Redskins

Motivated Indy gets past Dolphins 23-20

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Motivated Indy gets past Dolphins 23-20

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Andrew Luck was sensational.

Ryan Tannehill was pretty darn good, too.

All that really mattered to the Colts was that Chuck Pagano was there to see a great duel between the rookie quarterbacks.

In a game that will be remembered for the quarterbacks' head-to-head matchup, Indianapolis gave Pagano an unforgettable memory in his first trip back to Lucas Oil Stadium since being diagnosed with a form of leukemia on Sept. 26. Luck threw for a rookie record 433 yards and two touchdowns, leading the surprising Colts past Miami 23-20.

``I don't think there was anybody in this locker room that wasn't not wanting to give everything to get a `W' today for him,'' receiver Reggie Wayne said of his longtime friend and coach. ``When he walked in after this victory it was tough, it was hard to hold everything back. You saw a bunch of teary eyes and everything. It was a big win for us, and it took everything we had just to get it done. It was even sweeter just to have him here to enjoy it.''

Clearly, Indy (5-3) wanted Pagano around to partake in the fun and the growing talk about playoff possibilities.

And Pagano wanted to be there because, well, his team is playing his way.

The Colts traded jab for jab with the Dolphins (4-4), closing the game out in a manner befitting of Pagano's style - with two big defensive stops and Vick Ballard's 19-yard run for the game-sealing first down.

But the emotions on the field went far deeper than football.

After making an acrobatic catch for a 9-yard TD, Wayne celebrated by high-fiving fans in the back of the south end zone - right above the (hashtag)Chuckstrong sign. Interim coach Bruce Arians also showed a hint of emotion when he talked about Pagano coming back.

Pagano, meanwhile, provided the inspiration with his pregame and postgame speeches along with some perspective on the games themselves.

``I've got circumstances. You guys understand it, I understand it,'' Pagano told the team as it gathered around after the win. ``It's already beat. It's already beat. My vision that I'm living is to see two more daughters get married, dance at their weddings and then lift the Lombardi Trophy several times. I'm dancing at two more weddings and we're hoisting that trophy together, men. Congratulations, I love all of you.''

The timing couldn't have been better for Pagano, who is scheduled to begin a second round of chemotherapy later this week.

But players got their own morale boost from seeing their coach.

``I don't think I heard the first couple of sentences that came out of his mouth,'' Luck said. ``I was just excited to see him there because that's the head coach talking.''

Nobody was better than Luck on Sunday.

He completed 30 of 48 passes, converted 13 of 19 third-down chances and remained under control even when he started moving around in the pocket. He topped Cam Newton's year-old record of 432 yards and tied another record by becoming the NFLs' second rookie quarterback to produce four 300-yard games in a season. The other: Peyton Manning, the quarterback he replaced.

It was an uncanny performance. In addition to Wayne's big catch, rookie T.Y. Hilton made a leaping 36-yard TD catch that Luck threw into double coverage, and no matter what the Dolphins did, they couldn't stop Luck or the inspired Colts.

``We knew we'd have to disrupt him (Luck) a little bit. But we weren't detailed enough, we weren't disciplined enough on our rush,'' Miami coach Joe Philbin said. ``When you have the No. 1 defense on third down, and when a team converts 69 percent of the time on third down, it's a different feel.''

The difference was Luck just made more big plays.

``The kid, he continues to amaze,'' Wayne said after catching seven passes for 78 yards. ``Hopefully I can help, you know, add on to his legacy that he's about to build.''

About to? He's already well on his way.

With the Colts trailing 17-13, Luck hooked up with Hilton on the leaping grab to make it 20-17 with 1:49 left in the third quarter.

Miami got a slicing-and-dicing 18-yard TD run in the first half from Reggie Bush, a play that rekindled images of his college days, and the Dolphins eventually tied the score on Dan Carpenter's 31-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.

But Luck answered immediately with a 13-play, 69-yard drive to set up Adam Vinatieri's decisive 43-yard field goal with 5:58 to go and the Colts wound up celebrating.

