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Remember last year when the Redskins went to Seattle with an offensive line held together by duct tape and paper clips, only to bring back a victory from Puget Sound?  Well this past weekend the Burgundy and Gold used rubber bands and masking tape to keep the line semi-solid in a 16-3 win by Tampa Bay.  Instead of losing a second straight game to a fellow future wildcard contender, the Skins are two games clear of a muddled NFC East and are off to their best start in ten years (we won’t mention who was coaching the Maroon and Black that autumn).  This has the feel of 2012 and 2015 all over again:  a first-year starting quarterback at Fed Ex Field exceeding expectations amidst a division ripe for the taking.  Enjoy the ascent, because if there’s anything we’ve learned from 2012 and 2015 it’s that 2013 and 2016 are distinct possibilities.

Turnovers Told the Tale- four takeaways helped keep the Buccaneers out of the end zone.  Josh  Norman’s interception at the goal line on the first drive of the day set the tone.  Greg Stroman’s interception led to the team’s final points of the afternoon.  Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s fumble recovery in the end zone ended another Bucs drive into the red zone.  And Ryan Kerrigan’s fumble recovery inside the ten ended Tampa Bays’ last best chance to rally.  And the Skins did not turn the ball over at all.  The team now ranks third in the league at +11 in turnover margin, and they needed every one Sunday to prevail.

Mr. Smith Goes to Consistency- for the third time in four weeks Alex Smith threw for exactly 178 yards.  The Skins won all three of those games…and are 5-0 when he throws for under 250 yards (1-3 when he crosses the 21st century marker for “productive passer”).  If he throws for exactly 178 yards against Houston, we’ll know the fix is in.

Cousins Comparison- Kirk and company had a bye this past week, but I took my bye last week (writing back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back college basketball previews for WTOP.COM) so let’s revisit how the former Franchise Tagged one fared:  18-22 passing for 164 yards and a touchdown with an interception in the Vikings’ 24-9 win over Detroit.  Minnesota is 5-3-1 and in second place of the NFC North, currently owning the second wildcard.  Cousins for the season owns a passer rating of 102.2 (9th best in the league) while Alex Smith is at 90.7 after nine games (21st in the NFL).

Peterson Provides Production- he didn’t gain 100 yards, but the Skins main threat on the ground rushed for 68 yards–including two first down scampers in third and short situations.  His 672 yards through nine games is already more than his numbers from the last two years (and three teams) combined over 13 games played.

Catching On- Maurice Harris led the team with 5 catches for 52 yards, following up his 10 reception effort against Atlanta.  With 26 catches this fall, the third-year pro has already more than doubled his career numbers.  Not bad for a fringe roster player.

Third and Two Halves- the Skins went 0-for-4 on the money down in the first half and 5-for-9 after intermission.  Alex Smith completed 5-of-8 passes while getting sacked once, moving the chains twice.  The running game moved the marker on 3-of-4 plays (Peterson twice and Kapri Bibbs once).  Smith’s top target?  Maurice Harris and Josh Doctson each notched a pair of catches on two targets–each moving the chains once (Doctson’s grab was for a touchdown).  Yardage breakdown:  2-for-2 on short-yardage, 1-for-5 on intermediate (4 to 6 yards needed) and 2-for-6 on long-yardage.  Almost 50% of the third downs needed seven or more yards-less than ideal.

D gets a pass- so they gave up 501 yards…but when it mattered they stopped the Buccaneers shy of the end zone each time.  Mason Foster led the way with 10 tackles while Preston Smith and Matt Ioannidis notched sacks.  Plenty to be happy with, but also plenty to work on moving forward.

Extra Special Teams- Dustin Hopkins nailed his three field goal attempts (unlike his Tampa Bay counterpart Chandler Catanzaro who missed two of three and was cut) with a long of 43 yards.  Tress Way averaged 49.4 yards per punt, but that merely graces the surface.  Four of his five landed inside the Bucs’ 20 with Way’s three second-half kicks landing at the four-, six- and 13-yard line.

