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While the closing of the local swimming pools is usually the figurative end for summer, it doesn’t really feel like autumn until we start to hear about the hot seats in college football.  And while there is one at Nebraska after the Cornhuskers began the season 1-2, any heat Mike Riley feels is now obscured by the hot mess that is the firing of Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst.

Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make.  Nebraska dominated the Big Eight and its successor the Big 12 (also known as the Big XII on some logos) before joining the Big Ten (which had previously been dealing with an 11-team membership for two decades).  They went from being a senior partner in a firm they helped create to becoming a junior associate that can’t even win the easier West division (let the record show the Huskers did win one Legends Division before the Big Ten regained its mind).  And now they’re not even the new kid in town who wears red (expanding with Maryland and Rutgers mean 50% of the league wears some shade of that color) anymore.  While men’s basketball has gone from playing in the 8-vs-9 game the first day of the Big 12 Tournament to playing in the 12-vs-13 game the first day of the Big Ten Tournament, the football program no longer has a schedule that allows easy access to recruits in Texas–or games against Iowa State and Kansas.  The same people who couldn’t wait to get rid of Frank Solich a decade ago couldn’t wait to be done with Bo Pellini two winters ago…and now those same people are wondering if they can buy out Mike Riley who is 16-13 with mostly Pellini’s players.  Thankfully the Huskers begin league play with games against Rutgers and Illinois.

 

Alma Mater Update– there was once a time when the Orange went toe to toe with LSU… beating the Tigers in the 1989 Hall of Fame Bowl.  This week SU takes its 2-1 record into Baton Rouge against a 2-1 Tiger team that got roasted by Mississippi State last weekend.  That’ll go over real well.  The 7 p.m. kickoff means I’ll miss the first half (as I’ll be covering Maryland-UCF)…which might be a good thing.

 

Friday Night-

Virginia (2-1) at Boise State (2-1), 8 p.m., ESPN2.  A battle of 2-1 teams takes place on the blue turf in the Gem State…but not all 2-1’s are alike.  The Broncos lost in triple-overtime at a ranked Washington State after losing their starting quarterback to injury while the Cavaliers were soundly beaten at home by a second-tier Big Ten school.  Brett Rypien could potentially return for BSU–although Montell Cozart is a dual threat that gives teams like UVa nuts (they’ve coughed up 32, 89 and 90 yards rushing to the three starting quarterbacks they’ve faced this fall).  The Cavaliers don’t have a ton of happy Friday memories:  two years ago they were roasted 56-14 at Scott Stadium on a Friday night by…Boise State.  Despite name recognition, Bronco Mendenhall went just 2-2 (and 0-2 on the road) against the Broncos when he coached BYU.  Something about that blue field.  Kippy & Buffy tailgate for their first road and night game…looking for sweets.  Thank goodness my Uncle Chris and Aunt Kristi own a chocolate shop in Boise.  The Chocolat Bar (www.thechocolatbar.com) specializes in truffles…and my UVa friends will enjoy those with a bottle of Saracco Moscato d’Asti 2016: “sweet and seductive as the hills where it is born and grows; as vibrant and sharp as the mountains that surround and protect the land on the horizon; refreshing and effervescent, like the wind rushing down from the Alps towards their hills.”  Add a signing nun and we’ve got something here.  Cavaliers come up short, 38-24.

 

Saturday-

#13 Virginia Tech (3-0) vs Old Dominion (2-1), 2 p.m., ACC Network Extra.  While the ACC schedule kicks off against defending national champ Clemson next weekend, college football’s version of “Linner” (not lunch, but definitely not dinner) has the Hokies playing a local foe for the fourth straight week.  Pass protection will be a priority-as the Monarchs lead the nation with 16 sacks this season.  The Hokies by comparison have allowed three sacks over three games.  Redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson’s education is a little easier when he has three seniors and two juniors up front protecting him…and having Cam Phillips (nine catches and 139 yards receiving per game) can’t hurt either.  ODU’s offense will be led by 17-year old freshman Steven Williams…and plan B is turnover-prone quarterback Blake LaRussa.  The Monarch’s defense?  Performing like paupers in allowing 53 points to North Carolina team that’s an underdog at home to Duke this week.  Not that anybody is looking ahead to the Clemson game.  That’s in Blacksburg, right?  Hokies handle the Monarchs, 45-13.

