By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
The word "satisfied" came perilously close to rolling off the lips of a few players at Redskins Park yesterday as they contemplated the first half of their season. But they stopped short of saying it. After the jubilation from Sunday's comeback win, Washington's second overtime victory of the season, had worn off and the players had recalled other games that slipped away, the consensus was that they had every right be pleased with their 5-3 record, but not quite content.
One could make a case that the Redskins easily could stand at 7-1 -- they gave up halftime leads to Green Bay and the New York Giants in games they had dominated early. But their record also could be much worse. They required some good fortune to beat winless Miami in overtime in the season opener, survived a potential game-winning kick at the end of regulation against Arizona at home and very nearly lost to the 1-8 Jets on Sunday after falling behind 17-3.
Still, the defining stretch of play begins now, with seven of eight games against NFC opponents and four games against division foes, including Sunday's game against Philadelphia at FedEx Field.
At the very least the Redskins have put themselves in position to be playing meaningful games into December, and the fact that they've already equaled last year's victory total is reason enough for positive vibes.
"Given our situation with injuries and everything, if somebody said, 'This is what's going to happen to you, will you take 5-3 at the turn?' I think everybody would have said yes for sure," tight end Chris Cooley said. "We're right in the middle of where we want to be, we've got a couple of huge games coming up and we want to have a good finish."
The Redskins have been .500 or better at the halfway point just once since Coach Joe Gibbs returned in 2004, and their 5-3 start in 2005 begat a 10-6 record and the franchise's first playoff berth since 1999. Duplicating that would mark a positive step, with Gibbs seeking to restore a winning tradition and make the team an annual playoff threat. Gibbs declined yesterday to characterize the season to this point, holding out analysis until the end.
"We're in a war. This thing is going to go for 16 weekends," Gibbs said. "We've finished the first half of it, we're 5-3 and that's kind of the way you evaluate it. We had two real disappointing losses in there and we had two overtime games where we came back to win. . . . I think that's kind of the way I look at it, and I was thrilled to get that one" on Sunday.
The Redskins have scored just two touchdowns in the past two games, just six offensive touchdowns in four games and just 14 on the season. No wide receiver has caught a touchdown pass and Gibbs is in a continual fight to inject balance into his attack, with the running game and passing game rarely dovetailing. The lack of scoring has kept most every game close, and Gibbs is steeled for tight games the rest of the way.
"It's rare that you have a day where you say everything is perfect," Gibbs said. " . . . It is a constant momentum swing up here and it's going to be week in and week out."
To that end, players said the concept of "style points" does not apply, seemingly adopting the motto of Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis: Just win baby. "As long as we continue to win I really don't care what goes on," said wide receiver Santana Moss, who is having his worst season as a Redskin. "It's always about winning, and everything else will pan itself out."
Tackle Chris Samuels said: "It would be nice if every week we could [be balanced], if we could throw well and run well, but we just want to win. If it's 2-nothing, we'll take that."
Running the ball was supposed to be the strength of the club, but the Redskins brought a six-game rushing funk into New York, then powered for 296 yards against the Jets. Tailback Clinton Portis topped 100 yards for the first time since Oct. 1, 2006, but knows that better defenses await. He finished the game with 196 yards.
"We've got a long way to go," Portis said. "It's good to come out and get that, but again, it's one day. We've got to come out this week and try to do that again. We've got to keep the consistency going."
While the offense has struggled, the defense has kept the Redskins competitive in every game except the 52-7 loss to New England two weeks ago. The big plays that resulted in Washington ranking 31st overall in defense in 2006 have been eliminated, thanks to a renewed dedication to deep zone pass coverage schemes and improved personnel. But the defense is aiming for better things in the second half as well.
The Redskins got by with largely a four-man pass rush in the first half, but the pressure from the defensive line has lagged in the past few games. Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, is seeking a balance on his unit as well, between how much he needs to blitz to rattle the passer and how much pressure can be generated by still dropping seven or eight players into pass coverage. The four division games remaining -- one each with Philadelphia and the New York Giants and two with first-place Dallas -- will challenge the secondary again.
"Each week is different from game-plan standpoint," linebacker London Fletcher said. "We've just got to understand the situation of what teams like to do, and pick and choose when to be aggressive."
Part of the Redskins' second-half success will depend on how well players, both offensive and defensive, recover from injuries. Some starters are lost for the season, while veterans Marcus Washington (hamstring), Fred Smoot (hamstring), Randy Thomas (torn triceps) and Moss (hamstring and heel) are among those trying to overcome lingering injuries.
"The NFL, today, a lot of it is being able to survive the injury thing," Gibbs said. "It's a shame to say that, but that's kind of where you are."