Redskins

Panthers eliminate Bolts from playoff picture

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Panthers eliminate Bolts from playoff picture

SAN DIEGO (AP) Mike Tolbert, Cam Newton and the rest of the Carolina Panthers came to San Diego with no chance of making the playoffs.

Now the San Diego Chargers are out of the playoff picture, as well.

Tolbert scored twice against his former team and DeAngelo Williams turned a tipped pass from Cam Newton into a 45-yard touchdown reception to lead the Panthers to a 31-7 victory against the punchless Chargers on Sunday.

Carolina (5-9) won consecutive games for the first time since last December.

``It's a great feeling to be able to score the first two touchdowns back here,'' Tolbert said. ``It's indescribable.''

The Chargers (5-9) clinched their first losing season since 2003, when they were an NFL-worst 4-12. Coach Norv Turner is expected to be fired at season's end, most likely along with general manager A.J. Smith. They will miss the playoffs for the third straight season.

The Chargers did a face-plant a week after upsetting the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-24 to remain mathematically, if not realistically, alive in the playoff picture.

Some of that might have had to do with Tolbert extensively briefing the defense about his former team.

Also, Panthers coach Ron Rivera was with the Chargers from 2007-2010, first as inside linebackers coach and then defensive coordinator. Also, Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski is a former Chargers tight ends coach.

``Now that the game is over, I can go ahead and say it. I gave a lot of tips to our defense about their offense, the keys, the checks, the audibles and stuff like that.'' Tolbert said. ``I think that helped. I think they had less than 200 yards of offense. Our defense played great, so it definitely helped.''

Tolbert, who left San Diego as a free agent in March, capped Carolina's first two drives with 1-yard scoring runs.

Tolbert leaped over the top of the pile for his first TD to cap the game's opening drive, which went 80 yards in 13 plays.

``They don't think a little fat man can jump but I can definitely get up,'' Tolbert said.

His second TD was set up when Philip Rivers lost a fumble. Tolbert went in standing up for a 14-0 lead.

Both times he did his TD dance, the Dougie.

``That's in my nature. I'm a guy that loves to have fun when I'm playing games, so I'm going to dance regardless,'' he said.

``You can't critique that,'' said Newton, who cut his right index finger just before halftime and twisted an ankle, but said he'll be OK. ``He has a wild range of moves in his repertoire. I don't think even he knows what he's going to do.''

Tolbert said his split from the Chargers wasn't about money.

``Some things happened between myself and the front office that I'd rather not get into,'' said Tolbert, who's on a long list of players shown the door by Smith, in danger of losing his job because of glaring roster deficiencies. ``Let's say things didn't happen the way we thought they were going to happen.''

The running back said he played with ``a whole bag of chips'' on his shoulder.

Tolbert doubled his touchdown production this season. His two touchdowns in a span of 3:35 were one more than San Diego running back Ryan Mathews has this season. Mathews broke his left collarbone in the second quarter. He broke his right collarbone in the exhibition opener.

``Anytime you know about the personnel it helps you game-plan, especially on defense,'' Rivera said. ``Knowing about Gates, knowing about Malcom Floyd, knowing about Philip, that was huge.''

Said Newton: ``It was kind of a gift or a curse to a degree because there was a lot of familiarity coming into this game with a lot of coaches on each other's staff before, knowing what they were trying to get done. But it came down to the players executing.''

Rivers lost another fumble in the fourth quarter, his 22nd turnover this season and 47th in less than two full seasons. He was sacked six times. Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson had two each.

San Diego lost for the eighth time in 10 games, and dropped its third straight home game.

``I wasn't thinking about the playoff scenarios,'' Turner said. ``When you are not able to handle the things you have to do on a day-to-day basis or game to game, it's hard to consider yourself a playoff team.''

The only bright spot for the Chargers came when Antonio Gates tied Hall of Famer Lance Alworth's club record with his 81st career touchdown catch, a 9-yarder from Rivers with 14:02 left. Gates just got his second foot down before going out of bounds.

That score was set up when the Chargers got their best starting field position of the day, on the Carolina 38, when Larry English recovered Williams' fumble.

Until then, the Chargers had run only two plays from scrimmage in Panthers territory, reaching the 44.