``I mentioned before the game that you guys were living in a vision, and you weren't living in circumstances,'' Pagano said. ``You know where they had us in the beginning, every last one of them. But you refused to live in circumstances and you decided consciously as a team and as a family to live in a vision, and that's why you bring things home like what you bring home today. That's why you're already champions and well on your way.''

NOTES: Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon, the reigning AFC Special Teams player of the week, was credited with blocking Vinatieri's 54-yard field goal Sunday. ... Colts defensive end Robert Mathis sacked Tannehill in the first quarter, giving him a sack in his eighth straight game. ... Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake recorded a sack in his fifth consecutive game. ... The Colts had a long postgame injury list that included cornerback Jerraud Powers (toe), right tackle Winston Justice (knee), running back Donald Brown (knee), receiver Donnie Avery (hip), outside linebacker Robert Mathis (back) and center Samson Satele (back). ... Miami linebacker Kevin Burnett, cornerback Nolan Carroll and defensive tackle Paul Soliai all sustained undisclosed injuries.

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—The best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—The best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 20, two days before the Washington Redskins start OTAs.  

Best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

Last week I took a stab at figuring out what the best-case and worst-case scenarios were for the key players on offense and defense. While individual stats are fun to track, it’s what the team does that really matters. What range of outcomes is realistic for the 2018 Redskins? While anything is possible, here are my thoughts on the best they are likely to be able to do and the worst. 

In both cases, I am assuming that the Redskins have reasonably good fortune when it comes to injuries and that the good and bad bounces of the ball equal out over the course of the season. 

Worst case: 6-10, last in NFC East

This is based mostly on Alex Smith having a tough time adjusting to Jay Gruden’s offense, his new teammates, and the NFC. Thinking he could struggle is not just negative thinking, there is history to back it up. 

Smith was traded from the 49ers to the Chiefs in 2013. In his first nine games, he completed just 59.7 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and four interceptions He had an adjusted net yards per attempt of 5.23. Had he finished the season there he would have ranked 28th in the NFL. His passer rating was 81.4, which would have ranked 25th. It’s safe to say he was off to a very slow start. 

But the Chiefs went 8-1 in those nine games. It is doubtful that the Redskins could survive such a slow start. In the past three seasons, with Kirk Cousins at quarterback, they were 4-17 in games where Cousins’ passer rating was under 90. If you drop the ceiling to 81, the record drops to 0-14. 

Kansas City managed to start 9-0 in 2013 because of a running game that produced at least 100 yards rushing every game and a defense that got at least one takeaway every game and got three or more turnovers in a game five times. 

Could the Redskins duplicate that and survive a slow start by Smith? It’s possible, but this is the worst-case scenario. And there is no guarantee that the Redskins will significantly improve a running attack that was 27thin the league last year or a rushing defense that was dead last. 

Offensively, the hope is that Derrius Guice will improve the running game. But rookies are, well rookies. And being a high draft pick is no guarantee of success. In the past three drafts, 20 running backers were drafted in the first three rounds. Of those players, four rushed for 750 yards or more as rookies. Maybe Guice will be one of the productive players but the odds are not in his favor. This isn’t saying he will be a bust; however, he may not have instant impact. 

One other note about the rushing game. It’s important to remember that both tackles are coming off of surgery, the right guard was injured last year, the center has all of six starts under his belt, and left guard remains up in the air. Maybe everything will hum when the season starts but that seems like a tall order. 

Improvement in the stopping the run also relies at least in part on rookies. Daron Payne will have an adjustment period as will Tim Settle. The inside linebacker spot should be stronger but it’s hard to say that it will be a strength. The rushing defense probably won’t be last again, but it may not climb out of the twenties in the rankings. 

The Redskins haven’t been awful at getting takeaways, but they have not done it at a consistently game-changing level. They have three or more takeaways in a game five times in their last 30 games. I don’t see any reason to think that this will change dramatically. 

To put the 6-10 worst-case scenario onto the schedule, the Redskins could go 2-4 in the division with splits against the Cowboys and Giants and getting swept by the Eagles. Against the NFC South, which had three teams with 10 wins or more last year, they might be 1-3. That leaves a split with the AFC South (two of the final eight teams in the playoffs last year) and of their two other NFC games for a 6-10 record. 

