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Ga. Tech dumps defensive coordinator Al Groh

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Ga. Tech dumps defensive coordinator Al Groh

ATLANTA (AP) With Georgia Tech's season falling apart, coach Paul Johnson knew he would have to make a change at defensive coordinator.

He decided not to wait.

Former Virginia and New York Jets coach Al Groh was fired Monday by the Yellow Jackets, who had lost three games - all of them while surrendering more than 40 points, the first time that's happened in school history.

The stretch included an embarrassing 49-28 home loss to Middle Tennessee.

With Johnson hearing plenty of griping himself from Georgia Tech fans but figuring there're still time to salvage the season, he decided to dump Groh during the off week.

``It's really disappointing and frustrating,'' Johnson said at a hastily called news conference. ``You never want to do it. But, to me, that's part of being a leader. Sometimes you have to do hard things. I still have a great deal of respect for Al. In my mind, he's had a very good career. Maybe he will still coach. I don't know what the future holds. It just wasn't working here.''

Johnson has never fired an assistant during the season, but felt he had to do something to show he wasn't already looking ahead to 2013. The move was made two days after the Yellow Jackets (2-4, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) lost 47-31 to No. 16 Clemson.

``To me, it was inevitable,'' Johnson said. ``I didn't want to give up on the rest of the season. I still think we can come back and have a good season. That's why I did it now.''

The Yellow Jackets have one of the nation's worst defenses - ranked 89th in points allowed (30.2), 90th in total defense (431 yards per game) and 103rd in third-down efficiency. That latter figure might be most troubling to Johnson, whose team has allowed opponents to convert nearly 48 percent in those situations and was especially poor against Clemson. The Tigers were 13 of 19 on third down, keeping Georgia Tech's potent offense on the sideline.

The defense has been especially leaky in the second half, squandering a 17-point lead to Miami and allowing Virginia Tech to kick a tying field goal after going ahead of the Hokies with less than a minute remaining. Both times, the Yellow Jackets lost in overtime.

The 68-year-old Groh was hired by Johnson in 2010 after being fired by Virginia, where he went 59-54 in eight seasons. Before returning to his alma mater, he went 9-7 in his lone season as an NFL head coach with the Jets. Groh also went 26-40 in six seasons as Wake Forest's coach in the 1980s.

He issued a statement through Georgia Tech saying he understood the decision, also thanking the players and his assistants for their hard work.

``The institute has decided to go in a different direction, which I respect,'' Groh said. ``I aimed to give the best that I had every day. It's been an honor to be a part of the legacy of Georgia Tech football. I feel positive that this is a good time in life to move on to a new situation.''

The time to move on has been building for a while.

Johnson's discontent with Groh goes back to last season, when the Yellow Jackets lost five of their last seven games, capped by a 30-27 overtime loss to Utah in the Sun Bowl. The Utes scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to tie the game, then won in overtime.

This year, more of the same.

``I was hopeful as we started, this being the third year. I was hopeful we would see some improvement,'' Johnson said. ``I was encouraged at the first of year, but it became apparent that was short-lived. The last three games was a carry-over of the last six games a year ago.''

Secondary coach Charles Kelly will take over as interim coordinator, and Johnson shook up the rest of the defensive staff. Specials teams coordinator David Walkosky will oversee the line, Andy McCollum shifts from the line to inside linebackers, and Joe Speed moves from inside to outside linebackers.

Their orders are clear.

``My big goal is to simplify and see if we can't get lined up and play faster, play harder,'' Johnson said. ``I don't think you've got to trick people. You've got to line up and know what you're doing and play fast.''

Groh installed the 3-4 when he got to Georgia Tech, but it was clear the players never fully picked up the scheme. Also, there was a difference in philosophy with Johnson, who felt Groh didn't do enough full-speed work in practice.

``To me, defense is energy and playing fast and playing with enthusiasm,'' Johnson said. ``It's hard to get that if you don't go live (full-speed drills) some of the time.''

While Johnson's focus has been on running the option offense, he believes the Yellow Jackets have plenty of talent on the defensive side. But the 3-4 seemed ill-suited to a school that has trouble recruiting the sort of dominant defensive tackles that are needed to make it work.

``I'm not sold that we don't have good players,'' Johnson said. ``I'm very confident in our players' ability. We'll see.''

He praised Groh's defensive knowledge, but said he was never able to pass it on to his players.

``Al is very smart man. He understands what's inside his head,'' Johnson said. ``The problem is we weren't seeing it on the field. For whatever reason, it wasn't transcending.''

