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Second-guessing is poison. Especially in college basketball. While a coach needs to evaluate moves made on the recruiting trail, practice floor, and game situations, one can’t do too much second-guessing if they want to stay sane-or successful (if a coach would have to choose between the two, most would pick the latter). But I wouldn’t have a problem if Maryland Interim Coach Danny Manning was rethinking his decision to leave the comfortable confines of ESPN (where studio and game analysts consistently go unbeaten) last spring to join the Maryland program. Less than eight months after joining Mark Turgeon’s staff, Manning succeeded his longtime friend and onetime teammate at Kansas in December when Turgeon and the school parted ways. Since then Manning’s had to deal with a team that’s played well enough to take second half leads in six of their seven Big Ten games…only to start 1-6 in the conference.

While it finally appeared as though the Terps had made progress in their 94-87 double overtime win at Northwestern, the team blew an 11-point halftime lead against Rutgers in a 70-59 loss. Tuesday there was minimal suspense as Michigan turned an 11-9 lead into a 39-19 cushion en route to an 83-64 win over the Terps. The team that entered the night allowing opponents to shoot 41% (seventh best in the Big Ten) allowed the Wolverines to hit 58% of their shots. And the player who had seen playing time and productivity increase (Hakim Hart was averaging 13 points over 34 minutes since with Manning running the show after averaging 7 and 27 under Turgeon) scored just one point over 23 minutes in Ann Arbor.

How bad will things get this season for 9-9 Maryland? The Terps began the year in the Top 25 but will now be hard-pressed to finish in the top ten–of the Big Ten (for those into math the conference has 14 schools). Manning is tinkering with the starting lineup, having started freshman Julian Reese for the first time in his career against Rutgers while Xavier Green and Ian Martinez notched their first starts of the season against Michigan. “We’re at a point now where we’re going to push some buttons, do some things that are a little bit different and see what happens from there.” Manning said. “Everyone needs to continue to push forward and pull their collective weight and do the things that we need them to do for our team to be successful.” They’ll need to find the right buttons and fast, as four of Maryland’s next seven opponents are currently in the Top 25 while two others received votes. The seventh game? At a Rutgers team that rallied to beat the Terps in College Park. It could get rather late early this winter in College Park.

This Week’s Starting Five:

Up Top- After previously unbeaten Baylor lost twice last week Gonzaga is the new number one while Auburn is number two despite having more first place votes this week. The Tigers have been on fire the last couple of weeks yet I kept them behind the Bulldogs because even midway through January they still have more wins against ranked teams. The Zags have also blown out West Coast Conference foes BYU (once as high as No. 12 in the rankings) and Santa Clara (sneaky good with wins over Stanford and TCU). An impressive win over a Kentucky team that blew out Tennessee might move Coach Bruce Pearl’s team into the top spot. Toughest omissions on this week’s ballot: Miami, Iowa, and UConn.

Going Inside- DC was the home for two thrilling games on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, with George Washington edging George Mason 77-76 by finishing regulation on a 13-2 run where they held the Patriots to 1-4 shooting with four turnovers. Joe Bamisile’s layup with 3.4 seconds left completed the comeback and the guard also blocked a pair of shots during the rally. For GW it’s their first league win, while Mason played its first game in almost three weeks due to COVID-19 concerns. It was a big victory for Coach Jamion Christian’s team who goes on the road for three straight, while Coach Kim English’s crew has plenty of positives to build upon as they play five of their next seven at Eagle Bank Arena. Across the city at the same time, Howard took Notre Dame to the wire in a 71-68 loss that was nip and tuck for 40 minutes. Steve Settle III poured in a career-high 25 points. But the Bison (6-8, 0-1 MEAC) have little time to bask in a near-upset of an ACC school because Coach Kenny Blakeney’s team has four straight road games.

On the Perimeter- Towson and Loyola (MD) don’t compete in the same league, but the two schools in the Baltimore area often have an eye on what the other is doing, and there’s definitely reason to do so this winter. The Tigers (13-5, 4-1 CAA) are percentage points behind UNC-Wilmington for the conference lead and host the Seahawks Saturday. Coach Tavaras Hardy’s team is doing it with defense, allowing a league-low 64.4 points per game while currently leading the CAA in rebounding margin. UT-Martin transfer Cameron Holden had made an immediate impact by leading the team in scoring and rebounding (the 6-foot-5 senior ranks third in the CAA with 9.1 boards per game). Meanwhile, the Greyhounds have won five in a row and are led by Cam Spencer who paces the Patriot League in scoring (19.1 points per game) and steals (2.1). Loyola last made the NCAA Tournament in 2012 (under then-Coach Jimmy Patsos) while Towson last danced in 1991. Each school has a chance to make late-February/early-March interesting this year.

Who’s Open- Friday Maryland meets No. 17 Illinois in College Park. The Terps lost by 12 in Champaign earlier this month in a game where they rallied from 14 down in the first half to take a five point second half lead. The Illini is coming off of its first Big Ten loss of the season (an overtime defeat against No. 4 Purdue) and brings more than a desire to bounce back to Xfinity Center: center Kofi Cockburn averages 21 points and 12 rebounds per game while netting 23 with 18 against the Terrapins January 6th. Having defended him already, how will the Terps approach Cockburn this time?

Last Shot- American saw four of its first six games after Christmas Day either get canceled, postponed, or rescheduled. But Sunday AU posted its first Patriot League win of the season by beating Bucknell 63-55 as sophomore Colin Smalls scored 18 points (he had 26 over seven games as a freshman last winter). The Eagles dominated inside, scoring 36 of their points in the paint while outrebounding the Bison by twelve. Coach Mike Brennan’s team Loyola (MD) this weekend, and it’s a little easier to do so with that first league win under one’s belt.

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The 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers that finished the season 32-0 as the last team to finish the men’s college basketball season unbeaten can rest easy a lot earlier this year. Last April Gonzaga didn’t lose until the National Championship Game to Baylor, while this year No. 1 Baylor and No. 5 USC were the final two unbeatens to stumble Tuesday night. In contrast, there are also no more winless teams in all of Division I; although there are a few local teams that are winless in conference play.

Maryland is 0-4 in the Big Ten for the first time since joining the league (they last started 0-4 in the ACC in 1992-93) after Sunday’s 70-69 loss to then-No. 23 Wisconsin where Interim Coach Danny Manning’s team rallied from 21 points down in the first half to lead the Badgers with six and a half minutes remaining in regulation. “No moral victories. But to play the way we did after being down 21 to one of the better teams in the country I feel we’re close to turning the corner,” Manning said. “We have to clean up some areas for sure.” The Terps visit Northwestern Wednesday, one month after losing to the Wildcats at home in Manning’s first game at the helm following the surprise departure of Coach Mark Turgeon.

Georgetown is also winless in their league, and even though it’s just 0-1 in the Big East the sting of last Friday’s 92-64 loss to Marquette had the intensity of multiple burning suns. “As a player who helped build this program I am disappointed in my team’s performance. This is not what Georgetown basketball is about,” Head Coach Patrick Ewing said after the bludgeoning. “This is not what I’m about, this is what my team is about. So everybody is on notice: if they want to play they’re gonna have to friggin’ play.” The Hoyas play four games over a ten day span starting Thursday when Butler comes to Capital One Arena. The Bulldogs have lost consecutive 15-point games in league play.