 

Maryland (2-0) vs UCF (1-0), 3 p.m., Fox Sports 1.  The Terps are coming off on an odd early-season bye (they did have week two off in 2011, but that was after playing the previous Monday night).  Meanwhile, the Golden Knights are coming off of two weeks off due to the hurricane devastation of the Sunshine State- as UCF’s game with Georgia Tech was canceled and their conference tilt with Memphis was moved (major credit to the AAC for being able to reshuffle the league schedule jenga-style).  Quarterback McKenzie Milton made his first career start last year against Maryland–and threw for 260 yards while accounting for all three of their touchdowns in a double-overtime defeat.  Whether you read “Paradise Lost” or watch “Office Space” in your spare time, containing Milton in the pocket will go a long way towards remaining in the Garden of Unbeatens as well as stapling another victory to the 2017 resume.  Last year’s game was won by true freshman Tyrrell Pigrome’s feet in double-overtime;  this year true freshman Kasim Hill will be contributing from the opening possession.  Terrapins Triumph, 44-20.

 

Navy (2-0, 1-0 AAC) vs Cincinnati (2-1), 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network.  Before you ask me, “why is Cincinnati in the AAC East and Navy is in the AAC West?” just remember that the Bearcats should be in the Big 12 as a travel partner with West Virginia if only for the Bob Huggins effect during hoop season (Houston is the school that won’t make things an even dozen because the Big 12 schools are petty).  While the Mids had a week off to digest their near-defeat at home to Tulane (and watch the Green Wave get bludgeoned by Oklahoma), Cincy is coming off of a 21-17 win over Miami (Ohio Version) and boasts an offense that remains a work in progress.  The Bearcats rank last in the AAC in total offense and third down conversions, while gaining 3.2 yards per carry and completing just over 50% of their passes.  If Navy is going to contend for a West Division title, the defense that returned six starters needs to make a statement Saturday in Annapolis.  Midshipmen make a statement, 28-14.

 

Howard beats Bethune-Cookman, Georgetown loses at Columbia, James Madison mauls Maine, Richmond rips Elon, Towson tumbles at Stony Brook.

 

Last Week: 5-2.  Overall: 18-5.

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So much for the descent into disaster.  The Redskins never trailed in their 27-20 win at the Los Angeles Rams…and for a while it was cool to see the George Allen-era Skins uniforms go against the George Allen-era Rams uniforms.  Now we have to wonder if week one was the aberration or week two was the mirage.

Captain Kirk- the Franchise Tagged One completed 18 of 27 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown…the game-winner to Ryan Grant.  While less than ten yards per completion is less than ideal, Cousins was turnover free this time out and was much better on third down.  Star Trek Episode Equivalent: “The Tholian Web”, where Kirk is trapped aboard the USS Defiant as it phases into another dimension.  Perhaps the Skins’ offense is phasing into a different dimension of its own.

Running Wild- I couldn’t see too well without my glasses…was that USC’s old “Student Body Right” on display at the Coliseum?  The Skins ran for 229 yards…their highest total since last October’s win over Philadelphia (ironically also a 27-20 score).  Robert Kelley provided the thunder (until he hurt his ribs) while Chris Thompson added the lightning (106 total yards on six touches) and rookie Samaje Perine provided the rain (67 yards on a team-high 21 carries).  Nobody expects “Hogs 2.0” to sustain a ground attack that regularly surpasses 200 yards, but consistently reaching 100 would help Cousins and the air game hit their stride.

Better to Receive- at least this time Terrelle Pryor didn’t have eleven targets.  Jordan Reed led the way with six catches for 48 yards while Ryan Grant acted like it was August all over again with his 11-yard TD grab.  Jamison Crowder notched three of his four catches on third down.

