Nationals

Lions WR Johnson close to 2,000 yards receiving

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Lions WR Johnson close to 2,000 yards receiving

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) The smile has rarely left Calvin Johnson's face since he broke Jerry Rice's NFL record for receiving yards in a single season against Atlanta on Dec. 22.

Don't let Johnson's smile fool you. Underneath that cheery expression, there's a fierce competitor who wants to make Rice's accomplishments a distant second to his own effort this year.

Johnson's record-setting night against the Falcons put him at 1,892 yards for the season, just 108 yards shy of the 2,000 receiving yard plateau. The Lions wide receiver doesn't normally focus on his own achievements but he admitted Thursday that he wanted to reach the milestone to ensure that no one challenged his record for a very long time.

It ``would be big -- kind of almost put that (record) away for a while,'' he said. ``All records are meant to be broken, but it would take a long time for somebody to come and get that. You never know. It could happen next year, but it would be a tough (record to break).''

Getting the yards he needs to break the 2,000-yard mark won't be easy won't be easy for Johnson against a Bears team that held him to a season-low three catches for 34 yards on 11 targets when Chicago beat Detroit 13-7 on Oct. 22.

Asked why Chicago was able to limit his effectiveness, Johnson credited Bears' defensive coordinator - and Johnson's former head coach in Detroit - Rod Marinelli for designing pass coverage schemes that aren't easy for him to anticipate.

``(Chicago does) a great job with their safeties and bringing them down really late (to challenge receivers),'' he said. ``From film, we've seen games they haven't done it as much, but for some reason when we see them, they do a lot of disguising (coverages), which makes it harder (to get open).''

It's also worth noting that Chicago will be able to devote more attention to stopping Johnson than they did in the teams' first meeting of the season because of season-ending injuries to receivers Nate Burleson, Titus Young, and Ryan Broyles.

Lions coach Jim Schwartz admits that his current receiving corps has forced him to rely heavily on Johnson's production, and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan says he will have to find creative ways to create space for quarterback Matthew Stafford to get Johnson the ball.

``We're obviously going to have to put (Johnson) in different positions (on the field),'' Linehan said. ``There's going to be even more attention on him with our receiving depth the way it is. Guys have got to be good around him. But I think he'll still have a productive game the way he's locked in.''

Johnson isn't alone in his desire to break the 2,000-yard mark before the season ends. Several of his teammates say they want him to reach the milestone so that he receives the attention they say he has earned by choosing to support the team rather than focus on personal goals.

``He deserves (the recognition),'' WR Kris Durham said. ``He's a true professional, he's a team guy, and I can't say enough about him. When you've have an accomplishment like he had, it's very easy to congratulate him and make (the focus) about him.''

Johnson stopped short of predicting that he would reach the milestone Thursday, but that didn't stop teammate Rob Sims from echoing the sentiments of several people in the Lions' locker room who believe Johnson will reach the 2,000-yard mark.

``(Breaking the 2,000-yard mark) is going to be kind of easy for him,'' Sims said. ``As good as he is, I think it's almost a shoe-in.''

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Max Scherzer received cortisone shot for back and won't pitch against Braves

Max Scherzer received cortisone shot for back and won't pitch against Braves

Max Scherzer will not pitch this weekend against the Braves, the pitcher confirmed to reporters in Atlanta.

Scherzer has been diagnosed with Scapulothoracic bursitis.

Before the game on Friday night, he joked that he had to Google what the term means. He described the pain as "like having a rock in your shoe and trying to run."

On Tuesday, Scherzer was given a cortisone shot to help with inflammation. He is hopeful he will be able to throw a bullpen session in four or five days. 

Former teammate Shawn Kelley was able to advise Scherzer, having just dealt with this issue. 

Austin Voth is confirmed to start on Sunday in place of Scherzer.

Scherzer was placed on 10-day injured list on July 13, retroactive to July 10. This is just the third time in his career that his name has appeared on the injured list.

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Jay Gruden deserves praise for keeping Redskins 'out of the ditches'

Jay Gruden deserves praise for keeping Redskins 'out of the ditches'

On paper, Jay Gruden's tenor with the Redskins is nothing to write home about. Through five seasons he holds a 35-44-1 record, good enough for a .444 winning percentage. Looking at that, some may draw the conclusion that Gruden hasn't been what the Redskins need at the helm.

But according to Pro Football Talk's Darin Gantt, that's not exactly the case. Taking into account the variables Gruden has dealt with throughout the five years, Gantt actually sees him as a "really good" coach.

"I have always come down of the side, maybe, of guys who are doing more with less," Gantt said recently on a Redskins Talk Podcast. "I think Jay has done a pretty good job keeping things in the middle."

Doing more with less and working in the middle essentially defines Jay Gruden's career with the Redskins. Besides his opening year in 2014 in which Washington went 4-12, Gruden's teams have consistently finished right around the middle of the pack.

In the last four seasons, the Redskins have not won more than nine games, but they also haven't lost more than nine. Hovering right around .500, they've always been around league average.

Part of the reason Gantt is willing to give Gruden praise for records that some coaches would get scolded for revolves around what he's had to work with. Gruden's time as head coach has been filled with injuries and other dilemmas both on and off the field. 

In those circumstances, it wouldn't be surprising to see a team completely flounder and spiral out of control. But, that hasn't really been the case with Gruden. Dealing with what he has, the head coach has kept the team competitive for the most part. The team hasn't been a perennial playoff contender, but it also hasn't been at the bottom of the league.

For that ability to keep the Redskins out of the basement despite all the problems he's encountered, Gruden is someone Gantt respects.

"They're able to keep it out of the ditches," Gantt said about Gruden and former NFL head coach John Fox, who Gantt followed during his time in Carolina.

"I think again in the NFL there's something to be said for that," Gantt added. "When things get sideways a Jim Zorn can lose control in a hurry. I feel like Jay just got sort of a steady hand on the wheel."

Until Gruden takes Washington back to the postseason, the critiques will continue to come, as they would for almost all head coaches in similar situations. But when looking at Gruden's time in Washington with a wide view of everything that has happened, Gantt believes the head coach deserves at least a little praise for keeping things afloat.

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