I don’t gamble.  Yes, I circle my picks every Sunday morning (this week I went 8-8 against the spread, reason #246 why I don’t gamble) but I rarely put cash down on an NFL game (plus, it’s illegal in these parts).  Monday night was reason #247 why I don’t put dollars on a sporting event:  with under a minute to play the Redskins were down 20-17 and if you had the Burgundy & Gold +7 or the under of 48.5 you were in great shape.  Even with a Skins field goal at :47 life was okay.  Even with a Chiefs FG at :04 it wasn’t the end of the world.  The world did end when the Redskins ran an offensive play drawn up in my backyard…and instead of being able to run around an oak tree they lost the ball and the Chiefs returned it for a score that covered the spread and scored the over.  As time expired.  THAT IS WHY WE DON’T GAMBLE.  

The 29-20 loss drops the Skins to 2-2 on the season and if they had RPI in the NFL they’d be in great shape:  the combined record of their four foes is 12-4.  Plenty of good and bad to chew on during the bye week.

Captain Kirk- the Franchise Tagged One completed 14-of-24 passes for 220 yards and 2 touchdowns with no interceptions or sacks.  Many will point to his third down pass that Josh Doctson couldn’t quite hang on to…but I will focus on Kirk making things happen with his feet on multiple occasions.  Much like when Captain Kirk thought he was the chief “KIROK” on the episode “The Paradise Syndrome”, Cousins did his darnedest to save the Burgundy and Gold planet from destruction.

Running in Circles- Cousins was the team’s leading rusher for the second time in four games…and through some sort of coincidence the Skins are 0-2 in those games.  The tailback trio of Samaje Perine, Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley combined for 73 yards on 3.8 per carry.  Not awful like against the Eagles, but definitely not awesome like the last two weeks.

Receiving Review- Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson combined to catch 5 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown, but those watching will remind everyone about the passes they didn’t catch:  Doctson’s grab would’ve resulted in a go-ahead TD and Pryor has developed a rep for not making catches between the numbers.  Jordan Reed returned to the lineup and made 3 receptions for 21 yards:  while his 14 catches on the season are tied for the team lead the TE is averaging 7.5 yards per catch.  On the other end of the spectrum from the young injured player is the healthy veteran-and Vernon Davis made 2 grabs for 89 yards while helping set up the Skins’ lone second half touchdown.

Third and Lost- after converting three of their first four money downs, the Skins failed to move the chains on six of their final seven attempts.  Kirk Cousins completed 3-of-8 passes for two conversions while scrambling for another first down…and his top target was Jordan Reed (completing 1-for-3 passes with one conversion).  Rob Kelley moved the sticks on his lone third down carry of the night.  Yardage Breakdown:  1-for-6 on 3rd & short, 0-for-1 on 3rd & mid-range (4 to 6 yards needed) and 3-for-4 on 3rd & long.

Defensive Dynamics- if it seemed as though the secondary was falling apart, it kind of was.  Josh Norman was just one player to depart due to injury (ribs)…and for a while I was confusing Stefan McClure with Troy McClure (“you might remember me from such situations as “The Shattered Secondary” and “Here Comes the Kickoff Team!”).  Zach Brown led the team with nine tackles while Martell Spaight added eight stops.

Third Down Blues in the Land of Red- the Chiefs converted 8-of-13 money downs…including 4-for-4 on the ground and short-yardage.  The bright spot?  Six of the 13 attempts came from 7+ yards…so at least the D was doing its job on 1st and 2nd down.

Special Situations- Dustin Hopkins converted both field goal attempts (with a long of 40) while Tress Way averaged 42.3 yards per punt (landing two inside the 20 as opposed to one touchback).  No punt or kickoff returns made for a quiet evening.

Flying Flags- the Skins were whistled for 44 yards on seven penalties.  All on the defense.  Five resulted in first downs for the Chiefs and three came on a last-minute drive that ended in a missed KC field goal.  Most costly?  Second quarter…a Neutral Zone Infraction by Preston Smith (he had two other flags declined Monday night) turned a 3rd & 8 into a 3rd & 3 at midfield the Chiefs would convert.  They’d go on to score their first TD of the game on that drive…and crawl back into the game.