Best-case scenario: 10-6, Wild card, win a playoff game

This scenario doesn’t require a whole lot of explanation beyond flipping the elements of the worst case into more positive outcomes. 

Smith could pick up where he left off last year when he completed 67.5 percent of his passes and was third in the league with 7.2 adjusted net yards per attempt. Maybe the yards per attempt will drop some as he tries to find a consistent deep target.

A healthy Jordan Reed would help Smith out tremendously. If Reed can participate in most of training camp, the two could hit the ground running. Smith’s ability to connect with Josh Doctson on some 50-50 balls also will be important. 

As for the running game, Guice could break out early behind a line that gels quickly. It’s not out of the question for him to gain 1,000 yards (that’s just about 65 yards per game), maybe a little more. A healthy Chris Thompson could kick in over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. 

Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis could pick up right where they left off last year before Allen was lost for the season with a foot injury and Ioannidis missed two games with a broken hand and was hampered by the injury for a few weeks after that. That would let Payne and Settle, well, settle into the pro game. 

The Redskins also would need at least to maintain the solid pass defense they had last year. And they would benefit from fewer turnovers on offense (27 last year, 26thin the NFL) and by adding a few takeaways to the 23 they got in 2017.

So how could they pull this off? The would need to go 4-2 in the division, with a sweep of the Giants and splits against Philly and Dallas. They then would need 2-2 records against the NFC South and AFC South. That part of it is probably the toughest task. To get to 10 they would need to beat the Cardinals on the road in the season opener and then have a good day against Aaron Rodgers and get a win over the Packers. It’s not an easy road but if enough pieces fall into place it’s not out of the question. 

A 10-6 record should be good enough for a wild-card spot. If they get through their fairly tough schedule with double-digit wins, they should be good enough to go on the road and take out the three or four seed. 

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) 23
—Training camp starts (7/26) 68
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 82

The Redskins last played a game 139 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 113 days. 

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Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

There was no tougher critic on Matt Niskanen’s Game 5 performance on Saturday than Niskanen himself.

Niskanen and his defensive partner, Dmitry Orlov, were on the ice for all three of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s three goals in the Capitals’ 3-2 loss. That was striking given the Orlov-Niskanen duo is typically Washington’s best defensive pair.

That was not the case on Saturday and Niskanen took full responsibility afterward.

“First three goals are all my fault,” Niskanen said. “I had a tough first 20:30 so I've got to be better next game.”

Pretty much no one played the first goal right.

The goal came just 19 seconds into the game. Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov looked like he could have gotten the puck, but instead played the body of Cedric Paquette. Niskanen stepped up at the blue line, but the Lightning got the puck past him creating a short rush that beat Braden Holtby who was way too far back in the crease.

Yes, Niskanen got caught a bit high, but he was just as at fault as Orlov, Kuznetsov and Holtby.

The second goal happened because Steven Stamkos tripped Orlov to create a turnover and it wasn’t called.

Niskanen got in between Ondrej Palat and the puck, but Palat beat both him and Holtby on the shot. Not sure I would put this one on Niskanen.

The third goal…well, that one was a bad play by Niskanen.

When you go one-on-one with a player, a defenseman cannot allow that player to turn the corner. That’s especially true when that player is defenseman Anton Stralman who is not exactly gifted with blazing speed. This was just a complete misplay.

Regardless of how many goals were strictly on Niskanen, that’s not the point. This was a message not so much to the media but to the team. That message was this: This one’s on me, I will be better next game.

Leaders always take responsibility. Niskanen is taking the blame here and saying he will be better in the hopes the team around him will be better as well.

They will need to be to win Game 6.

“A lot of people counted us out when we were down 0-2 in the first round,” Niskanen said. “Things got hard in the last series where we could have melted and we just kept playing. So that's what we've got to do again, bring our best effort for Game 6 at home, win a game and then we'll go from there.

“But we're focused on bringing our best game of the season for Game 6 and we'll be ready to go.”

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