Nationals

Saints P Morstead eyeing record

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Saints P Morstead eyeing record

METAIRIE, La. (AP) Saints punter and kickoff specialist Thomas Morstead prepared for the 2012 season as if it would be his audition for a new contract.

When he unexpectedly received a lucrative extension as training camp began, the pressure was off in some respects. That, however, didn't change Morstead's approach, and he now finds himself poised to set NFL records.

``You're geared up for that last (contract) year and I got my deal early,'' Morstead said this week of the six-year extension worth $21.9 million he signed in late July.

``In some ways the pressure's on because now they're paying you what they think is your value, so you better perform at that level or you'll lose your job soon enough,'' Morstead added.

He won't have to worry about losing his job anytime soon. If anything, he might have an extra game to play in Hawaii.

With fan voting now closed for the Pro Bowl, Morstead leads all NFC punters with 104,563 votes, making him a front-runner to get the nod for the NFL's all-star game, depending on how voting by coaches and players turns out.

``His numbers speak for themselves,'' Saints special teams coach Greg McMahon said. ``No one would be more tickled if Thomas made it (to the Pro Bowl) than myself and really our franchise. ... He's plenty good enough and he's a great worker and he's a great teammate.''

Morstead leads the NFL with a net punting average of 44.7 yards. Last season, San Francisco 49ers' Andy Lee set the current single-season record in that category at 43.99 yards.

To Morstead, no statistic is more important than the net punting average, which takes into account not just the distance of a punt but how far it is returned. Morstead has shown he can blast punts more than 70 yards down the field, but doing so can be counterproductive if he outkicks the coverage and gives opposing returners room to make plays coming back up the field.

So Morstead came into this season with the goal of setting a record for net punting and wasn't shy about saying so.

``I don't feel bad in going for something like that,'' he said. ``It's 100 percent good for the team. It's not like trying to break the gross average. If I try and bang it 60 yards every time and they get big returns every time, that's a selfish sort of thing.''

``What's neat about it is that it's a team record. It's not how far I punted. It's how far I punted minus how many return yards our team allowed. It's our punt team record. It's pretty cool.''

Morstead is always looking to carefully calibrate the power and direction of his punts, even changing to a rugby-style kick on short punts, to get the optimum distance while sharply reducing an opponent's prospects for a return by either having the ball land out of bounds or by pinning the returner close to a boundary.

``We're big on directional punting,'' Morstead said. ``It's kind of like golfing a little bit, having different clubs in your bag. What are you going to hit this time? You can always have those different clubs in your bag to pull out. What's nice is the other team doesn't know what kind of club I have, so you can kind of pick and choose your spots in what you're going to do.''

At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Morstead does not look out of place on a football field as some specialists do and has a powerful leg, routinely hitting kickoffs through the end zone for touchbacks. His gross punting average is still an impressive 50.3 yards, second longest in the NFL behind Miami's Brandon Field (50.6). The Saints noticed Morstead's leg strength and all around athleticism when he was at SMU. New Orleans used a fifth-round draft choice on the Texas native in 2009.

While punters are rarely drafted, the Saints are pleased with their decision.

``His work ethic's phenomenal,'' McMahon said, even comparing Morstead to locker room leaders like star quarterback Drew Brees. ``His attention to detail and his routine is a lot like Brees. It's really something.''

NOTES: The Saints added RB Pierre Thomas to their injury report with knee soreness and he was limited in practice. ... RT Zach Strief (right ankle) returned to practice on a limited basis. ... RB Chris Ivory (hamstring) and CB Patrick Robinson (groin) also were limited. ... FB Jed Collins (right toe, left knee) was held out of practice.

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Brewers’ unlikely run continues to shrink wild-card gap with Nationals

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Brewers’ unlikely run continues to shrink wild-card gap with Nationals

The Brewers. They are surging instead of sliding, partying in St. Louis over the weekend after winning two of three against the division-leading Cardinals thanks to a ninth-inning grand slam by Ryan Braun on Sunday.

They have won nine of 10 and six of seven since MVP candidate Christian Yelich broke his kneecap, ending his season. Things are tight because of their run. Just two weeks remain in the regular season.

