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So much for learning!  Like an elementary school’s morning recess, the September bye interrupts whatever momentum the early season had.  Blame the calendar;  usually there are 13 weekends between Labor Day and Thanksgiving which translates to just one week off for most schools.  This year there are 14 weekends which means a bonus bye. Be thankful:  back in the day when 11-game schedules were the norm and before Conference Championship Games, byes would be scattered across the landscape like breadcrumbs.  Now, instead of weeks off, the openings are simply filled filled in with games against FCS and non-Power 5 schools.

Navy has an extra weekend off to begin with, thanks to the Army game taking place in December while counting towards their 12-game regular season total, so this year head coach Ken Niumatalo’s team is already idle for the second time.  “Sometimes you like it later in the season when you’re kind of banged up, but that’s our schedule,” Niumatalolo said. “We knew the schedule a long time ago. We’ve practiced for it and planned for it.”  What’s helpful for the Midshipmen is they get a few extra days to prepare for a Thursday night showdown with a 3-0 Memphis team that’s already beaten Ole Miss.  I like the bye leading the Thursday night game;  it allows the players to properly recover and the team to properly prepare (my major beef with the NFL’s Thursday Night Football package).

While Navy at 2-0 still has a lot to learn about itself, Maryland’s 2-1 start let the light shine on not only how great this team can be (outscoring Howard and Syracuse 141-20) but also how they’re far from perfect (coming up empty on eight plays inside the Temple 10-yard line in the fourth quarter).  After a spring and summer of installing new systems on both sides of the ball, a break might be just what the Terps need mentally and physically. “You add the four weeks of training camp and three weeks of the season, that’s seven straight weeks of wall to wall football: pounding and the contact and things we do,” head coach Mike Locksley said.”Usually every three to four weeks you like to give your players a day off to be able to recover and re-set themselves.  This couldn’t have come at a better time.”  The break also separates the school’s non-conference and Big Ten portions cleanly, and after going 13-31 over its first five seasons in the league the Terps could use a little extra time.  “When you self-scout you give yourself an opportunity to see what other people see,” Locksley said. “You want to refine those things and maybe adjust some things so you don’t have a bunch of tendencies.”  We’ll see how beneficial the Terps’ time-out was when they host No. 13 Penn State next Friday night.

Virginia Tech is also 2-1 entering its bye week, but as no two 2-1 starts are exactly alike the Hokies appear to have a lot more to fix during the hiatus.  So far they’ve followed up a discouraging ACC loss with a pair of unimpressive wins against inferior competition.  No offense to FCS contender Furman or Old Dominion, but neither school should be able to come into Lane Stadium and be a threat in the fourth quarter.  Two keys for head coach Justin Fuente: 1- find a way to temper the turnovers (their nine giveaways is fourth most in FBS) and 2- get better on the ground (Hokies rank 11th in the ACC on offense and 10th in stopping the run).  Help is on the way in the form of ex-Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, who comes on board as a special assistant.  At least they face Duke (Hokies are 3-0 against the Blue Devils under Fuente) and Miami (the Hurricanes are 0-2 against FBS teams this fall) next Friday evening.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange find themselves 1-2 with their bye two weeks away;  thank goodness they face the likes of Western Michigan and Holy Cross to wrap up the month.  I’m by no means putting both games in the win column at this time, as the Broncos are averaging over 30 points per game and put 42 on the board last year against SU while the Crusaders were picked to finish second in the Patriot League.  Back to back noon games hopefully resets the season before ACC play resumes.

No. 21 Virginia (3-0) vs. Old Dominion (1-1), 7 p.m. (ESPN2).  The Cavaliers season of possibilities has the team off to its best start since 2005.  That team featured the dual-threat quarterback Marques Hagans, who completed over 60% of his passes while using his wheels to haunt opposing defenses.  Hagans has nothing on Bryce Perkins, who in 16 games has already moved past Hagans in career touchdown passes and career yards rushing.   The Monarchs come off of their bye knowing they had plenty of opportunities to upset Virginia Tech for the second straight season, while realizing they have a lot to clean up on both sides of the ball.  Quarterback Stone Smartt is averaging less than ten yards per completion and the ODU defense has troubles getting off of the field on third down.

