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After a tumultuous week, Redskins get a desperately needed victory

After a tumultuous week, Redskins get a desperately needed victory

FEDEX FIELD -- They needed that.

After a tumultuous week where headphones and Hollywood dominated the conversation, the Redskins needed that win over the Carolina Panthers. 

It wasn't always pretty, and late in the game it seemed to be slipping away, but Jay Gruden's team showed determination in a spot where plenty expected them to fold. 

"I don't think anybody can enjoy success all the time. You're going to face adversity and we have to meet it," Gruden said following the 23-17 win. "It was great to see our guys bounce back."

The last time Redskins fans saw the burgundy and gold, the team had just been dominated by the Saints. The secondary played bad as Drew Brees went for more than 360 yards, and gave up multiple big chunk plays for touchdowns. The Monday night meltdown in New Orleans made for an uneasy week in Ashburn, and that was before a series of media reports challenged the team and cornerback Josh Norman. 

He was a big part of the errors in New Orleans and then got into a Twitter beef with Saints WR Michael Thomas. After that, former Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall suggested Norman was too focused on his post-NFL television career to play his best football.

Whether or not the "Hollywood" criticism bugged Norman, he responded in a major way with an interception and a forced fumble against Carolina. 

"This week was a little bit different, I'm not going to lie. People came from everywhere," he said. 

After the Saints game, Norman explained that he called a team meeting to clear the air with the secondary. Blown coverages could not continue if the Redskins were to get back to winning games, and Norman wanted to change things. Maybe the meeting helped. 

"Everything we do, we do as a unit, as a group. Regardless of what the outside noise, outside of us, we got to come together," Norman said. "And we got to come together now."

That formula worked well for Norman, and for much of the game, it worked for the Redskins.

The offense played well in the first half, though again struggled to score TDs in the second half. Through five games, the Redskins have just one second-half touchdown, and that came in the blowout Saints loss. 

Newton drove the Panthers down the field for the possible game-winning TD. The former MVP had four chances to win the game, but the defense held. Newton lost for the first time in his career against Washington, bringing his all-time record to 4-1. 

But all games aren't created equal. 

Sure, the Redskins snapped a five-game losing streak to Carolina. Washington hadn't beaten the Panthers since 2006. 

Bigger than that, however, Gruden's team showed the ability to fight back from a demoralizing loss. Too many Redskins teams of the past folded under the pressure of bad losses and outward noise. 

This Redskins team didn't.

"We've been tested, and you have to respond," Redskins WR Paul Richardson said after the game.

The high-priced free agent addition from this past offseason, Richardson played well against Carolina, hauling in a first-half touchdown. He also understands the enormity of the victory.

"I think even in losing a game like we did last week, we were tested as men to bounce back, to lock in, to focus and make this game important. And we did that."

There is plenty to critique and question from the Redskins win. The second-half offensive struggles are significant, and QB Alex Smith again did not make enough plays down the field. 

The Redskins got the win though, and sometimes getting the win is enough.

Remember, they needed that.

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'Just plain dirty': Trevor Matich blasts Keanu Neal after hit on Jordan Reed

'Just plain dirty': Trevor Matich blasts Keanu Neal after hit on Jordan Reed

On Thursday, the Redskins earned their first preseason victory of the season, defeating the Falcons 19-7 on the road in Atlanta.

But after the game, celebrating an exhibition win was not in the cards. Attention was turned directly to the health of Washington's star tight end.

After absorbing a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit from Falcons safety Keanu Neal in the second quarter, resulting in his helmet flying off, tight end Jordan Reed was forced to exit the contest. No. 86 started feeling concussion-like symptoms at halftime, and head coach Jay Gruden confirmed after the game that Reed had entered the concussion protocol.

The tight end has a history of concussions. If diagnosed with a concussion again, this would be the seventh documented instance for Reed since he started playing college football.

On Redskins Postgame Live, saying that NBC Sports Washington's Trevor Matich was furious about Neal's hit would be an understatement.

“Just looking at that hit, I thought it was a dirty hit. It was dirty," Matich said. "The safety coming up had plenty of time to see what was going on. Reed was in the grass. Reed didn’t duck his head down, and ended up taking a helmet to his head because of a defender coming in low and didn’t expect Reed to duck."

Matich completely put the blame on Neal and emphasized that there's no place for a hit like that, especially during exhibition football when the games don't count in the standings.