So, here’s where things stand overall: 

  • Chicago is 1 ½ games behind the Nationals for the top wild-card spot.
  • Milwaukee is 2 ½ games behind the Nationals and just a game behind the Cubs. Those three teams mark a breaking point in the standings.
  • The Mets are four games behind the Cubs for the second wild-card spot and 5 ½ behind the Nationals.
  • Philadelphia is six games behind the Nationals and 4 ½ games behind Chicago after back-to-back losses to end the weekend.

 

Fivethirtyeight.com puts the Nationals chances of making the postseason at 93 percent.

 

Coming up Monday:

San Diego at Milwaukee, 7:40 p.m., Richards (5-4, 3.66 ERA) vs. Davies (9-7, 3.77)

Washington at St. Louis, 7:45 p.m., Strasburg (17-6, 3.49) vs. D. Hudson (15-7, 3.38)

Cincinnati at Chicago, 8:05 p.m., Gausman (3-8, 5.83) vs. Hamels (7-7, 3.89)

New York Mets at Colorado, Matz (10-8, 3,84) vs. Senzatela (9-10, 6.87)

 

Philadelphia is off.

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Case Keenum isn't the Redskins problem, and Dwayne Haskins won't fix it either

Case Keenum isn't the Redskins problem, and Dwayne Haskins won't fix it either

The Redskins have lots of problems, but Case Keenum isn't one of them. Through two games this season, Keenum has thrown for 600 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. 

He hasn't been great, and he's missed some big opportunities, but Keenum isn't even close to the main reason why the Redskins are 0-2. Not even close. 

"I think he handled it really well. He might’ve miss a few throws here or there," Washington head coach Jay Gruden said of Keenum after the Cowboys loss. "He’s not taking many sacks, he’s getting out of the pocket, he’s making plays, and I love his competitiveness. I think that will rub off on the entire football team if it hasn’t already. Guys like to play for him and play with him.”

The Washington defense surrendered at least 30 points in consecutive losses to the Eagles and the Cowboys to start the 2019 campaign. The defense has given up at least 400 yards in both losses. The defensive front, the presumed strength of the Redskins team, has piled up a whopping two sacks through two games. Two. 

Offensively, the Redskins haven't been great, or even very good. Keep in mind, however, the expectations for Washington's offense weren't particularly high. Gruden has frequently talked how his team is built to "win ugly" and that the head coach is fine with low-scoring victories. 

Well, Keenum has delivered enough for those type of wins. The defense just isn't holding up their end of the bargain. In two games the Redskins have averaged 24 points with zero turnovers. That's more than enough to win ugly. 

And the truth is Keenum deserves almost all of the credit for the Redskins offensive production. The run game has been abysmal thus far. Through the first two losses, no running back has gained even 30 yards, and the Redskins collectively have less than 100 yards rushing. 

Whatever offense there has been has come from Keenum. He's missed a few big plays - a potential TD throw to Terry McLaurin in the second half of the Eagles loss and a blatant miss of a wide-open Paul Richardson against the Cowboys really stand out. But he's also made plenty of good throws and engineered some good drives. 

Keenum has also proved quite level-headed. He came to Washington knowing he had to compete for the starting job. His whole career he's been overlooked, and that has molded him into a veteran presence with a clear head. 

"Sometimes you must grind it out. It’s not always going to look pretty either, but I trust all those guys in that locker room and know that they’re going to fight no matter what," Keenum said.

Since this is Washington, there are always fans calling for the backup quarterback. In this case there is genuine excitement for Dwayne Haskins, the rookie 15th overall pick and Keenum's backup. Haskins has All Pro potential but hasn't hit the field yet. And frankly he shouldn't. Keenum has done plenty to keep a stranglehold on the starting job.

That said, late in both games this season the Redskins have been playing in situations where the result was mostly out of hand. Could Gruden give Haskins a drive to get him some real game action? Sure, but that would create a laundry list of postgame questions that Gruden probably wants to avoid. Plus, there are senior Redskins officials that are truly committed to Haskins spending the year on the bench to really learn the game. A random fourth quarter drive won't change that tremendously, in either direction. 

For now, it's Keenum, and it's the right call. He's been pretty good, and he's done enough for Washington to be in games.

"None of us expect to be average. We all want to score 100 points," Keenum said after the loss to Dallas. 

Of course the quarterback doesn't want to be average, but before the season started, the Redskins would have taken average from their QB. The plan was for low-scoring football that Washington wins with defense. 

Keenum has been better than average, the defense just hasn't shown up.

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