Kippy and Buffy have no issues setting up their third tailgate of the season, and how better to enjoy a showdown of Commonwealth schools than by opening a bottle of Chrysallis Vineyards Viognier (the state grape of Virginia).  “Full-bodied and fragrant with heady tropical and citrus fruits”.  During the season of possibilities that has UVa dreaming of a potential Citrus or-dare I say-Orange Bowl, they’re going all-in on a citrus fruit finish.

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers maul the Monarchs, 44-14.

 

Howard slips to Delaware State, James Madison beats Chattanooga, William & Mary falls to East Carolina, Towson tops Villanova, Morgan State loses to Army.

Last Week: 7-2. Overall: 21-6.

 

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Somebody has to start 0-2.  Actually, nine NFL teams (over 25% of the league) began the regular season with two straight losses.  The Redskins are one of those teams, and after Sunday’s 31-21 loss to Dallas the faithful find themselves wondering how bad this year might get- or if the sorry start is simply a byproduct of playing two playoff teams from last year.  Once again a strong start fades in the early afternoon sun.  Once again a garbage-time touchdown makes the game seem closer than it actually is.  What will become of this less than ideal beginning to the season?

The Case for Keenum- the quarterback didn’t throw for 380 yards like he did in week one (the biggest opening day for a Skins QB since Brad Johnson in 1999), completing 26 of 37 passes for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns.  A lot of short stuff.

Running Aground- Adrian Peterson was active this week, and gained 25 yards on 10 carries (or seven yards better than Derrius Guice ran for against the Eagles).  Over two games the Skins have managed just 75 yards rushing.  That’s good enough for 30th in the league.

Better to Receive- one of the bright spots of the early season, Terry McLaurin, backed up his dynamic debut by notching 5 catches for 62 yards;  the rookie is now on pace to make 80 receptions for 1496 yards and 16 TD.

Third and Sour- the Skins converted 2-9, and went 0-3 in the second half.  Nine pass plays saw Keenum complete 5 of 8 passes while getting sacked once.  The top target was Trey Quinn (3 targets, one catch & conversion) while every pass was short left (2), right (3) or center (3).  Yardage breakdown: 1-4 on one to three yards needed, 1-2 on four to six yards needed, and 0-3 on seven or more yards needed.

Disappointing Defense- Landon Collins led the team with 12 tackles, and the disturbing trend is that three of the top four tacklers were defensive backs.  The defense once again coughed up more points in the second half than the first, and once again had issues getting off the field to a greater degree after intermission (Dallas went 4-5 after going 3-6 in the first half).  So far this year the Redskins’ foes are 12-15 on third down in the second half after going 6-13 before the break.

Flying Flags- the Skins were whistled 6 times for 44 yards.  Four on offense and two on defense.  Three offensive holds, a false start, a roughing the passer and a defensive hold.  Brandon Scherff had a pair of holds to lead the way.  The most costly flag was the second hold against Scherff, turning a 1st & 10 on the Cowboys’ 35 to a 1st & 15 on the 48.  It pushed the Skins out of field goal range and stalled the drive.

Dissecting the Division- Dallas due to its 2-0 start leads the NFC East, with 1-1 Philadelphia one game back.  The New York Giants own the conference record tiebreaker and are currently in third place, while the Skins occupy the East cellar and are at the bottom of the NFC.

West remains Best- the NFC West is 6-1-1 to start the year, including multiple wins by Pacific time zone teams in games beginning at 10 a.m. EDT.  The NFC East is 3-5 to start the season.