Flying Flags- eight infractions for 52 yards gives the team 64 for 624 yards (9th and 4th most in the NFL). Of the five on the offense, two were false starts while the other three were holds (the Skins 21 holds this year are the most in the league).  Morgan Moses had one of each while recent pickup Jonathan Cooper had a pair of holds.  The two defensive penalties (neutral zone infraction and a hold) came in the fourth quarter and were luckily wiped out by Ryan Fitzpatrick’s third turnover of the day.  The special teams’ flag was an illegal formation on a kickoff.  Costliest penalty?  Those two that kept the Bucs’ late drive alive.

Dissecting the Division- the Skins own a two-game lead in the NFC East and due to conference record would be the fourth seed “if the playoffs began today”, which they obviously do not.  Dallas (4-5) owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with Philadelphia thanks to Sunday night’s win and is in 10th place of the conference–the Eagles holding down 11th.  The New York Giants may be in last place of the division but depart the conference basement with their Monday night victory in San Francisco.

NFC East no Longer Least- despite the worst winning percentage (.444) of the league’s eight quartets, the Skins’ division after a 3-1 week at least moves into lock-step with the NFC West (17-21) and AFC East (18-22).  The NFC South (21-15) continues to be the best bunch, even with a 1-3 week that saw Tampa Bay squander 501 yards of offense, Atlanta lose to Cleveland and Carolina get crushed by Pittsburgh.  The Interconference Contest (that means absolutely nothing) is also tied at 22 wins apiece.

 

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Sunday’s 20-13 win at the New York Giants had “trap game” written all over it in such a manner it was almost disgusting.  If Hollywood cast for “Letdown Games”, this would be the prime candidate.  But instead of a disappointing defeat to cut whatever momentum the Redskins had built, coach Jay Gruden’s team comes home off to their hottest start since 2008 (we won’t go over how that ended, but it involved the Skins wearing burgundy on burgundy in a prime time game).  For a franchise that has missed the postseason in eight of the last ten years, there are no small victories.  Especially in the division.  Especially on the road.

Mr. Smith goes to the Meadowlands- Alex completed 20 of 32 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown while running for 13 yards on three carries and avoiding a sack.  While he’s not winning the Skins games at this time, Smith isn’t losing them.

Country Cousins- Kirk threw for 359 yards and two touchdowns, but also tossed an interception that was run back for a New Orleans touchdown.  While Cousins’ passer rating is over ten points (102.5 to 91.3) higher than Smith’s he also has four interceptions plus four lost fumbles this fall to just a pair of turnovers for Smith.

Yo Adrian- Mr. Peterson rumbled for a season-high 149 yards and a 64-yard touchdown while catching a TD pass that put the Skins on the board.  The offseason pickup is on pace to rush for 1,300 yards- not bad for a 33-year old.

Top Targets- Jordan Reed had arguably his best day of the season, catching seven passes for 38 yards.  Josh Doctson added season highs of five grabs and 49 yards.  While Paul Richardson and Chris Thompson are less than 100% and Jamison Crowder is on the shelf, Doctson’s presence is all the more important.

Third and Just Enough- the offense moved the chains on 6-of-15 attempts…with Alex Smith completing 8-of-12 passes for five conversions.  He also had a scramble for three yards on 3rd & 13.  Jordan Reed was the top target- catching four of seven passes thrown his way for two conversions.  The two runs?  Adrian Peterson gained one yard on 3rd & 1 while Christ Thompson gained a yard on 3rd & 10 in the fourth quarter.   Distance breakdown:  3-for-4 on 3rd & short (1-3 yards needed), 2-for-5 on 3rd and medium (4-6) and 1-for-6 on 3rd & long (7+ yards needed).

D continues to Grade Well- the Skins held the Giants to 37 yards on 14 carries while handcuffing NY to 2-of-14 on third down.  Matt Ioannidis tallied 2.5 of the team’s seven sacks while Mason Foster led the way with 13 tackles.  D.J. Swearinger posted a pair of interceptions to give the safety a league-best four picks on the season.

Special Situations- Tress Way averaged 49.2 yards per punt.  Wow.  Dustin Hopkins made two of three field goal attempts-missing a 41-yarder-while connecting on both extra point tries.  While the punt coverage team allowed a 19-yard return, there were minimal failures.

Flying Flags-  eight penalties for 90 yards–with 46 of coming on a defensive pass interference on Montae Nicholson that set up a Giants field goal (and that was the only flag on the D).  Four penalties were on offense (two false starts, a hold and a PI) while to were on special teams (false start on an extra point and offsides on a free kick).  Seven weeks into the season, over 50% have been either holds (13) or false starts (12).  Sunday’s most costly penalty?  A false start on Morgan Moses turned a 3rd & 1 into a 3rd & 6–resulting in a field goal.

