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The coaching talent was obvious, but the coaches were just young — in some cases, too young to even rent a car. But it was a group that helped develop one of the NFL’s most dynamic offenses for a season in Washington, and eventually delivered head coaches to three different teams.

When Matt LaFleur was hired last week by the Green Bay Packers, he became the third former Redskins assistant coach under Mike Shanahan to be hired as an NFL head coach.

One of the others, Sean McVay, is preparing his team for the NFC Championship Game in only his second season with the Los Angeles Rams. Kyle Shanahan just finished his second season with the San Francisco 49ers. Shanahan and LaFleur were fired by Washington after the 2013 season; McVay stayed through 2016, when he then accepted the Rams’ job.

Each one helped the other, said Mike Shanahan, the Redskins’ head coach from 2010 to 2013.

“When guys are really driven and want to learn the game and all of a sudden someone knows something someone else doesn’t, they want to know what that guy knows,” Shanahan said. “When you have coaches like that, you get a lot better. A lot of guys are experts at their position, but could care less to understand the total game. But guys that want to know everything usually get an opportunity to be a coordinator or head coach.”

That’s what happened with this group. At the time Shanahan compiled this staff, there was some criticism that he was simply allowing his son to hire his friends. Turns out, they were gathering good, young minds. They all run a variation of a West Coast system, with each one including wrinkles from various stops; McVay incorporated some of Jay Gruden’s offense, for example. But each of the three shared a core belief in what they ran in Washington. It also helped that Mike Shanahan would have his coaches present their offense in front of the defensive coaches and vice versa. It sharpened their ability to present in front of a group — a key skill for a coordinator or head coach.

“You have guys that really understand what was going on when they were coaching together,” Shanahan said. “They had a system they believed in. Obviously every coach is as good as his personnel. … You have to have a system that gives you a chance and then in turn to put people in situations so they can attack a defense.”

Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay and Jay Gruden talk before a 2015 game in Atlanta. John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images
For Mike Shanahan, the ascension of this group started with Kyle Shanahan and what he had done in Houston in 2008 and 2009, the two years before joining his father’s staff. The Texans, with Kyle as the offensive coordinator, finished fourth and third, respectively, in yards per game, and improved from 17th to 10th in points.

“You could see it in the play-action game and you could see it in the drop-back game,” Mike Shanahan said. “When people get an opportunity to be a coordinator and call plays for a couple years, you take a look at what they’re thinking compared to what they’ve done in the past. Guys who make their offense grow, what they usually do in the offseason is study everyone in the NFL and say how can we make our offense better, what can we do to go from the middle of the pack to the top five? If you have those types of coaches on your staff and then combine that with some better players, you have a chance to get into the top five.”

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In 2010, the Redskins ranked 18th in yards and 25th in points. By 2012, they had nine new starters, including dynamic rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. That season, the Redskins ranked fifth in yards and fourth in points while taking the zone-read option to new levels in the NFL. Griffin won Rookie of the Year honors, throwing for 3,200 yards and rushing for 815. That season, Kyle Shanahan was still coordinator with LaFleur as the quarterbacks coach and McVay coaching the tight ends.

“What they did was the same things that had been done before,” Mike Shanahan said. “We just implemented it with what Robert did best. That was a running game with maybe three or four running plays with the same play-action game with it.”

Shanahan said he knew there was something different about McVay. He started with the Redskins in 2010 when he was 23 years old, serving as an assistant tight ends coach. He became the full-time tight ends coach in 2011. Shanahan liked how McVay took a big-picture approach.

“You could see right away Sean embraced it and embraced knowing the strengths and weaknesses of a defense and all the things as a head coach you’re hoping your coaches have, but very seldom have,” Shanahan said. “Usually guys know their positions and very few want to know everything or have the ability to learn everything.

“I knew right away and I told many people even after the first year he was with me that it won’t be long before he’s a coordinator because of his thirst for knowledge and [desire] to understand everything on both sides and the ability to communicate with people. You just knew it was going to happen.”

Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur coached Robert Griffin III during his dynamic Rookie of the Year campaign in 2012. John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images
McVay became Gruden’s offensive coordinator in 2014 and, after calling plays for most of three years, was hired by the Rams as head coach at age 30. LaFleur had the longest wait of the three, going to Notre Dame in 2014 as quarterbacks coach before joining Kyle Shanahan with the Atlanta Falcons a year later for two more seasons. He then went to the Rams, serving as McVay’s offensive coordinator (though not calling plays) for one season. LaFleur called plays in Tennessee this past season. Like Kyle Shanahan, he’s only 39.

“Matt didn’t have the background that Sean or Kyle had,” Shanahan said. “He’s got a lot of confidence because he’s been going at it for five years. He’s going to have to depend on coaches help him because he’s only in his second year calling plays. With that there’s a learning curve; all coaches go through it.”

But Shanahan knows why Green Bay hired him, even though LaFleur spent only one year calling plays. He pointed to the success the offense had in Atlanta as well as with the Rams the past two years.

“It proves if you do get players in the system, you can be a top offense in the league,” Shanahan said. “That’s why people take a chance with a guy like Matt. They’ve gotten that opportunity maybe a year or two earlier than normal just because of the success they had and because they wanted a guy that’s part of a system like that. It makes sense.”

Despite the offensive brain power, for a variety of reasons the Redskins posted one winning season in their four years together. Still, Shanahan says he feels satisfaction from this trio’s rise.

“Guys like Sean and Kyle and Matt, they really studied to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of a defense,” Shanahan said. “Now they’re in position to give themselves a chance to win a Super Bowl. It’s fun to see.”

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — On the day they introduced their first offensive-minded head coach in more than 20 years, the New York Jets were forced to play defense.

CEO Christopher Johnson defended the decision to hire Adam Gase, insisting Monday that he isn’t worried about the negative reaction from fans.

“I get it,” Johnson told reporters after the formal news conference. “Part of it is I have to earn their trust. We just had a couple of down years. I have to earn their trust. I think they will see, if not right now, they’ll see it pretty soon as a great hire.

“I’m not trying to win Twitter. I’m trying to win football games. I think we’re going to win some football games here.”


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In two seasons as the acting owner, Johnson has presided over 5-11 and 4-12 seasons, resulting in Todd Bowles’ ouster. After interviewing eight candidates, including former Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy, the Jets picked Gase, in large part because of his background with quarterbacks. That was the theme of the day: quarterbacks and Sam Darnold, who had input on the coaching search. The Jets’ hierarchy overlooked Gase’s mediocre record with the Miami Dolphins (23-25) because they believe he can turn Darnold into a star.

“It’s really the first time I’ve been able to get with a guy this young, this early in his career,” said Gase, who has worked with Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler and Ryan Tannehill. “He’s hungry for knowledge. He wants to be coached. When you have a player like that who also has the physical traits, it’s exciting for me.”

Gase said his first priority is hiring a staff. The Jets haven’t announced any hires, but they have retained special-teams coordinator Brant Boyer, sources said. Former Cleveland Browns interim coach Gregg Williams has been floated as a defensive coordinator candidate, but that isn’t a done deal. Gase might not hire a quarterbacks coach, suggesting that he will be hands-on with Darnold.

The Jets’ most recent head coach with an offensive background was Rich Kotite, who went 4-28 in 1995-96. The league is trending toward so-called quarterback whisperers, and the Jets joined the fad.

“To paraphrase Wayne Gretzky, he’s coaching to where football is going,” Johnson said of Gase.

“I’m not trying to win Twitter. I’m trying to win football games,” Jets CEO Christopher Johnson, left, said in defending his hiring of head coach Adam Gase, center. AP Photo/Seth Wenig
McCarthy is an offensive-minded coach, and unlike Gase, he has won a Super Bowl. Johnson described McCarthy as a “terrific” candidate who enjoyed an “incredible run” with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, but that wasn’t enough to convince him and general manager Mike Maccagnan that McCarthy was right for the Jets, who haven’t made the playoffs in eight years.

“To me, to Mike, seeing how Adam has gotten the best out of quarterbacks in different stages of their careers is vitally important, no question,” Johnson said in explaining why he preferred Gase.