Third and Something- the Skins converted 5 of 13 attempts, with Kirk Cousins completing 7 of 12 passes (5 conversions) and Perine getting stopped for no gain on their lone run.  His top target?  Chris Thompson (4 targets, 1 catch and conversion) followed by Crowder (3, 3 and 2).  Eight of the 13 passes were thrown to the short right…while three more tossed to the short middle and the touchdown came on a pass to the short left.  Distance breakdown:  2 for 2 on short-yardage, 2 for 7 on medium range (4 to 6 yards needed) and 1 for 4 in long-yardage situations.  Nine of 13 third downs are medium range or better?  I’ll take that.

Case for the Defense- I’m this close to going back to “Saved by the Bell” references as Zach Brown is producing like a powerhouse preppie.  With 10 tackles, the free agent pickup leads the team in stops for the second straight week.  Linebacker Preston Smith added a sack and two quarterback hits.  Cornerback Josh Norman forced another fumble with his well-placed punch.  Two more takeaways by the team give the Skins four on the season…tying the D for third in the NFL.

Third Down and Lockdown- even though the Rams moved the chains on 5 of 12 attempts, at least the defense didn’t get embarrassed on third and long–holding Jared Goff and LA to 0 for 7 on third and 7+ yards needed.  Bending but not breaking:  Goff completed 6 of 8 attempts but only three of those resulted in a first down (they also sacked him once).  While the Skins allowed both Todd Gurley short yardage runs to keep possessions alive, this was much better than the Philadelphia game.

Flying Flags- four penalties for 25 yards?  Who are these people!?  I’m used to Septembers where this team is committing multiple infractions on the same drive and often on the same play.   Instead– the team’s six penalties accepted over two weeks is the lowest in the league.  Two holds, a defensive hold and a neutral zone infraction were accepted Sunday (a facemask was offsetting and an ineligible downfield receiver was declined).  Jordan Reed is the early leader on the season with two flags (holding and pass interference).

Special Situations- Tress Way averaged 51 yards per punt–placing both inside the 20-yard line.  Dustin Hopkins makes two of three field goal attempts, connecting from 22 and 41 yards while missing a 51-yarder.  It would be nice to have more production from the return game, but there were no major embarrassments and the coverage crew didn’t give up the big play.

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia leads the NFC East via tiebreaker:  the Eagles and Dallas own 1-0 division marks to the Redskins 0-1 while Philly has the better point-differential.  The Skins are in third while the 0-2 Giants are in last…but take heart as Howie from Hoboken remembers that the 2007 team started 0-2 and won a Super Bowl.

Conference Competition- the AFC holds an early 4-3 edge in the race to 33 wins and interconference supremacy.  The AFC West (6-2) is marginally better than the NFC South (5-2) while each division has at least one 0-2 team.  A different race for #1 is underway…who’s feeling the draft?

The word “denouement” is defined as “the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved”.  After last Sunday’s clinching of the NL East, the Nats were due for a little denouement.  Instead of being hot on the Dodgers’ tail for home field in the National League, manager Dusty Baker’s team dropped the last two series of their homestand and almost assured themselves of the #2 seed (which they had last year).  Denoument!  The usually rock-solid rotation had one of its few subpar weeks, and one writes off the 2-4  thud as a throat-clearing.  Unless it continues…and when I say continues I mean for the next two weeks and into October.  Thirteen games to finish denoumenting (“you keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means”). 

 

Magic and Tragic Numbers- the Nats trail the Dodgers by six games for the best record in the league;  thus LA’s magic number is eight.  The Nats’ magic number to clinch at least the second-best mark in the NL is seven (Cubs are currently in the #3 spot as the NL Central leader).  Miami (eliminated from the NL East race eight days ago) is one loss or one Colorado win away from being officially out for October (and even if they win every game and the Rockies finish 0-12 Milwaukee is four wins away from bouncing the Marlins).

O’s Woes- let the record show that the Orioles have been very good against AL East foes this year:  10-6 against division-leading Boston and 33-26 overall entering last week.  But with three games against last-place Toronto and four games at the Wild Card contending New York Yankees, the Birds blew up.  Five losses in seven games almost eliminates the plucky bunch from the Charm City…as their “tragic number” is eight.  Blame a bad rotation for the 5-11 September…as Wade Miley and Jeremy Hellickson both own ERA’s at 9+ this month.  An 8-4 finish is needed to avoid the team’s first losing season since 2011.

If the Playoffs Began Today- the Nationals would have home field over the Chicago Cubs in one Divisional Series while the Dodgers would face the winner of Arizona-Colorado.  Cleveland (thanks to the 22-game winning streak) plays the Wild Card winner in the AL (Yankees-Minnesota) while Houston has home field advantage over Boston.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .353 while Ryan Zimmerman added two homers and four RBI.  But the stage was set for Victor Robles:  the prime outfield prospect went 2-for-5, scoring twice while driving in a run.  Shades were necessary to watch this future.  Stephen Strasburg won his lone start, striking out eight.  The bullpen boasted several solid efforts:  multiple scoreless innings were thrown by Matt Grace, Ryan Madson, Austin Adams, Shawn Kelley, Sean Doolittle, Enny Romero and Matt Albers.

Last Week’s Humbled- for one of the first times all season, multiple starters experienced rough outings.  Edwin Jackson allowed seven runs over two and a third innings, while Max Scherzer (seven over six) and Gio Gonzalez (six over six) didn’t help their cases in the chase for lowest ERA in the NL (Clayton Kershaw still the leader at 2.12).  Howie Kendrick (.167) and Michael A. Taylor (.182) had off-weeks, while Matt Wieters (0-for-12) is hitting .042 this month.

Game to Watch- devoid of potential playoff previews and magnificent mound matchups, I’ve circled Saturday night’s duel at Citi Field against the New York Mets.  Stephen Strasburg since coming off the disabled list is 4-1 with and ERA of 0.66.  He has a decent chance to reach 200 strikeouts for the second time in his career and match his career high of 15 wins in a season.

Game to Miss- thank you Nationals for making things easy for me with the six-man rotation.  A.J. Cole pitches against the Mets Sunday afternoon, amidst a flurry of NFL action.  While the Redskins won’t be playing until Sunday night, we’re going to enjoy afternoon football instead of afterthought baseball.

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CBS and FOX have shared the sports broadcasting stage for almost 25 years…as the upstart network actually replace the old guard when they outbid  them for the NFC package in 1993.  While fears of having Homer Simpson giving scores or the cast of “Beverly Hills, 90210” in the announcing booth with Summerall & Madden never came to fruition, FOX has experimented and brought how sports are presented on TV into this century.  And while CBS has kept pace, the old “Tiffany Network” still represents tradition.  Case in point- Saturday’s college schedule saw two thrilling games.  The team of Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson announced the nationally televised Florida-Tennessee tilt while the high-octane duo of Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt called the USC-Texas game.  Both games provided plenty of thrills and chills…and the Nessler-Danielson duo presented a national game with a finishing crescendo while Johnson-Klatt gave viewers a high-wire act with multiple exclamation points.  How do you like your eggs?  Evenly cooked with the right accents on the right parts?  Or flame-broiled with every twist and turn highlighted beyond belief?  Thank goodness there’s room for both approaches…and the games are good enough that both are needed.

In other news:  while I stated that Saturday was the perfect day for chores/apple-picking/antiquing, many will refer to the fantastic finish of Florida-Tennessee.  And that’s exactly what was fantastic:  a fourth quarter where 37 of the game’s 46 points were scored.  Before that?  Two teams that were conscious objectors to sustained offense…and proof that the SEC East may the least again this year (despite multiple hot messes in Alabama’s fiefdom).  And what is it with the Vols and crazy endings?  Seven of the school’s nine losses since the 2014 season ended have been one-possession affairs.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange bounce back from a loss to directional Middle Tennessee to rout Central Michigan 48-17.  Eric Dungey threw for 279 yards while running for 105 more…while the defense pitched a shutout in the second half.  The 2-1 start now means instead of emotionally checking out on the 2017 season, we’re in for the duration.  The trip to nationally-ranked LSU.  The five-game gauntlet against ACC foes that are currently 11-2.  The looming November 25th game against Boston College when a trip to a fourth-tier bowl hangs in the balance.  Break out the wings…