"Reed didn’t duck his head. That defender came in high," he said. "That was a dirty hit. It would have been dirty in the regular season, and especially dirty in the preseason.”

The play resulted in a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty. But it's fair to question whether Neal deserved a harsher punishment.

Santana Moss was asked whether he thought Neal should have been ejected for the hit, and he had no doubt in his answer.

“It should have been," Moss said. "I saw last week in a preseason game a guy had one shot to the head and he was out of there."

Inconsistent officiating has been an issue in the NFL for several years. 

As the league continues each year to alter the rules in order to make the game safer, Moss wants to see the officiating improve its consistency as well.

"That’s one thing I wanted to see, that our officials do better," Moss said. "We talk about all the rules they are changing and the way they’re going to ref these games. When you see something like that, instantly get the guy out of there. This is something that we’re not trying to tolerate. If you allow guys to do this, you’ll find guys in situations like Jordan Reed.”

The NFL continues to try and make the game safer. Many rules have been put into effect recently to eliminate hits like Neal's. Of course, defenders largely dislike these guidelines, claiming it takes away from their ability to defend receivers. Some fans may dislike the lack of contact as well. 

“It takes away some spectacular hits that fans want to see," Matich said.

But at the end of the day, the NFL is a business. 

"Ultimately, this is family entertainment in the NFL. Head trauma is not good for business," Matich said. "It’s just not. You have an expense of losing some of those fantastic hits, but you also have fewer concussions and problems."

While Neal's hit may have been deemed acceptable and regarded as a great hit a decade ago, there's no place for a hit like that in today's NFL.

"I thought that hit right there was just plain dirty," Matich said.

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Cassanova McKinzy brave in face of stepbrother’s death with standout performance vs. Atlanta

Cassanova McKinzy brave in face of stepbrother’s death with standout performance vs. Atlanta

In the Redskins' 19-7 preseason victory over the Falcons, outside linebacker Cassanova McKinzy arguably solidified his spot on the 53-man roster. 

The former Auburn linebacker recorded three tackles and two sacks, one of which resulted in a forced fumble. The other, McKinzy blew by the left tackle using a Demarcus Ware-like technique to have a free run at the quarterback.

McKinzy, who is positioning himself to be on an active roster to start a season for the first time in his career, was asked by NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay if any of the coaches had said anything to him regarding his stellar performance and roster status.

"I had a couple of coaches saying 'good job,' but I haven't talked to anyone," McKinzy told Finlay. "I stayed out there a little longer than I was supposed to."

After the clock hit zero and the initial on-field postgame exchanges concluded, McKinzy stayed a little bit longer on the turf. He had to let his emotion out.

Just three days prior, the linebacker's stepbrother had passed away. 

"I haven't cried all week. I haven't let anything out. I haven't told anybody. That was just my time to let it all out," McKinzy said. "I feel a little better, and when I get around my family, I'll feel even better. I'll see them tonight."

Despite his devastating loss, McKinzy was able to stay focused on football. Very few people, if anyone, in Redskins Park knew what the linebacker was going through.

He didn't want anyone to know, either.

"No one really knew. I didn't tell anyone because, at the end of the day, it's still my job," he said. "I don't want any pity from nobody. I just want to go out there and do my job and show that I can keep focus, no matter what's going on in my life."

"I have to do my job," he continued. "In that building, the only thing that matters is football. Everything else, you have to keep outside the building."

The linebacker was able to do just that on Thursday, as his standout preseason continued. In the three seasons since he went undrafted, McKinzy has just one NFL tackle to his name. He's changed his body and gotten quicker, and if this preseason is any indication, he could be a viable pass rusher for the Burgundy and Gold in 2019. 

While No. 58 would not say he dedicated his performance to his late stepbrother, it did give him, if anything, a little extra motivation.

"I would say half and half," on whether he dedicated his performance to his late step-brother. "I came out today saying I was going to work on some things, and I worked on them. I came out and said I was going to start reading, being better with my keys and more consistent running to the ball. Just paying attention to what the tackles were giving me, the whole nine."

While he's likely played himself onto the 53-man roster, McKinzy doesn't believe he's a sure thing yet.

"I wouldn't say lock, I still have a lot of work to do," he said. "It felt real good just to be back out there and do what I know how to do."

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