Redskins

Hilton's big day leads Colts past Bills 20-13

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Hilton's big day leads Colts past Bills 20-13

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Maybe T.Y. Hilton didn't need the advice about returning punts.

He heeded it anyway and turned the game.

After a pregame chat with coach Chuck Pagano about the art of returning punts, Hilton returned Buffalo's first punt 75 yards for a touchdown, then caught an 8-yard TD pass to lead Indianapolis past the Bills 20-13.

``He just told me to `stretch and cut, stretch and cut,''' Hilton said, describing the advice. ``So I was able to stretch and my blockers did a good job of getting in front of their dudes, made two guys miss me and I went to the house.''

It was a picture perfect day for Hilton, Indy's other emerging rookie star.

He became the first player in franchise history to score on a punt return and catch a TD pass in the same game and the first Colts player to run one back inside Lucas Oil Stadium. The last Indy player to score on a punt return was T.J. Rushing in 2007.

And the 5-foot-9, 183-pound receiver showed Pagano and everyone else how tough he could be, too, when he took a vicious high-low hit on his second punt return. He held his head with both hands and lay motionless briefly as fans held their collective breaths. A few minutes later, Hilton walked gingerly off the field to applause and a few series after the trainers checked him for a head injury, Hilton was back in the game - to the delight of his teammates and the dismay of the Bills.

``Big plays like that normally turn games, and that one turned the game for a while,'' Bills coach Chan Gailey said of the punt return.

While Hilton was the star of the day, he certainly had some co-stars.

Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne broke Cris Carter's NFL record for most consecutive games with multiple catches. Carter had done it 58 times in a row. Wayne's streak is now at 59. He also passed Art Monk and Derrick Mason on the NFL's career receptions chart and with 946 is now within five of moving into the top 10.

Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall draft pick who has gotten most of the credit for Indy's remarkable turnaround, was 20 of 37 for 240 yards with one touchdown and one interception and became only the second Colts' rookie to top 3,000 yards in a season. The other: Peyton Manning.

And Pagano was there to see - and savor - every precious moment of it again. Two weeks ago, Pagano returned to Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time since being diagnosed with leukemia Sept. 26.

``I couldn't be prouder of the football team, because Chuck was here and the goal was to make him smile when he left,'' interim coach Bruce Arians said. ``I'm sure he's up there smiling.''

This time, it wasn't just the players who got to see Pagano.

During a fourth-quarter break, team owner Jim Irsay and Pagano walked out of the owner's box together and waved to crowd, which gave them a standing ovation. Two Colts cheerleaders also shaved their heads in support of Pagano, who has lost his hair as he continues to undergo chemotherapy treatments. The cheerleaders did that as part of a fundraiser that had generated more than $22,000 for leukemia research

That was just too much for the Bills (4-7), who came into Sunday with big hopes of ending their playoff drought.

C.J. Spiller ran 14 times for 107 yards, his sixth straight game with 100 yards from scrimmage. Ryan Fitzpatrick was 17 of 33 for 180 yards with one TD and one interception, and Stevie Johnson caught six passes for 106 yards, his first 100-yard game since December 2011.

Though the Bills did end their red-zone touchdown drought with Fitzpatrick's 1-yard TD pass to Lee Smith with 11:30 left in the game, it wasn't enough to avoid a devastating blow to their postseason dreams.

``It's frustrating, when you work hard all year to have a good season and get into the postseason,'' safety Jairus Byrd said. ``We dug this hole for ourselves.''

Hilton helped.

He got things started by fielding Shawn Powell's 48-yard punt at his own 25, faking out Smith, breaking another tackle in the middle of the field and sprinting to the end zone for Indy's first punt return for a score in five years.

After the teams traded four field goals, Hilton emerged again, pulling down Luck's third-down pass in the back of the end zone.

All the Bills could muster was Fitzpatrick's late TD pass, and Pagano went home a happy man.

``At the beginning when this thing was put together, Chuck built everything on `team,''' Arians said. ``I think that was a team victory right there - all phases. Our special teams showed up huge, I thought they won the game for us.''

NOTES: Spiller's six-game streak is the longest by a Bills player since Thurman Thomas in 1992-93. ... Wayne also moved into the NFL's top 15 for yards receiving, passing Monk and Irving Fryar. ... Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay left in the first half with a neck injury and fullback Corey McIntyre left in the fourth quarter with a right ankle injury. Neither returned. ... Buffalo hasn't won in Indy since 1998 and has lost seven of the last eight in this series. ... The father of one of the cheerleaders who shaved her head held up a sign ``Megan, Bald is Beautiful You Are Chuckstrong Love, Dad.''

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5 questions facing the Redskins as the Case Keenum/Dwayne Haskins QB battle begins

5 questions facing the Redskins as the Case Keenum/Dwayne Haskins QB battle begins

The Redskins have a quarterback battle. Repeat, the Redskins have a quarterback battle. This is not a drill. It is an open competition. 

When the team gathers in Ashburn on Monday for offseason training activities, it will be the first time that veteran passer Case Keenum and first-round rookie Dwayne Haskins will be on the field at the same time. Incumbent backup QB Colt McCoy should be present as well, but not active as he works back from multiple leg surgeries this offseason. 

The team has plenty of questions for the 2019 season, and the answers will start coming as early as this week. No question is bigger than the signal caller though.

