Redskins

Falcons eager to end playoff drought vs Seahawks

Falcons eager to end playoff drought vs Seahawks

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The Atlanta Falcons know what it takes to win in the regular season.

When it comes to the playoffs, that's another story.

Perhaps no team faced a greater burden going into this postseason than the Falcons (13-3), the NFC's top-seeded squad for the second time in three years. They've yet to win a playoff game under the current trio of quarterback Matt Ryan, coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff - one-and-done in all three appearances going back to the 2008 season, the last two not even close.

Not surprisingly, the players keep insisting the previous years don't matter; they're only looking forward to Sunday's divisional game with the streaking Seattle Seahawks (12-5).

But the senior member of the team, center Todd McClure, concedes there will probably be some additional pressure when the Falcons take the field at the Georgia Dome.

That makes a quick start crucial to Atlanta's hopes.

``We've been disappointed a few times,'' said McClure, who's been with the Falcons for 13 years. ``I think we've got guys in this locker room who are hungry and ready to get over that hump.''

The Falcons have gone 56-24 in the regular season since Dimitroff and Smith took over in 2008 and drafted Ryan with the No. 3 overall pick - more wins than any team during that span except New England (60-20). But the significance of five straight winning seasons, two division titles and, now, a fourth trip to the playoffs has been undermined by the lack of success in January.

It wasn't that big a deal when Atlanta, after surprisingly making the playoffs as a wild card one year after the Michael Vick debacle, lost to Arizona in the desert 30-24.

But the loss two years ago was a stunner, the No. 1-seeded Falcons - who, like this team, went 13-3 and earned a first-round bye - getting blown out at home in the divisional round by sixth-seeded Green Bay 48-21.

Then came last year, when Atlanta went 10-6 but was viewed as an underachieving squad, a perception that proved factual in the playoffs when the Falcons' high-powered but inconsistent offense was completely shut down by the New York Giants, who romped to a 24-2 victory on their way to capturing the Super Bowl title.

Carrying around all that baggage, the Falcons can't help but be a little skittish about facing a team that might be hotter than anyone in the league. The Seahawks have won six straight games, including last week's 24-14 victory over Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins in the opening round of the playoffs.

``We can't get too tight,'' McClure said Wednesday. ``There's going to be some added pressure, I'm sure. I'm not going to say there's not. But if we come out, start fast of both sides of ball, some of that will die down. Then we can just go out and play football.''

Seattle coach Pete Carroll shrugged off the notion that his team has some sort of psychological edge on the Falcons.

``This has nothing to do with years past or story lines,'' he said. ``We're playing a terrific team, with a terrific coach and a terrific quarterback, and we're on the road. It's a monstrous task.''

Much of the burden for turning things around in Atlanta falls on Ryan, who set numerous franchise passing records and was voted to the Pro Bowl for the second time.

That said, his career numbers in the regular season are much better than his postseason stats. He's yet to throw for 200 yards in a playoff game. He's tossed more interceptions (four) than touchdowns passes (three), including a crucial pick that was returned for a touchdown right before halftime in that loss to the Packers. His passer rating is about 20 points lower in the postseason.

Ryan certainly tries to learn from his mistakes, but he won't spend much time talking about what happened before this season.

``I don't worry about it, I don't think about it,'' he said. ``My focus is for this locker room and for these guys and this coaching staff, making sure we're all together. We worked really hard during the course of the offseason and through training camp to give ourselves an opportunity to be playing at this time of year. We want to play our best football. That's really the only thing I'm worried about.''

Ryan certainly has plenty of the offensive weapons, with a pair of Pro Bowlers (receiver Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez) plus another receiver who probably should've made it (Roddy White). While the running game has tailed off dramatically, the Falcons are much more capable of hitting big plays and putting up points in a hurry, a testament to the scheme installed by first-year coordinator Dirk Koetter.

``I'm confident in the guys around me,'' said Ryan, who has completed nearly 69 percent of his throws for 4,719 yards and 32 touchdowns. ``We've proven we can go out there and be successful. You have to buy into that. You have to believe in that. I feel more comfortable with the guys around me.''

Protecting Ryan has been in an issue in the last three playoff losses, so the onus will be on an often-maligned line to keep the Seahawks out of the backfield - no easy task facing a defense that is willing to stack the line and leave its cornerbacks in single coverage.

But the biggest task for Smith and his coaching staff might be getting the players to have a convenient case of amnesia. He doesn't want them lingering over those last three trips to the playoffs.

