The bumps and bruises, sprains and strains are still present and still painful. But as an organization, the Washington Redskins returned home with a spring in their step, having evened their record at the season’s midway point and more importantly in possession of a signature win, the kind where the takeaway message resonates both inside and outside the locker room.
“It shows we can play in this league and play with any other team,” running back Rob Kelley said following the Redskins’ 17-14 win at Seattle on Sunday.
They’ll hope the momentum carries over and that wind in their sails helps stir some healing powers as well. The Redskins are still a beaten and battered bunch and will likely be relying on some key reserves when they host Minnesota and one of the league’s top defenses next weekend. But for now they can take comfort knowing that Vikings game won’t be played with a backdrop of desperation. Certainly Redskins Coach Jay Gruden knew the stakes before kickoff in Seattle.
“You always try to weigh out the results before the game, what could happen, 3-5, long trip home, it wouldn’t mean the end of our season but it would make it a lot tougher,” he said Monday. “We’re still in a tough spot at 4-4. We still have a long way to go, but we have a whole second half of the season still to play and we’re in position to at least control what we can control and get ourselves back in the race.”
The Redskins have plenty of work to do, but at the season’s midway point, they know where they stand. They’re a team that right now is hunting for a playoff spot, not a high draft pick. If the season ended today, the Redskins would be the NFC’s 10th-best team, which means that over the course of the season’s final eight games, they need to catch at least one of the two wild-card front-runners (Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys) and three other wild-card hopefuls (Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons).
“We have to try to somehow keep pace,” Gruden said. “We can’t get too far behind, or the season will leak out on us. It’s good to get back to .500.”
Gruden knew his team didn’t have much time to celebrate Sunday’s upset. They’re about to face two of their toughest opponents of the year, the 6-2 Vikings on Sunday, followed by the 6-2 New Orleans Saints, both division leaders. And there’s zero guarantees they’ll suddenly be healthier.
Gruden said two of quarterback Kirk Cousins’s favorite targets have been making progress. Tight end Jordan Reed and wide receiver Jamison Crowder both missed Sunday’s game, but Gruden said the players are improving and he considers them day-to-day. The team infirmary did add a couple of players: Wide receiver Brian Quick entered the league’s concussion protocol, and defensive tackle Arthur Jones could miss some time with a dislocated shoulder.
The coaching staff will also be paying plenty of attention this week to the offensive line, which featured only one regular starter Sunday. Gruden said that he’s hopeful center Spencer Long, guard Brandon Scherff and tackle Ty Nsekhe can increase their workloads this week. Guard Shaun Lauvao is improving, and tackle Trent Williams will still be day-to-day.
“It’ll be great to get at least one back,” he said. “Maybe two, maybe three would be outstanding.”
While much of the attention focused on the offensive injuries, the defense was also beat-up — and yet somehow managed to turn in one of its best performances of the year against a team that had posted 479 yards and 41 points one week earlier against Houston.
The shorthanded bunch relentlessly attacked Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, sacking him twice and hauling in two picks. It saw standout performances from linebacker Zach Brown, who had a hand in 11 tackles and posted a sack, Will Compton, who had seven solo tackles and an interception, and Terrell McClain, who had five tackles and a sack. In the first half, the Seahawks barely managed to convert 1 of 7 third-down tries.
Gruden knew it would take that kind of defensive effort for the beleaguered Redskins to compete.
“Basically I told them, we’re going to have to lean on you guys for a little while until we get our guns back,” Gruden said. “And even then, we’re still going to need to lean on you later in the year.”
For the Redskins, it felt like the type of game that forges an identity, something that carries over into the second half of the season. Cornerback Josh Norman credits the win to the team’s physical style of play.
“There’s no substitute for it. We got guys out there buying into that,” he said. “You see what happens when you play that type of ball all the way down to the last second of the game, man, you [are] going to come up with something.”
The surprising win gives the Redskins a blank slate of sorts, a chance to redirect the season and allow the final eight games to define this team, rather than the first eight. For now, at least, that story will likely be written by both starters and reserves.
“We’re minus some good offensive players,” Gruden said, “without a doubt. But we still have some good offensive players. We still have Kirk and Vernon [Davis] and Ryan Grant and Josh Doctson and Terrelle Pryor and Morgan Moses. We still have some good players on offense. It’s not like we’re totally inept.
“We have a good football team. Still, our depth is challenged a little bit and special teams a little bit. But we feel like we go out there and can compete with anybody with the talent we have still available.”
Master Tesfatsion and Liz Clarke contributed to this report.
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