This Week’s Starting Five:

Up Top- Baylor and USC weren’t the only top ten teams to tumble recently. Saturday then-No. 2 Duke fell at home to Miami (the Hurricanes turned around were downgraded to a tropical storm after losing to Florida State Tuesday) while Purdue slipped from No. 3 after tumbling to Wisconsin earlier in the week. Lying in wait: current No. 2 Gonzaga, No. 3 UCLA, and No. 4 Auburn. Toughest omissions on my AP ballot this week: Illinois, Seton Hall, Oklahoma, and Davidson.

Going Inside- George Washington began Atlantic 10 play with a pair of double digit defeats, losing 83-58 to Dayton Saturday in Foggy Bottom and 85-57 at the Siegel Center to VCU. Both game saw scoreless stretches torpedo the Colonials hopes: a 13-0 run gave VCU the lead for good while Dayton had a 14-0 run in each half. “We’ve got to get it right,” Coach Jamion Christian said after the loss to the Flyers. “We’ve had some opportunities to step up this year-we’ve played good teams-and this has kind of been the outcome of not stepping up at the level we’ve needed to.” Their next opportunity is Monday when George Mason visits the Smith Center. While GW had a 26-day hiatus before beginning conference play, the Patriots have played just one game since December 21 (a New Year’s Day loss at Kansas).

On the Perimeter- VCU (10-4, 3-0 Atlantic 10) was picked fourth in the Preseason A-10 poll and has jumped out to an early first-place tie with Davidson. Coach Mike Rhoades’ team is doing things on defense, allowing a league-low 57.1 points per game while leading the A-10 in stopping the three. Vince Williams (11.3 points per game) is the only player averaging in double figures and Rams are the lowest-scoring team in the conference (63.4 points per game). Williams and company will face co-leader Davidson twice before the end of the month, but will also be tested Friday when they visit preseason favorite St. Bonaventure.

Who’s Open- Wednesday’s game between Virginia Tech (8-6, 0-3 ACC) visits Virginia (9-6, 3-2) with more than simply regional pride on the line. Both are on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble and the Hokies can ill afford to begin conference play 0-4 while the Cavaliers are coming off a double digit loss to North Carolina. In that game UVa allowed 29 points to Tar Heels forward Armando Bacot on 12-18 shooting. Is that Keve Aluma’s cue? The Hokies 6-foot-9 forward is averaging 22 points on 52% shooting in league play.

Last Shot- November and December basketball, even in non-pandemic years, should often be taken with a grain (or perhaps in some cases pillars) of salt. But one was impressed with the play of George Mason (7-6 including wins at Power Six schools Maryland and Georgia) and Howard (6-6 with a pair of two points losses and wins over Bradley and William & Mary) under Coaches Kim English and Kenny Blakeney. Unfortunately whatever momentum each team had around the holidays has been put in ice with the Patriots having one game since December 21 and the Bison now 22 days since getting on the floor. Hopefully these two seasons sidelined temporarily by COVID-19 will restart sooner rather than later and each team will be able to carry over some of their 2021 play to the new calendar year.

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The best thing about Sunday’s 22-7 win over the New York Giants was that the game ended at 3:50 p.m. EST, allowing us to follow the rest of the league’s fantastic (or frustrating if you’re from Indianapolis) finishes in the early window. From Pittsburgh and Baltimore dueling into overtime to the Lions roaring against NFC No. 1 seed Green Bay, there was plenty of theater that was only eclipsed in the late-afternoon and evening. We saw San Francisco make a statement on the road. We almost saw a tie help two teams advance to the playoffs. And thankfully we didn’t have to be distracted by Washington’s final game as the “Football Team”. The 7-10 season is the team’s fifth straight losing campaign (longest stretch since 1957-65 which includes five seasons as the NFL’s last segregated squad) and all eyes are on February 2 when the “Commanders”, “Admirals”, or “Be Sharps”. So while 44% of the league heads towards the postseason party that begins with “Super Wild Card Weekend” (I’m hoping for “Super Divisional Playoff” and “Super Conference Championship” to be introduced this month) let’s take a look behind the numbers at the game that was.

Taylor Made- Heinicke completed 9-18 passes for 120 yards while getting sacked three times. He also ran the ball twice for three yards in the win, his 71.5 rating the lowest he’s had in a victory this season. Washington was 6-1 in games where Heinicke had a passer rating higher than 90, and 1-8 in other games while going 0-5 in games where his passer rating was lower than 71. He finishes the year with the most starts, yards and touchdowns passing since Kirk Cousins in 2017 and will likely be in the mix in 2022. The only question is will Washington draft, trade for, or sign a free agent quarterback this offseason. Because they’re not going to enter training camp with Heinicke as the clear-cut starter, right?

Running Away With Ourselves- How about a season-high 226 yards rushing? How about a career-high 146 yards for Antonio Gibson? The second-year pro’s second 100-yard game of the year propelled him past 1,000 yards (although his 1,037 equals 976 over 16 games) and gives one confidence that the ground game is in good hands. Jonathan Williams added 45 yards on seven carries (including a 23-yard scamper on third and short) while Jaret Patterson added 21 yards on six tries (along with two catches for 14 yards). The team finishes 12th in the league running the ball which is much better than the air attack (21st).

Pass Catch Fever- Terry McLaurin caught four passes for 93 yards to finish with 77 and 1,053 for the season, slightly down from last year (87-1,118) even before accounting for the extra regular season game (the numbers pro-rate to 72-991 for 16 games). But that’s without a solid number two threat in the passing game, unless you count running back J.D. McKissic who’s been out for a month. Offseason acquisition Curtis Samuel never got healthy, appearing in five games (tallying 20+ snaps in only three of them) and the tight end combination of Logan Thomas and Ricky Seals-Jones averaged under ten yards per catch. Getting a threat opposite McLaurin should be priority this offseason.

Third and Thankful We’re Done- the offense moved the chains on 3-13 attempts with Heinicke completing 1-7 passes for no conversions while getting sacked once. Jonathan Williams made the marker on both of his runs while Antonio Gibson came up short on both of his attempts, while DeAndre Carter ran for a first down on third and seven. The top target? Terry McLaurin was thrown to twice (both incomplete) while Jaret Patterson made an eight yard catch on third and 14. Yardage breakdown: 2-4 on short yardage, 0-3 when needing four to six yards, and 1-7 on third and long. Most encouraging sign? Ten of the 13 third downs took place on the Giants’ side of the field, meaning the offense didn’t put the defense in bad spots for the most part.

D earns a…hold on, these are the Giants- Washington held Jake Fromm and company to a paltry 177 yards and that includes consecutive quarterback sneaks facing long-distance inside their own ten. Bobby McCain intercepted a pair of passes, running the first back for a touchdown and collecting the second on the game’s final play. Cole Holcomb led the unit with 11 tackles and what I liked about Sunday was that six of the top seven tacklers were in the front seven. Holcomb and finishes with a team-high 142 stops (43 more than runner-up Kamren Curl). But New York still had a few decent drives and the defense allowed its customary 14-play, 69-yard march for the Giants’ only touchdown. The D held on 11-17 third downs but allowed two fourth down conversions in four attempts. And this was against Jake Fromm.

Special Situations- Tress Way averaged 40.8 yards on six punts while Joey Slye kicked field goals of 23, 23, and 43 yards. Slye made his lone extra point attempt (they went for two up 12-0 in the second half) and two of his five kickoffs reached the end zone (one was a touchback, the other returned to the 20). The other three kicks were run back to the 24, 27, and 31-yard line. Punt coverage allowed a 16-yard return. DeAndre Carter had punt returns of zero, three, eight, and 12 yards while notching kickoff returns of 11 and 22 yards.

Flying Flags- Only three penalties for 29 yards as the team finishes with 82 infractions (fifth fewest in the NFL) for 743 yards (seventh fewest) this season. Two were on defense (a neutral zone infraction on Matt Ioannidis and a pass interference on Darryl Roberts) and one was on offense (false start on Antonio Gibson). False starts took the frequent flier award with 17 flags this fall while William Jackson III was the most penalized player (despite missing five games).

Digesting the Division- Dallas (13-4) gets the No. 3 seed in the NFC (thanks to a better conference record than the Los Angeles Rams) and a first round home game with San Francisco while Philadelphia (9-8) earns the No. 7 seed (due to their November 21 win over New Orleans) and a showdown with defending Super Bowl champ Tampa Bay. Washington (7-10) gets 10th place in the conference because of wins over Seattle and Atlanta. The last-place New York Giants (4-13) are 15th in the NFC, but with six straight losses definitely not markedly better than a Detroit team that split its last six games with two wins over playoff teams.

Comparing the Quartets- As mentioned last week the NFC West locked up the honors of the league’s best division. They also are the only division with three playoff teams this winter and all four teams scored more points than they allowed (the AFC West had three, with playoff-bound Las Vegas checking in at -65).

Elimination Island- Indianapolis, you had us all-in on “nobody wants to face the Colts in the playoffs” after back to back wins over New England and Arizona. Unfortunately Sunday’s no-show at Jacksonville means the Colts won’t be facing anybody in the playoffs as they’re out. The Ravens were eliminated when they lost in overtime by a field goal to Pittsburgh (the 0-6 finish saw five losses decided by a total of eight points). New Orleans was next to go after San Francisco’s overtime win at the Los Angeles Rams and the final team sent to the island of misfit playoff hopes was everyone’s favorite Charley-in-the-Box, the Los Angeles Chargers. And LA was bounced on the final second of the final game of the season in their overtime loss to Las Vegas (if the kick missed Pittsburgh would have been done for the year).

Sully From Southie Speaks- A season-ending loss at Miami takes a little of the hazelnut out of one’s Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, especially when one realizes the Pats have dropped three of their final four regular season games with the lone victory coming against Jacksonville. They face a Buffalo team that not only has momentum of their own (four straight wins, each by double digits) but one that came into Foxboro December 26th and stole their lunch money in a 26-14 victory. They’re a four point underdog. One is wicked concerned, especially with Benny From Batavia, Harry from Hamburg, Jimmy from Jamestown, and of course Ollie from Orchard Park beginning their pregame “medicating” this afternoon. But after a cold winter of 2020-21 it’s nice to wear the retro jersey and Pat Patriot hat. Yes, Sully knows he needs to get post-1989 gear.

Nitty Gritty Numbers-Washington’s league rankings after sixteen games:

Scoring Offense- 23rd. Scoring Defense- 25th.

Rushing Offense- 12th. Rushing Defense- 8th.

Passing Offense- 21st. Passing Defense- 29th.

Off. Pass Efcy- 22nd. Def. Pass Efcy- 31st.

Total Offense- 21st. Total Defense- 22nd.

Sacks Allowed- 20th. Sacks Made- 17th.

Third Down Efcy- 20th. Third Down D- 31st.

Turnover Margin—–24th.

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Welcome to 2022! The appetizer portion of the men’s college basketball season is in our rear-view mirror as most of the locals will be solely playing conference games from here on out. But while we take a step into the new year, the season is still is far from being out of the woods that was the COVID-19 pandemic that benched the 2020 NCAA Tournament and drastically altered the 2020-21 season. Georgetown has yet to tip off their Big East season as the Hoyas have had four games postponed due to COVID concerns while Maryland has had to switch out opponents (Brown for Loyola-MD last week) and tighten up requirements for fans 12 or older (must be vaccinated or have a negative COVID-19 test). American, George Washington, George Mason and Howard have also had games wiped off of the slate. But the season plods on and hopefully the light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train.

Up Top- Defending National Champ Baylor has been number one since early December, taking over for Purdue after the Boilermakers lost at Rutgers (let the record show the RAC by any other name is a tough place to play). Duke in its final season under Coach Mike Krzyzewzski is number two and back from a pandemic break of their own. Gonzaga and UCLA- teams from last year’s Final Four- are in the top ten as well. This is the fourth year I have been an AP voter and my toughest omission this week was Illinois.

Going Inside- Maryland (8-5, 0-2 Big Ten is coming off of an 80-78 loss at Iowa and the schedule doesn’t lighten up with a game at an Illinois team tied for first in the conference Thursday and a home game Sunday against No. 23 Wisconsin. The Terps currently rank near the bottom of the league in shooting (13th) and from three-point range (12th) while they’re also third-worst in the Big Ten at defending the three. And Eric Ayala can only do so much: the senior may be averaging 20 points over his last four games (shooting 52%) but has had scoring droughts (3-for-21 during December losses to Virginia Tech and Northwestern).

On the Perimeter- Navy is off to a 9-4 start and leads the Patriot League after a pair of double-digit conference wins, most recently an 83-71 victory over preseason favorite Boston University where John Carter Jr. scored 23 points (hitting 5-of-6 from three point range). Defense travels, especially in conference play, and the Mids allow the fewest points per game in the Patriot League, lead the league in rebounding margin, and are tops at defending the three-pointer.

Who’s Open- Georgetown (6-5) finally begins Big East play Friday when Marquette comes to Capital One Arena. The Golden Eagles are in their first season under Shaka Smart and is fresh from an 88-56 thumping of No. 16 Providence. Baltimore native Justin Lewis notched a double-double that night (23 points and 11 rebounds), but I’ll also have my eye on former Maryland guard Darryl Morsell who is currently second on the team in scoring and assists. How will the Hoyas contain Morsell and Lewis, and what sort of rust will Coach Patrick Ewing’s team have after not playing since December 18?

Last Shot- Another intriguing season is underway in the Commonwealth as Virginia (9-5, 3-1 ACC) and Virginia Tech (8-6, 0-3) have begun league play. ECU transfer Jayden Gardner is paying immediate dividends in Charlottesville, averaging 15 points with 8 rebounds while shooting 58% (and 38% from three). It’s early January but the Cavaliers allow the fewest points per game in the conference while the Hokies rank second. Each team has road tests on the horizon: UVa visits North Carolina Saturday while VT travels to Virginia next Wednesday.

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The Washington Football team’s 20-16 loss to Philadelphia may ensure another non-playoff season, but what a ride to reach elimination in Week 17. Covering this team is rarely boring. From starting 2-6 to winning four straight to dropping four in a row. From sewage pipes bursting in a 20-16 loss to the Chargers to a FedEx Field railing collapsing after a 20-16 loss to the Eagles. From bringing a heated bench to Philadelphia to a different sort of heated bench in Dallas. A quarterback carousel only exceeded in quantity by the kicker carousel. And now they visit a New York Giants team whose coach is already talking smack. A “meaningless” regular season finale? No such thing in the land of the Burgundy & Gold.

