Bye week rejuvenated Redskins

The Washington Post’s Jason Reid, LaVar Arrington, and Dan Steinberg debate whether the Redskins or Giants are more likely to win the NFC East following the Redskins’ victory over the first-place Giants on Monday Night Football. (The Washington Post)
December 8, 2012

On the evening of Nov. 4, the Washington Redskins’ season seemed shattered into so many tiny pieces, virtually beyond repair.

They had just lost to the Carolina Panthers at FedEx Field, their third straight defeat, dropping their record to 3-6 heading into the bye week. Coach Mike Shanahan spoke during his postgame news conference about evaluating players for next year and beyond. That prompted almost immediate questions about whether Shanahan was giving up on the season. The team appeared to be going nowhere more than halfway through Shanahan’s third season as its coach, even with rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III playing brilliantly.

“Of course you’re worried,” veteran linebacker Lorenzo Alexander recalled in recent days. “You don’t want your team to kind of fall too far behind. I knew we still were in it. But at that time, just the morale of the team was really low. You could kind of see it falling apart a little bit.”

A little more than a month later, things are so different. The Redskins returned from their bye to beat the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants in succession. Entering Sunday’s home game against the Baltimore Ravens, the Redskins are only a game out of first place in the NFC East and one game back in the chase for the second of two wild-card playoff spots in the NFC. Their once-broken season has been, mostly, reassembled.

But how? Part of the Redskins’ turnaround can be attributed to playing familiar divisional opponents in a less-than-overwhelming year for the NFC East. But part of it, players say, is due to the team’s players getting away from football for close to a week just when the season had reached its low point, and returning to work at Redskins Park recharged mentally and healed physically.

“I think it came at the perfect time,” rookie tailback Alfred Morris said. “We were able to refocus, just regenerate a little bit, get our feet back under us.”

Before the Redskins could get away for their bye, Shanahan first had to deal with the stir he created with his comments following the Carolina loss. Shanahan spent the following two days delivering the message that he wasn’t giving up on the season, first publicly in his news conference on the Monday after the game and then to the players during a meeting on Tuesday before coaches and players parted ways for the bye.

“Initially I was like, ‘Wow, he said that?’ I think that’s a little out of character for him to say something like that, because it seemed like he was giving up,” Alexander said. “But the more I thought about it, I think he was just challenging guys to step up and play. You need to rise your game up and if you don’t, we can’t have individuals that are going to kind of run away when things are bad. We can’t have those types of individuals on our team.”

There was some talk among Redskins’ players about Shanahan’s comments, Alexander said, adding that he didn’t have any such conversations. But after Shanahan addressed the team, Alexander said, the matter was resolved.

“I understood what he meant after I heard it over and over and over again and then I heard his press conference,” Alexander said. “. . . I think some people were worried about what he had said. But once he approached us as a man and in front of everybody, everything was cleared up and everybody was fine with it.”

With that settled, the team’s players had five days off through the bye weekend. Alexander went to Miami and hung out on South Beach with his wife. Morris visited his college, Florida Atlantic University, and spent time with his family.

“I got away,” Morris said. “I think we all, as a team, got away just from it all, just to kind of refocus, recuperate ourselves, be ready for the next part of the season.”

Defensive tackle Barry Cofield went to his home in Florida but said he continued to pay attention to NFL happenings.

“Football is always on my mind, year round,” Cofield said. “That’s just the type of person I am. And I’m a big football fan. So I watched all the Sunday games. I watched the Thursday game. I watched all that. It’s never far from my mind.”

Players said there was a higher energy level at Redskins Park when they reassembled the following Monday to begin preparing for the Eagles game. The Redskins outscored the Eagles and Cowboys 59-9 over the next six quartersto get their winning streak started.

“Coming off a bye week, especially with the new rules where you get so many days off in a row, there’s definitely going to be a noticeable difference as far as the energy,” Cofield said. “Guys definitely look rested and excited about being in the building.”

Wide receiver Pierre Garcon returned to the Redskins’ lineup after the bye and, after managing only five receiving yards against the Eagles, had back-to-back impressive showings against the Cowboys and Giants. Safety Brandon Meriweather made his Redskins debut and had an interception against the Eagles, but suffered a season-ending knee injury during that game. Even so, the Redskins have remained on a roll.

Alexander was asked whether the turnaround would have occurred without the bye, if the Redskins had played a week after the deflating defeat to the Panthers.

“I really don’t know,” he said. “I would like to say yes. But I mean, I really don’t know. I think the bye came at a great time for us.”

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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