Gates' TD allowed the Chargers to avoid their first shutout since a 34-0 loss at Kansas City on Oct. 31, 1999, a span of 211 regular-season games.

The Chargers had kept their faint playoff hopes alive with a 34-24 upset win at Pittsburgh a week earlier, but couldn't get out of their own way at home.

Newton was 19 of 33 for 231 yards and two touchdowns as the Panthers followed up their 30-20 upset victory against Atlanta with their first consecutive victories since beating Houston and Tampa Bay last December.

Rivers dropped back to pass on the Chargers' first possession and the ball flew out of his hand for a fumble that was recovered by Nate Chandler at the San Diego 21. Four plays later, Tolbert went in standing up to make it 14-0.

After forcing the Chargers to punt, the Panthers needed six plays to go 72 yards and take a 21-0 lead. On second-and-10 from the Chargers 45, Newton's pass was tipped by Jarret Johnson. Williams plucked it out of the air and took it all the way in for a touchdown.

The Panthers piled on with Graham Gano's 33-yard field goal with six seconds before halftime and Newton's 4-yard scoring pass to Steve Smith midway through the third quarter for a 31-0 lead.

Rivers was 16 of 23 for only 121 yards, his fifth-lowest total as a starter. San Diego was outgained 372 yards to 164.

NOTES: Turner's son, Scott, is offensive quality control coach for the Panthers. ... Carolina G Zack Williams injured his knee during pregame warmups. ... Attendance was announced as 53,832 but there were fewer than that in the 70,000-seat stadium. It was the third straight TV blackout in Southern California and the fourth this season. ... At 2-5, the Bolts will have their first home losing record since 2003, when they were 2-6.

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NFL expert believes Scott Turner will build an offense to cater to the Redskins strengths

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NFL expert believes Scott Turner will build an offense to cater to the Redskins strengths

Most of the time in the NFL, successful offenses consist of schemes built around its player's strengths, rather than the other way around.

For much of the last decade in Washington, there's been a large difference between the offensive player's strengths and the scheme they've run.

But with new offensive coordinator Scott Turner now in charge, Rotoworld's Josh Norris no longer believes that will be the case in Washington.

Norris joined the Redskins Talk podcast in Miami and gave a lengthy example from Turner's first game as offensive coordinator in Carolina as a way of showing how the young coordinator came up with a game plan to fit his team's personnel.

"Curtis Samuel is one of the best receivers with the ball in his hands in the NFL," Norris said. "Yet, [the Panthers] were sending him on these vertical routes where he was creating separation and getting open, and the quarterbacks just couldn't get him the ball. It was awful."

Norris went on to explain that in Turner's first opportunity as offensive coordinator, he called three or four plays designed for Samuel out of the backfield during the Panthers' first two offensive series. 

"He understands where his players win," Norris said of Turner. "If they're not getting the ball enough, [Turner] seems willing to draw up plays each and every week to get his players the ball."

Last year, the Panthers' best wide receiver was second-year veteran D.J. Moore. The Maryland product finished the season in the top-10 in both receiving yards and yards per game, despite having a limited route tree, according to Norris.

With inconsistent quarterback play between Kyle Allen and Will Grier, Turner was able to design plays that catered to what Moore does best: catch intermediate passes across the middle.

"I think D.J. Moore is a very good player. Speaking of another Terp, he's no Stefon Diggs in terms of going out there, running the route tree, creating separation in isolation every single time," Norris said. "Moore right now is kind of a dig, a slant, a crosser, a drag route guy. He's not someone who can run this full, all-encompassing route tree. The Turners understood that, and gave him the ball, fed him the ball 7-10 yards from the line of scrimmage and allowed him to win in after the catch."

The success of Turner and the Redskins offense in 2020 will largely depend on the jump quarterback Dwayne Haskins makes from his rookie season to Year 2. The Redskins offense a year ago was not designed to suit Haskins' strengths. Washington was one of the most run-heavy teams in 2019, although the ground game brought them little success.

When the Redskins drafted Haskins, he was a raw product. Then-head coach Jay Gruden did not plan to play the rookie much in 2019. The Redskins planned to win in 2019 with their running game and defense — something they did well in 2018 before Alex Smith got hurt — but both units failed to live up to expectations.