 

#16 Virginia Tech (3-0) looked like it was doomed to repeat its traditional September stumble when they fell behind East Carolina 17-7 in the first quarter…only to score the games final 57 points in a 64-17 win.  Gone are the ghosts of Pirates past…as coach Justin Fuente’s team is 3-0 for the first time since 2011.  Hokie Highlights:  Josh Jackson threw for 372 yards and five touchdowns-while finding Cam Phillips for 14 catches, 189 yards and three scores.   Travon McMillan (72 yards on 11 carries) led a ground game that gained a season-high 287 yards.  The defense tallied three takeaways while holding ECU to 4 of 15 on third down.  Joey Slye made all three of his field goal attempts…and special teams blocked a Pirates’ attempt.  Hokie Humblings:  hold on, we have to find an issue with something in a 64-17 rout?  Tough room.  Next:  Saturday against 2-1 Old Dominion.

 

Virginia (2-1) equaled its victory total from 2016 by crushing Connecticut 38-18 after scoring the game’s first 31 points.  Let the record show that this is a Huskies team still finding its feet under first-year coach Randy Edsall.  And while previous years have seen September promise evaporate in the blink of an eye (or an interception returned for a TD), there have been enough positive signs over the first three games that the next nine games won’t be a disaster.  We think.  Cavalier Congrats:  Kurt Benkert threw for a school-record 455 yards while three of his receivers (Olamide Zaccheus, Doni Dowling and Andre Levrone) reached the century mark.  The running game averaged 5.5 yards per carry behind Jordan Ellis (95 yards on 20 carries) and the offense converted 7 of 12 third downs.  Micah Kiser tallied 15 tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery for a defense that notched two takeaways in the first half and pitched a shutout for the game’s first 44 minutes.  Lester Coleman punted just once but posted a 51-yarder.  Cavalier Concerns:  two more explosive plays allowed by the defense for scores-this week a 30-yard run and a 60-yard pass.  UVa was fortunate to recover all three of its fumbles against the Huskies.  Nine penalties for 109 yards will give the coaches plenty of “teaching moments” in film review.  Next:  Friday at 2-1 Boise State.

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Maryland and Navy have early-season byes.  Really?  Didn’t we just begin the season? The Mids actually have two byes built into their schedule because the Army game is held in December (their other week off is a very reasonable October 28th), so the Terps are the ones who suffer here thanks to the calendar (only 13 weeks between Labor Day and Thanksgiving), conference (nine Big Ten games limit the wiggle room) and contracts (non-league series are set years in advance).  Both schools are 2-0…and with each school receiving votes in both polls, glasses for the Terps and Midshipmen are more than half-full.  But each team has questions that will need to be answered moving forward.  We’ve seen Maryland roll up yards and points in the non-conference month before–is this offense Big Ten-ready?  And is this defense able to take the pounding up front in-conference that last year’s unit wasn’t?  Navy can run the ball as always, but will Zach Abey be able to complete more than a third of his passes (he’s right under 33% after two games)?  And will the defense that was somewhat accommodating against Tulane & Florida Atlantic be able to deny the likes of Houston and Memphis?

In other news, this is the Saturday for guys to go apple picking/antiquing/wine tasting/brunching with their significant others while also taking care of every home/yard project conceivable.   Even though both schools are ranked (barely), Florida/Tennessee feels less Spurrier/Fulmer and more Dickey/Battle this year (I almost feel bad for CBS’s Brad Nessler).  Just one matchup of top 20 teams:  #3 Clemson visits #14 Louisville one year after the top five showdown where Lamar Jackson won the battle (he’d eventually capture the Heisman Trophy) and the Tigers win the war (Clemson would eventually take the National Championship).   Make sure everything is done by 8–and if you’re going to see a movie, attend a matinee.