Taylor Made- Heinicke completed 27-36 passes for 247 yards while getting sacked three times (twice on third down). He ran the ball twice for 14 yards and directed a last-minute drive that ended with the loss-sealing interception. His passer rating of 86.5 ranks 23rd in the league and with 3,299 yards he’s the first 3,000-yard passer for Washington since 2017.

Running In Place- Minus leading rusher Antonio Gibson the team gained 94 yards on 22 carries with Jaret Patterson tallying 57 yards on 12 tries (along with Washington’s lone touchdown) while making five catches. Wendell Smallwood and Jonathan Williams each caught a pair of passes and carried the ball on third and short.

Pass Catch Fever- Terry McLaurin made seven grabs for 61 yards, his most receptions since October in Green Bay and his most yards since November at Carolina. Cam Sims (4-48) and Dyami Brown (1-25) also made contributions while tight end John Bates made three receptions for 35 yards. Target breakdown: wide receivers made 14 catches on 17 targets, tight ends made four catches on six targets, and the running back rotation made nine receptions on 11 passes thrown their way.

Third and Misleading- What isn’t to like? The offense moved the chains on 9-15 attempts and was 4-4 when running the ball (Smallwood twice, Patterson & Williams once apiece). Heinicke completed 7-9 passes for five conversions, but three of those five were on their final drive of the day. He was also sacked on their first two third downs of the second half as the Eagles mounted their rally. His top targets? Jaret Patterson caught a pair of passes for conversions while Ricky Seals-Jones was thrown to twice while catching one pass and running into one wall (he had to leave the game while the cameraman he collided with on the play did return). Yardage breakdown: 6-7 on short-yardage, 1-3 when needing four to six yards, and 1-5 on long-yardage.

Defense Bends and Bends- There’s no shame in allowing 20 points. But the Eagles began the second half with one of those drives that’s haunted Washington all season. Remember the 17-play march in Buffalo? Philly began the second half with a 14-play drive that covered 75 yards and set the tone for the rest of the day. Cole Holcomb tallied 11 tackles while Kamren Curl made 10 stops. While the defense made stops on 8-12 third downs, the Eagles successfully converted three of four fourth downs (two resulted in touchdowns).

Special Situations- Tress Way’s COVID-induced absence brought Ryan Winslow to FedEx Field, and the understudy averaged 42 yards on his two punts. Joey Slye made field goals of 31, 39, and 55 yards while connecting on his only extra point of the night. Three of Slye’s four kickoffs were touchbacks (the other was fielded in the end zone and returned to the 20). DeAndre Carter had kickoff returns of 23 and 34 yards. There were no punt returns. Kickoff coverage allowed a 21-yard return while punt coverage surrendered a 7-yard return.

Flying Flags- Say what you will about the December descent, but Washington has committed just four penalties over the last three weeks. And the false start by Saddiq Charles didn’t destroy the drive where it occurred as the team would make two first downs on that possession before punting. The 79 penalties is the sixth-fewest in the NFL. That’s something to build upon.

Digesting the Division- Dallas (12-4) finds itself in the fourth playoff spot after its loss to Arizona but could finish second with a win plus losses by the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay in Week 18. Philadelphia (9-7) currently owns the third Wild Card berth (losing the head-to-head tiebreaker with San Francisco) but is assured of a playoff berth after a one year absence. Washington (6-10) is going to finish third for the fourth time in six years and they’re currently in 11th place of the NFC (better conference record than Chicago, head-to-head win over Seattle). The New York Giants (4-12) have wrapped up their third last-place finish in the last five years and are currently 15th in the NFC, but can take 14th with a victory over Washington plus a Carolina loss to Tampa Bay.

Comparing the Quartets- With Week 18 all intra-division matchups, the NFC West (38-26) finishes two games better than the AFC West. Whither the NFC East? A 30-34 mark has them sixth-best, better than the NFC North (28-35-1) and the AFC South (26-38). The NFC went 3-1 against the AFC this past week, ending the season-long struggle with a 40-39-1 lead.

Tis the Season- Five teams wrapped up playoff berths Sunday, with Cincinnati and Tennessee locking up their respective divisions. Buffalo, New England, and Philadelphia also wrapped up spots with the Bills needing a win or a Patriots loss next Sunday to take its second straight AFC East title (Pats take the division with a victory plus a Bills loss). Three playoff berths are up for grabs: one in the NFC (San Francisco needs a win or a New Orleans loss) while two spots in the AFC are being pursued by Indianapolis, Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

Elimination Island- Washington wasn’t the only team to have their status changed from in contention to eliminated. Atlanta, Minnesota, Miami, and Denver saw their status downgraded as well with defeats while Cleveland was eliminated due to wins by Las Vegas and the Los Angeles Chargers.

Sully From Southie Speaks- The Pats are playoff bound! And still in contention for the AFC East with one week to play. This team has the feel of one that looks really good in the Wild Card Round before stumbling against a better team in the Divisional Playoffs. But after a season in the wilderness it’s nice to be back–even though four of their wins game against the Jets/Jaguars/Texans. Depending on what happens in Week 18, the Pats could very well meet Buffalo for a third time in a little over a month.

Nitty Gritty Numbers-Washington’s league rankings after sixteen games:

Scoring Offense- 22nd. Scoring Defense- 28th.

Rushing Offense- 13th. Rushing Defense- 8th.

Passing Offense- 21st. Passing Defense- 30th.

Off. Pass Efcy- 20th. Def. Pass Efcy- 31st.

Total Offense- 20th. Total Defense- 27th.

Sacks Allowed- 23rd. Sacks Made- T16th.

Third Down Efcy- 16th. Third Down D- 31st.

Turnover Margin—–26th.

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The local college football season wrapped up on a chilly Wednesday afternoon in the Bronx. And as the afternoon shadows grew at Yankee Stadium, it began to get unforgivably chilly for Virginia Tech in the 54-10 New Era Pinstripe Bowl loss to Maryland. Even with a pair of big-play scores in the first half, it appeared as though we’d enter halftime with the Terps leading 21-10 but with the Hokies having the momentum of a clock-purging 13-play, 75 yard march over 5:11 that gave Head Coach Mike Locksley and quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa too little time (1:02 left) remaining to come up with an answer (they had tallied 154 total yards to that point). But there was just enough on the clock for Tagovailoa to complete five straight passes that set up Joseph Petrino’s 44-yard field goal. Momentum was Maryland’s and they didn’t give it back, outgaining Virginia Tech 187-8 in the third quarter and scoring on each of their three possessions in that period that saw the sun set on the Hokies season (while it didn’t “get late early” as the late Yogi Berra would say, it went from dusk to pitch-black rather quickly).

Maryland (7-6) posted its first winning season since 2014 by posting its first bowl victory since 2010 in the Terps’ first bowl game since 2016. The rout of Virginia Tech put an exclamation point on year three under Head Coach Mike Locksley and the Terrapin graph is currently going upwards (.250 winning percentage to .400 to .538). And even though Locksley celebrated the 25 seniors who depart the program, the future looks bright with many of the playmakers from Wednesday’s game at Yankee Stadium coming back for 2022.

