Nationals

Falcons take fundamental approach to stay unbeaten

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Falcons take fundamental approach to stay unbeaten

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The more Atlanta keeps winning, the more coach Mike Smith keeps tinkering with ways to help the Falcons improve.

Smith's Falcons are 7-0 and the NFL's only unbeaten team, but the fifth-year coach still sees a club that's far from perfect.

``You may not believe this, but you're in a week to week cycle in the National Football League,'' Smith said on Monday. ``It really doesn't matter what happened the week before. It's all about the next game, and that's how you have to approach it.''

Nearly everything seemed to work in Atlanta's favor during a 30-17 victory at Philadelphia on Sunday.

Quarterback Matt Ryan directed scoring drives on the first six possessions. Atlanta's defense kept the Eagles off-balance all afternoon.

But Smith pointed back to a rudimentary practice session last week that played a significant role in helping his team beat Philadelphia.

Despite the league's best record, Smith gave his players an entire week off during the bye before he took them back to the field last Monday to work on the basics of football - blocking, tackling and using proper angles to make the right plays.

Maybe the approach sounds too simple, but Smith said the results were evident against the Eagles.

Smith estimated the Falcons spent 45 minutes of ``remedial, 8th-grade football'' to help everyone restart the season.

Defensive players were retrained to take better angles in pursuit, and Smith believes that's one reason why Atlanta's run defense, which began Sunday with the league's 28th-ranked run defense, had a season-best performance that held Philadelphia to 92 yards rushing.

``We worked on the approach, the fit, where your eyes should be, things that,'' Smith said.

Later in the week, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan installed some hybrid looks that seemed to confuse Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.

Reserve defensive end Kroy Biermann, who finished with one sack and seven tackles, lined up at free safety for one play. Nolan also deployed a three-tackle front to start the game in which Jonathan Babineaux, Vance Walker and rookie Travian Robertson were lined up with Biermann - not four-time Pro Bowl selection John Abraham - at end.

``The (previous) two games we didn't play as well as we could have,'' free safety Thomas DeCoud said. ``But now we are starting to hit our stride and it's good to come out after the bye week and get a good solid win under our belts and really play well on all sides of the ball.''

Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter gave his reserve players a bigger role.

Drew Davis, who spent last year on the practice squad, had his first career touchdown pass. Running backs Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling took on significant roles to score touchdowns while two-time Pro Bowl pick Michael Turner had a slow day, averaging just 2.4 yards on 24 carries.

During the ``remedial'' practice, offensive linemen worked on combination blocks. The fruits of that work, including the debut of rookie right guard Peter Konz, could be seen on Rodgers' 43-yard run that set up a fourth-quarter field and gave the Falcons a 30-10 lead.

Smith and his staff are mindful, too, that they must keep players fresh, not just for an entire game but for the whole season. Since taking charge of the Falcons in 2008, Smith has routinely given veterans, particularly his ``over-30'' club, as he calls it, a day of rest during the week.

But monitoring snap counts in games helps Atlanta make better use of less experienced players to take a bigger role on offense or defense and not just exclusively on special teams.

``We've got to focus on the game and win the game, but we also have to focus on the entirety of the season. We want our guys to be as fresh as they can possibly be when we get into November and December when you've got to be playing your best football.''

Smith and the Falcons know they will be judged more for their play in January than their play in the regular season. Atlanta is 0-3 in the playoffs.

But there's little argument that Smith is getting his job done in the regular season.

He now 50 career victories to surpass Dan Reeves as the franchise's winningest coach. Smith needed just 71 games to earn 50 wins. Since the 1970 merger, only George Seifert with San Francisco and Chuck Noll with Pittsburgh won 50 games faster.

Joe Gibbs needed 72 games to reach 50 victories with Washington, Bill Cowher (Pittsburgh) and Mike Ditka (Chicago) 73 games.

Smith says he is too immersed in the task at hand to pay attention to his individual success or his team's unbeaten record.

``We've been fortunate to have a very successful season, play some efficient football, and we've made some mistakes,'' Smith said. ``So I've tried not to even think in those terms. Everyone else is going to concern themselves with it. We've got to make sure we're preparing for the next game.''

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How to entice Bryce Harper in to re-signing with the Nationals? With food, of course!

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How to entice Bryce Harper in to re-signing with the Nationals? With food, of course!

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach… and if that leads us to Bryce Harper’s potential landing spot, then I present to you the yummiest reasons he should stay with the Washington Nationals.