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia’s win at San Diego keeps the Eagles in first place while Dallas takes second thanks to the NFC East tiebreaker (1-0 to 0-1) with Washington.  The Redskins are one of six 2-2 teams in the conference…and currently rank 12th.  The New York Giants continue to find ways to lose…and at 0-4 are 15th due to a better strength of schedule than 0-4 San Francisco.

Conference Call- the NFC owns a 10-7 lead in the early interconference contest.  The NFC South is the early division to beat at 10-5 while the AFC North is a depressing 6-10.  The NFC East?  A 7-9 made possible by the Giants’ rough start.

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It’s about time.  The least-suspenseful regular season since 90210’s final turn (yeah, like Kelly & Dylan weren’t going to end up together) wrapped up with the Nationals 20 (yes, twenty-as in XX) games ahead of second-place Miami in the NL East.  No more “division of depression”.  No more double-digit cushion (that was really fun while it lasted).  No more getting in gear or trying to hit one’s stride.  The time is now for glory.

Dissecting the Division- so second-place Miami (77-85) landed with a horrendous thud (21 losses in their last 32 games make for a bad finishing kick) to post the worst runner-up record of the six divisions.  Atlanta, the New York Mets and Philadelphia each finished with 90+ losses–the equivalent of going 6-10 in the NFL.  Thank goodness RPI doesn’t factor into postseason qualification.

O’s Woes- a 4-18 finish isn’t as bad as the 2002 bunch that went from 63-63 to 67-95, but the September crash was heard all the way from here in DC.  Bad starting pitching was the culprit, but the lineup that ranked 8th in batting average had issues getting the players home (16th in runs scored).  There will no doubt be changes this offseason, and one wonders if we’ll have Duquette & Showalter back in tandem after what appears to be a major step back.

Last Week’s Heroes, Milestones and Millstones- Daniel Murphy hit .529 to catapult past the rest of the field and finish with a team-best .322 batting average for the season.  Bryce Harper scored twice, giving him a team-high 95 runs scored despite missing almost a third of the season.  Anthony Rendon finished with 25 homers and 100 RBI for the first time in his career and Ryan Zimmerman hit .350 to finish with a flourish (7 HR & 20 RBI over the last 30 days).   Stephen Strasburg joins Gio & Max as a 15-game winner.

Last Week’s Humbled- Wilmer Difo hit under .200…and although he’s a near-lock to make the postseason roster this fade does not give one confidence.  Tanner Roark’s final start what has been a rollercoaster season was less than ideal…and Brandon Kintzler misfired in Saturday’s loss.  Max Scherzer’s hamstring joins his neck and Bryce Harper’s knee as “body parts we want to yell at now”…hopefully the right-hander will be ready to start Game One or Two in DC.

Bring on the Cubs!- you may have heard that Chicago’s NL team ended a long championship drought last year.  In 2017 they suffered their first post-championship hangover since 1909 and didn’t have William Howard Taft in the White House to look up to for guidance (Taft was sneakily versatile–the only man to head the Executive and Judicial Branches (he was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court).  Manager Joe Maddon’s team ranked 4th in the majors.  Kris Bryant & Anthony Rizzo are the bats to watch (although Rizzo hit .239 in September) while Kyle Schwarber (remember him?) is back in theory after hitting six homers last month.  Jon Lester starts Game One…and the Cubs’ rotation ranks 7th in ERA while the bullpen ERA is 6th-best in the league.

 

My Rotation- with Max Scherzer’s hamstring tweaked, the starting order may be flipped with Strasburg (Pitcher of the Month for September thanks to his 4-0 mark and 0.83 ERA).   And Max isn’t the best in October (4-4 with an ERA of 3.74).  But barring major hamstring issues, I still want #31 on the hill for Game One.  He embraces the big moments and Game Ones are made for people like Max.  Until Friday we are monitoring Max’s hammy, his neck, potential hangnails as well as keeping him in bubble wrap.  Strasburg starts Game 2– and that gives me the option of pitching either Max or Stras in a potential Game 5.  Gio is on the mound in Game 3–with Tanner Roark slated for Game 4 if the Nats are up 2-1.  Down 2-1 I’m going with my Game 1 starter.

