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Shanahan says Redskins special teams 'improved drastically' despite punt return touchdown

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Chicago Bears wide receiver Devin Hester turns and looks at his teammate free safety Anthony Walters after scoring this 19th touchdown on a kickoff return during the first half of a NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md., Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (The Associated Press)

Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said Monday his special teams "improved drastically" in a game in which they allowed a special teams touchdown for the third consecutive week.

The Redskins gave up an 81-yard punt return score by Devin Hester in Sunday's 45-41 win over the Chicago Bears.

In addition, Joshua Morgan fumbled a kickoff, only to be bailed out when one of his teammates recovered. Also, the Bears recovered an onside kick in the fourth quarter, a play that was negated when a Chicago player was judged to be offsides.

"I think we improved drastically, even though it doesn't sound like it because of the punt return for a touchdown. ... You could see the sense of urgency on our football team," Shanahan said. "If you watched all of the special teams play-by-play, you saw a team that was playing extremely hard — not that we can't get better."

The Redskins allowed a blocked punt for a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders and a punt return for a score against the Dallas Cowboys.

Washington special teams coordinator Keith Burns, who replaced longtime Redskins special teams coach Danny Smith, was a standout special teams player under Shanahan with the Broncos and spent the last six seasons as Denver's assistant special teams coach. Redskins players last week said they were still buying into Burns' way of doing things.

"I understand it from a players' perspective," Burns said, "because when you're so used to being in one system for so many years, it's part of it. I've played in five different special teams systems. I've coached in three different special teams systems, so I've always taken a little part from each and I'm bringing it here to Washington.

"It's going to always take time, but at the same time my job is to get the guys playing hard, and I think they started doing that — just like they showed yesterday. ... I don't think it had anything to do with 'buying in' — I think everything was new to them. It's no different than if you put in a new offense, you put in a new defense, it's going got be new to everybody."

Burns also agreed with players who said it's been a challenge to integrate young players into special teams after several years of continuity among a core group who played together on all of the coverage and return units.

The return game has also suffered from the loss of return man Richard Crawford to a season-ending knee injury in preseason. The Redskins have yet to find a satisfactory replacement. Punter Sav Rocca has struggled, and kicker Kai Forbath missed several games with a groin injury. Shanahan also said the team misses the leadership of longtime special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander, who left as a free agent in the offseason.

And it doesn't get any easier. This week the Redskins are preparing for the Denver Broncos and their talented returner Trindon Holliday.

"I came in with my plan," Burns said, "and I'm still sticking to my plan and just see where it goes from there."

Notes: DE Stephen Bowen tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in Sunday's game. Shanahan said the knee is sore and that the team "will know more in the next couple of days" as to whether Bowen will be able to play against the Broncos. ... TE Jordan Reed had a breakout game (134 yards on nine catches) despite playing most of the game a bruised right hip after he was sandwiched between two players after a catch late in the first quarter. Shanahan said Reed received a shot but should be ready to play next week. ... Shanahan tried to avoid the topic the first time he was asked Monday about his return to Denver, where he was head coach from 1995-2008 and won two Super Bowls. A second attempt got him to concede his fond memories of the city. "I'm sure hoping I don't get booed," he said.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP