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'Mad scientist' turns around Redskins' defense

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'Mad scientist' turns around Redskins' defense

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) At the midpoint of the season, the Washington Redskins were on pace to become the worst pass defense in NFL history, the first to give up 5,000 yards through the air.

Needless to say, Jim Haslett's stock was a bit low at the time. When head coach Mike Shanahan was asked if there would be any midseason changes to his coaching staff, the defensive coordinator was at the top of the list.

Now Haslett is on another list, a possible candidate for one or more of the vacant head coaching jobs in the league. The transformation he's led in the second half of the season has been so remarkable that he's been dubbed ``the mad scientist'' by defensive tackle Barry Cofield.

There are lots of reasons why the Redskins have won seven straight and will be hosting the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday in the NFC playoffs. Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon, Shanahan and others deserve their share of credit, but so does Haslett and his defense.

``I definitely think these game plans that Haz has come up with have been, if not the reason, a major reason why we've been so successful on defense in getting these wins and sealing these games,'' cornerback Josh Wilsons said. ``Sometimes, you don't understand what a mad scientist is doing. But in the end, you look back on it and say, `Oh, that was an amazing call. I don't know how he knew to do that.'''

Dealing with a depleted group - starters Brian Orakpo, Adam Carriker and Brandon Meriweather out for the season with injuries and Tanard Jackson suspended indefinitely - Haslett has come up with creative blitzes and coverages that opponents weren't expecting. He found ways to make the most out of the personnel he had. He challenged individual players such as cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who had an inconsistent season but was at his absolute best hounding Dez Bryant in the division-clinching win over the Dallas Cowboys.

Quarterbacks had a 95 passer rating against the Redskins in the first half of the season. It's been 78.2 in the second half. Points allowed dropped from 28.4 to 20.1. Washington is still ranked 30th in passing yards allowed, prompting Haslet on Thursday to say ``Our passing stats stink,'' but the trend is in the right direction.

``Everybody loses players,'' Haslett said. ``We just happened to lose a whole bunch at one time. And then we were kind of lost for a little while, trying to find our way. And then guys have stepped up and done a nice job playing. We worked a number of different combinations to get where we're at. It took us a little more time than we would have liked, but obviously it worked out for the best.''

The Redskins' recent play is a culmination of three years of adjustments after Shanahan hired Haslett and ordered a change in scheme from a 4-3 to a 3-4. That meant taking some lumps - because the roster at the time consisted of older players and others who weren't suited to the new defense.

``It was as tough as it got,'' linebacker London Fletcher said. ``We were the 31st ranked defense that first year we transitioned to the 3-4. I don't think anybody was happy about that.''

This is a case where patience pays off. Haslett said he came to the Redskins to win a Super Bowl, and he sees the goal as finally within reach. He's already been a head coach for two other NFL teams, and the thought of leaving Washington to try it again didn't seem to thrill him when the subject was broached Thursday.

``As a player and an ex-player and a coach, I've kind of done everything I wanted to do from an individual standpoint,'' Haslett said. ``I made rookie of the year, I was coach of the year, all that stuff, so that stuff doesn't make a difference to me. I need to get a ring. That's one thing I don't have. Obviously, I like the future of this club, so that kind of answers the question.''

NOTES: LG Kory Lichtensteiger (sprained left ankle) and CB D.J. Johnson (sprained left knee) did not practice Thursday, while backup QB Kirk Cousins was back after missing one day with the flu. ... There were posters in the lockers of the Redskins special teams players Thursday that read: ``Everyone has to catch the rabbit'' and ``Everyone get a hit on 33,'' referring to Seattle Pro Bowl KR Leon Washington. ... Fletcher was selected as the NFL's defensive player of the month. He had three interceptions and two sacks in December, even though he was barely able to practice because of a sprained left ankle. ... The Redskins signed S Devin Holland to a reserve/futures contract. Holland played four games with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2011.

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Scott Brooks, Bradley Beal rip officiating after loss to Clippers

Scott Brooks, Bradley Beal rip officiating after loss to Clippers

WASHINGTON -- Wizards head coach Scott Brooks and guard Bradley Beal have a general policy when it comes to answering questions about officiating. Usually, they avoid details because they don't want to be fined by the league. Often, they say plenty with what they leave unsaid.

Sunday night was not one of those times. After the Wizards' 135-119 loss to the Clippers, both the coach and player broke character, rolled their sleeves up and gave the refs a good old fashioned takedown.

Brooks went first and initially said (sarcastically) the officials got all the calls right in the game. After that, he said what he was really thinking.

