Nationals

Redskins' Shanahan shows he still has the touch

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Redskins' Shanahan shows he still has the touch

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) Mike Shanahan's once-unquestioned legacy was fading rapidly.

Now, a seven-game winning streak has not only put the Washington Redskins back in the playoffs, it has ended the personal drought of the coach who won two Super Bowls way back when in Denver.

Seven weeks ago, Shanahan was 14-27 after roughly 2 1/2 seasons in Washington. To fans with short memories, he had become associated as much with Donovan McNabb failures as with John Elway successes. Though often touted as a Hall of Fame coach by his peers, it had been seven years since he coached a playoff team.

Turns out, he still knows what he's doing.

``You understand as a coach: unless you get it done, people forget very quickly what you've done,'' Shanahan said Monday. ``So that's why I think a game like winning the NFC East, you get a game like that, you want to find a way to win it. Because once you do, that momentum starts again. ...

``Unless you take advantage of that opportunity, people forget very quickly.''

The Redskins (10-6), division winners after a 28-18 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the season finale, will host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday in the franchise's first playoff appearance since the 2007 season. It's the first home playoff game since a 27-13 win over the Detroit Lions on Jan. 8, 2000.

In Shanahan's history, the more relevant seasons are 1997 and 1998, when he won those Super Bowls with Elway and the Broncos. And 2005, when he made his last playoff appearance with the Broncos. And 2008, when he went 8-8 and was fired, leading to a year out of the NFL before the Redskins hired him in 2010.

Shanahan recalled some of that history Monday, pointing out that the 2006 and 2008 teams were in playoff contention until the final week. He also spoke of the way his current Redskins finally discovered the confidence to get on a roll when another losing season seemed inevitable.

``I'm very proud of this group,'' Shanahan said. ``Because there's a lot of people, when you're 3-6, and you're fighting some adversity, they're not strong enough mentally to really go out there and practice hard, and give themselves a chance to accomplish goals. You've got to have strong character to take criticism and keep on fighting, not worry about what's being said, and just focus on your job. Players, as well as coaches.''

Shanahan certainly heard the criticism when he said the playoffs were no longer a realistic goal immediately after the record dropped to 3-6. He maintains his words were misinterpreted, and his attempts to explain them actually helped the players believe there was still something to play for.

That confusing week seems ages ago. On Monday, Shanahan was clearly in a good mood at his weekly news conference. He joked with a photographer that ``my good side's over here'' and laughed when asked by a reporter whether any players were being suspended this week. The team has a habit of waiting until Shanahan has left the room to announce such bad news.

Asked about the state of quarterback Robert Griffin III's sprained right knee, Shanahan joked: ``I was a little disappointed yesterday because he only averaged 10 1/2 yards a carry.''

On kicker Kai Forbath, who hit an upright to end a streak of 17 made field goals to start a career, the coach said: ``We cut him since he missed that field goal. He's gone.'' Then he recanted with a smile: ``We'll allow him one miss.''

Seriously, Shanahan offered a clue on how he's changed as a coach over the years. Talent, he's learned, isn't enough.

``When you're younger, you're always looking for the best athlete. You always think that athlete is going to get you that championship,'' he said. ``And through experiences you realize that everybody has to know their role. There's only going to be so many great athletes on your football team, and those great athletes, you're hoping that they're your leaders.''

Obviously, Griffin tops that list: The Redskins are 7-0 since he's been made a team captain. But solid locker room guys such as London Fletcher, Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Lorenzo Alexander and a rehabilitated Trent Williams fit that bill, too.

And then there are those hard-to-grasp intangibles: confidence and momentum. The Redskins now have them both.

``I think that's what separates teams,'' Shanahan said. ``Teams that play with a lot of confidence, you get used to winning. You expect to win. You've been in that situation a few times. Whether it's a tough third quarter, it's a tough first quarter or a fourth quarter, and you find a way to win. It's a mindset, a lot of guys believing in each other, concentrating on their job, and in the end finding a way to get it done.

``And when you do that, sometimes you just get used to it. It's one of those things that kind of separates really good teams from average teams.''

