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     Guess who’s in first place in the NFC East: the Washington Redskins.

      They’re tied with the Giants at 5-6 after beating the G-men at FedExField on Sunday, 20-14. The teams are also even in head-to-head competition, but the Redskins own the tiebreaker because of a better division record, 2-1 vs. 2-3.

      Few would have thought this possible heading into December, a time when the Redskins are usually playing out the string as they enter an offseason of contemplation.

     “It’s cool to be the leader, but I want to be the NFC East champion,” said Redskins defensive end Ricky Jean Francois. “But we’ve got a lot more work to do.

     “We’re in the driver’s seat,” he added. “We’ve got the keys to the car. It’s in our hands.”

     Yes, the Redskins control their destiny with five games left. That’s because they are a drastically improved squad that has emitted encouraging signs in Jay Gruden’s second season. An infusion of young talent brought in by new general manager Scot McCloughan has made a huge difference, as has the arrival of a series of unheralded veterans who have made significant contributions.

     Francois and two other players in their first season sporting the Burgundy and Gold came up big to snap a five-game losing streak to the Giants.  Quinton Dunbar, an undrafted rookie free agent who shifted from wide receiver to cornerback in August, made a clutch interception in the third quarter, diving in the end zone to haul in Eli Manning’s pass on third and goal from the 4.  He also did an admirable job covering Giants superstar Odell Beckham Jr., while filling in for starter Chris Culliver, who is out for the season due to injuries.

     Fellow cornerback Will Blackmon, a 31-year-old veteran who signed with the Redskins in mid-September, intercepted a bobbled pass.  Safety Kyshoen Jarrett, drafted by the Redskins in the sixth round this year, jarred the ball loose with a wicked hit.

     Those guys helped the defense put the clamps on Manning, who has made it a habit of toying with the Redskins.  In addition to intercepting him three times (he’d thrown only six entering the game), the defense recorded three sacks, two by Pro Bowl linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, and consistently caused Manning to make wild throws.  He finished 26 of 51 (59.4 percent) for 321 yards with two late touchdowns that erased a 20-0 Redskins lead.

     Gruden praised his defense for playing with great effort.

     “Our defense was flying all over the place, which I love to see,” the coach said.  “We had pressure on their quarterback, we had a great hit by Kyshoen Jarrett.  Dunbar had great coverage in the red zone,  Perry Riley had an excellent interception.  I just like the way I felt the great energy on the sidelines.”

     Manning’s counterpart, Kirk Cousins, was solid.  He completed 20 of 29 passes for 302 yards, with a 63-yard scoring pass on a bomb to DeSean Jackson, who is back in full stride.  Cousins also reached across the goal line for a score on a fourth down play at the end of the first half, giving the Redskins a 17-0 lead.  He was not picked off, although Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie dropped a pass in the first quarter that likely would have resulted in a pick-six.

     Plus, Cousins had ample time to throw and was not sacked due to another solid performance by his offensive line.

     Once again, Cousins and his squad played well at home, where they’re 5-1 this season.  But they’re 0-5 on the road, where they seem to look lifeless.  That’s been the biggest mystery about the Redskins thus far.

     “Well, every game’s different,” Gruden said when asked why the team has had more success at home. We just haven’t handled the road ones very well, obviously, with the turnovers and miscues. Today, we had no turnovers, and you can see how much of an impact that has in a football game.  Can’t put our hand on it but eventually we’re going to have to go on the road and win a meaningful game this year.  But we’re worried about Dallas now.”

     The reeling 3-8 Cowboys are up next in a Monday night game at FedEx on Dec. 7.  With quarterback Tony Romo out for the season, that game is one of at least three the Redskins should win among their final five, with road games against Dallas and the chaotic Eagles being the other two.  The other two games against the Bears at Soldier Field (Dec. 13) and the Bills at FedEx (Dec. 20) are toss-ups, but an 8-8 record may be all the Redskins need to win the NFC East, perhaps the worst division in football.

     “It’s great to be in December and playing for something,” Cousins said.  “We have a big one coming up.  The nature of winning is that it just creates bigger games up ahead.  We’re excited about what we did today, but there is a long ways to go and a lot of football left to be played, and we will be the first ones to tell you that.”