"When they grab you and hold you and the rules are saying you've got to call a foul, that's a foul. We don't get that. [Bradley Beal] doesn't get that and it's frustrating," Brooks said.

"The rule is you can't grab a guy with two hands. It's not my rule, it's not their rule; it's the NBA rule. If they're not going to call those more, what are we going to do? We're gonna get frustrated, we're gonna get [technicals] and that's not fair. That's not fun for the coaches, that's not fun for the players, that's not fun for everybody."

Beal, who 20 points and five assists but shot 5-for-18 from the field, didn't hold back, either. And he even explained why he felt he had to speak up this time as opposed to other games when he has been more tight-lipped.

"Honestly, [my frustration] is out the roof. It really is. It's really unfair and unacceptable that they allow a lot of stuff to go on with me out there and I do not calls. Period. It's just unacceptable," he said.

"They fine us for saying something. When we do say something on the floor it's 'oh, I didn't see it' or 'it wasn't my call.' I'm just so tired of hearing that. There's three guys out here. I know nobody's perfect, but the blatant ones have to be called and they're not being called. That s--- ain't fair."

Brooks got a technical for arguing a first-half play he thought should have been a charge taken by Moe Wagner. Davis Bertans and Ish Smith, two of the Wizards' more mild-mannered players, also got T'd up.

Brooks thought Smith getting a technical embodied the evening perfectly.

"When Ish [Smith] gets a [technical foul], I know something's going on. That guys is the nicest guy on the planet. He gets a technical by just telling a referee to call it the same on the other end," Brooks said.

Beal was not assessed a technical, though he said he was appreciative of Smith and Bertans sticking up for him. He also said he feels like the lack of respect from referees has been worse this year and suggested the Wizards aren't getting the respect other teams like the Clippers do because of their 7-15 record.

To be fair, the numbers didn't exactly back up those claims on Sunday. The Wizards had 30 free throw attempts, three more than L.A. did. And Beal led all players with nine. He made all nine of them. Beal is also ninth in the NBA in free throw attempts at 7.2 per game, up from his average last season of 5.5.

This was, though, clearly something that had built over a series of games. And the Wizards are averaging the fifth-fewest free throw attempts per game this season at just 20.4 per contest. The Clippers, for comparison, are fourth in the NBA at 26.2.

But when the Wizards are in a close game with a team like the Clippers, who have way more talent than they do, it is hard for them to accept when they feel the referees aren't giving them a fair chance.

And for Brooks, it was particularly bad for Beal, whom he says "gets held all the time." And it's bad for rookie Rui Hachimura, who made all seven of his free throw attempts but should have had more if you ask his head coach.

"He attacks and he gets zero free throws. I understand nobody knows him, but we know him. That doesn't mean anything. You should be able to get to the free throw line with the way he attacks," Brooks said.

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Bowl season: Penn State, UVA get New Year's Six, the Hokies bowl shuffle and Navy's tough draw

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Bowl season: Penn State, UVA get New Year's Six, the Hokies bowl shuffle and Navy's tough draw

The regular season is over, the conference championships decided and the playoff bracket is set. Yes, it's bowl season. Bowl bids were handed out on Sunday and Penn State, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Navy all found out their postseason fates.

Here's where each team is headed this bowl season:

Penn State vs. Memphis, Cotton Bowl Classic on Saturday, Dec. 28

Ohio State is headed to the College Football Playoff and the Big Ten's Rose Bowl bid is going to Wisconsin. Penn State, however, managed to squeak into the New Year's Six as the No. 10 team in the nation. They will take on Group of 5 representative Memphis who won the AAC.

Virginia vs. Florida, Orange Bowl on Monday, Dec. 30

The Cavaliers are headed to the Orange Bowl for the first time in school history. More on this game here.

Virginia Tech vs. Kentucky, Belk Bowl on Tuesday, Dec. 31

The Belk Bowl always seemed like the likely destination for Virginia Tech, but their opponent was a bit of a mystery. If you were following along on Twitter before things were made official, the Hokies were supposed to play Mississippi State, then it was Tennessee, then Kentucky, then Tennesse again and then back to Kentucky.

Now it's official and we know for sure it will be Virginia Tech vs. Kentucky.

The issue was reportedly Tennessee changing its bowl preference at the last minute.


Navy vs. Kansas State, Liberty Bowl on Tuesday, Dec. 31

Kansas State is the only team in the nation with a win over a College Football Playoff team. They defeated Oklahoma 48-41 in October.

Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo had the quote of the day about his team's matchup.

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