``We're a much more mature team because of our experiences,'' Smith said. ``We feel very good about we've accomplished thus far this year. We have expectations. We set our goals, and we've been clicking along pretty well this season. I like the way we've played through the first season.''

Now comes the second season.

The one that really matters.

Notes: DE John Abraham (left ankle) and S William Moore (hamstring) were limited in practice Wednesday, but Smith said he expects both to play on Sunday. Moore hasn't played since a Nov. 29 victory over New Orleans. ... The only players to miss practice were a pair of backup defensive backs, rookie S Charles Mitchell (calf) and CB Christopher Owens (hamstring).

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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The Redskins finally have a fullback again, and he's ready to pave the way in the run game

The Redskins finally have a fullback again, and he's ready to pave the way in the run game

For the first time since Darrel Young was contributing in the backfield from 2010-2015, the Redskins have a legitimate fullback on their active roster.

Michael Burton got the call from Washington on Sunday night in which they said they were interested in adding him, caught a flight on Monday, worked out for the team on Tuesday and, after signing his contract, took the field for his first practice on Wednesday. He's been a busy man lately, but in a conversation following that Wednesday practice, he used the word "excited" a handful of times to describe his current mood.

He should be feeling that way, too.

Burton's arrival is yet another commitment to running the football by interim coach Bill Callahan. The Redskins have been using Ryan Anderson in a pinch in short-yardage and goal-to-go situations as a lead blocker, but now, they have someone who's played the position in the NFL for multiple seasons. 

Under Callahan, Burton could very well have a role. 

"I think it can give the defense different looks," Burton said of fullbacks. "I think they can do a lot of different things, whether you start us out wide and you bring us in, that can kind of be a tell to what the defense is doing. It just adds another blocker from the backfield. It makes it a little more difficult for the linebackers to fit. We can create more creases. Obviously, I'm a big fullback fan."

Jay Gruden often spoke about how he'd like to keep one on his final rosters, yet he never found room in recent seasons. But when backup tight end Jerome Cunningham was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday, Burton was chosen to take his place.

Of course, a huge chunk of the league continues to emphasize the spread and speedy skill-players and attacking defenses in the air. 6-foot, 240-pounders aren't exactly in high-demand.

That is precisely why Burton feels like he can be a sneaky asset for the Redskins.

"They don't see it in practice all the time," he explained. "When you play that team that hasn't seen it, it's difficult to prepare for that in a week... I think it just adds another element to the offense."

Now, it remains to be seen whether Burton is long for the Burgundy and Gold. These kinds of mid-season acquisitions are often gone before their lockers are fully set up. 

However, with Callahan in charge and Adrian Peterson being a featured piece again, perhaps Burton can become effective and beloved like Young and Mike Sellers were for the organization. He's not worried about that, though. He's instead focused on much simpler goals.

"If Coach Callahan wants to get the run game going, I take pride in that," he said. "I'm going to put that on my shoulders every single day to make sure we have a successful run game."

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Here's who is on the DC Defenders roster, alongside Cardale Jones

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Here's who is on the DC Defenders roster, alongside Cardale Jones

The next step in the XFL's 2020 relaunch was completed on Wednesday, as each team completed the five-phase open draft.

The DC Defenders, one of the eight teams in the revamped football league, pulled in quite the haul.

While he wasn't a draft pick, former Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones was assigned to the Defenders on Tuesday. He joins the Redskins' Dwayne Haskins as former Buckeye QBs playing in the nation's capital.

Here's a look at their full roster, with the names and important notes to know.

Skill Positions:

Rashard Davis, WR, James Madison
Tre McBride, WR, William & Mary
Jhurell Pressley RB, New Mexico
DeAndre Thompkins, WR, Penn State
Khari Lee, TE, Bowie State
Orson Charles, TE, Georgia
Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State
Max McCaffrey, WR, Duke
Tyree Jackson, QB, Buffalo
Adrien Robinson, TE, Cincinnati

Offensive Lineman:

Kyle Murphy, OT, Stanford
Logan Tuley-Tillman, OT, Michigan
De'Ondre Wesley, OT, Brigham Young
Jon Toth, OC, Kentucky
Rishard Cook, OG, Alabama-Birmingham
Chris Brown, OG, Southern California
Toby Weathersby, OT, Louisiana State
James O'Hagan, OC, Buffalo
Chase Farris, OG, Ohio State
Casey Tucker, OT, Arizona State

