Numbers aren’t normally Jay Gruden’s friend. The Redskins coach has gone 2-12 on the road, 1-4 in prime time and 10-19 overall — records bad enough for a pink slip.

But there’s one numerical turnaround in Gruden’s second season: challenges. He is 3-1 this season when throwing the red flag. Last year, he was 1-7.

It’s one simple reason, among several, to bring back Gruden for a third season. He doesn’t deserve to join Steve Spurrier and Jim Zorn as failed two-year Redskins coaches — even though Gruden needs to win the final three games of the season to surpass Spurrier’s and Zorn’s 12-20 overall records.

Unlike Spurrier, who failed as a pro coach, and Zorn, who never should have been a head coach, Gruden is worthy of the headset. Sure, he looked like a rookie last year when the 4-12 Redskins were too often bumbling buffoons. But an inherited defensive staff was jettisoned in the offseason and a new defensive crew and other assistants were added. The play-calling pecking order was established.

Best yet, team president Bruce Allen is no longer among the reviewers recommending when Gruden should challenge a play. The sideline is often a terrible place to see what’s happening on the field, so Gruden relies heavily on those seated above him in the coaching booth. But Allen and Co. blew it so regularly that Gruden reworked the review team. With a year’s experience, Gruden has learned what’s worth challenging.

It’s a small thing that shows Gruden is growing in his role. He also no longer questions players publicly. His practices are harder. And play-calling is slightly more balanced.

It’s not like Gruden has inherited Vince Lombardi’s unbeatable aura. Washington was badly outcoached by Dallas in its 19-16 loss on Dec. 7.

The running game remains underwhelming and the Redskins haven’t won consecutive games this season. Aside from a two-game slide in mid-October, it has been a steady loss-win-loss-win pattern all season.

But being a head coach is as much about running a team as coaching a team. The drama that engulfed Redskins Park in past years is gone. It’s actually a football building. Some of that credit goes to general manager Scot McCloughan, who has done a phenomenal job with the roster. But it’s also Gruden. He showed strength when he benched Robert Griffin III, while at the same time he’s remained so approachable that wide receiver DeSean Jackson gave his coach a surprise purple nurple in practice.

Gruden’s next challenge is to create momentum, starting with Sunday’s game against Buffalo. The Redskins then close the season with games against division rivals Philadelphia and Dallas.

A four-game winning streak to end the regular season to get to 9-7 wouldn’t just send the Redskins to the playoffs on a roll — it would also set them up nicely for next year.

This article previously stated Gruden’s prime-time record incorrectly. It has been corrected. 

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