Redskins

Falcons trying to build momentum for playoffs

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Falcons trying to build momentum for playoffs

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Falcons coach Mike Smith has learned that little credit is given for regular-season success when it is followed by postseason flops.

Smith is hoping the Falcons' impressive 34-0 shutout of the New York Giants on Sunday generates momentum to end the streak of disappointments in the playoffs.

The Falcons (12-2) need one win to secure home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs. Atlanta has five straight winning seasons but is 0-3 in the playoffs under Smith.

The Falcons have had better regular-season records than the Super Bowl winner in two straight seasons. That meant little as they lost to the eventual champion each year in the playoffs.

The Falcons were 10-6 last season before losing to the 9-7 Giants in the playoffs. The 2010 Falcons were 13-3 before losing to 10-6 Green Bay. The Giants and Packers were the hot teams that went all the way.

The lesson for Atlanta is obvious: Late-season momentum matters the most.

``I think it's important that you're playing efficiently and effectively in December and January, and I think that's what every team is striving for,'' Smith said Monday. ``I think over the last two seasons, the teams that were playing well in December and got really rolling were the teams that had the most success and the teams that ultimately were the world champions. So I think momentum is very important.''

Impressive regular-season records can be quickly forgotten.

``People don't remember what you do in September and October,'' he said. ``It's all about December and January.''

Atlanta plays Saturday night at Detroit before closing its regular season at home against Tampa Bay.

Quarterback Matt Ryan dismissed the notion that the surprising shutout of the Giants was Atlanta's long-awaited statement game to boost public perception of the team.

``That's not something that I think about, or worry about,'' Ryan said. ``We still have some things in front of us, in terms of the regular season, that we want to accomplish and get done. That's what I spend my time thinking about.''

Ryan outplayed New York's Eli Manning, who threw two interceptions. Ryan completed 28 of 33 passes for 270 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions and broke his own franchise records for completions and passing yards in a season.

``I thought Matt had one of his best games since he's been here,'' Smith said. ``He ran the offense extremely well. He exuded a lot of confidence. I think that permeated around the team.''

Ryan threw two touchdown passes to Julio Jones and one to Tony Gonzalez.

The Falcons' running game enjoyed a revival. Running backs Michael Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling combined for 33 carries for 116 yards. Turner had 52 yards rushing with a touchdown.

``It was nice to get it going,'' Smith said. ``I thought we set the tempo early with our running game. It goes hand in hand. When you're able to start running the football, they have to devote more resources to stopping the run and it opens up the pass game.''

Atlanta gave the Giants their first regular-season shutout loss since 1996. The Falcons held the Giants to 256 total yards.

``Shutouts are very hard to come by in the NFL,'' Smith said. ``They don't come along very often. When you do accomplish it for your football team, it's not just the defense. The offense and special teams were contributing to that outcome as well. It's a sense of accomplishment because they don't happen very often.''

It's difficult to do better than a December shutout against the team that beat Atlanta in last season's playoffs.

``It was an important game for our football team for the next three weeks,'' Smith said. ``We're playing for a whole lot. There are still a lot of things that have to be determined in terms of seeding for the playoffs. That to me was two teams that were playing for a whole lot.''

NOTES: Due to the Saturday game at Detroit, the Falcons will practice on Tuesday, normally an off day. Smith said it will be an important day for S William Moore, who missed Sunday's game with injured ribs. ``We're hoping to get him back out there as quickly as possible,'' Smith said. ``It's going to really be determined how his rehab goes tomorrow.'' ... The Falcons expect the league to review S Chris Hope's third-quarter hit on Giants receiver Victor Cruz that drew an unnecessary roughness penalty.

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Need to Know: Redskins player one-liners, defense

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Need to Know: Redskins player one-liners, defense

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, May 22, 66 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins player one-liners, defense

A few weeks ago, I did an early projection of the Redskins’ 53-man roster on offense and defense. As the team gets ready for OTAs here is a comment on each player expected to make the team on defense; the offense was up yesterday

Defensive line

—Even though he played just 159 snaps last year before getting injured, the experience that Jonathan Allen gained in the offseason and training camp last year will help him get off to a strong start this season. 

—​Daron Payne will improve as the season goes on but he should be of some help stopping the run, the team’s most glaring weakness, right off the bat. 

—​Matt Ioannidis could play his way into an early contract extension a year from now, something nobody saw coming a year ago. 

—Last year Anthony Lanier played a little over half a season’s worth of snaps and got 5.0 sacks so I’ll put his over/under for this year at 7.5. 

—I think many fans see “Redskins veteran free agent D-lineman” and associate “bust” but Stacy McGee played pretty well last year. 

—Will Tim Settle be in at nose tackle for the first snap in Week 1?

—The coaches would like to be able to keep Ziggy Hood on the roster, but injuries and other issues could make him a victim of the roster numbers game. 

Inside linebackers

—​Zach Brown struggled a bit before injuries forced him out of the last three games, but he still finished in the top 10 in the NFL in tackles. 

—The team re-signing Mason Foster in late January was a low-key but potentially very impactful move. 

—After getting cut and then returning in November last year, Zach Vigil probably will be employed with the Redskins for all of the 2018 season. 