Notes: It's been three weeks since Griffin sprained his knee, and Shanahan cautioned it might take a while before the rookie is back to world-class speed. ``Is it a month? Is it a month and a half? You never really know when it's completely healed,'' Shanahan said. ... CB Cedric Griffin's four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing substances is over. He will return to practice Wednesday, and the team will decide by the end of the week whether to restore him to the 53-man roster. ``It all depends on what type of shape he's in,'' Shanahan said.

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3 things to watch as the Nationals try to even the series with Colorado

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3 things to watch as the Nationals try to even the series with Colorado

Here are three things to watch for as the Nationals try to even the series in Colorado: 

1. Brian Dozier's slow start to 2019 seems to be in the rearview mirror. The second baseman hit his third long-ball in four games Monday night inside Coors Field. 

2. How long will Anthony Rendon be held out of the lineup? The third baseman is nursing his left elbow after being hit by a Jose Urena pitch Saturday in Miami. 

3. One of the MLB's best closers remains unsigned 20+ games into the season. Craig Kimbrel could very well help solve an NL East division-wide problem

Coming Up:

Tuesday, 4/23: Nationals @ Rockies, 8:40 p.m. ET, Coors Field

Wednesday, 4/24: Nationals @ Rockies, 3:10 p.m. ET, Coors Field

Friday, 4/26: Padres @ Nationals, 7:05 p.m. ET, Nationals Park

Download the MyTeams app for even more Nationals content, and check out the latest episode of the Racing Presidents podcast below.

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A frustrating Game 6 loss, but Caps can't dwell on the negative

A frustrating Game 6 loss, but Caps can't dwell on the negative

RALEIGH — By the end of the night the frustration was evident. Three times the Capitals have played at PNC Arena during this Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series and three times they have left the ice stick-smashingly angry. 

Capitals coach Todd Reirden screamed at the officials. Alex Ovechkin earned a game misconduct after a mock wave following a late penalty call. By then the Carolina Hurricanes had already assured there would be one final game in this closer-than-expected series with a 5-2 win. Now both teams face elimination with Game 7 looming Wednesday at Capital One Arena. 

Washington’s anger was understandable. Alex Ovechkin apparently poked home the game-tying goal with 9:26 remaining. But while the Capitals celebrated, referee Kyle Rehman blew his whistle. In his view, Ovechkin had shoved Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek’s pads to force the puck into the net. 

The NHL Situation Room in Toronto upheld that call on the ice after the Capitals tied it. Just 1:24 later, ex-Capitals forward Justin Williams stuck a dagger in the heart of his old team with a deflected goal to give the Hurricanes a 4-2 lead.

"I don't think anyone expected it to be easy,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “They played well all series. We were up 2-0 and we were probably fortunate to be up 2-0 and we've been good on home ice and now we have a Game 7 and it is probably good that we have home ice."

There were other issues on Monday. Dmitry Orlov was whistled for embellishment in the second period that denied Washington a power play. Carolina tied the game 2-2 at 1:56 of the second period when referees – in the Capitals’ view – missed an obvious slash by Sebastian Aho on defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler behind the net. His attempted clear was flubbed and Aho found Teuvo Teravainen alone in front for an easy goal.

None of it matters now. The Capitals didn’t play well enough to win anyway, especially in a ragged second period that ominously looked like the 5-0 Hurricanes win in Game 3. Reirden himself admitted that Carolina earned the breaks it got. Goalie Braden Holtby was especially critical of his team for not building on a dominant 6-0 win at home in Game 5 on Saturday. 

“I don’t know. I thought we played pretty well to come out and we just faded,” Holtby said. “I’m not sure why. At this point it doesn’t matter. It’s over with and it’s down to one game.”

The challenge will be leaving all of that negativity in the PNC Arena locker room. One player walked away and said to no one in particular “No goal….what a call.” The sarcasm dripped. But it can’t follow the Capitals back home to Washington. This group of players has plenty of experience putting bad playoff losses behind them. 

If anything carries over into Game 7, however, they could be in trouble. Those days are thought to be long over after last spring’s Cup. And maybe they are. But the Capitals will have to forget about what happened in Raleigh. They have one last chance. It can't be clouded by what happened here.  

"It's over. Again, right now nothing you can do,” Ovechkin said. “After fight, you can't do anything. It was a good battle. Good for them, they win Game 6, and you know, Game 7 is going to be much interesting. We know how to play that. Pressure on both teams, but it's a good chance for us to beat them at home." 

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