My Lineup- what to do with Bryce Harper?  He’s played in four games since mid-August and has hit .167 with 2 walks and 7 strikeouts.  But he’s BRYCE HARPER, who still leads the team in runs scored and is a threat to explode when he gets back on track.  I want to bat  Harper second.  But my C. Montgomery Burns manager inside me doesn’t want to bat a rusty lefthander in the #2 spot against lefty Jon Lester during Game One.  And what about Jayson Werth?  I can’t forget what an asset he was in the #2 spot during the 2016 season, but  he’s hit .132 since the end of August.  Howie Kendrick hasn’t fared that much better as of late either.  Adam Lind as an option is more of a #6 hitter…and while he doesn’t have the words “defensive liability” written all over him there’s a drop-off.  But Lind is hitting .341 with 12 RBI over his last 20 games.  After much review I want to go with Harper following Turner in the #2 spot with Murphy, Zimmerman and Rendon in the 3-4-5 slots and Werth starting in LF against Lester with Lind batting against righties. Am I nuts?  See you Friday…

 

 

 

 

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September is finally in college football’s rear-view mirror, and while there are a few schools that have taken their lumps in the sports “Show Me Month” (Baylor is 0-5) one state in particular is thankful we’ve turned the calendar page:  Florida.  An entire state saw destruction from Hurricane Irma and the seven FBS schools saw their schedules altered in some way.  Now that some of the clouds have passed, sunny skies are ahead for the state’s big three:  #14 Miami improves to 4-0 with a rout of previously unbeaten Duke, Florida (3-1) is fresh off a shutout of Tennessee and Florida State (1-2) is no longer winless thanks to their comeback rally against Wake Forest (before you snicker, remember it took Virginia Tech double-overtime to beat the Deacons 6-3 not too long ago).  The AAC East will likely be decided between unbeatens South Florida and UCF and even Conference USA’s FAU and FIU aren’t completely unwatchable.  The state of Florida thanks you for your prayers and thoughts:  now their football teams are going back to their autumn tradition of kicking butt.

Alma Mater Update- the ACC season began with a whimper in Raleigh as the Orange came up short to NC State 33-25.  The Wolfpack aren’t even the third most feared of SU’s Atlantic Division foes…and while the road to a Pinstripe Bowl banner became a lot more difficult one is pleased with the progress from year one to two by Coach Dino Babers’ program.  This is going to take a while…

 

Maryland (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) defied expectations once again by beating Minnesota 31-24.  They shocked us by beating Texas on the road and then stunned us by getting crushed at home by UCF in week four.  So why should Saturday’s game be any different?  Terrapin Triumphs: Max Bortenschlager threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third score…while not committing a turnover for an offense that had just a pair of three-and-outs on the afternoon.  Ty Johnson (130 yards and the game-winning TD) led a ground game that churned out 262 yards against the best run defense in the Big Ten.  Jermaine Carter Jr. led the defense with 8 tackles and forced a fumble.  The D also picked off Conor Rhoda twice, including the game-sealing INT by J.C. Jackson.  Terrapin Troubles:  the suspect secondary allowed 17.6 yards per completion.  Wade Lees averaged under 35 yards per punt.  Next:  3 p.m. Saturday at 4-1 Ohio State.

Navy (4-0, 3-0 AAC) stayed unbeaten while providing plenty cause for concern in their 31-21 win at Tulsa.  Rallying from a 14-point deficit is nice, but the rest of the league will be a little more dangerous when spotted a two-score lead.  Midshipmen Medals:  another great day on the ground: 421 yards this time.  Zach Abey ran for 185 yards and three touchdowns and didn’t commit a turnover.   Tyler Sayles tallied nine tackles to pace the defense that began the second half by allowing 16 yards on 11 plays from scrimmage.  Midshipmen Miscues:  two touchdowns coughed up in the first quarter will definitely have the defense’s attention in the film-review room.  Nine penalties and a fumble lost can’t be ideal for a team and program that has made its mark as one that doesn’t beat itself.  Oh, and they missed another short field goal (this time the 26-yarder was blocked).  Next:  Saturday at 3:30 p.m against 1-3 Air Force.