Dissecting the Division- the Skins at 5-2 keep their one and a half game lead over Philadelphia, who beat Jacksonville in London Sunday morning.  There’s heaven, hell, purgatory and 9:30am London games.  Idle Dallas drops two games off the pace at 3-4 and responds by firing their offensive line coach.  The New York Giants at 1-7 continue to make the case for not being as good as their record would lead you to believe.  NFC seed/place:  Redskins are 3rd, Philly is 9th, the Cowboys are 12th and the Giants are 16th.

NFC Least- the division still has the worst composite record at 13-17, one half game behind the AFC South (14-17).  Good news for the Skins who still play Houston, Jacksonville and Tennessee.  The best quartet?  The NFC South is 17-11–bad news for the Burgundy and Gold who still have to play Atlanta and Tampa Bay.

 

Well how about that?  Sunday they turned back the clock and put the Redskins-Cowboys game on CBS…kicked it off in the late-afternoon window and the two teams played in a 20-17 nailbiter decided on the final play.  The only thing missing was promos for “Murder………………She Wrote” coming up after “Sixty Minutes”.  Instead of being in a rugby scrum for the NFC East lead, the Skins find themselves with a rare early season cushion–yes, it’s only one and a half games but it’s their biggest advantage since the end of the 2015 campaign.  And if one looks a the upcoming schedule, the Burgundy and Gold face ONE team currently with a winning record the rest of the year.  That “winning” team is 4-3 Houston.

Mr. Smith Goes Underneath- Alex completed 14 of 25 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown.  The 23-yard pass to Kapri Bibbs for the game’s first touchdown was his second-longest completion of the afternoon.  Now his average yards per completion for the season may rank 19th in the league at 11.2, but he’s almost one yard better than Captain Checkdown himself-Kirk Cousins (10.3).

Captain Kirk in Exile- the former franchise tagged threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns against the very team that outbid Minnesota for his services last winter in a 37-17 rout of the New York Jets.  For the season, Cousins has a passer rating of 101.8 to Smith’s 91.9.  But Smith has fewer turnovers (two to Kirk’s four).

Peterson’s Presence- Adrian rushed for 99 yards on 24 carries without a touchdown so the Fantasy Football players will be bummed, but once again the Redskins runningback gave the team exactly what they needed and wanted on the ground.  Can you imagine the offense without the offseason pickup?

Third and Troubling- the Skins went 3-for-12 at moving the chains with 10 of their 12 third downs needing at least seven yards.  Not ideal.  Smith went 5-for-7 with three conversions.  Kapri Bibbs led the team with two catches on two targets (and one conversion).  Smith scrambled twice and fumbled once.  His second scramble was the one he’d like back as Alex failed to stay in bounds and keep the clock moving late in the fourth quarter.   For the season the team ranks 23rd in the NFL at 37.5%, better than last year’s 32.1% that ranked 31st in the league.  Yardage breakdown:  0-for-2 on a pair of third and short (under 4 yards needed) runs and 3-for-10 on third and long (7+).

D earns an A- the Redskins handcuffed the Cowboys’ ground game, allowing 73 yards on 22 carries.  They also held Dallas to 5-of-14 on third down and Ryan Kerrigan’s strip-sack led to Preston Smith’s touchdown that proved to be the difference in the end.  It’s less than two weeks from the debacle at New Orleans, but one has to feel good about this unit-especially up front with Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen.  Kerrigan also notched his first two sacks of the season after being held in check.  Watch out for #91 as he gets untracked.

Special Situations- Dustin Hopkins drilled both of his field goals and extra points while Tress Way averaged 37.8 yards per punt–landing five of his six kicks inside the Dallas 20.  Nice to know that part of the game is not beating the Skins in a razor-thin margin league at this time.

