emotional too because I'm sure they feel like they know him, too, because his presence is felt so much in the building out here, and wherever we go.''

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him athttp://twitter.com/JimLitke

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How to effectively spend money at the Fan Shop at the MLB All-Star FanFest

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USA Today Sports

How to effectively spend money at the Fan Shop at the MLB All-Star FanFest

FanFest is overwhelming. There are a ton of different things going on at once in a giant convention center hall. But there's one safe area to go and be at peace. The Fan Shop.

The problem with the Fan Shop — and it's not just unique to this one — is that everything is too expensive. Everything.

But fear not, we've done our research, and have a plan for how to (and how not to) spend your money as well as some interesting items you can buy.

The most efficient way to spend $20

Ok kids, your parents just gave you a nice crisp 20 from the ATM over in the corner and told you to be back in 15 minutes. That's not nearly enough time to scour the whole Fan Shop and find the best things to buy. Don't worry. We've spent hours in the Fan Shop researching for this very situation.

We're going for variety here. We could theoretically just get five All-Star Game buttons to wear, but that's no fun. We could blow it all on one item: a pair of socks, a shirt, a small stuffed animal, a mug. Unless one of those things are the greatest of that thing you've ever seen, let's not make that our only purchase.

Let's go with an All-Star Game decal for $6.99 to start. You can put that on your car, laptop, refrigerator, or basically anything. The possibilities are endless. With our remaining $13, we don't have a lot of options if we want to buy more than one thing, and we do. To make that happen, we're buying an All-Star Game coozie for $6.99, snagging a button for $3.99 and walking back to mom and dad with some change.

The most efficient way to spend $50

Well it's our lucky day. Somebody just got paid and sent you into the Fan Shop with a green Ulysses S. Grant. Now you can actually buy legitimately useful things.

An All-Star Game t-shirt is a must. You can wear it over and over to show off how cool you are. That'll cost $30, though, so now we've got to scramble again.

Do you hear that? It's a shot glass calling your name. Even if you're not 21, it's probably more fun to drink that nasty, liquid children's cough medicine out of a shot glass than the plastic cup that comes with the bottle. Pony up the $8 and move along.

All the cool kids have sweet key straps nowadays, and the one that's hanging on the rack five feet to your right is only $10. Go get it, put some keys on it and get twirling like that cute lifeguard at the pool.

The most efficient way to spend $100

Let's get one thing out of the way. If you can't efficiently spend $100, then before reading this you should probably go get some help.

That being said, it's summer and you need to keep the sun out of your face. Go get a $35 hat.

One very nice store attendant was kind enough to point out that they were selling the same socks the players will wear for both the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game. You have to get them. They're $25, and we've got $40 left.

It's time to be a kid again. A 17-pack of baseball cards is only $10, and maybe one of those guys will make your great-great-great-great grandson some money when he finds the card in a box in the attic in like 150 years. Who knows, but the potential return on investment seems worth a 10-spot.

Oh wow you just remembered your aunt just had a baby a few months ago. You know what that baby wants? A stuffed animal. Grab that one over by the checkout counter for $20. While you're over there, spend your last $10 on a mug.

The most and least expensive items in the Fan Shop

This one took some digging. But after several hours searching through the depths of the Fan Shop, we're confident we've found the most and least expensive things you can buy.

The most expensive item wasn't that hard, honestly, given it screams "I'M SUPER EXPENSIVE."

That's right, this Dooney & Bourke custom team gigantic bag is $399.99. Now, if you're insane and/or wealthy enough to spend that kind of dough on a bag that has your favorite baseball team on it, be my guest. My advice would be to save your money for something better, like 66 beers at one of the concessions stands. Remember, you're the one with the problem, not I.

The cheapest item was much harder to find for a few reasons. First, it's tiny and nowhere near the entrance. Second, it's something people generally won't be looking for because it's a button and, well, who wants a button? Nobody. Nobody wants a button.

This button costs only $3.99 plus however many hospital trips you have to make because you can't stop stabbing yourself with the pointy edge of the fastener. On second thought, this may deceptively be the most expensive item in the Fan Shop. Well played, MLB Fan Shop, well played.

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10 Questions in 10 days: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

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USA TODAY Sports

10 Questions in 10 days: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart 

No. 9: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

It might be hard to remember now, but there was a week late last season for the Redskins where most informed people considered Kevin O'Connell on his way out. The talented young quarterbacks coach was being pursued by Chip Kelly to be offensive coordinator at UCLA, and the smart money suggested O'Connell would take the job. 

Except he didn't. 

O'Connell decided to stay with the Redskins and continue to work on Jay Gruden's staff. In turn, Washington promoted O'Connell to passing game coordinator, a new title that likely means much more involvement in game-planning. 

Working for Gruden comes with some perks. Sean McVay ran the offense for Gruden for a few seasons and landed a prime head coaching job with the Rams. McVay has plenty of his own talent, but throughout the NFL, Gruden's offense is widely respected. 

How will O'Connell's influence shape things this fall?

Consider that he deserves some credit for Kirk Cousins improved play out of the pocket in 2017. Now combine a coach that schemes plays for QBs on the move with new Washington passer Alex Smith, a strong runner and serious athlete, and this offense could look much more mobile in 2018. 

Gruden still has the final call on gameday, but O'Connell's voice will matter this year, more so than before. Bill Callahan and Matt Cavanaugh retain their roles and prominence in the offensive game-planning, for sure, but as Washington imports more run-pass option plays and QB movement, know that O'Connell is playing his part. 

Things will look different with Alex Smith running the Redskins offense than they did with Kirk Cousins at the helm. 

Just remember, O'Connell didn't turn down a job in Hollywood for no reason. 

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