#12 Virginia Tech (4-1, 0-1 ACC) stumbled in prime time to #2 Clemson 31-17.  There’s no shame in coming up short against the defending national champs, and if nothing else the loss may provide a roadmap of the Hokies as they begin to navigate the Coastal Division waters (decidedly less choppy than the Atlantic).  Hokie Highlights:  the defense held the Tigers to under 350 total yards and 6-of-16 on third down.  Cam Phillips caught 7 passes for 74 yards.  Greg Stroman continued to live up to his “special teams dynamo” status by ripping off a 43-yard punt return.  Hokie Humblings:  three turnovers, including one returned for a game-sealing TD by the Tigers.  The offense went three-and-out on four of their first five possessions.  Next:  Saturday at 7:15 p.m. at 2-3 Boston College.

What did Benjamin Franklin say?  “Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards”?  As somebody who’s been a fan of college football and basketball most of my life, one is not unfamiliar with programs playing loose with the rules.  Back in the day the joke was that the SEC stood for “So Everyone Cheats”-and wasn’t completely inaccurate.  Conference winners occasionally didn’t play in bowl games because of probation and one year the Pac-10 was reduced to five eligible schools because of shenanigans.  A whole league once imploded because of cheating (RIP, Southwest Conference) and SMU is still recovering from receiving the “Death Penalty” in 1987.

Which is why this week’s FBI investigation into bribery and corruption isn’t just a men’s college basketball story:  it’s one that bleeds into the football world as well because every time a non-blue blood improves beyond expectations there are whispers.  Anytime a hot recruit spurns the local powerhouse to attend the league’s black sheep, there are double-takes.  Whenever a school is associated with a shoe company (Oregon-Nike) there is head-scratching when the vast majority of their recruits are from outside what should be their primary recruiting area.  And anytime a school that has been flagged for violations in one sport, it almost makes sense that there could have been corner-cutting in the school’s other revenue sport.

Four schools were named in the federal investigation…and they’re all name schools:  USC, Auburn, Oklahoma State and Arizona have had varying success over the years on the court while each has run afoul of the NCAA on the football field.  The first head coach to lose his job (even though he technically is on “unpaid leave”) is with a school that was in the report but not even named–and barring something going down at Duke, Rick Pitino will be the biggest fish caught in this net.  As a graduate of a school that has been popped more than once for coloring outside the lines (Syracuse), I’m uneasily nervous.  And as someone who has enjoyed covering college football and basketball for the majority of my life, I’m sickened.

One of my favorite stories as a kid was about “Harry the Dirty Dog”…where a white dog with black spots rolls around in coal and becomes a black dog with white spots.  I always knew college athletics this game was one that didn’t bathe all the time.  This week’s revelations lead one to believe that it’s going to be some time before this animal we’ve all grown to love will be clean again.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange kick off ACC play with a trip to Raleigh and a showdown with NC State.  This is a Wolfpack team that is fresh from beating Florida State- and boast a quaterback named Ryan Finley who has yet to throw an interception this year.  Pardon me if I’m not a little distracted from the football Cuse as one of Jim Boeheim’s original assistant coaches (Pitino) goes down in flames.  These two men grew up in the game and in life together–to the point where Rick’s wife called Jim and his on their honeymoon at 5am to get back at Boeheim for hiring Pitino right after his wedding and sending him recruiting instead of his honeymoon.  Boeheim beat Rick’s Providence Friars to reach his first NCAA Final in 1987…and Pitino’s Kentucky Wildcats edged the Orange in the 1996 title tilt.  They were competing against each other and the ACC bluebloods until each ran afoul of the NCAA IN recent years.  And now I’m hoping the other shoe that drops isn’t a Nike.  Okay–now back to football.