Flying Flags- “Don’t Beat Yourself”.  It’s an easy mantra to have, but a tougher one to follow.  The Skins had five penalties (plus one that was declined) for 35 yards, keeping the team in the pack of least-penalized clubs (7th fewest infractions, 8th fewest yards).  Three of the five were on the offense (hold, false start and pass interference) while the other two were on the defense (encroachment and holding).  The early leaders in the clubhouse are holds (12) and false starts (9), with Trent Williams team-high five flags (3 holds and 2 false starts) making the tackle the most-whistled Redskin after six games.  Sunday’s most costly penalty?  Josh Harvey-Clemons’ defensive hold in the fourth quarter that turned what would have been a 3rd & 10 from the Skins’ 11 into a 1st & goal from the 6.  Dallas would reach the endzone three plays later.

Dissecting the Division- the win prevented the Redskins from falling out of first place in the NFC East…and they received an additional gift when Philadelphia blew a 17-0 lead to Carolina at home.  The Skins (4-2) are now a game and a half ahead of the Eagles and Dallas (Philly owns the division record tiebreaker) and are three and a half games up on the last-place New York Giants, who have dropped 19 of their last 23 games.  Conference Playoff Rankings:  the Redskins get the #3 seed while Philadelphia is in 11th place and Dallas holds down 13th (both are within two games of the second wildcard at this time).  The Giants are dead last in the NFC because San Francisco has a better conference record.

NFC Least- the 1-3 week meant that the Skins’ division dropped to 11-16…the worst record of the eight divisions.  The NFC South is #1 (Redskins still face Atlanta and Tampa Bay) with a 15-10 mark…while the AFC West and both Norths are above .500 at this time.  After a hot start the AFC East has returned to the “Patriots with three hot messes” and the NFC West has a pair of six-loss clubs in Arizona and San Francisco that look lost in the desert and by the bay.  Will the Eagles wake up from their early-season slumber?  And will the Cowboys’ trade for Amari Cooper be the jolt their sagging offense needs?  The Redskins are the hunted…for now.

 

We just knew the Skins would bounce back from their thrashing in New Orleans, right?  The 23-17 win over Carolina swings the burgundy and gold pendulum back over .500–and in a league where 16 of 32 teams are within a game of breaking even the “every week a new season” mentality is not even halfway over.  Buckle up and prepare for the pendulum to swing again.  And again.

Mr. Smith goes to the Endzone- Alex tossed a pair of first-half touchdowns, and while he only threw for 163 yards on the afternoon didn’t have any back-breaking mistakes.  And that was all minus Chris Thompson and Jamison Crowder (a combined 39 catches, or 44% of Smith’s completions this year).   And that was with a banged up Josh Doctson and Paul Richardson.

Captain Kirk in Exile- Cousins threw for 233 yards and a touchdown while running for another score in 3-2-1 Minnesota’s 27-17 win over Arizona.  For the season the former franchised one has a passer rating of 102.7 (10th in the NFL) while the new kid in town has 90.9 (18th).  Not that anyone is keeping track.

Running is Back- Adrian Peterson and the ground game continued their rollercoaster ride.  One week after the Skins rushed for just 39 yards at New Orleans, Peterson (and his banged up shoulder) rumbled for 97 of the team’s 132 yards.  In three wins the team has averaged 160 yards rushing, and in three losses they’ve been held to 52 yards per game.

Best Run of the Day- the biggest run was not by Peterson but by his former Oklahoma teammate Trent Williams.  The left tackle somehow found a fumble in his hands on a third and long…and instead of going to the ground rumbled ahead eight yards.  He didn’t reach the first down marker, but got to the Carolina 38 and Dustin Hopkins’ 56-yard field goal was good.  Instead of the Panthers needing a field goal to tie with under a minute left, they had to go for the endzone.  Perhaps going forward this might be a new wrinkle in the playbook.

Tight End Tandems- Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis received 12 of the 34 targets,  with the duo combining for 8 catches for 84 yards and a touchdown.  Reed had one sweet one-handed grab to help keep a first half drive alive and Davis caught the game’s first touchdown.  The TD was set up by a fumble recovery by fellow TE Jeremy Sprinkle on a special teams play.

Third and Reed-  the Skins moved the chains on 7 of 16 money downs…running the ball just once (a sneak by Alex Smith that got the job done).  Smith completed 8 of 13 passes for 6 conversions while getting sacked once.  Jordan Reed was the top target–with four passes thrown his way (two catches for one conversion).  Paul Richardson caught both of the passes thrown his way while generating one first down and one touchdown.  Yardage breakdown:  5-6 on 3rd and short, 1-3 on 3rd and manageable (4-6 yards needed), 2-7 on 3rd and long.