The Nationals entered September knowing they were going to play 24 of 28 games against teams with winning records, and they also knew the centerpiece of the season’s final month would involve 13 straight games against division leaders. The team is 6-8 so far this month, and while they’ve lost three of four series they’ve yet to be swept.  Last week’s 3-3 mark kept the club in the lead for the NL’s first Wild Card, although the 0-4 mark in September series openers reminds one of the first two months when the team was 2-14 in such games.  While the NL East is but a pipe dream, the Nats are still very much in the driver’s seat of the playoff race.

Meanwhile, Nationals Manager Davey Martinez left Sunday’s win over Atlanta with chest pains and was taken to a hospital.  He underwent a cardiac catheterization and will undergo more tests in the hospital.  General Manager Mike Rizzo said there is no timetable for his return, putting the team in the hands of bench coach Chip Hale for the time being.  Thoughts are with the skipper as he recovers.  

Digesting the Division- Atlanta (93-58) didn’t clinch in DC, and we’ll take that as a victory.  They did take 5 of 7 between the two teams this month and slice their magic number to four.  The Braves also own a nine game lead for the second best record in the National League, meaning their magic number to clinch home-field for the NLDS is also four.  Can they catch the Dodgers?  They trail the NL West champs by four games at this time.

The Wild, Wild Race- the Nats own a game and a half lead over the Chicago Cubs for home field.  Nationals play 8 of their remaining 14 games at home and 11 against winning clubs.  The Cubs lead Milwaukee by one game for the final playoff spot, and hte Brewers play their final 13 games of the season against sub-.500 squads.  The Mets (four games behind the Cubs) also have an advantageous schedule with 10 of 13 remaing games against losing clubs.  Philadelphia and Arizona are window dressing at this time.

O’s Woes- the Birds reach the 100-loss plateau for the second straight season, the first time that’s happened since the franchise moved to Baltimore.  Right now they trail Detroit in the race for the first overall pick in next year’s draft.  I hope they know what they’re doing from a tank standpoint.

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce batted .211 with a homer.  The former face of the franchise is now hitting .253 with 31 HR and a career-high 102 RBI. He’s also four strikeouts shy of matching his career high of 169.

Last Week’s Heroes- Howie Kendrick batted 8-for-16 with a team-high 4 RBI while Victor Robles hit .350.  Anibal Sanchez posted two solid starts, allowing just a pair of earned runs over 14 innings. Stephen Strasburg struck out 7 over 6 frames to post his 17th win of the year.  Sean Doolittle, Javy Guerra and Daniel Hudson posted scoreless weeks out of the bullpen.

Last Week’s Humbled- Tanner Rainey, Wander Suero, Eric Fedde, and Aaron Barrett were each touched up on their respective ways to ERA’s of 10+.  Trea Turner hit .167, Asdrubal Cabrera went 2-for-14 while Yan Gomes batted 2-for-17.

Game to Watch- Monday Stephen Strasburg pitches the series opener against the Cardinals, who counter with 15-game winner Dakota Hudson.  If this team is going to reverse its recent slide, the series opener is a great way to start.

Game to Miss- Friday the Nats meet Miami and start Austin Voth against fellow rookie Robert Dugger. After 13 straight games against division leaders, it’s okay to take this one off.

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Somebody from the NCAA needs to find out exactly what is in the water of Lake Thunderbird in Norman, Oklahoma.  Because once again the most feared passing attack in the nation wears the crimson and cream of the Oklahoma Sooners.  And once again it’s a transfer quarterback piloting the attack; yes, OU is getting it done this fall once more with somebody else’s discard.  Baker Mayfield (a former Texas Tech walk-on) won the Heisman two years ago while Kyler Murray (an ex-Texas A&M backup) took home the trophy last fall.  Enter Jalen Hurts, who was a part of Alabama’s College Football Playoff Champion in 2017 and threw for 48 touchdowns during his Crimson Tide career.  Hurts is even better at OU:  Saturday’s 48-14 win over UCLA saw Hurt throw for 289 yards while running for 150 more.  When Lincoln Riley took over two years ago for a retiring Bob Stoops, many were curious about the direction of a program that had won 10 Big 12 titles in 17 seasons under Bob Stoops.  Riley’s delivered with a winner (27-4 overall mark in his two-plus seasons) that’s been fun to watch. The Sooners show no signs of slowing down, and wouldn’t it be something for Hurts to face his former team in the College Football Playoff?