Haskins was inserted into the lineup as the starter in Week 9 and seemed to improve each week. But it took a while for the Redskins to sway away from the offensive philosophy they started this season with to change into one that could get the most out of their rookie passer. Haskins only started to look like a competent, potential franchise QB in the final two games he played.

Like the Redskins, Turner underwent a lot of change last season in Carolina. One of the things that impressed Norris the most was his ability to alter his system.

"There's nothing more impressive to me, with Norv and Scott being around for so long, but willing to adapt and change," Norris said. 

During Turner's introductory conference call with reporters earlier this month, he emphasized the versatility of his system as one of his greatest strengths.

“If you look at the offense and the system that we have been a part of, talking about my dad and going back to him – the different places that we've been our offense has looked a little different," Turner said on Jan. 15. "It is still the same system, but we have versatility within our system where we're going to really fit and play to our player's strengths. So right now, as a coaching staff we're really trying to get to know these guys."

Turner also spoke highly of Haskins and seemed to have a solid plan of action to run a successful offense.

"Dwayne, you obviously see the big, strong guy who can stand in the pocket and really push the ball down the field," Turner said. "We're going to want to use a lot of play-action pass and then something also he's done a good job of in his past and in college too is just being able to get the ball out quickly and kind of distribute the football to the playmakers and let them make the plays for him."

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How can Ron Rivera and the Redskins become contenders? Mike Rizzo gives his advice

How can Ron Rivera and the Redskins become contenders? Mike Rizzo gives his advice

If a college offered a How to Build a D.C. Team Into a Champion class, Mike Rizzo would be an apt choice to lead the course.

Rizzo has been a top executive with the Nationals since 2009, when he assumed the role of general manager. He's overseen Washington's rise from NL East fodder to NL East contender to, of course, now World Series winners. 

The process was arduous, but Rizzo was steadfast in his approach through it all and was committed to sticking to his values and his roster. He was the perfect leader to help elevate the Nats to the top of baseball, and he's also the perfect person to give advice to Ron Rivera and the Redskins as they try to make the same climb in football.

So, the Redskins Talk podcast searched for that kind of advice on Wednesday when Rizzo sat down with them in Miami at Super Bowl LIV.

Rizzo, who's actually already fond of Rivera since Rivera played for Rizzo's beloved Bears, looked back on the early days of his rebuild with the Nationals, stressing the importance of having a vision.

"It's very difficult. It's more difficult towards the fan base," Rizzo explained. "With them, we were honest and up front and kind of mapped out what our blueprint was for how we were going to develop this thing... From that day on we had a blueprint and a plan of how to do this. When I took over as GM in 2009, we started implementing the plan."

It seems as if Rivera is being allowed to begin his tenure in a similar way. The two-time Coach of the Year is the key component in what Dan Snyder has called a "coach-centric" structure, and so far, Rivera has brought in plenty of new figures at all levels of the organization. He'll likely do the same when free agency and the draft come and go.

That's just the beginning, obviously, which Rizzo discussed. It's rare for a franchise to flip its fortunes in a flash, especially when they're in bad as shape as the Curly Ws once were or the Burgundy and Gold currently is. But growth should happen, and that growth will hopefully lead to an eventual explosion.

"We saw small increments of improvement," Rizzo told Redskins Talk. "We went from 59 wins to 69 wins. From 69 wins to 80 wins. And then we went on our big runs."

Rivera is taking over a group that just went 3-13, and while there's plenty of optimism for what he can do, the progress may initially be slow. Six victories in 2020, for example, won't result in a playoff berth but would represent quite a jump. Yet even with what could be an uninspiring record in Rivera's debut season, there may be some vital developing going on.

"It happens most powerfully in places that nobody sees," Rizzo said. "It's down at the grassroots."

In the end, Rizzo has emerged from the Nationals' ascension understanding that making a team into a legitimate force is insanely difficult. However, the task becomes more doable if there's patience and unity between the people calling the shots. 

Essentially, in that hypothetical How to Build a D.C. Team Into a Champion class, the following quote from Rizzo would be the principle takeaway.

"Sometimes you have hiccups and take steps sideways or even take steps backwards," he said. "Ownership better be on board, you better have their support, they better have the blueprint in front of them and believe in the dream. And you better have the personnel in the front office and the decision-makers to make sometimes scary decisions. You can't be afraid to make big decisions and bold decisions to accomplish big things."

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