Posted By Mike Richman

Nov. 18, 1985: Theismann's Career Ends With a Break

One of the most grisly scenes ever in sports took place on Nov. 18, 1985. Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor penetrated the backfield, leaped on the back of Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, and bulldogged him down as other Giants converged, shattering Theismann’s right leg in several places. Some 53,000 fans at RFK Stadium, plus millions of Monday night TV viewers, witnessed the horrific play, which left Theismann in agony on the field. Seldom-used backup QB Jay Schroeder stepped in and led the Skins to a 23-21 win. Meanwhile, Theismann underwent a rehabilitation process, and vowed to return for his 13th NFL season in 1986. But his right leg failed to cooperate, and he was forced to retire.

Posted By Mike Richman


     The rebuilding plan for the Washington Redskins is right on schedule. A review of their 47-14 dismantling of the Saints on Sunday validates that point.

      The Redskins, who improved to 4-5, played four quality quarters, with important contributions from offense, defense and special teams. After the Saints tied the game at 14 early in the second quarter, the Redskins gradually built a lead and kept their foot on the gas pedal, dropping the reeling Saints to 4-6. That’s what good teams do.

     “We said we wanted to play a full game,” rookie guard Brandon Scherff said in a giddy post-game locker room. “We’ve played some games for only one half. Had a lot of fun out there.”

     They had fun while their three NFC East foes lost, leaving the division like a traffic jam: Giants (5-5), Redskins (4-5), Eagles (4-5). Can the Redskins win the division? Anything is possible in the mediocre NFC East.

     Quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has faced so much scrutiny of his ability to be a quality starter in the NFL, played the game of his life against a weak Saints defense. He posted a perfect 158.3 passer rating after completing 20 of 25 for 324 yards with no interceptions and a career-high four touchdowns. It was the first perfect passer rating in the league this season with a minimum of 20 attempts.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Cousins also became the first Redskins quarterback and the 13th in NFL history to do all of these in the same game:

--- Complete 80 percent of his passes

--- Pass for 300 or more yards

--- Throw at least four touchdowns

--- Throw no interceptions

     Cousins, who is likely to be named NFC Offensive Player of the Week, crafted his flawless performance with four legendary Redskin quarterbacks in the house in Sonny Jurgensen, Billy Kilmer, Joe Theismann and Doug Williams. I’m sure they were impressed.

     “He was obviously very good,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “You have a perfect passer rating, you’re going to be pretty good. But really the people around him. I think the offensive line did a good job. I think players took some short passes, turned them into big plays for him. He delivered the ball with great efficiency, with great decision making, and the results were outstanding, obviously.”

     Cousins wasn’t alone. The running game returned to its dominant form from the first two weeks of the season. After averaging only 2.2 yards per carry over the past four games, the Redskins rushed for 213 yards with a whopping 6.9 average. Alfred Morris, Matt Jones and Chris Thompson rushed for 92, 56 and 54 yards, respectively. Jones also turned a screen pass into a 78-yard touchdown, showing his versatility to find open space and speed to outrace defenders. He’s a keeper.

     Overall, the offense amassed 514 yards, as the Redskins eclipsed the 500-yard mark for the first time since a 37-34 loss to the Eagles in the third week last season.

     The defense, for its part, shut down one of the most explosive offenses in the league. In addition to holding New Orleans scoreless for nearly three quarters, the Redskins put a stranglehold on future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees. After throwing a 60-yard scoring pass that tied the game at 14, Brees struggled the rest of the way and threw two interceptions. Safety Dashon Goldson caught one of them on a deflection and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown for a 44-14 fourth-quarter lead. The defense also stopped the Saints on a 4th and 1 on the Redskins’ 31 early in the fourth quarter.

     The 33-point margin of victory was the Redskins’ largest since beating the 49ers 35, 52-17, in 2005. After the game, Gruden and his troops echoed the feeling that the team had an excellent week of practice after looking lifeless in their 27-10 loss to the Patriots.

     “We practiced with great energy, great focus, and it carried over to the game,” Gruden said. “So it was great to see those guys all step up – offense, defense. Defense against a heck of a quarterback, heck of an offensive scheme over there. Of course, special teams played well, also.”

     Back to Cousins. The fourth-year quarterback will be a free agent after this year. Should the Redskins re-sign him? I’m waiting until the end of this season before saying one way or another, but he made a powerful case against the Saints for being retaining.

     Remember when No. 8 would throw interceptions that resulted from maddening decisions that would make your eyes roll? Get this: He hasn’t thrown an interception that was clearly his fault in more than 13 quarters. The one he tossed against the Patriots was a perfect strike that bounced off of Pierre Garcon. Clearly, the NFL game has slowed down for Cousins, who has become much more patient in the pocket and more astute at reading defenses.