  1. QB Battle - Every major factor in the Redskins organization has been clear that Haskins will get a chance to compete for the starting job. That means every throw between Keenum, the presumed starter after the 'Skins traded for him in February, and the Ohio State rookie will be over analyzed. If McCoy was healthy, he would have a jump start in the competition because he knows head coach Jay Gruden's offense. McCoy isn't healthy though, and that means more reps and work for Keenum and Haskins. This battle will be ongoing throughout the summer, but on Monday with the media present, it will be very interesting to see what player gets more work with the first-team offense.
  2. Who's still hurt - Speaking of the first-team offense, a number of players will be working back from offseason surgery. Will Paul Richardson be out there? Trent Williams? How healthy is Jordan Reed, and what about Derrius Guice? Brandon Scherff? There are a lot  of questions, and some of them will be answered simply by seeing guys run around. Second-year wideouts Cam Sims and Trey Quinn both finished the 2018 season on the injured reserve; will they be ready to go? There are a lot of people to watch out for. 
  3. STARTING DEFENSE (LATIMER VOICE*) - Landon Collins was the prize of free agency, and Monday he will be on the field barking directions at teammates. How will he fit in with Josh Norman, and how does Quinton Dunbar look? When Dunbar went down with a leg nerve injury last season, the Washington defense fell apart. If he is all the way back would be big news for Greg Manusky's defense. There's also Reuben Foster. This will be the first time for the media to see Foster on the field in a Redskins uniform after his controversial acquisition last November. Presumably Foster will answer questions after the OTA session, stay tuned for that.
  4. Camp is over for the rookies - Beyond Haskins, the Redskins have nine other draft picks taking part in OTAs. The rookies went through their own private minicamp last week, but this will be quite different. Rookie minicamp is about letting the new players get acclimated to the new facility and team; OTAs are about real work. Will Montez Sweat take the field with the Redskins first-team defense? What about the two rookie receivers in Terry McLaurin and Kelvin Harmon? There will be hiccups for the rookies, that's inevitable, but now is the time to prove they belong. With all the injuries on the offensive line, Wes Martin has the inside track on a starting job. 
  5. Absent, but not hurt - Never forget that OTAs are voluntary for players, and usually a handful of guys don't show up. That will likely happen tomorrow and some fans might react negatively. Don't be one of them. 

* If you don't get that reference, go watch The Program. 

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Potential coaching staff changes rocket into discussion for Wizards

Potential coaching staff changes rocket into discussion for Wizards

We can begin free agent watch with the Washington Wizards way before July 1.

This isn’t about players. Coaching changes can happen whenever.

News broke Saturday out of Houston that the Rockets would not retain associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik. Considered one of the league’s top defensive minds, Bzdelik’s relationship with Scott Brooks along with comments made by the Wizards head coach at the NBA Combine makes this transaction interesting.

Bzdelik, 66, gave Brooks his first NBA coaching job when the then Denver Nuggets head coach hired the former player in 2003.

"I'm thankful for coach Bzdelik," Brooks told the Houston Chronicle in 2016.  "He gave me my first NBA coaching start. One of the best coaches I've ever been around. He has great understanding of the game, both ends of the floor.”

Fast forward to Thursday inside Chicago’s Quest Multisport facility. Amid 5-on-5 games involving 2019 draft prospects, players holding court with media members and the general convention vibe that comes with the NBA Combine, Brooks spent a few minutes chatting with reporters.

Among the non-draft or general manager search topics, whether any changes to the coaching staff were forthcoming.

"I’ve talked to Ted. I definitely talked Ted,” Brooks began his reply, referencing Wizards owner Ted Leonsis. “I have a lot of respect for our organization. I have to get better, first and foremost…Will the staff remain the same? Every year, staffs change. Every year staffs change. We're probably going to make some changes. I don't know if it's for sure. Everything is still up in the air.”

Brooks also noted change could come from members of his staff seeking opportunities elsewhere. Tony Brown, Brooks’ lead assistant during his three seasons with the Wizards, became a coaching free agent following Washington’s 32-50 season, according to NBC Sports Washington’s Chris Miller.

Two days after Brooks’ comments came news of Bzdelik’s exit in Houston.

Bzdelik, a former Bullets assistant from 1988-94 and three-time college head coach, retired following the 2017-18 season. He returned to the Rockets in November following Houston’s slow start. The associate head coach is credited with guiding the team’s defensive improvement as the Rockets rose up the Western Conference standings.

The Houston Chronicle reported Bzdelik, whose contract expired after this season, remained uncommitted to returning. The Rockets announced Saturday they would not renew his deal.

The Wizards do not want a repeat of their defensive struggles. Only the Atlanta Hawks allowed more points per game than the 116.9 Washington surrendered last season. The Wizards ranked 28th in opponent field goal percentage (48.0) and 27th in 3-point shooting percentage (37.0).

It’s unclear how the Wizards fix those defensive concerns based solely on personnel. The current roster with five healthy players does not include any forwards or mobile big men. Point guard John Wall is expected to miss the majority of the upcoming season following February’s surgery for a ruptured Achilles. Wall, an erratic defensive presence in recent seasons, was previously selected to the NBA’s all-defensive team in 2015.

Coaching strategies could become the primary driver of change on the defensive end. The man who brought Brooks into the coaching fraternity would make for an obvious addition if both sides are interested.

"The accountability that [Jeff] taught me with the coaching staff and the players is second to none,” Brooks told the Chronicle in 2016. “I learned about work. I learned how to transfer my playing career into a coaching career with his help."

News of the next front office leader likely comes before coaching staff tweaks.

Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly was offered the same position with the Wizards Saturday after Denver granted Washington permission to meet. In the interim, the Wizards sent a contingent of scouting personnel along with Brooks to Chicago as the team conducted player interviews and watched scrimmages.

“Ted is going to make a decision and I trust that I going to be the best for the program moving forward,” Brooks said Thursday. “As of right now, (interim GM Tommy Sheppard) is doing a great job leading the group. We all feel comfortable with what’s going on. Hopefully, things work out and we move forward as an organization. We all have to get better, myself included.”

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