“It’s not that there was anything wrong with McCarthy or any of the other guys. They were fantastic, but Adam took it to another level.”

Johnson refuted reports that said talks with McCarthy and Baylor coach Matt Rhule broke down because management wanted to pick their assistant coaches. Rhule, in a radio interview after Gase was hired, said he didn’t want to be part of “an arranged marriage.”

“No, that never happened,” Johnson said. “I completely deny it.”

Gase didn’t bring much electricity to his first news conference, speaking for less than two minutes with his opening remarks. He avoided bold statements and spoke in generalities, not sharing his vision for the team.

He lamented Miami’s offensive struggles last season (31st in yards), saying the Dolphins sacrificed statistics for wins. He also claimed that he is on board with the Jets’ power structure. He won’t have control of the roster, an authority he held in Miami.

“That’s not something I was really interested in,” he said. “That’s just kind of how it worked out in Miami. It was something that was almost offered up. … I knew coming in here it would be a team effort. I can do my part, which is coaching the team.”

Gase received a strong endorsement from Manning, who called Johnson last week to advocate for Gase. Asked about Manning’s recommendation, Gase smiled and said, “I feel like he’s had to do it too much.”

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PHILADELPHIA — A 48-7 loss to the New Orleans Saints in Week 11 was the low point of the season for the Philadelphia Eagles, but quarterback Nick Foles says it was also the turning point.

“That game has helped us become the team we are today,” Foles said Wednesday as the Eagles began preparations for this weekend’s divisional playoff against New Orleans. “Going through that, that’s not easy as a team to lose like that. But there was never a pointing of the finger. It actually brought us closer. It can separate a team or it can bring us closer, and it brought us closer.”


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That loss dropped the Eagles to 4-6 and put their postseason hopes in peril. They responded by winning five of six to capture the sixth and final playoff seed.

Safety Malcolm Jenkins, stinging from what he described as an embarrassing loss to his former team, took issue with the Eagles’ demeanor during that game and suggested some players lacked fight.

“At that point in time, obviously, that’s the low point of our season. But at no point did we doubt that we have the locker room,” Jenkins said. “We just knew that we had to put it together. Since then, I think we responded and earned our opportunity to go back down there.”

Late in that game, Jenkins made an obscene gesture, extending his middle finger toward Sean Payton following a Saints touchdown because he believed his former coach was running up the score — a sentiment others in the Eagles locker room, including tackle Jason Peters, have shared.

Coach Doug Pederson, however, did not play into that angle when addressing the media Wednesday.

“No, I did not [think they ran up the score]. Listen, we get paid to play, just like they do. We just didn’t make enough plays,” Pederson said. “We have to keep them out of the end zone and we have to score. We didn’t do either one very well.”

Foles has been a key part of the Eagles’ turnaround since that loss. He has won four straight in place of the injured Carson Wentz, including a 16-15 thriller over the Chicago Bears in the wild-card round last weekend.

As Bears kicker Cody Parkey lined up for the potential game-winner at the end of the game, center Jason Kelce found Foles on the sideline to let him know that he was going to miss him if this was in fact the end. Then came the Treyvon Hester tip and the double doink, extending Foles’ time in Philly and setting up a rematch with a Saints team that sparked the turnaround.

“”It means the world,” Foles said. “I’m not worried about the future, but at the same time, I understand where I stand. And every time I wear that jersey is special and to play with guys like Jason, that’s special. I’ve been fortunate to play with the best center in the game.

“I’ll never forget that. Fortunately, we tipped the field goal and it didn’t go in, which was a huge play by Hester. But we get one more week together, at least.”

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Ezekiel Elliott’s importance to the Dallas Cowboys was on full display Sunday, and he did not even play.

For the first time in his career, Elliott was healthy and did not dress for a game. The Cowboys did not even want him going through pregame warmups. At least in 2016, when the Cowboys had home-field advantage wrapped up, Elliott was able to wear his uniform and sit on the bench for four quarters.

On Sunday, Elliott was in a blue sweat suit.

And the Cowboys won anyway, beating the New York Giants 36-35.