Norman Invasion Leads the Defense- six days after being benched in the loss at New Orleans, Josh Norman tallied his first interception since December of 2016 while also forcing a fumble that would lead to a field goal.  DJ Swearinger paced the team with seven tackles and recorded their only sack.  The D earned an A on third down, holding the Panthers to 3 for 9 while keeping Cam Newton and company out of the end zone on their final drive of the day.

Special Situations-  Dustin Hopkins connected on 29, 49 and (a career-long) 56 yard field goal attempts while Tress Way averaged 41 yards per punt.  But the big play came on a fumbled punt return by Carolina’s DJ Moore.  Jeremy Sprinkle recovered the loose ball and the Skins would convert on the very next play with the previously mentioned 22-yard TD pass from Smith to Davis.

Flying Flags- five penalties for 43 yards gives the team 33 for 300 on the season (seventh fewest infractions and ninth fewest yards in the NFL).  Two holds (Trent Williams and Morgan Moses) plus an intentional grounding on Alex Smith were the offensive flags.  Preston Smith picked up a neutral zone infraction while DJ Swearinger was whistled for taunting after the Panthers went incomplete on fourth down with under a minute to play.  Most costly flag– Smith’s grounding took the team out of field goal range after they had the ball on the Panther 33-yard line.

Dissecting the Division- the victory keeps the Skins ahead by one half game in the NFC East and owns the tiebreaker over Chicago for the #3 seed (common opponents).  Philadelphia owns the common foes tiebreaker over Dallas for second place.  Both the Eagles and Cowboys are a half game out of the Wildcard (Green Bay’s MNF win puts the Packers in the #6 spot).  The New York Giants remain in the cellar and dead last in the conference…and the gap is widening by the week.

NFC Least- well, the 10-13 composite record of the division is the seventh best in the league…only better than the AFC South (good news, the Skins have three more games against the South this year).  The AFC North is tops at 13-9-2 (boosted by 2-3-1 Cleveland) …with the NFC North (11-9-2) and AFC East (13-11) helped by last-second field goals in prime time.

 

So–you’re telling me the Redskins needed two weeks to come up with what we saw Monday night?  Sadly the Skins in their 43-19 loss to New Orleans showed more pretender than contender…2-2 for the seventh time in ten years.  This wasn’t just a loss, this was a dismal defeat and an exposing exhibition.  Instead of taking control of what appears to be a sagging NFC East, the Burgundy and Gold keep the hopes of Cowboys and Eagles fans alive.  Giants fans–2020 is going to be great.  Meanwhile, Drew Brees carved up the defense like a beignet to the tune of a video game on cheat mode 26 of 29 passes while passing Peyton Manning’s career mark for passing yards.

Not Ready For Prime Time Again- the Skins drop to 1-7 on Monday Night Football under coach Jay Gruden, with the only victory coming in 2014 at eventual NFC East Champ Dallas.  With Colt McCoy at the controls.  Perhaps the Redskins should make him their designated MNF starter.

Mr. Smith Goes to .500- Alex completed 23 of 39 passes for 275 yards and an interception while getting sacked three times.  Number 11 did score the team’s first touchdown late in the first half…but looked shaky throughout the night.

Kirk in Exile- Cousins helped lead Minnesota to a 23-21 win at Philadelphia in a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship, albeit with different starting quarterbacks.  Kirk completed 30 of 37 passes for 301 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.  And unlike the game at the Los Angeles Rams, there were no defeat-sealing fumbles.  Cousins after five games has a passer rating of 105.1 (7th best in the NFL) to Smith’s 92.9 (20th).

Running on Empty- I guess an even-numbered game means the Skins will have trouble on the ground:  a season-low 39 yards on 18 carries.  Adrian Peterson gained 6 yards on 4 tries while injuring his shoulder.  Granted, they trailed from the end of the Saints’ first drive.  It’s tough to establish the run when being forced into playing catch-up.

