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Streaking Redskins need 1 more for NFC East title

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Streaking Redskins need 1 more for NFC East title

WASHINGTON (AP) It has something like the feel of 2005, when someone posted a sign that read ``Five in a row or we don't go!'' in the locker room.

The Washington Redskins, 5-6 at the time without much of an offense, then somehow rolled off five straight to claim a wild-card berth.

Or maybe it's more like 2007, when the Redskins dropped to 5-7 following a coaching blunder: Joe Gibbs' decision to call back-to-back timeouts, resulting in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. That allowed the Buffalo Bills to move much closer to kick a winning field goal.

Nevertheless, riding a swell of emotion in the aftermath of the death of safety Sean Taylor, those Redskins took their next four and again claimed a spot in the playoffs - beating the Dallas Cowboys, of all teams, to finish the job.

But, really, 2012 is something else altogether.

These Redskins were 3-6 on Nov. 4. They had just lost what coach Mike Shanahan had proclaimed a ``must win'' against the Carolina Panthers, who entered the game 1-6.

And while Shanahan can massage it all he wants - and he's tried to, in many different ways - he clearly no longer had realistic postseason goals when he spoke after that game.

Shanahan said, among other things: ``You lose a game like that, now you're playing to see who obviously is going to be on your football team for years to come.''

``He was having a moment of frustration,'' defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. ``But I think the whole team knows exactly where he stands, and where we stand is a testament to that.''

Shanahan clarified his remarks two days later, telling the players in the final meeting before the bye-week break that the playoffs remained a possibility. Still, even a veteran like Cofield couldn't envision, say, an NFC East title.

``I thought we needed to win the next game, but I definitely did not look that far in advance,'' Cofield said. ``It was too low of a moment to look and think we could win the division. We wanted to win as many games as possible and hopefully sneak into the playoffs. It was a low point for us. The bye came at a perfect time. We came back and were energized.''

So, as it turned out, that Panthers game wasn't a must win. But every game since then has been.

Six victories later, the Redskins (9-6) are definitely not a team playing ``for years to come,'' as the coach put it that November day. They're playing for this year's division championship, attempting to become the first team since the 1996 Jacksonville Jaguars to rally from 3-6 to the playoffs.

What a sight it will be, therefore, when the Redskins and Cowboys (8-7) meet Sunday night, a game flexed to prime time to mark the end of the NFL's regular season.

The winner takes the NFC East. Dallas will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss. Washington can lose and still get a wild-card spot, but only if the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings lose earlier in the day.

``It is two great franchises playing hard to beat one another, and that is good stuff,'' Redskins tight end Chris Cooley said.

Shanahan said he will tell his players that it will be a game they'll remember for the rest of their lives. The fact they've been playing on the brink for a month and a half should have them well prepared.

``I think they get used to the pressure,'' the coach said Monday. ``Over the last six weeks, they knew every game was do-or-die, and they're used to that scenario.''

The Redskins turned it around by following the leadership of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. His demeanor has lifted the entire franchise and he showed in Sunday's 27-20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles he can win even when he's not as much of a running threat because of a sprained right knee.

There's also rookie running back Alfred Morris, whose 1,413 yards puts him within range of Clinton Portis' franchise record of 1,516. And midseason pickup placekicker Kai Forbath, who had a game ball shipped to the Hall of Fame on Monday after breaking the record for most consecutive field goals to start an NFL career.

The Redskins are no longer the most penalized team in the league - they committed only three against the Eagles - and a defense once on pace to break the NFL record for yards allowed through the air is getting sacks and forcing turnovers.

Washington has exorcised several demons this year. It ended an eight-game losing streak against rookie quarterbacks; a 10-game home losing streak on Monday nights; an 0 for 6 futility against the Cowboys in Thanksgiving games; and a four-year hold on last place in the division.

Now they can clinch their first division title since 1999.

``Everything we've been working for comes back to this weekend, taking advantage of what we've done over the last six weeks,'' Shanahan said. ``It really doesn't mean anything unless we take advantage of our game versus Dallas.''

Notes: S DeJon Gomes has a second degree sprain of the MCL in left knee, which could leave the secondary more short-handed than usual for the regular season finale. ... The coaching staff worked extra hours Friday and Saturday nights to get a head start on the Cowboys game plan, allowing the coaches to have Christmas Eve dinner with their families and arrive later for work than usual on Christmas Day.

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5 things to know about new Wizards senior vice president Sashi Brown

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5 things to know about new Wizards senior vice president Sashi Brown

The Washington Wizards announced Monday that Sashi Brown will be named the new senior vice president for the team.

Here are 5 things to know about Brown...