Maryland (2-1) at Minnesota (3-0), 12 noon, Fox Sports 1.  The Terps will be using their third different starting quarterback in four games…and unlike the transition from dual threat Tyrrell Pigrome to Kasim Hill the move from Hill to Max Bortenschlager will be a little more marked.  As in Max is not nearly as nimble on his feet.  Not ideal when you’re facing a Golden Gophers defense that leads the Big Ten in stopping the run.  Max needs more than DJ Moore to throw to (the WR has over 50% of the team’s catches, 57% of the receiving yards and 80% of the TD receptions this fall) while also needing to stay upright (5 sacks allowed by the Terps against UCF).  Minnesota’s main threat offensively is runningback Rodney Smith:  the junior is coming off his first 100-yard effort of the season and ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns last year against the Terps.  Terrapins tumble, 24-17.

Navy (3-0, 2-0 AAC) at Tulsa (1-3), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU.  Expect the turf of Skelly Field at H. A. Chapman Stadium to get a major workout:  the Mids rank 2nd in the nation running the football while the Golden Hurricane are 4th in Division I FBS.  But while Navy allows fewer than 100 yards per game on the ground, Tulsa coughs up 294.5 per game and 6.9 yards per carry.  The Golden Hurricane have also lost games to the likes of Toledo (a 54-51 shootout) and New Mexico (a 16-13 defensive duel).  In addition, the two quarterbacks they’ve used this year are named “Chad President” and “Luke Skipper”.  Leadership is never too important…no word on if Tulsa is also recruiting prospects “Greg Governor” or “Pete Pilot”.  Midshipmen win despite the customary ill-timed fumble and missed field goal, 35-26.

#12 Virginia Tech (4-0) vs Clemson (4-0, 2-0 ACC), 8 p.m., ABC.  Not only is this a rematch of last year’s conference title game, it’s also a showdown of the league’s two highest ranked teams.  Kelly Bryant isn’t necessarily making people forget DeShaun Watson, but the junior is completing 68% of his passes while rushing for over 60 yards per game.  Despite ranking 7th in the ACC against the run and the pass, the Hokies defense has pitched a pair of shutouts and allows just over 10 points per game.  Josh Jackson isn’t playing like a redshirt freshman (leading the ACC in passing efficiency), but he’s yet to face a defense like the Tigers one that is the stingiest in the conference against the pass and overall.  As much as I wish there was a blocked punt or a kickoff return for a score to spring the home team Saturday night, one has the feel the smoked turkey legs won’t be as tasty.  Hokies come up short, 21-16.

Virginia (3-1) has the week off…and that means Kippy & Buffy are in the Outer Banks to shut down the cottage for the winter.  Just like it’s not a tailgate at Scott Stadium without the best wines, cheeses and crackers…it’s not technically champagne unless the bubbly comes from the Champagne region of France.  That’s why the Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label is on ice.  “Offering smoky pear and nectarine flavors and a hint of honey…finishes on a gently spicy note, with very good cling and a touch of bitter lemon pith. ”  Where’s the tin of D’artagnan caviar?

 

Georgetown loses to Harvard at RFK Stadium,  William & Mary gets by Stony Brook, Towson tumbles to Villanova, James Madison defeats Delaware.

Last Week: 5-3.   Overall: 23-8.

 

Remember previous Redskins teams that would start fast only to fade?  We can’t determine whether or not this year’s edition will dissolve in December, but Sunday night’s 27-10 win over Oakland was a game not often…hold on.  Didn’t they beat Green Bay going away last November?  The whole “how do you like me now?” game?  Didn’t Colt McCoy lead the Skins to an upset of Dallas on MNF?  Regardless, the Skins played perhaps their most dominating game on defense since 2007 (when they held Dallas to single-digit rushing yards) and let everybody know that they’re more contender than pretender–at least in September.  It’s actually the first non 1-2 start for coach Jay Gruden… so that is progress.

Captain Kirk- the Franchise Tagged One completed 25 of 30 passes for 365 yards and 3 touchdowns…while getting sacked just once.  And he didn’t bring any post-game shouts to the media or a member of the front office.  Star Trek Episode Equivalent:  “City on the Edge of Forever” involves an overdosed McCoy, time travel and Joan Collins.  Easily one of the best and most memorable episodes…with Kirk at his best.

Thompson Time- in a week where Jordan Reed and Rob Kelley were both sidelined iwth injuries, it was a good thing that Cousins had runningback Chris Thompson available.  The flash-back ran for 38 yards on eight carries while catching six passes for 150 yards…and was the top target on third down.  Can his 5-foot-8, 191 pound frame take the pounding that comes from extensive usage?