     “I can see the confidence growing in Kirk each week,” said tight end Jordan Reed, who caught two touchdown passes against the Saints.  “He’s a great player.”

     Cousins delivered in a must-win game. A loss would have meant the 2015 season was essentially over, with the 3-6 Redskins staring at 3-7 with one of the league’s best teams, Carolina, on the slate next week. A loss would have also triggered conversation about the status of Gruden, who in his second season must improve on last season’s four-win total by two or three games.

     I keep stressing to those impatient that it’s going to take at least three more seasons for general manager Scot McLoughan and company to round the Redskins into a team consistently able to make a deep push in the playoffs. Just let him work his magic in acquiring talent like he did in Seattle and San Francisco, and good things are bound to happen.

Posted By Mike Richman

Joe Gibbs' Foundation Unveils New Book on Iconic Redskins Coach

      The foundation that Joe Gibbs created in the 1980s to assist at-risk kids, Youth For Tomorrow, is unveiling a new commemorative book on the legendary Redskins coach.

      The book, Joe Gibbs: An Enduring Legacy, is a must-have!  It's a unique item because no book has ever been authored on the man who coached the Redskins to three Super Bowl victories in the 1980s and early-1990s, and will forever stand as one of the most beloved sports figures in the history of the nation's capital.  The book consists of four chapters that focus on the four pillars in the life of Coach Gibbs: the Redskins, NASCAR, Youth For Tomorrow and his deep spiritual life.  It consists of 204 11 x 14 full-color pages with hundreds of photos.  I was happy to serve as a co-author and lead editor of the book.

     Joe Gibbs: An Enduring Legacy is a one-of-a-kind limited edition that is only available with a tax-deductible donation to Youth For Tomorrow.  Don't hesitate.  You can pay by check or go to this page to order by credit card or PayPal: http://www.youthfortomorrow.org/LegacyBook.

     Here is a breakdown on the number of copies of Joe Gibbs: An Enduring Legacy that you receive in return for donating to Youth For Tomorrow:

1 book for $1,000

2 books for $2,000

3 books for $2,700

4 books for $3,600

5 books for $4,500

6 books for $5,000

7 books for $5,600

8 books for $6,400

9 books for $7,200

10 books for $8.000

10 books + 1 Special Leather-Bound Edition for $10,000

     Please click on the promotional flyer (PDF) in this post for more information.    

     Youth For Tomorrow is an amazing organization.  It provides children and families with the opportunity to focus their lives and develop the confidence, skills, intellectual ability, spiritual insight and moral integrity resulting in positive changes that affect the child, the family, the community and the nation.  Children who are referred to YFT have struggled with one or more of the following issues: foster care, poor academic performance/special needs, criminal behavior patterns, substance abuse, bullying, defiance, depression, social anxieties, family crises, mental health disorders, pregnant teens and teen mothers, domestic minor sex trafficked girls, and sexual abuse/exploited youth.  Today, YFT serves boys and girls, individuals and families, and people of all ages with a continuum of serves.  It's residential program based in Bristow, Va., continues to be strong and is complemented by programs serving hundreds of clients in local schools, private homes and community settings.

Thank you!!

The mission of Youth For Tomorrow is to provide children and families with the opportunity to focus their lives and develop the confidence, skills, intellectual ability, spiritual insight and moral integrity - each based on Godly principles, resulting in positive changes to the benefit of the child, the family, the community, and the nation. - See more at: http://www.youthfortomorrow.org/Overview#sthash.I1YqkzDi.dpu

Children who are referred to YFT have struggled with one or more of the following issues:

  • Foster care
  • Poor academic performance/special needs
  • Criminal behavioral patterns
  • Substance abuse
  • Bullying
  • Defiance
  • Depression
  • Social anxieties
  • Family crises
  • Mental health disorders
  • Pregnant teens and teen mothers
  • Domestic minor sex trafficked girls
  • Sexually abuse/exploited youth

- See more at: http://www.youthfortomorrow.org/Overview#sthash.I1YqkzDi.dpuf

Posted By Mike Richman


     When asked for pre-season predictions on the Redskins, I would say a record in the neighborhood of 6-10 or 7-9 should be attainable.

     I qualified each prediction by saying I simply wanted to see progress. I want to be convinced that the Redskins are heading in the direction of someday becoming a perennial contender in the NFL. It’s been a quarter-century since they held that distinction.  Not everything has been been rosy, but we’re witnessing a team that has made positive strides through the first seven games of the 2015 campaign and is emitting signs of a more complete squad.