—It will be interesting to see how much the Redskins try to get out of converted safety Josh Harvey-Clemons as a nickel linebacker this year. 

—The Redskins moved up in the sixth round to draft Shaun Dion Hamilton, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he has a regular role on defense before the season is out. 

Outside linebackers

—All Preston Smith needs to do to hit it big in free agency is add a few sacks to his 2017 total and get a few more takeaways. 

—​Ryan Kerrigan already got paid, he’s a few more good years away from making the Redskins Ring of Fame. 

—I predict that Ryan Anderson gets his first NFL sack in Week 2 against the Colts. 

—You usually think of outside linebackers rotating in when it’s the nickel defense, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Pernell McPhee be a regular in short-yardage situations. 

Cornerbacks

—I think Josh Norman will the dancing in the end zone at some this season; he is long overdue to get a pick six (or a pick of any sort for that matter).

—The first time I noticed Quinton Dunbar playing cornerback was when he lined up against Odell Beckham in 2015. 

—The success of the Redskins’ decisions to trade Kendall Fuller and to let Bashaud Breeland leave as a free agent will hinge mostly on how well Fabian Moreau plays in his second year in the NFL.

—Realistically, the Redskins can hope to get 10 or 12 good games out of Orlando Scandrick

—And because Scandrick is unlikely to be healthy for 16 games, the ability of Josh Holsey to step in when needed will be critical. 

—If the Redskins can get a few good punt returns and 75 snaps at nickel corner from Greg Stroman he will be worth the seventh-round pick they used to draft him. 

Safeties

—With a year in the defense under his belt, D.J. Swearinger is a candidate to make his first Pro Bowl. 

—After Jay Gruden compared him to Jordan Reed, there is a lot of pressure on Montae Nicholson to stay on the field and perform well when he is out there. 

—Even though he started eight games last year I think the coaches view Deshazor Everett as more of a special teams guy and situational defender than a safety they want playing 70 snaps a game. 

—​Troy Apke has a lot to learn and it remains to be seen if he can go from being a fast guy to being a fast NFL football player.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 21
—Training camp starts (7/26) 66
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 80

The Redskins last played a game 142 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 110 days. 

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

After losing three straight, the Capitals battled back in Game 6 on Monday. With their 3-0 win, Washington forced the Eastern Conference Final into a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.

Here is how the Caps did it.

1. Braden Holtby matched Andrei Vasilevskiy save for save

Andrei Vasilevskiy was just as great in this game as he was in the three previous, but one of the major differences in this one was that Holtby was just as good. He may not have been tested as much (Vasilevskiy made 32 saves, Holtby 24), but he was big when the team needed.

In the second period with the scored tied at 0, Holtby made one of the most critical saves perhaps of the entire season when he denied Anthony Cirelli with the toe on a 2-on-1. When the Caps took the lead, Holtby really shut the door in the third period with 10 saves to cap off what was his fifth career playoff shutout and first shutout of the entire season.

2. T.J. Oshie’s timely goal

Over halfway into the game, it looked like it was just going to be one of those nights. Caps fans know it well by now. Washington outplays their opponent, they get chance after chance and develop a whopping advantage in shots, but they run into a hot goalie and a random play suddenly turns into a goal for the other team, game and season over.

Vasilevskiy was on his way to having perhaps his best performance of the series. Considering how he played in the three games prior to Game 6, that’s saying something. The Caps were doing everything right, but he continued to make save after save. Then on the power play in the second period, John Carlson struck the inside of the post, the horn went off and the roar of the crowd gave way to dismay as the referee waved his arms to indicate there was no goal and play continued. Just seconds later, T.J. Oshie gave the Caps the 1-0 lead.

You have to wonder if doubt was starting to creep into the back of the minds of the players when that puck struck the post as they wondered what else they had to do to beat Vasilevskiy. Luckily, that feeling didn’t last long.

3. Special teams

Braydon Coburn’s tripping penalty in the second period gave Washington its only power play of the night and its first since the second period of Game 4. They had to make it count given how well Vasilveskiy was playing and they did.

Washington now has a power play goal in each of their three wins against the Lightning and no power play goals in their three losses. So yeah, it’s significant.

Tampa Bay had two opportunities of their own, but Washington managed to kill off both power plays in the penalty kill’s best performance of the series.

4. Washington’s physical game plan

On paper, the Lightning are better than the Caps in most categories. One area in which Washington has the edge, however, is physical play and it was clear very early that they intended to use that to their advantage in Game 6. Tampa Bay was pushed around and they seemed to struggle to recover.

Ovechkin was a one-man wrecking ball out there hitting everything that moved. The energy he brought with every hit was palpable and both the team and the crowd fed on it.

Washington was credited with 39 hits on the night compared to Tampa Bay’s 19. Ovechkin had four of those as did Nicklas Backstrom while Devante Smith-Pelly contributed five and Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six.

5. Fourth line dagger

Tampa Bay’s fourth line was the story of Game 5, but Washington’s fourth line sealed the deal on Monday with its third period goal.

Chandler Stephenson beat out an icing call, forcing Braydon Coburn to play the puck along the wall. Jay Beagle picked it up, fed back to Stephenson who backhanded a pass for the perfect setup for Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the regular season. He now has four in the playoffs.

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