Third Down- the offense converted 7-of-15 money downs…with Kirk Cousins completing 10-of-12 passes for 7 conversions.  Cousins was sacked once and scrambled twice- he had a 12-yard run wiped out by penalty- while Mack Brown gained one yard on a 3rd & 2.  The top option?  Chris Thompson (5 targets, 4 receptions and conversions) while Vernon Davis and Jamison Crowder each had three catches on three targets.  Distance breakdown was an odd o-for-3 on short-yardage, 4-for-8 when needing 4 to 6 yards and 3-for-4 on long-yardage.  Only four 3rd & longs?  We’ll take that too.

Defensive Difference Makers- minus Mason Foster, the Zach Brown band held the Raiders to under 100 total yards for most of the evening.  Brown led the team with ten tackles while Martrell Spaight added nine stops.  Three of Ryan Kerrigan’s four stops were for a loss (and one was a sack).  It’s always refreshing to have the top three tacklers come from the linebacking corps.

Third Down D earns an A- the defense was perfect in preventing the Raiders from reaching the marker on all 11 opportunities.  That’s 0-1 on the ground and 0-10 on pass plays.  They seeds to the stops was their first and second down performance that meant the Raiders faced 7+ yards on six of the 11 third downs.

Special Situations- Dustin Hopkins connected on 2-of-3 field goals while missing a 52-yarder…while Tress Way averaged 44.2 yards per punt (leaving three inside the 20 while not having a touchback).  Jamison Crowder notched an 18-yard punt return but fumbled another kick…while the punt coverage teams held the raiders to four total yards.

Flying Flags- ten penalties for 77 yards is more than the team had over the first two weeks combined.  They say “you can call holding on every play” and seemingly they did:  five on the offense and one on the defense.  For those scoring at home, the Skins’ eight offensive holds on the season are the most in the league.  Two of the three penalties that were declined were waved off because they came on failed Redskin third downs…while the third came on the Raiders’ touchdown play.  Repeat offenders:  Bashaud Breeland (a hold and a pass interference) and Trent Williams (a hold and a false start).  Most costly penalties?  A first quarter false start on Morgan Moses turned a 3rd & 9 into a 3rd & 14…while an offensive pass interference on 3rd & 14 would have wiped out the play if they converted.

Dissecting the Division- Dallas’ win over Arizona catapults the Cowboys past the Redskins but below Philadelphia (Eagles own a 1-0 mark amongst the other two teams).  Philly’s 2-0 conference mark gives them the edge for the #2 seed over the Los Angeles Rams.  Dallas is #5 in the NFC ahead of the Skins because of conference record.  The 0-3 NY Giants are securely in the division cellar, thanking their strength of schedule for keeping them ahead of San Francisco for last place in the conference.

September Sample Sizes- the interconference contest has the NFC with an early 6-5 advantage.  Among the eight divisions the NFC South is off to a 7-4 start…while on the other end of the spectrum the AFC North is 4-8 after three weeks.  The NFC East?  A middling 6-6 that suffers thanks to the Giants’ September suffering.

So…the Nats just might not catch the Dodgers for home field advantage.  But there are still things to play for, even as they’ve clinched home field for the NLDS (we know how much home field helps a team in a deciding game five).  Individual milestones are within multiple players’ reach–even after Ryan Zimmerman crossed the 100 RBI mark last week.  Anthony Rendon enters the final stages of the season four RBI shy of the century mark…and can also finish 2017 with more walks than strikeouts (he currently has an 81-80 ratio), a rarity in today’s free-swinging day.  Other milestones to watch:  Daniel Murphy is at 90 runs scored as well as 90 RBI (shame they’re not playing the Mets this week)…while standing two homers shy of reaching his career high set in 2016.    On the mound, Max Scherzer is 2.1 innings shy of reaching 200 for the season while Stephen Strasburg is four strikeouts away from 200.  Brandon Kintzler remains one save away from 30 for the season…and with the Nats almost locked into the #2 seed may be ready to get a ninth inning appearance.