Alma Mater Update- when does the bye happen for the Orange?  After losing at home to Middle Tennessee, SU entertains Central Michigan.  If memory serves, the Chippewas went into Stillwater last year and upset a ranked Oklahoma State.  This year CMU is averaging 37.5 points in a 2-0 start that includes a win at Kansas behind grad transfer Shane Morris.  Not ideal…

Virginia (1-1) vs Connecticut (1-0), noon, ESPN2.  The Huskies’ week two game at South Florida was postponed, so we only have their 27-20 comeback win over Holy Cross to go on.  Condolences to the Cavaliers coaching staff for having to watch that tape over and over.  Randy Edsall is in his first season back with UConn, as he left the program in 2011 to coach Maryland to a 22-34 mark over four and a half seasons.  His mantra with the Terps was “fundamentals & technique”…so much that during season five Edsall was asked “which fundamentals and techniques are more important against a running attack like Michigan’s?”.  UVa’s offensive fundamentals this year have centered around Kurt Benkert’s passing:  the senior averages over 250 yards per game and has no turnovers through two weeks.  The Cav’s defensive techniques have been break but don’t bend- each of Indiana’s four touchdowns last week came on scoring plays of 25+ yards.  Kippy and Buffy go in-state for the first time all season, tailgating this week the fundamentally sound Barboursville 2015 Viognier Reserve:  “effusively fragrant, refreshing and luscious, a wine of full body and adaptability with fish, shellfish, poultry as well as game.” GAME ON with Jarlsberg cheese on Bremner Wafers.  Cavaliers come through, 24-20.

 

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#16 Virginia Tech (2-0) at East Carolina, 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network.  For some reason ECU had the Hokies’ number this decade:  from 2011-15 the Pirates topped Tech twice, while losing the other two games by single digits.  That number may have been misplaced when East Carolina fired Ruffin McNeill after the ’15 campaign, because last year Virginia Tech roasted the Pirates 54-17.  This year’s ship?  In utter chaos as allowing 90 points over the first two games has caused coach Scottie Montgomery to “reassign” defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson.  ECU quarterback Thomas Sirk threw for 2,625 yards and 16 touchdowns at Duke in 2015, but the transfer either still has a little rust or suffers from a poor supporting cast (53% passing, 1 TD and 4 INT over two games).  Now I’ve been told that the East Carolina is crazy on Halloween…and even though this is Virginia Tech’s first “true road test”, Greenville will be rather subdued in September.  Hokies roll, 38-14.

 

Howard falls at Richmond, Georgetown gets by Marist, James Madison tops Norfolk State, William & Mary beats Bucknell, Towson tumbles at St. Francis.

 

Last Week: 7-1.   Overall: 13-3.

SURPRISE!  The Redskins follow another underwhelming August for the starters by losing their regular season opener.  For those who’ve followed this team since coach Jay Gruden took over…did anybody expect anything else?  Backfiring offense?  You got it.  Disappointing defense that made some plays but came up short at the moment you needed them to come through?  Of course.  Special teams stumbles?  Bring on the muffed punt.  The big takeaway from Sunday’s 30-17 loss to Philadelphia was that many saw the seeds of this fruit weeks away.  Now they have to travel cross-country to face a Los Angeles Rams team that is coming off of a 46-9 rout of Indianapolis…and is coached by  Skins’ former offensive coordinator Sean McVay.   Giddy up!

Captain Kirk- the Franchise Tagged One completed 23 of 40 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown…while tossing an interception and losing two fumbles.  The interception was in the red zone and took points off the board…while the second fumble was returned for the defeat-sealing touchdown.  One year after posting a passer rating of 97.3 in two games against the Eagles, Kirk clocked in Sunday at 72.9.  Episode Equivalent?  I’m feeling this is “The Way to Eden”, where space hippies take over the ship and Spock jams with them in the lounge.  The leader of said hippies has weirder ears than Spock.  It’s not Kirk’s fault 100% this episode has issues, but he doesn’t help it.