      The Redskins are 3-4 in a shaky NFC East following Sunday’s improbable 31-30 win over Tampa Bay. That’s only one victory from last season’s total.

      In beating the Bucs, they overcame a 24-0 first-half deficit to record the largest comeback in team history. I know it was only Tampa Bay, which is now 2-4, but the win saved the Redskins’ season because being 2-5 with a game at the Patriots on the slate after the bye week would likely have meant falling into a crater.

      Plus, the Redskins with Kirk Cousins under center have learned how to win. In two of the three victories, the offense engineered game-winning, length-of the-field drives with the clock winding down, an 11-play, 90-yarder against the Eagles on Oct. 4 and an 11-play, 80-yarder against the Bucs.  Such feats have been rare in recent seasons, but this Redskins contingent has done it twice in less than a month.

      “This is who we are,” offensive tackle Morgan Moses told me in the Redskins’ jovial locker room. “This is our identity. It’s a credit to the players and coaches.”

      Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who missed most of the game after injuring his hand, had a sick feeling when he heard the Redskins trailed, 24-0.

      “When I came out of the locker room, I was thinking this is the worst way to go into the bye week,” Kerrigan said. “For us to come back like that, it’s awesome.”

      Morgan pointed out that the game-winning drive against the Eagles gave the offense confidence that it could be done again. It also helped to have a hot hand in Cousins. The Redskins’ quarterback had a terrible start to the game. He was sloppy and off target, and his fumble returned for a touchdown put the Redskins in a 24-0 hole midway through the second quarter.

      But he found his rhythm. After running for a touchdown before halftime and throwing 3-yard scoring passes to receiver Ryan Grant and tight end Jordan Reed in the third quarter, he had the Redskins back in the game. On the final 80-yard drive and facing a 30-24 deficit, “Captain Kirk” turned “Captain Comeback” completed 9 of 11 passes, including a 6-yarder to Reed with 25 seconds left. Dustin Hopkins’ conversion accounted for the one-point margin.

      Cousins ended up playing the best game of his career. He threw a career-high 33 completions, tying Jason Campbell’s single-game team record, with three TD throws, 317 passing yards with a 124.7 quarterback rating, one of the highest of his career. Just as importantly, he threw no interceptions. In fact, he has none in the Redskins’ three wins this season, with two in each of the four losses.

      Cousins, who also led a game-tying drive at the end of regulation against the Falcons two weeks ago, shouldn’t be immortalized when he wins and shouldn’t be lynched with he loses. But you have to see that his game has evolved for the better.  He just has to shed his inconsistencies, such as throwing interceptions at inopportune times.

      “Getting a win is a great feeling,” said Cousins, who’s completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. “You don’t want to sit on a loss in a bye week. That’s always tough. It was a step in the right direction. We’re going to need a lot more than three wins this year, but it was a good step, and we just have to keep learning and keep growing. There were certainly a number of plays that we want to learn from and improve upon.”

      Cousins is a different quarterback when he has Reed, who returned after missing two games due to a concussion, both losses. The 6-2, 243-pound Reed, a mismatch for any defense because of his speed and size, posted career-highs in catches (11) and touchdowns (two) against the Bucs. Cousins is at his best when using Reed as his security blanket, especially in the red zone. It will be a tremendous bonus if the oft-injured tight end can stay healthy for the rest of the season.

      The Redskins beat the Bucs on Homecoming Day, when the team honors its alumni. One former Redskins luminary, original Hog Jeff Bostic, was inducted into the Ring of Fame at FedExField at halftime.

      Redskins coach Jay Gruden said it was “huge” to pull off the biggest comeback in franchise history in front of many players who once wore the Burgundy and Gold.

      “I talked to our team last night about the alumni being here, and these guys paved the way for us being here, as athletes and as professional football players for the Washington Redskins,” Gruden said. “We want to make them proud and show them that all the work that they put into this organization did not go for naught. To come back and battle back and give them something to cheer about on their alumni weekend is an awesome feeling.”

      It’s a good thing the Redskins woke up when they did. Not only would their season have been over – in October no less – but the calls for Robert Griffin III or Colt McCoy to replace Cousins would have intensified, as would speculation about Gruden’s job security in D.C.

      The “Code Red” signal is off for now.

Posted By Mike Richman


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