The first-place New York Giants are the only team with a winning record in the division. And even the Giants have dropped the ball recently: The defending Super Bowl champs have been shaky in consecutive losses.
Although the last-place Redskins have been horrifyingly bad at times (the secondary is a recurring nightmare), they only have to be better than their struggling neighbors to reach the playoffs. That’s where the Redskins’ schedule could help.
Five of Washington’s remaining seven games are against divisional opponents. The Redskins play host to the reeling Philadelphia Eagles, losers of five straight, on Sunday and face the stumbling Giants again. The Redskins actually could climb out of the hole they’ve dug.
The Redskins’ schedule won’t be an asset, however, unless Coach Mike Shanahan’s team still is interested in trying to win. The Redskins didn’t seem to have much fight left while limping into their bye week on a three-game losing streak. So it’s pretty clear how this will go: Either the Redskins will show heart and finish strong or continue to slide under Shanahan.
It won’t take long to see which way they’re headed. Here’s how to tell whether they’re on the right path.
It starts with professionalism. The team has shown little so far.
The Redskins are the league’s most-penalized team and have experienced three on-field meltdowns (offensive play-caller Kyle Shanahan actually pursued an official into a tunnel to continue berating him). Emotional outbursts and sloppy play were key elements in the Redskins’ 3-6 formula before their bye.
The Redskins have to keep their heads in the game. That means staying cool during the tensest moments. The Redskins have repeatedly vowed to do better, but it’s all just lip service until they actually choose wisely.
If the Redskins finally quit yapping about perceived missed calls, we’ll know they’re making progress in their mental approach. Complaining is for losers. Winners let their play do the talking.
It would be encouraging if the Redskins acted as if they’re aware holding is against the rules, and that it’s best to wait for the ball to be snapped before crossing the line of scrimmage. It’s about the Redskins finally acknowledging one of their toughest opponent is the guy in the mirror.
“Don’t matter how much talent you have, you can’t keep hurting yourself and think you gonna win in this league,” veteran wide receiver Santana Moss said. “It would be one thing if we don’t know better. We do. We just runnin’ out of time to prove it.”
It’s also getting late for Mike Shanahan to show he still has a winning touch. More than halfway through his third season in Washington, the two-time Super Bowl winner is 14-27. The home field definitely hasn’t been an advantage for Shanahan: He’s 5-15 at FedEx.
Shanahan backpedalled faster than Darrell Green in his prime after making comments that seemed as if he was throwing in the towel on the season. Now, it remains to be seen whether players are interested in anything else he has to say.
When players tune out coaches in team sports, everyone should start planning their offseason vacations, because the season’s over. Often, teams that quit show little emotion on the sideline and only half-heartedly attempt to tackle.
I know what you’re thinking: So how could we tell the difference with the Redskins?
As ineffective as the Redskins have been, they’ve at least tried hard. If the Redskins check out on the season, you’ll see opposing ball carriers gain chunks of yardage as defensive players simply stand around waiting for the game to end. On offense, wideouts and backs will step out of bounds instead of fighting for extra yards.
The drop-off in effort will be obvious, “but that’s not really something I ever worry about here,” said linebacker London Fletcher, in his 15th season in the NFL and sixth with the Redskins. “Guys have a lot of professional pride, so I just can’t see that happening. And if we ever saw any of that, we have guys in here [the locker room] who would put a stop to it.”
Fletcher is one. Robert Griffin III is another. In his first nine games, the rookie quarterback proved there’s absolutely no quit in him.
Griffin engineered a fourth-quarter drive that put the Redskins in position to kick a game-winning field goal against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He sealed the Redskins’ victory over the Minnesota Vikings with a thrilling, 76-yard touchdown sprint in the game’s final minute. And a Griffin-led rally against the Giants fell short because Washington’s defensive backs give up even more big plays than Griffin makes.
With Griffin on the field, the Redskins always have a slight chance. To improve their odds, they’ll have to give him more help.
On defense, it could come from the return of safety Brandon Meriweather. Out all season with a knee injury, Meriweather has practiced this week and hopes to play against the Eagles. He figures to be rusty whenever he rejoins the lineup. Still, he couldn’t be any worse in coverage than Madieu Williams.
The Redskins also need many of the players at the top of their depth chart to start playing like they want to stay there.
If outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has been waiting to unveil some new pass-rush moves, this is the time. Acrobatic catches from wideout Josh Morgan would be welcomed. The Redskins don’t have a moment to waste.
You’re judged by the company you keep, and the Redskins play in a weak division. But it’s not too late for them to be the best-looking team in this flawed bunch.