Now a rested Elliott will lead Dallas against Seattle in the wild-card round on Saturday. He ran for 127 yards on 16 carries during the Cowboys’ Week 3 loss in Seattle, but he also lost a fumble. The Cowboys are looking to advance to the divisional round of the playoffs for the first time since 2014, and they’ll be facing a Seahawks team that was middle of the pack in rushing defense.

Elliott still kept busy Sunday. He ran the pregame huddle, bouncing around his teammates, pumping them up. On the sidelines, he was talking to his fellow running backs. When Rod Smith bulled his way in for a 1-yard touchdown, Elliott met him with a leaping high-five.

Ezekiel Elliott won’t be wearing a sweatsuit when the Cowboys host the Seahawks. Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire
“Each and every drive I was coming to the sideline and he had something to say. Or as I’m going back out there, [he was] encouraging us,” Dak Prescott said. “But he was definitely locked in. That’s what you need from your running back and a leader of the team.”

By sitting Elliott, the Cowboys showed just how important he will be to their playoff success.

“We all know the leading rusher in the NFL is an important player,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “But he’s also had more touches. Maybe the guy we played [Saquon Barkley] might’ve been right there with him, but [Elliott] had more touches than anybody I’ve ever been around as far as 15 games. This was real similar to his rookie year when he didn’t play in the last regular-season game when he led the league in rushing that year either.

“I think it will help him, think it’ll be a little jolt for him feeling refreshed going into next week’s game.”

In a league dominated by passing, the Cowboys will look to win the franchise’s sixth Super Bowl in an old-school manner: the running game and defense.

Elliott won his second rushing title in three seasons on Sunday without taking a snap. He finished the year with 304 carries for 1,434 yards. As a rookie in 2016, he had 1,631 yards in 15 games to win the rushing title.

The last team to win a Super Bowl with the rushing champion was the 1998 Denver Broncos when Terrell Davis ran for 2,008 yards. In the Cowboys’ three Super Bowl wins in the 1990s, Emmitt Smith was the rushing champ in 1992, 1993 and 1995.

“We ask him to do a lot of things,” wide receiver Cole Beasley said. “We play through him. He’s our playmaker, so they obviously want to get him as many touches as possible.”

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In the 15 games Elliott played, he accounted for 39.4 percent of the Cowboys’ scrimmage yards, 2,001 of the 5,082 yards, the highest percentage of any player in the league. Through the first 15 weeks, David Johnson of the Cardinals was second at 35.9 percent.

Since selecting Elliott fourth overall in 2016, the Cowboys have not hid their desire to get him the ball. A lot.

In three seasons, he has 5,247 yards from scrimmage. He is only the fourth player in league history to eclipse more than 1,900 scrimmage yards in two of his first three seasons. Eric Dickerson (1983-84), Edgerrin James (1999-2000) and LaDainian Tomlinson (2002-03) are the only others to have done it twice.

Elliott missed six games in 2017 because of a suspension but would have had more than 2,000 scrimmage yards based on his totals through 10 games.

“They drafted me the No. 4 overall pick and I’d like to think that I’ve fulfilled all the expectations that they’ve expected of me,” Elliott said.

This season, Elliott became a bigger part of the passing game partly because he had to with the release of Dez Bryant and the retirement of Jason Witten. His 77 catches are the most by a running back in a season in franchise history. He entered the year with 58 catches in 25 games. He matched his career total with three touchdown receptions this season.

“I’ll never say somebody can replace Witt or what Witt meant, obviously. But just having [Elliott] in your back pocket, knowing you’re in trouble, knowing a blitz is coming or something like that, you got a back you can get it out to or no telling when he gets it, what he might to do with it,” Prescott said. “That serves this offense so much and keeps us ahead of the chains.”

Twice this season Elliott had games with more than 200 scrimmage yards. His four games of at least 200 scrimmage yards are tied for the most in team history with Smith and DeMarco Murray.

“I don’t know anybody who’s better with the ball in his hands,” Beasley said of Elliott.

The Cowboys took the ball out of Elliott’s hands against the Giants.

That won’t be the case in the playoffs.

The Cowboys’ road to Super Bowl LIII will have to be paved by Elliott.