Terrapin Triumphs: Taulia Tagovailoa completed 20-24 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 42 yards and allowing no sacks. Both of his TD tosses were corralled by senior Darryl Jones (four catches for 111 yards on the day). Armed with a double-digit lead the ground game salted this one with 184 yards rushing in the second half. Ruben Hippolite II tallied 12 tackles as the defense forced four three and outs (a fifth drive was a turnover after four downs and a sixth saw a fumble on second down) Nick Cross forced a fumble that was returned by Greg Rose for the day’s final TD while Tarheeb Still returned a punt 92 yards for the first score of the day.

Terrapin Troubles: the offense went 3-7 on third down, going 0-2 in the first half. The defense didn’t break as much as it bent in the first half as the Hokies had the ball for over 23 minutes in the first two periods. Special teams allowed a successful fake punt that jumpstarted the Hokies first scoring drive.

Next: Saturday September 3, 2022 vs. Buffalo. Beware the MAC.

Virginia Tech (6-7) ended what was a rollercoaster season that saw an opening night upset of No. 10 North Carolina and three points scored in a loss to 0-4 in the ACC Boston College. And even though he has been gone since mid-November, the school also closed the books on the Justin Fuente era that started with smooth sailing (the 2016 Coastal Division crown and a 19-8 mark over two years) before running aground (three sub-.500 finishes in the last four years). Brent Pry will have even more carte blanche to install his vision in Blacksburg this spring.

Hokie Highlights: after throwing only 16 passes all fall, Connor Blumrick threw for 110 yards and ran for the team’s lone touchdown. VT ran 43 plays to 19 for MD in the first half, controlling the clock (see above). The defense stymied the Terps early, holding them to 24 yards on their first eight plays from scrimmage. Special teams kept a drive alive with a successful fake punt.

Hokie Humblings: the offense converted just 4-14 third downs with before Blumrick was benched in the second half, while the defense allowed a 93% completion rate in the first half and 7.7 yards per carry in the second half. And big plays buried this team in all phases, allowing a 92-yard punt return for a touchdown, a 70-yard touchdown pass, and an 11-yard sack-fumble that was returned for a TD.

Next: Saturday September 3, 2022 against Old Dominion (Monarchs fans recall these schools have met before).

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Maryland meets Virginia Tech in a battle of 6-6 teams today in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. At this moment. If there’s one thing we’ve learned this month it’s that just because a game is on the schedule when the day begins that’s no guarantee it will be played. Witness last night’s San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl- a game whose plug was pulled hours before kickoff. Like talking about a no-hitter before the game wraps up, one hopes the writing of this preview does not jinx the playing of this game in any way.

Each team will be dealing with a month’s layoff (both schools last played Nov. 27), and the challenge in bowl preparation is maintaining the urgency of the rhythm of 12 games in a 13-week span. “Usually it’s tackling. What we’ve tried to do is stay pretty consistent within our practices and continue to ‘thud’,” Maryland Head Coach Mike Locksley said in Tuesday’s preview press conference. “Even up to yesterday we were in shells-shoulder pads and helmets-to allow us continue to do a great job fundamentally of tackling.”

The Terps defense ranked 12th in in the Big Ten at stopping the run, passing efficiency, and overall yardage and was 13th in defending the pass and in points allowed. They’ll be facing a Virginia Tech offense that won’t have regular quarterback Braxton Burmeister, who entered the transfer portal after notching 255 of the 297 passing attempts by the team this fall. Instead it’s junior Connor Blumrick, who had 132 yards rushing against Miami in Interim Coach J.C. Price’s first game at the helm but has attempted only 16 passes since transferring from Texas A&M. But the Hokies aren’t panicking. “We’ve rotated Connor and Braxton throughout the year,” Price said. “With Connor taking the majority of the snaps here during the bowl prep I don’t think the offense is going to look any different than it would if Braxton was there.”

While the Hokies are spinning the quarterback carousel, Maryland is the model of stability at that position for the first time in seven years. Taulia Tagovailoa is going to become the third quarterback in the program to start every game of the season since 2003 (Sam Hollenbach in 2006 and C.J. Brown in 2014 are the trivia answers). And while the junior piloted the third-best passing offense in the Big Ten by throwing for 3,595 yards its his feet that give his foes concern as well. “The best thing he does is he extends plays,” Price said. “When he extends them you have quarterbacks that look to run, well he does a great job-the first guy hardly ever gets him down. So we have to do a great job with our rush-lane integrity.” Virginia Tech ranked fifth in the ACC in stopping the pass but was tenth in the conference with 25 sacks. Meanwhile, Maryland is looking for balance-and that means jumpstarting a running game that ranked in the bottom half of the Big Ten. “We have to run the ball to have success,” Locksley said. “I think going into this game it’s important that we establish ourselves at the line of scrimmage, and it always starts with running it and stopping the run. So those are the two things going into it that we need to accomplish.”

This version of Yankee Stadium is 12 years old and for the first five years of the ballpark’s existence Mariano Rivera would come out of the bullpen 141 times to post 84 saves over 119 games finished in the Bronx. And the Hall of Fame reliever did so to the Metallica song “Enter Sandman”, a song that just happens to double as Virginia Tech football’s entrance music at Lane Stadium. We’d likely hear that song as the Bronx becomes a Blacksburg suburb this afternoon. “I can’t tell you 100% with certainty,” Price said. “But I think every bowl game I’ve ever been to both teams do (orchestrate) their own entrance. So I would think that that would be played.”

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If Washington’s seven-point loss in week fourteen at home to Dallas (after being down 24-0 at the half) was in the gray area, Sunday night’s 56-14 defeat in prime time left no doubt. It was bad in a legendary sort of way, from Dak Prescott throwing touchdown passes to his wide receiver, running back, tight end, and offensive lineman (first for Dallas since HOF Rayfield Wright in 1968) to interceptions and blocked punts returned for Cowboys touchdowns. It was bad in the way that Washington brought the team benches from Ashburn that could be heated to a controlled-environment domed stadium to there being a scuffle between defensive linemen DaRon Payne and Jonathan Allen (proof that the bench was definitely heated). And once again the Burgundy & Gold are likely headed for another non-playoff season despite still being in contention with two weeks to go (blame the extended regular season and expanded playoffs). At 6-9 they need to win out plus get help to get the vaunted Third Wild Card/seventh playoff spot. And even though we’ll be sitting on the edge of our seats Sunday, we have plenty of reason to think the dream dies by 4:30 p.m. on January 2.

Taylor Made…for the Moment- Heinicke completed 7-22 passes for a season-low 121 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, posting his worst passer rating (28.8) and QBR (4.0) of the year. His night turned for the worse on his first play from scrimmage with an INT that set up Dallas’ first touchdown of the night. He’d strike again later in the first quarter by tossing a pick-six that made the deficit 21-0. Kyle Allen completed 8-10 passes for 67 yards and a TD in mop-up mode and Head Coach Ron Rivera said Monday that even though Heinicke will start against Philadelphia, Allen will probably see some action. And the quarterback carousel fires up again…

Running in Place- twenty carries for 85 yards isn’t ideal, but when you trail 21-0 after one quarter and 42-7 at the half even Ken Niumatalolo is going to put the ball up early and often. Jaret Patterson led the team with 33 yards on nine carries, the first time he’s been the team’s top rusher since the week eight loss at Denver. Antonio Gibson’s toe-injury induced decline saw the back gain just 29 yards on six carries. During the four game winning streak Gibson averaged 89.5 yards rushing. During the three-game losing streak, he’s totaled a combined 91 yards.

