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If the Redskins want back in the playoffs, these are 5 must-win games

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If the Redskins want back in the playoffs, these are 5 must-win games

The Redskins approach the 2019 season with low expectations from experts and oddsmakers. Despite solid investments on the defense, It's easy enough to understand why.

Offensively, Jay Gruden's team is loaded with question marks and settled at very few spots. Their best players are either returning from injury, like Jordan Reed, or holding out, like Trent Williams. At quarterback, the options are a first-round rookie or a pair of veterans, but that doesn't really tell the full story. Case Keenum has had one great year in an eight-year career. Colt McCoy has been a backup most of his ten-year NFL career, and while rookie Dwayne Haskins could be a star, many expect his transition from college to the pros to take time. The team struggled to score in 2018, ranking in the bottom of the NFL in points, and many of the concerns remain. 

Add all that up, and the playoffs could be out of reach for the Redskins. That makes winning these five games of paramount importance:

Week 4 @ New York - The Redskins face a brutal early-season slate, opening in Philadelphia before hosting Dallas and then the Bears in Week 3 on Monday night. All three of those teams made the playoffs last year. An 0-3 start is quite realistic, and after the Giants, the Burgundy and Gold face the Patriots at home in Week 5. This team can absolutely not afford to start 0-5, and even though it's at the Meadowlands, the Redskins must beat the Giants here. A 3-2 start would be incredible for this team, and a 2-3 start would honestly be okay. Even 1-4 is salvageable given the competition. Anyway it's sliced, grabbing the victory in New York must happen. 

Week 7 vs San Francisco - Oddly enough, the Redskins have performed better on the road than they have at home the last few seasons, but this is a home game the team must win. The Niners will be the first team that travel to FedEx Field where Washington could be favored. The first three visitors to FedEx will be the Cowboys, Bears, and Patriots. They will have plenty of fans in the stands and Vegas will probably expect each road team to win that game. 

Week 8 Redskins @ Vikings - If Gruden is going to get his team back to the playoffs, they will have to pick off some road wins. Everyone inside the beltway knows about Kirk Cousins struggles in primetime, and this just seems like a game the Redskins will be very motivated for. The same might be true of Cousins, but even on a short week for Washington, the Redskins must string a few wins together in a row to make a postseason push. 

Week 11 Redskins vs New York Jets - Coming off the bye and facing a Jets team that went 4-12 last season is very obviously a must win. New York spent a lot of money this offseason to add free agents LeVeon Bell, CJ Mosley and Jamison Crowder, not to mention hiring a new coach in Adam Gase, but still, it's the Jets. To avoid being lumped in with the Jets in the bottom of the standings, the Redskins must beat the Jets.

Week 13 Redskins @ Carolina - On paper, this doesn't seem like a good spot for the Redskins, but paper might not matter. There will be tens of thousands of Washington fans in Charlotte, and Gruden's teams have historically played well in front of passionate road fans. Big wins in Los Angeles in 2017 and Tampa in 2018 back that up. There will be one of those wins in 2019, and against the Panthers seems like the best chance. Besides, the Redskins last four games feature road trips to Green Bay and Dallas along with hosting the Giants and Eagles. Washington would be well served adding a victory over Carolina before that final stretch. 

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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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