Bryce is Back?  The Nationals may be getting their rightfielder in the lineup as early as Tuesday…their top hitter has been on the shelf with a knee injury suffered in early August.  Harper had 29 HR…and it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see #34 notch #30 in the final days of the season.  The bigger question is will he be postseason-ready after less than a week of work to find his groove?

Playoff Possibilities- if the season ended today, the Nationals would be the #2 seed in the NL and host the Chicago Cubs in the Divisional Series.  The top seeded Los Angeles Dodgers would host the Wild Card Game winner Arizona/Colorado.  The AL matchups have Cleveland hosting the New York Yankees or Minnesota (Pinstripes pounded the Twins in a series just last week) while Boston visits Houston.

O’s Woes- yes, that means the September of Suffocation is complete for a Birds team that began the month 68-66 but will end with their first losing record since 2011.  Starting pitching needs to be addressed in the offseason…as this year’s rotation dug the rest of the team in a hole every time one turned around.

Last Week’s Heroes- Max Scherzer went 2-0 with an ERA of 2.08 while Gio Gonzalez joined Max as 15-game winners in the rotation.  Sean Doolittle continues to be lights-out with two scoreless innings en route to a pair of saves.  Adam Lind made his most off the bench by hitting .400 with a team-high  7 RBI while Trea Turner batted .318 with a team-high 5 runs and 4 RBI.  Congrats to Ryan Zimmerman for reaching the 100 RBI milestone for the first time since 2009.  For the longest time he was the best and often only player worth watching on a bad club…and once the Nats finally became a contender Zim was battling injuries.  Good to see both the player and the team having great seasons at the same time.  

Last Week’s Humbled- Jayson Werth hit .118 with eight strikeouts and one walk…while Anthony Rendon batted .176 but still walked more than he struck out.  Edwin Jackson is suffering a September to forget:  allowing 6 runs over 4.2 innings means he’s 0-3 with an ERA of 12.38 this month.  At least he ate up some innings when the Nats’ rotation was thin.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nationals play Pittsburgh while Stephen Strasburg tries to reach multiple milestones.  Bryce Harper may also be back and it’s not right after a travel day so there’s a chance we’ll see most of if not all of the regulars in the lineup.   In theory…

Game to Miss- Thursday the Nats begin their series with the Pirates by starting Edwin Jackson, hopefully for the final time in 2017.  To add to the fun, WTOP co-worker Brian Drew is having his farewell happy hour.  He’s as much a die-hard Nationals fan as he was a devotee of TURN on AMC…so one will sadly pass on Pittsburgh.

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I’ve often said in this space that September is “Show Me Month”…and more than a few schools have shown us they have promise.  But there’s also the grim reality that happens when late summer turns to early autumn and teams that think they are legit are exposed.  Schools like #6 Oklahoma State put 59 points on the board one week against Pitt, only to cough up 44 the following Saturday at home against TCU.  Colorado has everyone thinking repeat Pac-12 South title until they lose to defending Pac-12 champ Washington by 27 at home.  The SEC second-tier triumvirate of Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Kentucky (all 3-0 for the first time since 1913, or 19 years before the SEC even existed) saw their contending status turn to pretending with losses to Georgia, Alabama and Florida (you know, the REAL SEC programs).  Even Maryland after getting some splashy notice came back to earth.  As the leaves turn their colors so do many college teams…to their usual shade.

Alma Mater Update- speaking of “show me” and “pretenders”, the Orange came up short in a 35-26 loss at LSU.  The seeds of an upset were there as this Tigers team is more Gerry DiNardo than Les Miles…and SU actually outgained the LSU.  While I’m not a fan of the soft-touch offense that averages less than ten yards per completion, Dungey impressed yet again with his grit.  The defense even made a huge pick.  Unfortunately they didn’t have the athletes to make the difference-making plays down the stretch and now the Orange enter ACC play 2-2.  Five of their next eight foes have winning records, and that isn’t including 0-2 Florida State.  Can they find a way to squeeze out four more wins and that dream of a Pinstripe Bowl berth so we can hang another banner at the Carrier Dome?  