Running on Empty- one thing Kirk did do well was make plays with his feet, leading the Skins in rushing with 30 yards on four carries.  Running backs Robert Kelley and Chris Thompson combined for 34 yards on 13 tries.  Anytime the quarterback leads the team in rushing, it better be 1975 and his coach better be Darrell Royal, Barry Switzer or Frank Broyles.

Receiving Roulette– in the first game minus the DeSean & Garcon duo, Terrelle Pryor led the team with six catches for 66 yards.  But none of those grabs came on the team’s last three possessions.  Josh Doctson?  No receptions for the 2016 first-rounder.  Jordan Reed (injured toe that isn’t lingering, they promise) added five grabs for 36 yards and Ryan Grant proved he’s not merely a preseason sensation with four receptions for 61 yards.  And we wonder why Kirk Cousins didn’t sign a long-term deal in the offseason.

DeSean & Garcon- I wish I could quit those guys…but the former Skins receivers will feature prominently here this season.  Pierre caught six passes for 81 yards in the Niners loss to Carolina while Jackson’s regular season debut was pushed back as Tampa Bay’s game in Miami was postponed.

Hold the Line- the Redskins front five didn’t live up to their “Hogs 2.0” moniker, allowing four sacks while breakdowns in the running game forced the offense into more than their share of long-yardage situations.  Hopefully Trent Williams isn’t too banged up– the line needs their best player at 100%.  A legendarily bad offensive line is what helped cause the 4-12 crater of 2009…and the thought was that smart drafting and player acquisition over the last eight offseasons had made this unit a strength instead of a weakness.  Sunday seemed to be a step back after many steps forward.

Third and Less than Ideal- the Skins moved the chains on 3 of 11 opportunities, calling pass plays on each occasion.  Cousins completed 4 of 9 passes for 2 conversions, while scrambling for one first down while getting sacked once.  Three passes to the short middle (two conversions), three to the short left and three to the deep middle.  His top target?  Jermaine Crowder (three passes, three incompletions including the interception in the red zone).  Yardage breakdown:  1-1 in short yardage, 0-3 in mid-range (4 to 6 yards needed) and 2-7 in long yardage.  Needing 7+ yards on 7 of 11 third downs is no way to move the ball.

What Brown can do for you- linebacker Zach Brown led the defense with 12 tackles…with two of those stops for losses.  One is always wary of free agent pickups in the world that gave us Adam Archuleta and Albert Haynesworth, but this move appears to be the right one from the start.

Quality not Quantity- Ryan Kerrigan doesn’t intercept a ton of passes, but he makes his picks count.  Sunday #91 returned a first half INT for a score…his third pick six in three career interceptions.  He also notched half of a sack to go with three tackles.  If the veteran can stay healthy and continue to wreak havoc this fall, the defense that ranked 28th last year will be much improved.

Third Down on D earns one- the inability to get off the field was an issue last year, and Sunday was no different.  The defense allowed the Eagles to move the chains on 8 of 14 attempts, including 5 of 9 on third and 7+ yards needed.  The defense was able to hold the Eagles on both of their third down plays, but was only able to sack Wentz once.

Flying Flags- just a pair of penalties for 15 yards to start the season.  That is marked improvement for a team that in recent years has consistently been near the top of the league in most flags.  The first-on Jordan Reed for holding-turned what would have been a 2nd and 10 into a 1st and 20 at midfield-the offense wound up punting.  The other-on Ryan Anderson for offsides-wiped out a Junior Galette sack and moved the Eagles in position to make a 42-yard field goal.  What did we say about quality verus quantity?

Special Situations- Tress Way averaged 40.5 yards over four punts while Dustin Hopkins made his only field goal attempt (a 33-yarder)…and there were no situations where the Skins eschewed a long field goal for a punt.  The return game?  Jamison Crowders’ muff set up the Eagles second touchdown.

