The Washington Redskins, believe it or not, took care of business and defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, 38-24, at Lincoln Financial Field Saturday night, and in so doing, clinched the NFC East title and a playoff berth.
It’s their first since 2012 and only the second in the past 16 years.
Next week, the Redskins will go to Dallas and aim to close out the season with a 9-7 record.
But first, here are some observations from last night’s game:
1. Mentally tough – The intestinal fortitude of this team has been put to the test again and again, but the Redskins once again responded, winning after overcoming the odds in pressure-packed situation. Because of the slight edge over the Eagles, perhaps the Redskins didn’t seem like they felt the same desperation of their hosts. But Washington’s coaches and players attacked this latest challenge as if they faced elimination with a loss. Beating the same team twice is no easy feat, and winning on the road has proven extremely challenging for the Redskins. They managed to do both. Even when the Eagles jumped out to a lead, moving the ball at will to start the game, Washington’s players never batted an eye. When the offense got off to a slow start, the Redskins shrugged off the struggles. Dustin Hopkins’ missed point-after attempt didn’t slow momentum, and the Redskins didn’t let the blown opportunity at the end of the second quarter – where Kirk Cousins knelt and ran the final six seconds off the clock when he was supposed to attempt a touchdown pass – mentally derail them. They kept responding. They didn’t get complacent. They turned turnovers into points. They won individual matchups, and imposed their wills.
2. Game-changers – The Redskins had a number of game-changing performances that lifted them above the Eagles. They made the routine plays that they needed to make, but they also made the crucial plays. Jordan Reed again was unstoppable, posting another nine catches for 129 yards and two touchdowns. In so doing, he set the franchise record for single-season receiving yards and also became the first Redskin with 10 touchdown catches in a single season since Gary Clark in 1991. Pierre Garcon (seven catches for 80 yards and a touchdown) had some tough receptions and produced three first downs. Cousins delivered with his franchise-record seventh 300-yard passing game of the season and his fourth multiple-touchdown day, including his third four-touchdown day. Bashaud Breeland and Dashon Goldson teamed up for the first of two turnovers, and DeAngelo Hall’s fumble return for a touchdown took the wind out of the Eagles’ sails late in the third quarter, right after the Eagles had pulled within a touchdown. Rookie linebacker Preston Smith recorded three sacks. Offensively, we’re seeing the wealth of weapons really start causing problems for defenses. There are just too many to account for. Concentrate on taking away Jordan Reed, and then DeSean Jackson will hurt you. Or, an overlooked guy like Chris Thompson or Jamison Crowder will strike gold. Focus on Reed, and Garcon will emerge. And don’t forget Pierre Thomas, who had seven catches for 67 yards and four first downs. One of the more impressive elements to Washington’s offense Saturday night involved the effectiveness on first and second downs. The team converted only five of 14 third downs for first downs. But 17 of their other 20 other first downs came by plays made on first and second downs. (Three more by penalties). That type of production went a long way to ensuring that Washington remained in manageable situations and continued to move the chains.
3. Little bit of luck – Sometimes, in hotly-contested games, a degree of luck is indeed required, and the Redskins got just that. Sam Bradford overthrew wide open receivers twice on plays that should have produced touchdowns because of miscommunications on the defense. He had another receiver drop another would-be touchdown in the end zone. The Redskins also had an Eagles defensive back drop a would-be interception. The Redskins definitely made plays, but a little help from the Eagles also helped the cause.
4. Concern for run game – While the passing game clicked, Washington’s rushing attack remained problematic. Alfred Morris had the opportunity to deliver as the feature back because of Matt Jones’s hip injury. But instead, Morris proved largely ineffective, managing just 49 yards on 17 carries (2.9 yards per attempt). In the second half, the Redskins all but scrapped their plans for Morris and put Thomas to work although he is in only his third week on the team. Morris finished the game with 35 snaps played, Thomas had 32 and Chris Thompson had eight. On the third-quarter scoring drive that put Washington up 23-10, Washington ran on the initial first down (just a one-yard gain), and then dialed up 10 straight passing plays – the last of which was a 12-yard touchdown strike to Thompson. The game plan worked Saturday night, but with the playoffs approaching, the Redskins have to solve their running game woes, because in the postseason, where the intensity ramps up, an inability to run the ball usually translates to a lack of much-needed balance and effectiveness – unless you have a future Hall of Famer at quarterback. Fortunately for the Redskins, Kory Lichtensteiger has a chance to return for the playoff opener. His return will be well-received. Washington has lacked consistent pass protection up the gut, and a steady push off the interior of line on running plays. The Redskins should also get Jones back, and his violent style of running should serve as an upgrade over Morris, who continues to look slow, while also displaying poor vision, missing open cutback lanes.
5. Ahead of schedule – This team is far from a finished product. It’s not even on the level of the league’s proven contenders. But it’s definitely an improving squad. The mental fortitude, physical style of play on defense and improved pass rush, the more aggressive play-calling (which indicates growth in coordinator Sean McVay) and the subsequent crisp execution of the offense, and the ability to keep mental errors to a minimum all serve as indications that this group of players has A.) grown into a team, and B.) has learned how to win games. They still have more to learn, but they’re headed in the right direction. Winning the division and eight (possibly nine) games a year after managing just four victories last season, and the contributions that the Redskins are receiving from young players and other role-player additions, suggest that this team is slightly ahead of schedule. It’s true the NFC East has had a rough year. But the Redskins shouldn’t apologize for winning the division despite those struggles. But the post-bye surge – five wins in eight games, and victories in four of the last five – indicate the Redskins are indeed taking care of business and handling what they can control. This team has found its quarterback, young offensive linemen Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses appear to have solved the right side of the line for the long-term, the new-found maturity of Reed, greater consistency from Jackson and emergence of Crowder serve as other signs of encouragement. Chris Baker continues his strong play on the defensive line, and Ricky Jean Francois has proved his worth down the stretch of the season. Smith continues to show signs that he could be the long-term solution opposite Kerrigan. Will Compton and Mason Foster have solved the inconsistencies at inside linebacker. Kyshoen Jarrett continues to make contributions in the secondary and prove himself as both a solid cover guy, but a fundamentally sound tackler as well. And of course, Bashaud Breeland has a bright future with this team. Scot McCloughan has many more upgrades to make, but a solid foundation has been laid. It’s not a perfect foundation, but it is indeed promising. The true test of the quality of the foundation will come next season, when the Redskins prove whether or not they can build on this and continue moving forward, or if they will have a year of regression. But first, this current group of players still has more goals and more expectations that they want to exceed.
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