That left Johnson with only one option: make a change.

He decided not to wait.

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

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Somehow, the Redskins still have a fairly straightforward playoff path. Somehow

Somehow, the Redskins still have a fairly straightforward playoff path. Somehow

You're going to feel absurd for reading the following sentence, but probably not as absurd as it felt to type the following sentence.

The Redskins, who are on their fourth option at QB, who made the '18 Giants look like the '72 Dolphins and who are large underdogs this weekend to the 4-9 Jaguars, actually still have a straightforward path to the playoffs.

Now, the word "straightforward" only applies to the path on paper, because realistically, there's nothing straightforward about fixing the litany of issues that are plaguing Washington at the moment.

Regardless, by losing on Monday night to the Seahawks, the Vikings blew a chance to separate themselves from a pack of NFC teams chasing(?) them and their final wild card spot. The Redskins are one of those teams, and here's how they could pass Minnesota to qualify for the postseason:

With the way the season is unfolding, you'd expect the Burgundy and Gold's playoff scenario to involve a bunch of teams losing a bunch of times in these final three weeks. The tweet above illustrates that's clearly not the case. They only need Minnesota to drop one more to go along with the Redskins winning out.

Of course, the Redskins stringing three straight plays together without committing a holding penalty feels like too much to ask for, so anyone expecting a three-game winning streak is either a bit crazy or a relative of Josh Johnson. But still, they're not out of the hunt quite yet. Somehow.

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Ravens have formula for both playoff and quarterback success down final stretch

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Ravens have formula for both playoff and quarterback success down final stretch

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- After experiencing misery in each of the past two Decembers, the Baltimore Ravens are looking to rewrite the script in their quest to end a three-year playoff drought.

In 2016, a loss to Pittsburgh on Christmas night ended Baltimore's bid to reach the postseason. Last year, a defeat at home against Cincinnati on New Year's Eve sent the Ravens home.

Now, with three games left, the Ravens find themselves in a familiar position. Baltimore (7-6) has a shot to reach the playoffs as either AFC North champions or as a wild-card team, and there's really only one can't-miss way to make it happen.

"The way we look at it, we need to win three games in a row," coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "We've been here before. Let's do it. But all we need to think about right now is Tampa Bay, our upcoming opponent."

There's a good chance the Ravens will have quarterback Joe Flacco available for the first time since Nov. 4 when they face the fading Buccaneers (5-8) at home on Sunday. Flacco, a former Super Bowl MVP and veteran of 15 playoff games, appears ready to return from a right hip injury that sidelined him for four straight games.

Fortunately for the Ravens, rookie Lamar Jackson has done a credible job in his first stint as a starter. Subbing for the injured Flacco, the former Louisville star and first-round draft pick guided Baltimore through three straight wins before Sunday's 27-24 loss in Kansas City on Sunday.

Jackson hurt his ankle in overtime against the Chiefs, but the injury evidently was not serious.

"Should be fine. Looks like it's OK," Harbaugh said.

If both quarterbacks are ready to go, Harbaugh must decide who to start and how to play them. Perhaps he already has.

"I'll just have to let you know -- if we want. It could entail anything right now," the coach said. "I know what we want to do. I have a plan. We have a plan. We talked about it. We have to talk to the guys about it, and whether we share that publicly, we'll decide as the week goes on."

The plan likely involves using both quarterbacks, just as the Ravens did before Flacco's injury. The difference now is that Jackson has more experience, and the Ravens have played exceptionally well with him at the helm.

"I haven't had a chance to sit down and talk with all the parties involved, but I think it stands to reason that if Joe's ready to go, he'll be part of the game plan," Harbaugh said. "He's too good a player not to be. We'll just figure that out as we go this week, to what degree and how it works. Everybody will know going in, except perhaps everybody outside."

Baltimore currently sits a half-game behind Pittsburgh within the division, thanks to the Steelers' surprising loss in Oakland on Sunday. Harbaugh learned of the defeat shortly before the team charter touched down on its trip from Kansas City.

"I was happy. Very happy," he said.

The Ravens have Tampa Bay, the Los Angeles Chargers (10-3) and Cleveland (5-7-1) left on the schedule. Pittsburgh (7-5-1) has New England (9-4), New Orleans (11-2) and Cincinnati (5-8).

Baltimore is also the sixth and final wild-card team in the AFC, so if the Steelers don't falter, the Ravens can still reach the postseason for the first time since 2014.

"It helps, sure," Harbaugh said of having multiple routes to the playoffs. "We just need to win games and let all that take care of itself."

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