Pass Catch Fever- Terry McLaurin made three receptions for 40 yards, giving him 66 for 899 on the season. And while he’s on pace for 75 catches and 1000+ yards, taking a closer look one sees he’s made 23 catches for 326 yards since the bye week (56-699 pace). He was also the only player to have more than two receptions against the Cowboys. McLaurin’s six targets tied the team lead (with Adam Humphries) and there were eight other targets to wideouts, with six targets to running backs, and the tight ends were targeted four times on the night.

Third and Down- the offense moved the chains on 3-13 attempts and was 1-9 with starter Taylor Heinicke on the field. He completed 2-8 passes for one conversion while Kyle Allen went 2-3 with one conversion. The top target? Terry McLaurin was thrown to twice with one catch and one conversion. Jonathan Williams was also thrown to twice with his reception coming up short. Williams also carried the ball twice, moving the chains on a third and one while coming up short on a third and five. Yardage breakdown: 1-1 on short-yardage, 0-4 on third and 4-6 yards needed, and 2-8 on third and long. Having 61% (8-13) of your third downs in long-yardage is one recipe for disaster.

D earns an F- when you allow 56 points (for the record, two of those eight touchdowns allowed were off a pick six and a blocked punt) you’re not going to get a good grade. Especially when you allow Dallas to convert seven of its first eight third downs. For the night, Dallas moved the chains on 9-10 third and manageables (six yards needed or fewer) and two of its five non-conversions were draw plays on third and eight as well as a third and 17. Bobby McCain and Jeremy Reaves tied for the lead with 10 tackles apiece and it gets worse with five of the top seven tacklers being defensive backs. They did notch three sacks on the night while allowing fewer than 500 yards. And linebacker/top tackler Cole Holcomb comes off the COVID-Reserve List .

Special Situations- even Tress Way wasn’t exempt from Sunday’s meltdown. Yes, he averaged 51.3 yards per punt but had one blocked and returned for a touchdown. Joey Slye returned from the shelf to drill 2-2 extra points and two of his three kickoffs were touchbacks. The lone kickoff fielded was returned 20 yards while one punt was returned for 21 yards (and only to the Dallas 26). DeAndre Carter had a pair of 7-yard punt returns while there were no kickoffs returned (and the Cowboys kicked off nine times with eight touchbacks and the other going out of bounds at the Washington two-yard line–triggering a penalty and a drive-start from the WFT 40).

Flying Flag- yes, you read that correctly. Only one accepted penalty against Washington for 13 yards. But three penalties were declined, with the first two (defensive offside against Daron Payne and Casey Toohill) because Dallas got first downs on those plays (24 and 22-yard passes) and the third (defensive hold on Darryl Roberts) because the Cowboys scored a touchdown on the play in question. That leaves the unnecessary roughness flag on Bobby McCain as the biggest penalty–and it was: it moved a Cowboys’ 1st and 10 from the Washington 26 to the WFT 13 and Dallas scored on the very next play.

Digesting the Division- Dallas (11-4) wins its first NFC East title since 2018 and is currently holding down the second seed of the conference (a better NFC record keeps them above the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay) while Philadelphia (8-7) is in second place after three straight wins and owns the third Wildcard/seventh seed because of their week two loss to San Francisco. Washington (6-9) is assured of a fifth straight sub-.500 season and is in third place, while holding down 11th place in the NFC. But they’re still in the playoff chase, unlike the New York Giants (4-11) who are in fourth place of the division and 15th in the NFC (a win or a Detroit loss keeps them out of the absolute cellar).

Comparing the Quartets- the NFC and AFC West Divisions (34-26) own the best combined record with two weeks remaining while the AFC South is bringing up the rear at 25-35 (having Jacksonville AND Houston in your neighborhood will do that to your property value). The NFC East (29-31) is tied for fifth with the AFC East/NFC South after Miami’s/New Orleans’ loss on Monday Night Football. The Saints/Dolphins win means the AFC/NFC takes a 38-37-1 lead with four interconference games on tap this upcoming weekend.

Tis the Season- five teams wrapped up playoff berths during the holiday weekend, starting with Dallas wrapping up at least a Wild Card berth Thursday. By the start of Sunday Night Football the Cowboys had wrapped up the East. Tampa Bay (first South title since 2007) and Kansas City (six straight West titles) wrapped up their respective divisions while the Los Angeles Rams (four straight wins) and Arizona (despite three straight losses) locked up Wild Card berths. Eight playoff spots (two in the NFC and six in the AFC) are still available with 18 teams in contention.

Elimination Island- three teams saw their playoff hopes end Sunday: the New York Giants, Carolina, and Seattle. The Seahawks are entering unfamiliar territory, having made the postseason eight of the previous nine years. The Panthers are playoff-less for the fourth straight years (following a run of four appearances in five years) while the Giants have suffered through five playoff-less campaigns (and they’ve been on the outside nine of the last ten years). But Big Blue still has 2007 & 2011.

Sully From Southie Speaks- back to back losses is wicked tough to stomach, especially after the Celtics blew a double-digit fourth quarter lead against Milwaukee on Christmas Day. While they’re still in the playoff and two wins gets them in the Pats will need to win out plus get help to recapture the AFC East. On to Jacksonville…

Nitty Gritty Numbers-Washington’s league rankings after fifteen games:

Scoring Offense- 24th. Scoring Defense- 30th.

Rushing Offense- 14th. Rushing Defense- 8th.

Passing Offense- 20th. Passing Defense- 30th.

Off. Pass Efcy- 23rd. Def. Pass Efcy- 31st.

Total Offense- 20th. Total Defense- 28th.

Sacks Allowed- 22nd. Sacks Made- 17th.

Third Down Efcy- 20th. Third Down D- 31st.

Turnover Margin—–26th.

Happy holidays to one and all. It’s been another “intriguing” season on and off the field, and hopefully everyone has a safe and sound New Year’s that turns out negative in a positive way. While the Bronco Mendenhall era makes way for the Tony Elliot era in Charlottesville, the Tailgating Tandem of Kippy & Buffy toast what was (the 2019 Coastal Division, four bowl appearances, and that win over Virginia Tech) while wishing the new coach well (with an eye towards next November’s trip to Blacksburg).

What I love about college football and wine is that every game and bottle offer up something a little different, they’re great conversation pieces, and our tastes are never static-they’re always changing on one level. If you enjoy wine I hope you’ll try some of the ones listed below, and in the upcoming offseason—pandemic pending—you’ll be able to get out to Virginia and enjoy some tastings. For me a relaxing day off I-66, Route 7, or 231 is the perfect balance for an autumn and winter of college football/basketball. Toasting to 2022…

Here are weekly excerpts from “Presto’s Picks” on wtop.com this fall:

September 4- William & Mary.