Virginia (3-1) surpassed last year’s win total with a 42-23 win at Boise State.  Granted, this isn’t the Boise State that Chris Petersen or even Dan Hawkins led to national prominence, but it was the Cavs’ first non-conference road win since 2011 (Indiana).  Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s team no longer has to worry about a potential third 10-loss season in five years.  Who’s ready for ridiculous bowl-talk?  Cavalier Congrats: Kurt Benkert threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns, while Jordan Ellis provided the necessary ground threat with 93 yards rushing and a pair of scores.  Quin Blanding led a defense that held the Broncos to 4-of-16 on third down by tallying 10 tackles.  Only 3 penalties on the night.  Cavalier Concerns:  when you have to point out that Lester Coleman averaged under 40 yards per punt…you’ve had a heck of a week and month.  Bring on the ACC.   Next:  October 7th vs Duke.

Maryland (2-1) has to remember this is 2017, not 2012 when in Randy Edsall’s second year at the helm the Terps lost a succession of quarterbacks to injury and wound up starting a scout-team linebacker at QB in November.  The 38-10 loss to UCF (DO NOT CALL THEM CENTRAL FLORIDA) saw the Terrapins lose their starting quarterback to injury for the second time in three games…and while Max Bortenschlager in a James Bond film probably has an evil henchman & an impenetrable fortress at his disposal, the sophomore began September third string for a reason.  Kasim Hill’s lower-leg injury will be looked at, re-examined and given the necessary MRI with everyone’s fingers and toes crossed.  Terrapin Triumphs: DJ Moore made a circus catch for a 20-yard touchdown, one of his eight grabs on the afternoon (so far this year Moore has over 50% of the teams receptions).  The defense held UCF to 5-of-14 on third down.  Wade Lees averaged 47.1 yards over seven punts with no touchbacks.  Terrapin Troubles: the offense converted just 2 of 13 third downs, none in the first half.  Bortenschlager was sacked five times and threw two interceptions.  The defense allowed over six yards per carry and surrendered three scoring drives of 65+ yards in the second half.  Kicker Henry Darmstadter (fresh from a Louisa May Alcott short story) missed a 34-yard field goal in the second quarter that would have put the Terps within one point;  instead UCF drove 80 yards to take a double-digit lead they’d hold for the rest of the day.  Next:  Saturday at 3-0 Minnesota, 12 noon.

#13 Virginia Tech (4-0) set up a showdown with defending national champion Clemson by blasting Old Dominion 38-0.  Two shutouts in four non-conference games and an offense that averages 40 points per contest.  Who’s ready to take on the #2 Tigers in Blacksburg?  Hokie Highlights:  the offensive line allowed just one sack to a pass rush that had 16 over the previous three games.  Steven Peoples ran for 62 yards and a touchdown while adding 73 receiving yards and two more scores.  The defense held ODU to 64 yards rushing and 2-of-14 on third down…and was so dominant in the shutout Andrew Motuapuaka was only needed to make three tackles (and one sack).  Hokie Humblings:  Joey Slye missed a 27-yard field goal while Oscar Bradburn averaged just 36 yards per punt.  Yes, we’re splitting hairs here.  Next:  Saturday at 8 p.m. against 4-0 Clemson.

Navy (3-0) came off their bye week with a second straight AAC victory, this time outscoring Cincinnati 42-32.  Plenty of good to keep the fans happy with just enough bad to keep the coaches working.  Midshipman Medals:  a near-school record 569 yards rushing (they actually broke the record but lost four yards on kneel-downs) with Zach Abey playing to his strengths (20 carries as opposed to just three pass attempts)…and getting quality instead of quantity through the air from Tyler Carmona (2 catches for 53 yards and a touchdown).  The offense converted 6-of-8 third downs while holding the ball for over 36 minutes.  The defense held the Bearcats to 2.5 yards per carry, with Sean Williams tallying seven tackles and two passed broken up.  Midshipman Miscues:  Turnovers continue to creep up, with another lost fumble spoiling the day.  The defense sacked UC quarterback Hayden Moore just twice on 48 pass plays.  Bennett Moerhing missed a 24-yard field goal.  Yes, I’m being rather rough on kickers this week.  Next: Saturday at 1-3 Tulsa, 3:30 p.m.