In a video from TMZ, a paparazzi follows Harper to baggage claim and implores him for any hints toward where he is signing this offseason. The only true answer he got was that Harper likes a place called Steak 48 in Chicago. This surf-and-turf hot spot in the River North neighborhood of downtown Chicago has the audacity to serve “Maryland STYLE lump crab cakes.” Really, Bryce? Will the real thing convince you?!

On that note, let’s start off with the seafood we have to offer. This is the Mid-Atlantic, after all.

How can you work here April-September without eating local crabs in some form? I think that’s impossible. You can choose from hard shell or soft shell, but no shame in either game.

Live Chesapeake blue crabs can be bought at Captain White’s Seafood and other vendors on The Wharf off Maine Avenue. Otherwise, you can sit down and have them steamed for you at Quarterdeck, Ivy City Smokehouse, Bethesda Crab House or Captain Pell’s.

If Harper is more of a soft shell guy, all of those places also serve out-of-the-park crab cakes, but you can’t go wrong with Hank’s Oyster Bar, Old Ebbitt Grill, Chris’ Marketplace, or Clyde’s.

If the star really wants to dive in to local taste, he should eat Chesapeake Bay oysters from the largest estuary in America. My personal favorite selection is at Whaley’s (seafood tower on me, Bryce), but Rapphanock Oyster Bar, The Dabney, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace and Black’s Bar & Kitchen can’t be beat.

I find it hard to believe the team hasn't had an outing at The Salt Line, the lively seafood spot just a short throw from Nats Park where teammate Ryan Zimmerman is an investor and co-owner.

Now that we’ve satisfied Harper’s iron intake, let’s break down his protein. In order to keep the superstar here, I want to make sure he knows that D.C. cares about providing a well-rounded diet.

Barbecued meats in general around here are delectable. Sitting in juxtaposition between the north and south, D.C. restaurants bring a mash-up of styles of smoked and sauced meats. Favorites are Federalist Pig, Hill Country, Fat Pete’s and Hardy’s BBQ truck.

However, if Bryce Harper show he’s as invested in authentic Nationals fans as our season tickets are in him, he should really pick up a half-smoke, the district’s original recipe for a spicy, thicker pork and beef dog that’s aggressively seasoned and sometimes served with chili sauce.

Could you imagine Harper making his announcement to stay over a half-smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl? I think even the panda statue would cry tears of joy.

Another hyper-local taste is mumbo sauce. While proven not originally from here, D.C. natives are enthusiastic about the special sauce. Yum’s is pretty well-known for carrying it.

Time for dessert! I think we can all agree that in the past 10 years, cupcakes have become iconic in the district with Georgetown Cupcakes, Baked & Wired and Sprinkles all having a home in Georgetown. To settle the debate, Baked & Wired is best. They are ranked #1 on Yelp if you don’t believe my own palette.

But what if it’s game night, you ask? D.C. has it’s hearty share of restaurants that are open even after extra innings. The Diner, Kramerbooks, Mandu, New Big Wong, Old Ebbitt Grill, Oyamel Cocina Mexicana, Amsterdam Falafelshop and Jumbo Slice are all here to keep you warm at night no matter what you’re craving post-victory. Need I go on?

Bryce reassured Nats fans and TMZ that he is “still a National right now.” Better eat these while you can, Bryce, or you’ll be sorry you didn't sign in one of the best food cities in the MLB.

Do you have any local food or restaurants you think will convince Bryce Harper to stay with the Washington Nationals this offseason? Send them to @NBCNationals or @rmhopmayer. Maybe we can throw together a friends-giving or holiday dinner for those that want him to stay our beloved Guest of Honor.

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Josh Norman wants to play 'early Santa,' will give away Redskins tickets

Josh Norman wants to play 'early Santa,' will give away Redskins tickets

Josh Norman caused quite a stir with his comments Sunday about the atmosphere at FedEx Field, and the Redskins cornerback made it clear he plans to do his part in making sure the stadium is packed for Sunday's game against the Texans. 

Norman told reporters Thursday he's going to be giving away "40 or 50" free tickets for the Houston game, online and perhaps even in person.

"Yes, I will be giving out free tickets," he said. "I'll be doing it on my socials as well, I think I'll probably post tonight or something about it."

"Who knows, you may see me coming out and being an early Santa somewhere in the mall or something, just handing out tickets."

And if you are one of the lucky fans who gets a ticket from "Santa Norman," he has specific instructions on how you should behave at Sunday's game:

"Whoever get(s) them, we want them loud and just obnoxious. Just really obnoxious."

Norman joins several Redskins players who have promised to give away tickets to the Texans game.

It may be November, but the Christmas spirit is alive and well at Redskins Park. 

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