Kippy & Buffy have enjoyed the recent success like a fine wine.  My favorite tailgating pals traditionally enjoy white wine for non-conference games and red for ACC matchups (naturally they get sparkling during the bye week).  They’ll kick off 2021 by staying in the commonwealth: 868 Vineyards (named after its elevation) 2019 Altezza White is 50% Sauvignon Blanc and 50% Viognier. “On the nose, citrus and toasty oak notes dominate with floral elements of body powder and perfume,” the vineyard website describes. “Clear on the finish, the Altezza White lingers with the suggestion of citrus and spice.” They’re also breaking out the gorgonzola with multi-grain crisps.

September 11- Illinois.

Kippy & Buffy are dealing with an early kickoff and a morning tailgate. They’re going to enjoy smoked gouda on multi-grain crackers while enjoying a bottle of Linden Vineyards 2018 Village Chardonnay. The tasting notes read: “This is a slowly revealing wine that defines restraint and harmony. Its aromas have a quiet floral perfume. The balance and seamlessness on the palate are close to ethereal.”

September 18- at North Carolina.

A trip to Kenan Memorial Stadium means Kippy & Buffy are reunited with their UNC tailgating pals Meredith & Peyton (truthfully one has forgotten which one is which-they’re both family names). ACC play means red wine for the first time this fall, and they’re going to enjoy the September air with an Oregon Pinot Noir. Sokol Blosser Winery first planted grapes fifty years ago, and their 2017 Blossom Ridge Estate Pinot Noirsmells of spring flowers and lavender. Soft tannins, fresh red fruits and orange zest are on the palate with a soft cedar finish.” Liquour.com recommends you pair this wine with lamb chops.

September 24- Wake Forest.

Kippy & Buffy also have a tight turnaround after last Saturday night’s tailgate. While Buffy isn’t a fan of the Friday night games because she feels that night belongs to the high schools (she’s a big fan of “Friday Night Lights”: the book, movie, and TV show), Kippy’s not a fan because it often means he’ll be dragged into an afternoon of apple picking. They are huge fans of Orrin Swift and The Prisoner and this week they’re going to enjoy a bottle of their 2019 Saldo Zinfandel: “The entry is rich, full, and scintillating,” per the web site tasting notes. “The palate is mouthwatering and smooth with a hint of chocolate. The finish is voluptuous with soft, velvety tannins.” Even with the corresponding Margarita Pizza, after allowing 35 points in the second half to UNC do we want another soft finish?

September 30-at Miami.

Kippy & Buffy know the season is at a crossroads, and they’re going to double down at their tailgate this week with a bottle of Chateau O’Brien 2013 Vintner’s Reserve. Just like they believe in a balanced offense on the field, a balanced red will be in their glasses: 34% Tannat, 33% Petit Verdot, and 33% Malbec. This full-bodied wine was aged in French Oak barrels for 24 months. “Big nose with licorice and cherry. Body is tart red fruit, black cherry, and smoke,” a review on cellartracker.com reads. “Deep red fruit, cranberries, cherries, leather, some black pepper.” 

October 9- Louisville.

Kippy & Buffy’s definition of dual threat is properly pairing their tailgating wine with cheese, and in a salute to the students at the university they’re opening a Textbook. The 2019 Textbook Merlot from Napa Valley offers up “intense aromas of ripe plum, mocha , and allspice marry with a generous mid-palate of rich flavors of black stone fruits and a balanced finish with full, extracted, almost sweet tannins.” While the wine and Havarti cheese with butter crackers travel well, they’re hopeful the defense travels as well.

October 16- Duke.

Kippy & Buffy know that sometimes the answer is obviouis, and for their tailgate against the ultimate “bro” school break out a bottle from Breaux Vineyards (from nearby Purcellville, VA). The 2016 Petit Verdot features “intense aromas of blackberry and licorice are joined on the pallet by leather that lingers on the pallet.” Paired with Gruyere on Urban Oven crackers of course. But can the Cavaliers’ Coastal Division contention linger into November?

October 23- at Georgia Tech.

Kippy and Buffy know that a while a sixth win is nice as it means bowl eligibility, a fourth conference win keeps it in contention for the Coastal. They also know the evening air in October gets a tiny bit chilly, so this week they’re tailgating with a bottle of Bouza 2018 Tannat Reserva from Uruguay paired with Parmesan cheese on Triscuits . The “reduced nose is syrupy and rich, while this feels lush but with healthy core acidity.” Wine Enthusiast writes. “Blackened toast, licorice and peppercorn flavors sit atop Port-like blackberry and cassis.”

October 30- at BYU.

Kippy and Buffy are on track for another awesome tailgating season, and a non-conference game in the Rockies means they’re going with a bottle of white that wins out west. Barboursville’s 2019 Vermentino Reserve captured the Platinum Medal at the San Diego International Wine Competition this year while earning a rating of 94 points. “Vivid citurusy aromatics with a deep, dry palate of sustained structure,” their website reads. “Excellent body, lingering minerality and finesse of finish.”

November 6- Bye Week.

Virginia (6-3, 4-2 ACC) is idle, but that won’t stop Kippy & Buffy from enjoying their weekend as they use the Cavaliers’ bye to shutter up the cottage in the Outer Banks. And with a second straight Coastal Division title in their sights, the open week means they’re going to enjoy a bottle of Nicolas Feuillate Brut Blue Label Champagne. “Rich and creamy, showing the dried fruit, nut and spice notes of fruitcake, with lemon meringue, quince and honey flavors,” the tasting notes read. “Clean citrusy acidity integrates beautifully and provides an elegance to this refined Champagne.” Break out the Brie and Camembert…and we’ll see you next week as Notre Dame comes to Charlottesville.

November 13- Notre Dame.

Kippy & Buffy are back for the home stretch of tailgates, and a November non-conference game means they are looking for a white wine with a little warmth. They’re going to enjoy a bottle of d’Arenberg the Hermit Crab 2018 Viognier-Marsanne. The Australian wine tastes “Effusive, juicy and ripe, with peach, apricot and melon flavors that are generous and plump,” the winery website reads. “Floral and spice notes emerge on the finish. Shows terrific harmony and persistence.”

November 20- at Pitt.

Kippy & Buffy have their eyes on the prize as well. They’re going to tailgate this week with a winner as Josh Cellars was named the 2021 American Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast. The 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon “has flavors of blackberry, toasted hazelnut and cinnamon, complemented by hints of vanilla and toasted oak,” according to its website. Break out the aged cheddar and Bremner Wafers.

November 27- Virginia Tech.

Kippy & Buffy are capping off another great year of tailgating with a Bordeaux at their disposal, feeling that their choice of Château Lynch-Bages two years ago was a factor in ending a 15-game losing streak in the series. Last year’s Château Beychevelle failed, so they’re going with a 2015 Chateau Leoville-Poyferré. It is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc and “displays a bright, clear garnet color with purple highlights,” according to the winery’s website. “Seductive notes of black fruit burst from the glass, expressing a nice concentration of youthfulness.” But as with any Bordeaux there is more: “Plump and dense on the palate, the tannins have a generous, creamy structure. Hints of gingerbread and nutmeg complement the intense fruit. A remarkable finish emerges with elegance and freshness.”

December 3-Conference Championship Weekend.

