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Despite Homecoming, London Fletcher Focused Only On Winning In Cleveland

By ZAC BOYER

zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

ASHBURN – London Fletcher has played in 237 consecutive games, dating all the way back to his debut with the St. Louis Rams as an undrafted free agent on Sept. 6, 1998.

Fletcher

On Sunday, he’ll play in his hometown of Cleveland for the first time.

“I mean, obviously there’s a little bit of a difference,” Fletcher said. “But at the end of the day, once the ball is kicked off, you’re just playing football and focusing on that.”

Fletcher, 37, grew up a Browns fan and attended games at Municipal Stadium when he was younger. Much of his family still lives in and around Cleveland, and several members will be in attendance on Sunday when the Browns host Fletcher and the Washington Redskins.

What they’ll see a defense that has improved greatly in recent weeks and played a vital role in the Redskins’ playoff push.

Though the unit struggled earlier this season, it has been able to limit yards gained by opponents during Washington’s four-game winning streak.

Perhaps more importantly, it has played well enough in the second half of the last two games to give the offense a chance to win the game.

Washington defeated the New York Giants 17-16 on Dec. 3, then rallied for a 31-28 overtime victory over Baltimore last weekend. In both games, the Redskins faced narrow halftime deficits.

“You know, it is emotionally draining going to overtime and winning by one,” said nose tackle Barry Cofield, who also was born and raised in Cleveland. “It does weigh on you, but it gets you in a mental state. It gets you emotionally so fired up for every game, and I think it helps you win. When you have a group of men that bond over that must-win attitude and are able to come together with that common goal, you can do special things, and I think that’s what we’re doing right now.”

Fletcher played a large role in the victory over the Ravens, finishing with a team-high 12 tackles and intercepting his third pass of the season when he dove under a ball deflected by Cofield midway through the third quarter.

He’s made 109 tackles this season, which, entering Week 15, ranked tied for 10th in the league. He’s also done it while battling a variety of injuries, from a pulled hamstring earlier in the year to a sprained left ankle sustained Nov. 18 against Philadelphia that has often prevented him from practicing.

“He’s a warrior like that,” Cofield said. “There’s a reason he’s playing middle linebacker for 200-plus games in a row. You’ve got to have toughness. You’ve got to be a professional. You’ve got to know how to take care of your body, and those are things that he does at a Hall of Fame level.

“I think he’s a special player when it comes to the whole history of this league, and I think people will appreciate him more when he’s done than they do now. He’s our emotional leader, he’s our vocal leader and he’s someone that everybody looks up to.”

Fletcher attended Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School, where he played football and basketball. He went to St. Francis (Pa.) for three semesters to play basketball, but when he decided he’d rather play football, he transferred home to John Carroll – a Division III school located a half-hour east of the stadium.

There, he’d go on to rank fourth all-time with 386 tackles, including the school record with 29 in a game and 202 in a season, and was nominated for the Division III player of the year award as a senior.

Undrafted, he went through training camp with the Rams, then made the active roster. He started just one game that season, but was the starting middle linebacker in 1999, when the Rams defeated Tennessee in Super Bowl XXXIV.

He signed a five-year deal with Buffalo in 2002, then joined the Redskins in 2007, earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl in 2009.

Fletcher led the NFL with 166 tackles last season, and, unwilling to retire and convinced he could still play, he signed what was essentially a two-year, $10.75 million contract in April with $6.75 million guaranteed.

Though he hadn’t won often during his first five years in Washington, he now has a chance to play in the postseason for the first time since the 2007 season.

That, more than anything, has him excited for Sunday.

“You just really just focus on the game that’s in front of you, not focus on all the other stuff and what’s down the road,” Fletcher said. “It’s going to be a tough ballgame, but one that we have to get.”

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