Alma Mater Update- what did you expect after the 43-point loss at Maryland?  The 41-6 defeat at home to top ranked and defending national champ Clemson was another teaching moment where one realizes that the Orange have a ways to go. Thank goodness Western Michigan and Holy Cross are on the horizon.

No. 21 Maryland (2-1) got to 17 hard way: two safeties, two field goals, a touchdown and an extra point.  Unfortunately they couldn’t score on eight plays from inside the Temple 10-yard line in the fourth quarter (they also failed to convert on a fourth and goal in the first half) and missed a field goal in a 20-17 loss to the Owls.  Coach Mike Locksley compared the 2-0 start to driving cross-country and “reaching Phoenix without a flat”. Let’s just say the car is going into the shop during the upcoming bye week after multiple issues on the way to Tucson.

Terrapin Triumphs: Anthony McFarland rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown.  Antoine Brooks notched 13 tackles to pace a defense that held the Owls to 3-14 on third down while tallying three takeaways.  After punting issues the first two weeks, the Terps averaged 42.8 yards on nine attempts in week three.

Terrapin Troubles: Josh Jackson completed 15 of 38 passes with an interception while posting his worst game rating as a collegian.  The Terps converted just 5-21 on third down.  The defense that had been stout over the first two weeks failed to register a sack while allowing over five yards per carry to Temple’s tailback tandem.  A missed field goal and extra point plus a failed fake field goal cost the team crucial points in a one-possession game.  Nine penalties for 88 yards didn’t help either.

Next: Friday, September 27 against No. 13 Penn State.

 

Virginia Tech (2-1, 0-1 ACC) slept in Saturday morning like most college kids, and took a while to wake up in the afternoon against Furman. After trailing 14-3 at the half, the Hokies bounced back to take a quick lead in the third quarter and hold on to beat the Paladins 24-17.  Disaster was averted for the second straight week, but glass in Blacksburg looks decidedly half-empty with the tougher part of the schedule yet to come.

Hokie Highlights: Keshawn King rushed for 119 yards while Tre Turner ran for 68 yards and a touchdown while also catching a TD pass.  Emmanuel Belmar made seven tackles and paced the pass rush with 1.5 sacks.  After a rough first half, the defense held Furman to 59 yards on 20 plays to begin the second-while turning two takeaways into 10 points.

Hokie Humblings:  Ryan Willis may have completed 17 of 21 passes, but averaged six yards per completion.  Against an FCS school.  Two more turnovers for the team that has coughed up nine this year, and both led to Furman touchdowns.

Next: Friday, September 27 vs. Duke.

 

Navy (2-0,  1-0 AAC) wasted little time pulling away from East Carolina, scoring the first four times they had the ball en route to a 42-10 rout of the Pirates.  Coach Ken Niumatalolo said that this was the one of the best games in all phases he’s seen his team play since taking over in Annapolis.  While ECU might not be the best barometer of how good this Mids team will be, so far it definitely appears to be a major upgrade over last year’s edition.

Midshipman Medals: Malcolm Perry rushes for 156 yards and four touchdowns, while throwing for 151 yards and two more scores.  CJ Williams catches 3 passes for 117 yards and 2 scores.  Elan Nash notched 9 tackles while the defense generated eight 3 & outs, holding the Pirates to 2-13 on third down.

Midshipman Miscues: outside of the offensive backups gaining 33 yards on 13 plays from scrimmage during mop-up time, there was a fumbled punt in the fourth quarter.  The skies don’t get much sunnier in Annapolis.

Next: Thursday September 26 at Memphis.

 

No. 25 Virginia (3-0, 2-0 ACC) continues its autumn of possibilities by rallying in the second half to beat Florida State 31-24.  The Cavaliers scored the last three times they had the football and needed a last-second stand in the red zone to hold off the Seminoles.  Kippy and Buffy will be calling in sick Monday.

Cavalier Congrats: Wayne Taulapapa rushes for 3 touchdowns while Bryce Perkins throws for 295 yards and a TD toss to Joe Reed, who had 8 catches for 83 yards on the night.  Jordan Mack made 13 tackles and a sack while leading a defense that held the Seminoles to a season-low point total.

Cavalier Concerns: nine penalties, including multiple infractions that kept Florida State’s final drive alive.  The running game still needs to find itself after Perkins and Taulapapa combined to average less than three yards per carry.  Perkins also threw a pair of interceptions.

Next:  Saturday at noon against Old Dominion.

 

 

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The problem with the mid-September schedule is that while the networks are looking for compelling matchups on a weekly basis, most schools nowadays try to build bowl eligibility insurance by bringing at least one FCS school or lower-tier FBS program to campus (and in a few cases sometimes one of each).  This means early-season matchups between ranked foes are few and far between.  Or in the case of this week, try none.  As in zero.  Blame more than the schedule-stuffers, with teams from Iowa State (Cyclones were taken to triple-overtime by Northern Iowa in week one) to Syracuse (coughed up 650 yards and 63 points at Maryland in week two) failing to live up to the preseason hype.

The Orange will face a top-ranked Clemson team that’s more than angry after almost being upset by SU last year in prime time on ABC.  I’m not saying things could get ugly, but Syracuse has allowed 60+ points to the likes of Wake Forest and Pitt in recent years.  This is Clemson.  FOX presents what used to be a great inter-sectional showdown in Oklahoma-UCLA.  While the Sooners have lived up to their No. 5 ranking, the Bruins have lost to the likes of Cincinnati and San Diego State.  Both with Chip Kelly coaching on the sidelines.  Meanwhile Lincoln Riley appears to be the quarterback whisperer as Jalen Hurts is on fire.  Gus Johnson is probably happy he drew Ohio State-Indiana instead.  At least ESPN will be showing an evening battle of unbeatens in No. 9 Florida facing Kentucky– hold on, the Wildcats are playing in the week’s ready for prime time matchup?  I’m not saying this is the week to go apple-picking or antiquing, but you guys can build major relationship cred without missing much.

 

Alma Mater Update- guess what?  The Orange may not be a Top 25 team this year.  Last Saturday’s loss at Maryland exposed multiple issues-and if there’s one team you don’t want to know about your glaring weaknesses, it’s Clemson.  As in top-ranked and defending National Champion Clemson.  As in the Tigers SU beat two years ago in the Dome and almost upset last year in Death Valley.  The bigger bummer is my Cuse buddy “Dome Doug” will be making the trip to the game so I won’t be able to watch at the “Orange Room”, the ultimate fan-cave.  Last year I drank all of his son’s root beer as I was loading up for an evening shift.  By the way, Barq’s goes great with blown double-digit second half lead.

 

No. 21 Maryland (2-0) vs. Temple (1-0), noon (CBS Sports Network). 

The Terps are ranked for the first time since joining the Big Ten and have smashed their first two foes to smithereens.  But a Terrapin’s memory is a long one, and the image of a Top 25 team going to Tallahassee in 2013 and getting torched by Florida State 63-0 remains in the back of one’s mind.  So does the school’s recent rough history with the Owls, like last year’s 35-14 loss at home.  Anthony Russo burned the Terrapin secondary for touchdown passes of 36 and 47 yards last fall and threw for 409 yards in the Owls’ Labor Day weekend win over Bucknell.  The key to Maryland’s early start has been third down dominance:  the offense ranks eighth (61%) in FBS at moving the chains while the defense (25%) is 14th best in the nation.  Coach Mike Locksley compares the season to driving cross-country, and that starting 2-0 feels like “arriving in Phoenix without a flat”.  I’m tempted to dive all-in on Glen Campbell references for the season, but his biggest hits were 40-50 years ago.  Also, the second verse in “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” refers to Albuquerque- where Locksley went 2-26 as New Mexico’s head coach.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins reach Galveston (Oh Galveston!) without further car trouble, 34-19.

 

Virginia Tech (1-1) vs. Furman (1-1), noon (ACC Network). 

Could the Hokies be in trouble?  Their two-touchdown win over Old Dominion didn’t necessarily make one think that this fall’s edition was that much better than the team that needed to schedule a provisional game to make postseason play.  They currently rank last in FBS in turnover margin and have had issues running the ball (3.4 yards per carry after accounting for sacks).  Enter a Furman team that’s ranked 16th in FCS and is averaging 44 points per game.  Darren Grainger threw for 311 yards last week against Georgia State, but the freshman will learn rather quickly that the former Turner Field has nothing on Lane Stadium.  Or so Hokie Nation hopes as they try not to choke on their smoked turkey legs.

Presto’s Picks: Hokies have their hands full but hold on, 36-27.

 

Navy (1-0) vs. East Carolina (1-1), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network). 

After a week off, the Mids begin American Athletic Conference play looking to end a disturbing trend:  the Midshipmen went 14-3 during their first two AAC campaigns but went 6-10 in conference play the last two autumns.  Their foe can sympathize:  ECU went 4-20 in league play from 2016-18.  Enter former James Madison Coach Mike Houston, and a Pirates team that looked just as awesome in their rout of Gardner-Webb as they looked awful in their blowout loss at NC State.  If that’s comparing apples to oranges, the Mids’ week one win over Holy Cross is a pomegranate.  The game’s in Annapolis, where the current senior class is 13-3 in regular season games.  Did I mention East Carolina is 1-16 on the road since the 2016 season started?

Presto’s Pick:  Midshipmen get it done, 31-20.

 

No. 25 Virginia (2-0, 1-0 ACC) vs. Florida State (1-1), 7:30 p.m. (ACC Network). 

What’s this?  The Cavaliers are ranked and are favored against the Seminoles?  It’s been a long year the last two weeks in Tallahassee, as FSU needed a missed extra point in overtime to prevail over (gulp) Louisiana-Monroe.  The defense coughs up 40 points and 520 yards per game doesn’t even look that good.  UVa’s pass defense (under 50% completion rate and 157.5 yards per game) will be tested by James Blackman (73% and 304.5) while Cam Akers presents the perfect counter-punch (193 yards rushing last week) on the ground.  These schools actually compete for the “Jefferson-Eppes Trophy”; it’s not the Civil ConFLiCT but just about as relevant over the years as UVa is 3-15 against FSU.

Kippy and Buffy know their history, and that “Eppes” refers to Thomas Jefferson’s grandson Francis Eppes IV, a two-time Mayor of Tallahassee and Trustee at the seminary that would eventually become Florida State.  Nothing says history like tailgating with a bottle of 2013 Jefferson Vineyards Meritage“an oak driven wine with wonderful aromatics. The bright palate shows berry and black pepper flavors, finishing with lingering notes of coffee.”  Coffee is for closers- and in the season of possibilities could that be the Cavaliers?

Presto’s Picks:  Cavs come through, 27-22.

 

Georgetown tops Catholic, Howard falls to Hampton, Towson tumbles to Maine, Richmond loses to Elon, James Madison mauls Morgan State.

Last Week: 8-1. Overall: 14-4.

 

 

Just when you thought the Skinsanity of Seasons Past was strictly a thing of the past, the Burgundy and Gold go ahead and put their fan base on panic and anxiety mode.  The team’s come-from-ahead 32-27 loss (but they covered the 10.5 point-spread) saw plenty of possibilities before getting smacked in the face with the realities of this team and franchise in 2019.  They went toe to toe with the division’s most recent Super Bowl champ, but find themselves lacking in the end.  All while stirring up a hornet’s nest of locker room ire.  Welcome back…

Running Back Roulette- after years of quarterback controversies, it’s nice to see the team diversify this fall.  Adrian Peterson (1,000+ yards last year) was inactive for a game where Derrius Guice made his regular season debut.  Even Rex Grossman was active when Robert Griffin III made his debut in 2012.  While Peterson sat quietly in sweats, the Skins ran for 28 yards on 13 carries with Guice gaining 18 on 10 tries.  In addition, Guice went to the medical tent during the game-saying that “nature was calling”. Evidently “nature calling” meant “the knee that didn’t suffer a torn ACL last year was bothering him”.  An MRI later puts a dark cloud over the position.   And we’ve only just begun…

The Case for Keenum- this year’s quarterback threw for 380 yards, the most for a Redskin in a season opener since Brad Johnson in 1999.  His ceiling appears to be higher than anything that existed for Alex Smith, and even though many feel the 31-year old is a stop gap until Dwayne Haskins gets up to speed it’s nice to see the passing game in good hands. 

Catching Fire- a lot has been made of Josh Doctson’s inability to stay healthy as a rookie while producing in the years since.  Sunday rookie Terry McLauirin grabbed 5 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown, giving him in one game more 100-yard receiving efforts than Doctson did in his entire time here.  Last year’s rookie flash Trey Quinn added 4 catches for 33 yards and a TD, and ageless veteran Vernon Davis notched 4 receptions for 59 yards and the game’s first score.  A big catch for Davis, who recently lost his grandfather.

Hold the Line!- while Trent Williams’ holdout continues, the offensive line allowed one sack while generating a little over two yards per carry.  The combination of Erick Flowers and Donald Penn were also whistled for a combined four penalties in the fourth quarter.  Move along, nothing to see here.

Third and a tale of two halves- the team converted 5 of 9 before intermission, and went 0 for 4 during the Eagles’ comeback.  The team ran on 12 of 13 plays, the other being a direct snap to Chris Thompson that was snuffed out.  Keenum completed 8 of 12 passes with 5 conversions, with the top targets being Vernon Davis (one conversion on three catches on five attempts) and Paul Richardson (two conversions on two attempts).  Yardage breakdown:  2 for 3 on short (1-3 needed) yardage, 1 for 3 on medium, and 2 for 7 on long yardage (7+ yards needed).

Defensive Deficiencies- things began well enough, before the second half saw the Eagles score the first four times they had the football.  The D generated just one sack, while Philly held the ball for over 21 minutes after intermission.  Quinton Dunbar led the team with nine tackles; and I maintain that it’s never good for a cornerback to pace the team in stops.

Special Teams Glass Mostly Full- Dustin Hopkins converted both field goal attempts and went 2-2 in extra points while Tress Way averaged 54 yards per punt.  Trey Quinn returned a punt for 11 yards while Steven Sims averaged 15 yards per kickoff return.  Punt coverage did allow 11.5 yards per return and the Eagles didn’t have a kickoff return.

Flying Flags- the Redskins were whistled 12 times for 96 yards.  Eight on offense, one on defense and three on special teams.  A league-high four holds (plus one more on special teams) and two false starts were the repeat offenses.  Erick Flowers (two holds) and Donald Penn (a chop block and a false start) are the early leaders in the race nobody wants to win.  The worst penalty?

Dissecting the Division-  Dallas’ 35-17 win gives the Cowboys first place after one week, while the Eagles are in second for the moment.  The Skins’ minus-five point differential means they’re in third and avoid the cellar for the moment.

West is Best- I know it’s early, but the NFC West went 3-0-1 while the AFC West is 3-1 after one week.

 

The Nationals’ playoff push took some water this past week when they lost five of seven to fellow contenders, all but assuring Atlanta of a second straight NL East title.  The incredible 11-10 comeback win against the New York Mets feels like months ago, but it kept the Nats from getting swept.  And in a world where one isn’t going to win the division but still leads the Wild Card by three games, you want to win every series but you most definitely don’t want to get swept.  Sunday, the Nats beat back the brooms against the Braves thanks to Max Scherzer on the mound and the bats finally breaking out after being dormant all series.  Brace yourself for a bumpy ride as the Nats jet tries to land on the playoff runway.

Digesting the Division- Atlanta’s Magic Number is 11 with 18 left.  For those curious Sunday’s loss ended a 17-2 stretch.  If things break the right or wrong way (depending on your perspective) the Braves could clinch the division Saturday or Sunday in DC.  The Nats (79-63 after a 2-5 week) get AL Central-leading Minnesota before the Braves drop by the district.  Philadelphia (74-68, 4-3) and the New York Mets (72-70, 3-3) find themselves on the outer reaches of the Wild Card pack.  Miami?  Now 51-91, the Marlins have clinched last place for the second straight year and Manager Don Mattingly dips under the .500 mark for his career (he’s now at 716-719).

The Wild, Wild Card- the Nats lead the Chicago Cubs by three games for home field while the Cubs are 1.5 games better than Arizona for the final playoff spot in the NL.  The Nats easily have the toughest schedule with 17 of 20 games coming against winning clubs, although they will play 11 of those 17 at home.  The Cubs have 7/20 against .500+ teams, with all seven games coming at Wrigley Field.  Arizona plays 12/19 against losing clubs, and that’s including a four game series at the slowly sinking Mets.  Milwaukee (74-68, 2GB) plays an equal amount of games against both types of teams.  Philadelphia (74-68) has 11 of its final 20 on the road against winning clubs.

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce batted .188 and hurt his hand.  He’s now at .254 for the season with 30 HR and a career-high 101 RBI.  Harper’s 11 shy of reaching his career high of 169 strikeouts.  And there are still five games against the Nats in DC later this month.

O’s Woes- the sweep by Texas drops the Birds to 46-97, or on pace to win 52 games this year.  While surpassing last year’s 47 wins is almost a certainty, there are those of us who have seen September swoons that have taken much better teams from 63-63 to 67-95 in 2002 and from 71-68 to 75-87 two years ago.  So nothing is a given as of yet.

Last Week’s Heroes- Asdrubal Cabrera hit .450 with 2 HR and 8 RBI while Anthony Rendon batted .333 with a team-high 6 runs and 3 RBI. Somebody should sign him.  Ryan Zimmerman and Kurt Suzuki had clutch hits in the team’s crazy comeback Tuesday against the Mets.  Max Scherzer got the no-decision that night, but struck out 8 over 6 innings Sunday to notch his first win since the All Star Break.  Sean Doolittle tossed two scoreless innings of relief.  But Aaron Barrett outshone them all.  The reliever tossed one scoreless inning, completing his comeback from Tommy John Surgery and a broken humerus bone.  Great to have you back in the bigs, Aaron.

Last Week’s Humbled- Joe Ross coughed up 7 runs over 3.2 innings while Anibal Sanchez, Roenis Elias and Javy Guerra each posted ERA of 10+.  Gerardo Parra (1 for 13) and Matt Adams (1 for 15) had market correction weeks at the plate after enjoying hot flashes this season.

Game to Watch- Friday the Braves come to town with a chance to provide the NL East knockout blow, and they’ll be starting rookie Mike Soroka (11-4, 2.67 ERA).  Max Scherzer will be on the mound for the Nats. Enough said.

Game to Miss- Saturday afternoon Joe Ross and Mike Foltynewich bring a combined 10.45 ERA to the mound, while out on Route 50 Navy will be kicking off AAC play by hosting East Carolina.  Go Mids!