Third and Longer- the offense converted 4 of 13 third downs…passing on every play.  Alex Smith completed 6 of 12 passes (for 4 conversions) while getting sacked once.  His top target was Jamison Crowder (one catch in 3 attempts) while Chris Thompson tallied 2 receptions (and one conversion).  Yardage breakdown:  1-3 on third and short (1-3 yards needed), 1-2 on third and medium (4-6 yards) and 2-8 on third and long (7+).  It’s tough to move the chains when over 60% of your opportunities are long-distance.

D earns an F- so much for the new look defense that shined in September.  The Skins allowed touchdowns the first four times the Saints had the ball…and New Orleans had possession for the final 10:25 of the night.  The secondary suffered multiple breakdowns, and cornerback Josh Norman was benched for a series in the third quarter made memorable when Drew Brees burned rookie Greg Stroman.  What’s nice is that Ryan Kerrigan posted his first sack of the season.

Flying Flags- six penalties for 38 yards.  Four on the defense and two on special teams.  No multiple offenders this time–although there were a pair of defensive holds and a hold on a punt return.  The most costly flag?  Down 6-3 the Skins got a third down sack of Drew Brees-but Montae Nicholson gets whistled for unnecessary roughness.  Instead of a 4th and 16 from the New Orleans 41, Brees and company get a 1st and 10 from the Washington 44.  They’d score six plays later for the first double-digit lead of the day.

Special Situations- Dustin Hopkins made both of his field goal attempts and Tress Way averaged 36.7 yards over three punts.

Dissecting the Division- even with the loss the Skins remain on top of the NFC East.  Dallas, Philadelphia and the NY Giants each lost one-possession games Sunday.  The 2-3 Cowboys enjoy the division record tiebreaker over the Eagles while the 1-4 Giants currently occupy last place in the East and in the entire NFC.

NFC Least- the Skins are atop the only division that doesn’t have at least one team with a winning record.  the 7-12 mark held by the East is the worst in football–while the AFC North is the best at 11-7-2 (but only 9-5-1 without the help of Cleveland).  The NFL is a snapshot league, but this has the feel of 2015 when a 9-7 record could win it all over again.  Meaning a team that loses a lot of games will win the division–and the Skins could easily be that team.

What was that?  The Redskins won an opening weekend game for the first time since 2012?  This close to their first shutout since 1991?  Forgive me for being skeptical, but this is going to take some time getting used to.  The Redskins’ 24-6 win at Arizona was a clinic we’ve only seen sporadically in recent years:  a dominating running game plus a passing attack that made few mistakes along with a defense that denied.  There’s a new era underway in DC–or at least Landover and Ashburn.

Passing Fancy- Alex Smith threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.  While he didn’t shout “YOU LIKE THAT!?!” at any time he brought home a victory on opening day–something the previous quarterback did not.

Captain Kirk in Exile- much like “The Tragedy of Robert III”, we’re going to keep our eyes on the former Skins signalcaller for a while.  Cousins threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns in Minnesota’s win over San Francisco.  His passer rating of 95.1?  Not even within 20 points of Smith’s 118.3.  So there.

Thunder and Lightning Deliver Rain- the tailback tandem of Adrian Peterson (a thunderous 96 yards on 26 carries) and Chris Thompson (lightning-like 128 yards on 11 touches) provided a backfield balance we haven’t seen for some time.  Does one dare say John Riggins-Joe Washington?  It’s only one week, but the ground game that ranked 28th in the league last year and appeared lost when Derrius Guice went down with a torn ACL looks much improved.

Third and Mixed- the Skins converted on 6-of-13 third downs, with pass to run ratio of 10-to-3.  Alex Smith completed 6-of-9 passes for four conversions while Chris Thompson was the top target:  two conversions on three catches while also notching a seven yard gain on 3rd & 12.  Adrian Peterson moved the chains on both of his third down runs.  Yardage breakdown:  3-for-3 on third and short (1-3 yards needed), 1-for-3 on third and medium (4-6) and 2-for-7 on third and long (7+ yards needed).

D earns an A- so they didn’t get the shutout.  But the defense dominated the first half, holding the Cardinals to 36 yards on 14 plays.  Quinton Dunbar tallied five tackles and three passes defended while notching an interception.  Defense survives the changing of the season and the turning of the leaves…and if this team can continue to play at this level November and December will be something special.

Special Situations- a mixed bag on opening day:  Tress Way averaged 46.5 yards per punt while Dustin Hopkins was perfect on three extra points and a field goal.  Trey Quinn averaged six yards on two punt returns before suffering a high ankle sprain.  The punt coverage team allowed a 44-yarder.

