Who knows which Redskins team will show up. Maybe it will be the contender that’s 4-1 at FedEx Field. (Though those four wins were against teams that are a combined 17-23). Or maybe it will be the pretender that was crushed by the Giants 32-21 on Sept. 24.
Either way, Sunday’s game will show the Redskins what the season’s last five weeks will mean. A Washington victory — along with an Eagles win over the Lions on Thursday — would mean a three-way tie atop the division, with Dallas close enough behind for a potential four-team race.
A loss would leave Washington two games back, although it would be more like three since the Giants would own the tie-breaking edge. Translation: Focus on 2016.
Coach Jay Gruden needs to order another “code red,” as he did before the Redskins rallied to a Week 7 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He also needs to rediscover the running game. Washington is best when it runs the ball well. Too bad it has seldom done that.
Between large early deficits, injuries, inconsistent blocking and Gruden’s love of the passing game, the running attack has been largely absent the past two months. Washington barely avoided a franchise-low single-game rushing record against Carolina before it finished with 14 yards on 12 carries.
Alfred Morris, in what’s apparently his farewell tour, gained zero yards on two carries before he suffered a rib injury.
That leaves the three-time 1,000-yard rusher with just 404 yards this season. Morris’ heir, Matt Jones, gained zero yards on five carries, and he had his fourth fumble of the season — tied for second-most in the NFL.
And just when it seemed safe to trust quarterback Kirk Cousins after eight touchdowns and one interception over a three-game span, he threw a bad pick on the first series that led to a 7-0 Carolina lead.
Cousins, who doubled as a human pinata so often that there were cries to pull him in the fourth quarter for his own safety, led a touchdown drive on the next series before stalling the rest of the game.
Meanwhile, a defense that leads the NFL in failed arm tackles was run through once again. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton threw five touchdown passes before leading a group “Dab.”
However, the Redskins did finally have a solid special-teams game. Andre Roberts’ 99-yard kick-return touchdown made up for kicker Dustin Hopkins looking like Charlie Brown on the opening kick.
Beating New York is everything to Washington’s chance of emerging from the woeful NFC East. Maybe the Redskins will show that “code red” is just another shade of burgundy.
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