1. Sashi Brown used to be an executive for the Cleveland Browns.

Yes, you read that correctly. Sashi Brown used to work in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns. Prior to working with the Browns, Brown also worked with the Jacksonville Jaguars as their lead counsel. 

2. Brown is a Harvard Law graduate.

Sashi Brown received his law degree from Harvard University in 2002. Brown utilized his Harvard Law degree with the Jaguars and the Browns to advise them in various business making decisions. He will do the same for the Wizards.

3. Brown has D.C. roots.

Brown is no stranger to D.C. Prior to working with the Browns and Jaguars, Brown worked at the Washington, D.C. based law firm of Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr. 

4. Brown will be moving from Ohio to D.C.

Sashi Brown currently lives in a suburb outside of Cleveland, Ohio, with his wife, Paige and two sons Robeson and Ellison and his daughter, Zora.

5. Brown is only 43 years old.

Sashi Brown is only 43 years old and was featured as a 38-year-old in Sports Business Journal's "Forty under 40" in 2015.

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Wizards show creativity in front office shakeup by hiring Sashi Brown from NFL ranks

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Wizards show creativity in front office shakeup by hiring Sashi Brown from NFL ranks

Now that the pieces are falling into place, the Wizards' months-long process to revamp their front office is beginning to make more sense. The outcome was unexpected, but sensible as the Wizards aim to begin a new era while still holding onto some of their own personnel they see value in.

After allowing Tommy Sheppard to run their offseason with an interim tag, it was only logical to promote him long-term, so that's what they did. Yet, they were still able to bring in a collection of new people to change their direction and vision.

The most notable hiring was of Sashi Brown to serve as a senior vice president. But the Wizards also brought in Daniel Medina to improve their medical program and John Thompson III to assist in player development and wellness.

The Wizards deserve some credit for creativity in the end when at times over the past few months it appeared they lacked it. Reports had them trying to poach from other teams and some of their targets seemed entirely unrealistic. They were criticized for not having their own ideas.

But the Wizards were able to find an intriguing executive in Brown, they just had to look outside of their sport. Wizards managing partner Ted Leonsis scanned the other major leagues including the NFL, MLB and in European soccer. He found Brown in the football industry, waiting for his next gig after he was fired as executive vice president of the Cleveland Browns in 2017.

It is an outside-the-box decision by Leonsis that parallels what the Browns did back in 2016 when they overhauled their front office and brought in Paul DePodesta from the New York Mets, fresh off a run to the World Series. DePodesta was a longtime baseball executive, having served in a variety of roles including as the GM of the L.A. Dodgers. Though he played football in college, the NFL was not his expertise.

The jury is still out on whether the Browns were smart in going that direction. They are seen as a team on the rise, but have yet to accomplish anything of significance.

Brown, 43, certainly understands how a professional sports organization should work, having served both with the Browns and the Jaguars. But he is not an experienced basketball executive. That presents some risk and probably some learning on the job.

The latter point is important to consider regarding the timeline Brown's addition. In hindsight, the Wizards had good reason to not install their new executive in the middle the offseason bustle. Brown will have some catching up to do first.

Brown has never run an NBA team before, but what he did with the Browns is extra-interesting as for how it could pertain to the Wizards. Brown was known as a Sam Hinkie-like figure in the NFL because of the extensive teardown he orchestrated in Cleveland. The Browns tanked, got super young and accrued as many draft picks as possible.

Like Hinkie, Brown was fired before his work brought dividends. But will he advise the Wizards to follow a similar path? That would seem to put trading Bradley Beal on the table, though Sheppard and Leonsis are not in favor of such a move at this point.

Leonsis has compiled a collection of smart people to run his franchise, though only time to tell whether they are a good fit together. Now there are more cooks in the kitchen and they come from different backgrounds. It is worth noting, however, that Sheppard himself has football roots, having played at New Mexico State University.

What happens if it doesn't work will be interesting. Is Sheppard's fate tied to Brown in any way? How long is their leash?

What is clear is that Leonsis is adding more resources to the Wizards. Fans will appreciate that. Most will also like their significant push into analytics.

And it will likely be appreciated by many that Leonsis is taking a risk in this hire. The nature of the NBA rewards those who swing big, those who are aggressive. With this new front office dynamic, Leonsis believes the Wizards can be factors in free agency next summer.

According to a person familiar with their plans, the Wizards aim to enter next offseason with the cap room and young assets to acquire major difference makers. They want to add pieces of significance around John Wall and Bradley Beal. Brown will help them make their free agent pitch.

The operational word for the Wizards now is 'reboot' and not 'rebuild.' The Wizards see a path to contention that doesn't require an extended period of lottery picks.

Few things in sports offer guarantees and certainly, front office hirings are included. The Wizards, though, are showing some imagination and could be rewarded for it.

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