Dissecting the Division- Dallas is the week one leader, edging Philadelphia on point differential (+16 to +13).  The Skins are in third place due to the same tiebreaker over the New York Giants.  Again, it’s only week one…they’ll get things turned around, right???

 

Forgive us if we’re a little giddy here.  It’s one thing to be a one-hit wonder…another to have “Get off of My Cloud” hit #1 in the US or “From Me To You” top the UK charts.  While the Nats had previously won NL East crowns in 2012 and 2014, they were unable to repeat the feat–sometimes embarrassing themselves in the process (Papelbon, anyone?).  Not the case this year, where General Manager Mike Rizzo made the necessary offseason (Adam Eaton) and in-season (the bullpen trio) moves to give Manager Dusty Baker the best club possible.  Baker’s firm but not overbearing hand on the wheel steered the club through injury-ravaged seas (they’ve used 50+ players this year).  And the players who came up short in defending previous titles had career-defining seasons (Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon & Gio Gonzalez specifically).  Instead of a winter of what-if, there are postseason possibilites.  And I no longer mention the magic number in this space.  That should be reason enough to celebrate.

From Magic to Tragic- while Philadelphia is already out of Wild Card contention, the other three NL East teams still have hopes.  Miami’s fall from orbit (12 losses in 14 games, including 0-7 against the Nats) drops the Marlins ten games behind Colorado for the final playoff spot in the National League.  Their “Tragic Number” is now ten.  Atlanta’s elimination number is seven while the Mets need a combination of five losses/Rockies wins to call it a year.  Enjoy at your own risk.

O’s Woes- somehow after getting swept by AL Central leading Cleveland the Birds remain on the fringe of the Wild Card, three games behind Minnesota.  Doesn’t anyone want this playoff berth?  The Twins, Angels and Rangers are a combined 14-16 over their last 30 combined games.  Twelve of the O’s remaining 19 games are on the road…but they only play seven games against teams with winning records.  And three of those are at home against Boston, a team that might lead the division but one Manager Buck Showalter’s crew is 10-6 against.

Playoff Possibilities- if the season ended today, the Nats would own the #2 seed in the NL and would host the Chicago Cubs in the first round.  The Los Angeles Dodgers would get the winner of the Wild Card game between Arizona and Colorado.  American League pairings would have top seed Cleveland host the Wild Card winner (New York Yankees or Minnesota) while Boston would visit Houston in the other series.

Last Week’s Heroes- Daniel Murphy hit .450 while Trea Turner tallied seven runs and six RBI, but Michael A. Taylor earned his middle initial by batting .409 with three homers and nine RBI.  Did we mention his inside-the-park grand slam?  Did we forget his out of this world defense that saved a home run Thursday and cut down a runner at the plate Friday?  For today I’m calling him Michael A+ Taylor.  Stephen Strasburg won both of his starts while posting an 18 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio.

Last Week’s Humbled- relievers Shawn Kelley and Oliver Perez are not making the best case to be included on the postseason roster…as both pitched Friday but were unable to record an out while allowing three-run homers.  The Nats also had the gall to clinch the division on the day the Redskins opened their season.  How dare the perennial postseason contenders win their fourth title in six years while the football team loses its fifth straight opener!  Talk about rubbing it in…

Game to Watch- the NL West leading Los Angeles Dodgers come to town this weekend, and Friday they send Alex Wood (14-3, 2.81 ERA) to the hill against Edwin Jackson.  Memories of last year’s hard-fought NLDS loss to LA and the division clinched has Friday not arriving soon enough.

Game to Miss-  I’m sorry, Gio Gonzalez.  You are having your best season since the 21-win campaign and your ERA is under two since the All Star Break.  But your start Tuesday against Atlanta is the same night that the Washington Mystics meet Minnesota.  WNBA fever takes over for at least one evening…as the upstart squad led by Maryland great Kristi Toliver and Elena Della Donne face last year’s runners-up and this year’s top regular season team.  It’s not the Kastles in World Team Tennis, but it’s close.