Defensive Front Seven:

James Vaughters, LB, Stanford
Charles Harris, DE, Buffalo
Elijah Qualls, DT, Washington
Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona
Tracy Sprinkle, DT, Ohio State
Jameer Thurman, LB, Indiana State
Sam Montgomery, DE, Louisiana State
Jonathan Celestin, LB, Minnesota
KeShun Freeman, DE, Georgia Tech
Daryle Banfield, DT, Brown

Defensive Backs:

Elijah Campbell, CB, Northern Iowa
Desmond Lawrence, CB, North Carolina
Jalen Myrick, CB, Minnesota
Doran Grant, CB, Ohio State
Bradley Sylve, CB, Alabama
Reggie Cole, CB, Mary Hardin Baylor
Rahim Moore, Safety, UCLA
Tyree Kinnel, Safety, Michigan
Carlos Merritt, Safety, Campbell
Ladarius Gunter, CB, Miami (FL)

Phase 1: Open Draft

Terrence Lee-Alls, WR, James Madison
Dimitrios Tsesmetzis, TE, Western Connecticut State
Duvonta Lampkin, DT, Oklahoma
Tavaris Barnes, DE, Clemson
Jake Ceresna, DE, Cortland
Brian Khoury, DE, Carnegie Mellon
A.J. Tarpley, LB, Stanford
Matt Elam, Safety, Florida
Tre Sullivan, Safety, Shepherd
Hunter Niswander, Punter, Northwestern

Phase 2: Open Draft

Khalid Abdullah, RB, James Madison
Ryan Yurachek, RB, Marshall
Levern Jacobs III, WR, Maryland
Richard Mullaney, WR, Alabama
Ronald Patrick, OC, South Carolina
Cole Boozer, OT, Temple
Randall Harris, OT, Towson
Siupeli Anau, DT, Northern Arizona
Koa Farmer, LB, Penn State
Max Redfield, Safety, Indiana (PA)

Open Draft: Phase 3

John Thomas, RB, Penn State
Jamal Custis, WR, Syracuse
Deion Holliman, WR, Missouri State
Jaylen Smith, WR, Louisville
Justin Thomas, WR, Georgia Tech
Terron Prescod, OG, North Carolina State
Trae Moxley, OT, Colorado State
Josh Augusta, DT, Missouri
Kristjan Sokoli, DT, Buffalo
Jordan Jones, LB, Kentucky

NOTES:

  • One name that is familiar to many college football fans is running back Donnel Pumphrey. He left San Diego State the NCAA's all-time leading rusher. Prior to the XFL, Pumphrey was a fourth-round pick of the Eagles in 2017, but multiple injuries prevented him from making an impact on the field.
     
  • Linebacker Scooby Wright should make an immediate impact for the Defenders. At Arizona State, he won the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award. After bouncing around multiple NFL teams, Wright will sue the XFL as hopefully a form of stability in his NFL career.
     
  • Cardale Jones will take the QB headlines, but Tyree Jackson is no slouch, either. Just 21 years old, Jackson went undrafted in 2019 and was released by the Bills during final roster cuts. He was one of the more intriguing prospects coming out and his slip was surprising to many. Expect Jackson to compete with Jones for snaps at the very minimum.
     
  • Maryland's own Levern Jacobs will stay local, as the Defenders selected the former Terrapin in the open draft phase. Jackson spent time with the Redskins during training camp in 2017 but was released during final roster cuts. 
     
  • The older brother of NFL MVP candidate Christian McCaffrey was selected by the Defenders as well. Wide receiver Max McCaffrey had a stellar career at Duke but was unable to find footing in the NFL after going undrafted in 2016. He'll look to revamp his football career with the Defenders.
     
  • One player with significant NFL experience is cornerback LaDarius Gunter. In 2016, he was a full-time starter for the Packers opposite of Damarius Randall. He was released in 2017 and appeared in four games with the Carolina Panthers in 2017. His most recent football came from the AAF, where he was a member of the Orlando Apollos.
     
  • If you want to talk about athleticism, one Defenders' wide receiver is as good as they come. Deion Holliman and his 65-inch vertical will be on display for D.C.
     
  • Former Ravens first-round pick Matt Elam brings incredible experience to the Defenders as well. He spent four years with Baltimore, and off the field issues derailed his NFL career. Expect Elam to use the XFL as a way to catch attention from other NFL teams.