Flying Flags- nine penalties for 63 yards is not the best way to start the season, but week one is always going to be somewhat sloppy.  The nine infractions was tied for 11th most in week one…and the 63 yards was the 18th most.  Six of the flags were on offense (three false starts, two holds and one intentional grounding), two were on special teams (unnecessary roughness and a hold) and one was on defense (illegal contact).  Trent Williams  was flagged twice to take the early lead.  The most costly penalty?  A first quarter sequence where Williams tallied a false start on first down at the Cardinals 30 that stalled the drive and an intentional grounding on third and nine from the 29 that pulled the Skins out of field goal range.

Dissecting the Division- the Skins are tied for first with Philadelphia after the Eagles’ 18-12 win over Atlanta…and it being week one there’s no point in dissecting tiebreakers.  Dallas and the New York Giants both suffered underwhelming week on defeats…so one of those teams (barring a tie) will start the season 0-2 after they meet Sunday night.

These are special times in Washington, D.C.  And I’m not just talking about the Capitals’ quest for their first Stanley Cup.  Max Scherzer was named NL Pitcher of the Month and has been even better this year than he was the previous two–you know, the years he won Cy Young Awards.  Scherzer is currently 9-1 (most wins the majors) with 120 strikeouts (best in the big leagues) and an ERA of 1.92 (second lowest among qualified starters in MLB).  But he’s also hitting .310 with 4 RBI in 29 AB (prorates to 80 over a 580 AB season which is norm for a regular everyday player).  And Saturday Scherzer delivered a key pinch hit in extra innings and scored the go-ahead run from first on a Wilmer Difo triple.  If you live in the DC metro area, I don’t care what you do with your life.  But if you don’t look ahead at the schedule and buy tickets to see every one of Max’s home starts for the rest of this year, you are missing out in a major way.

Dissecting the Division- after entering the four game series with Atlanta atop the NL East for the first time since early April, the Nats dropped three of four to slide a game and a half behind the Braves.  It didn’t help that Jeremy Hellickson had to leave Sunday’s series finale early with an injury…and it didn’t help that they scored just nine runs over those four games.  Atlanta currently owns the third best batting average in the majors while ranking fourth in runs scored.  And it’s only getting warmer.  Philadelphia lost five of seven on a west coast swing and slips three games off of the Braves’ pace.  The Mets?  Swept at home by the Cubs and now three games under .500.  Only Miami (six straight losses and 19 games under .500) is colder this early June.

O’s Woes- the Birds’ final game with the New York Yankees was rained out Sunday…in a season that is a major washout. The 17-41 mark has the team on a pace to win 47-48 games, and they need to dig in and play .442 ball to avoid a 100-loss season.  Is it too early to start looking at “tragic numbers” to figure out when the Orioles are officially eliminated?

Last Week’s Heroes- Max Scherzer had only one start but struck out 12 Orioles in the series finale.  We already mentioned his plate prowess and demon on the basepaths mentality scoring the game-winning run in their only win at Atlanta.  Sean Doolittle notched three saves in three opportunities.  Juan Soto hit .360, giving everyone the impression that #22 is not going back to the minors anytime soon.

Last Week’s Humbled- the catching position of Pedro Severino and Spencer Kieboom went a combined 4-for-26 at the plate…while the understudy duo of Mark Reynolds and Matt Adams came back to earth by batting a combined 5-for-41.  Get healthy, Ryan and Daniel.  Tanner Roark went 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA…an odd hiccup for the usually solid righthander (in three full years as a starter he averages 15 wins with a 3.40 ERA).

Game to Watch- HAVE YOU BEEN READING ANY OF THE PREVIOUS PARAGRAPHS?  Max Scherzer pitches against Tampa Bay Tuesday in DC.  It’s an off night for the NHL and NBA and The Americans won’t torment us with the red herring that is Renee now that their finale is in our rear view mirror.  Who’s ready to see Max pitch, hit and run?

Game to Miss- Sunday the Nats host San Francisco at 4:05.  There is a very good chance the Capitals will be playing up the street in either a season-salvaging Game Six or a Stanley Cup-clinching Game Six.  Either way, the Caps own the day.