For a solid year, the Redskins have felt like a 50-50 team. Every game churns with uncertainty late into the fourth quarter. Weakened opponents never receive a finishing blow. That means the final moments each weekend are about as comfortable as a Mike Pence visit to Broadway.
So it’s fitting that Sunday night’s conclusion looked nothing like those awkward heart-stoppers. Sunday night, the Redskins bloomed into the mature outfit they’ve talked of becoming for months, pulling away from the Packers with an impressive fourth quarter in an impressive 42-24 win. It was relaxed enough that delirious fans could launch one “We Want Dallas” chant after another in the waning moments, as Green Bay’s backup quarterback played out the string.
And when the players were done spiking cheeseheads, they officially had a counter argument to that 50-50 feeling. Because the Redskins don’t have the record of a toss-up team. They have the record of the best Redskins team in a generation.
Over their past 16 games, this team is now 11-4-1.What’s the significance? That’s Washington’s best mark over a 16-game stretch since 1992. That’s so long ago, Jay Gruden was still quarterbacking for the Tampa Bay Storm, Joe Gibbs hadn’t yet retired for the first time, 10 members of Washington’s active roster weren’t even alive, and Donald Trump was still a Democrat.
Want more? The Redskins now have their best record through 10 games (6-3-1) in 20 years. They have home winning streaks of at least four games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1992. And they continue to average well more than 5.75 yards per play, something they’ve done just three times since the 1970 merger.
All three times — 1991, 1999 and 2012 — the Redskins won their division. That’s a major long shot this season, but back-to-back playoff appearances aren’t. That would be a blast from the past, too, something Washington hasn’t done since ’92.
On a weekly basis, they don’t have the look or feel of a dominant team, one that can bury opponents who have lost their vital signs. Sunday night showed symptoms of that malady. Twice the Redskins pushed their second-half lead to two scores, and twice they almost immediately allowed the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers to counter. Washington entered the weekend with just one convincing win — against the winless Browns — and even that one had second-half drama.
That’s why this team has felt like part of the NFL’s mediocre middle, with so many of its games coming down to a series of fourth-quarter coin flips. I recently asked Jamison Crowder how we can figure out which teams are any good when so many of these games have such narrow margins.
“It comes down to situational football; it’s going to come down to two-minute drives, it’s going to come down to converting on third down,” he said. “That’s just how it is. I mean, if you win the game, I guess that’s a pretty good judge or gauge of how good a team is. That’s really all I can give you.”
Washington handled the situational football Sunday night, dominating on third and fourth downs, winning the turnover margin and scoring touchdowns on 4 of 5 trips to the red zone. And so follow Crowder’s advice and stare at that win-loss tally for a second. Since getting routed by the Panthers last November, Washington’s 11-4-1 record sure seems a step above mediocre. This franchise has had multiple 11-5 stretches since its last Super Bowl win, although only two in the past decade. But there’s been nothing this good since a run from Game 8 of the Super Bowl campaign through Game 7 of ’92. Come to think of it, any time the 1991 and ’92 seasons are mentioned so many times in one column, it’s been a pretty good night.
That FedEx Field wind also blew away several nasty memories, starting with Washington’s big-stage jitters. In their past 25 prime-time appearances before Sunday night, the Redskins were 5-20, getting outscored by an average of 10 points per game. That included seven straight losses at home, many by comical margins.
This time, the comical numbers were in Washington’s box score: 375 passing yards and three touchdowns from Kirk Cousins, 137 rushing yards and three touchdowns from Rob Kelley, 515 total yards, a 67 percent success rate on third and fourth downs. How good must it feel to put together your best showing in front of a still-skeptical national audience?
And how about surviving without Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams, assumed to be the team’s best player? Before Williams was suspended earlier this month, the Redskins had gone 2-7 in their past nine games without him. Now they’ve won two straight with undrafted vagabond Ty Nsekhe protecting Cousins’s blind side.
Then remember all those stories about how this team, and its maligned quarterback, were unable to beat winning teams. The Redskins just played three straight games against teams that made the playoffs last winter, and they emerged from the ordeal 2-0-1. That midseason stretch was supposed to chew Washington up, but this team appears less fat and more gristle than anyone imagined. (Or less tofu and more seitan, for you vegetarians.)
Granted, they don’t hand out awards for 16-game stretches spanning November to November, and there are still valid concerns. Was this just the Packers in their death spiral, having now lost four straight? How did Washington’s defense lose track of so many receivers? Did the fans who chanted about Dallas really want the first-place Cowboys on the road, on a week so abbreviated that the Redskins will hold walkthroughs instead of practices?
For a year there have been such doubts and questions, and they’re all deserved. The Redskins have a quarter-century record of not deserving the benefit of the doubt. But for a year now, they also have a won-loss record that hints at something different.
Cousins said after the game he expected a low-scoring struggle, based on the cold temperatures and gusty winds. “I was surprised by the way it turned out,” he said. Then he talked about how “all 32 teams are talented” in the NFL, and how “every [team] is good.”
That’s podium talk. We know that most NFL teams are not, in fact, especially good. Sunday night’s win? It suggested that the list of legitimately good teams might need to make space for another member.
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