Kippy & Buffy had Charlotte on their minds as recently as one month ago as Virginia controlled its path to the ACC Championship Game before the loss at Pitt Nov. 20. They’re still planning on going (good friends Henry & Hildy live there) and instead of celebrating a return to Bank of America Stadium they’ll be saluting six fine years of their program under the stewardship of Bronco Mendenhall. And they’re going to go out with a South African Pinotage: specifically a 2019 bottle of Southern Right: “intense classically styled, clay-grown wine, packed with complex berry fruit, beautiful tannins and subtle wood spice,” the winery’s website reads. When dealing with wood spice, always err on the side of subtlety. Cheers.

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Washington began its five game gauntlet of NFC East foes knowing they’d need to win three or four games (although some thought a 2-1-2 record would suffice) to keep its playoff hopes alive. Unfortunately a bad first half against Dallas and a slow fade after a fast start against Philadelphia has the team a game back in the Wild Card race at 6-8. Tuesday’s 27-17 loss to the Eagles involved a roster reconfigured due to 20+ players going on the COVID-Reserve list that included a quarterback signed off the scrap heap (for the record it’s a plucky scrap heap- Garrett Gilbert is now on his fourth regular season roster and has been on four practice/offseason squads). Unfortunately the defense that shined so much during the November surge (17.5 points allowed per game) came up short last night after taking a 10-0 lead as the Eagles ripped off scoring drives of 75 yards on eight plays, 77 yards on 11 plays, and 75 yards on six plays. Meanwhile the Burgundy & Gold managed eight yards on eight plays from scrimmage over its first two possessions after halftime. It’s not over, but the team can see elimination from where they currently stand.

It’s not Gilbert Garrett, it’s Garrett Gilbert! The third starting quarterback of the season completed 20-31 passes for 194 yards while getting sacked twice. And he wasn’t just dealing up the short stuff, dialing up passes of 29 and 46 yards. The guy who was practicing in Foxboro one week ago more than held himself well in the prime time spotlight. Does he start against Dallas in week 16? Or is he even on the roster?

Running it Back- Antonio Gibson was held to 26 yards on 15 carries, a far cry from his average during the four game winning streak. Gibson added a team-high six catches for 39 yards, but it was obvious the team was missing second-leading receiver and third-leading rusher J.D. McKissic (on Injured Reserve with a neck injury). Jaret Patterson’s 13-yard carry on the final play of the night gave the team 63 for the game right at three yards per carry.

Pass Catch Fever- Terry McLaurin caught a pair of passes for 51 yards while three of his four targets came on third down (one catch for a conversion). Fifteen of Gilbert’s targets went to wideouts, eight went to tight ends (Ricky Seals-Jones had four catches for 29 yards) and seven went to running back Antonio Gibson.

Third And Not Enough- the offense moved the chains on 6-13 attempts, converting 2-3 runs and 5-10 pass plays. Gilbert completed 5-9 passes for four conversions while getting sacked once. His top target? Five throws to Adam Humphries (plus a pass interference that moved the marker) that yielded three catches and two conversions. Antonio Gibson converted on two of this three runs-all coming in the first half. Yardage breakdown: 4-6 on short-yardage, 1-2 when four to six yards were needed, and 1-5 on long-yardage.

D earns a C- anytime you allow over 500 yards, it’s not ideal. The unit began with a bang, turning the Eagles over on their first two possessions with Landon Collins notching an interception and a fumble recovery that set up 10 points. Unfortunately they allowed the Eagles to score on their final two possessions of the first half followed and then gave up a touchdown to begin the second half. For a defense in the top five of the NFL at stopping the run, coughing up 238 yards on the ground spelled doom. In addition to Collins, Jeremy Reaves led the team with 12 tackles (you know how I feel about a DB leading the team in that category) with Cole Holcomb and Jamin Davis each registering 10 stops. Holcomb has quietly become Mister Consistency with his sixth double-digit tackle effort (he’s got two more games with nine stops and another with eight tackles). Montez Sweat’s return saw the defensive end notch a sack while Jonathan Allen and rookie Bunmi Rotini also tackled Jalen Hurts in the backfield. All told, the defense allowed 7-13 third down conversions, including 6-9 on third and manageable (fewer than seven yards needed).

Special Situations- Tress Way averaged 48 yards on his five punts while Brian Johnson made both of his extra points and converted his only field goal attempt (22-yarder) while one of his four kickoffs was a touchback. Kickoff coverage allowed returns of 17, 23, and 31 yards while punt coverage surrendered returns of 1, 10, and 11 yards. DeAndre Carter notched kickoff returns of 28 and 39 yards while the team did not return any punts.

Flying Flags- only two accepted penalties for 25 yards plus one (defensive offside on Jonathan Allen) that was declined during a made field goal attempt by the Eagles. One penalty was on offense (blind block on Saddiq Charles) and the other was on special teams (a hold on a kickoff return by Nate Orchard). While technically the flag on Orchard was a 10-yarder (marked from the infraction), the penalty turned a 1st & 10 from the Washington 48 into a 1st & 10 from the 30. They ended the first half at the Eagles 48, well out of field goal range (18 yards closer would mean a 47-yard field goal for the intermission lead).

Digesting the Division- Dallas (10-4) can wrap up the NFC East the night after Christmas with a win or an a Philadelphia loss, and the Cowboys currently hold the second seed in the conference standings (better NFC records than Tampa Bay and Arizona). Philadelphia (7-7) with its win takes over second place and is tied for the third Wildcard with Minnesota and New Orleans, and while a better NFC record (5-4) puts both teams ahead of the Saints (5-5) the Vikings own the common opponents record tiebreaker. Washington (6-8) drops to third in the East and 10th in the conference due to their wee four win over Atlanta. The New York Giants (4-10) haven’t wrapped up last place yet, but they have the cellar in their sights. Unless Washington makes it their mission.

Comparing the Quartets- the NFC North (33-23) owns the best record of the eight divisions, with the AFC West (32-24) and North (30-25-1) close behind. The NFC East (27-29) is tied for fifth best with the AFC East while the AFC South (22-34) brings up the rear. The NFC has taken a 36-35-1 lead in the interconference series with eight games to be played over the next two weeks (the final Sunday is all intra-division).

Elimination Island- Chicago (4-10) makes the uninvited party list five with their Monday night loss to Minnesota. Those who have seen this team play even once this fall are wondering how it took this long to be done for 2021.

Tis the Season to be Clinching- Green Bay (11-3) became the first team to wrap up a playoff berth with their 31-30 win at Baltimore. Get ready for this weekend where three divisions and at least one more playoff spot could be locked up.

Sully From Southie Speaks- Wicked tough loss to Indy, who I think called this a “Josh McDaniel Revenge Game”. But the Pats still own the division lead and can wrap up the East with a win over Buffalo. Sadly Sully had gambled on the game getting flexed and will be flying back when the game kicks off. Wicked bummah.

Nitty Gritty Numbers-Washington’s league rankings after fourteen games:

Scoring Offense- 23rd. Scoring Defense- 25th.

Rushing Offense- 14th. Rushing Defense- 8th.

Passing Offense- 21st. Passing Defense- 30th.

Off. Pass Efcy- 20th. Def. Pass Efcy- 30th.

Total Offense- 20th. Total Defense- 23rd.

Sacks Allowed- T17th. Sacks Made- T17th.

Third Down Efcy- 17th. Third Down D- 31st.

Turnover Margin—–T24th.