Think about the names. Then cast your mind back to August, just four months ago, and imagine what a chillingly brutal season you might have imagined for Washington if you thought they would have to be your stalwarts in December.
Then, perhaps, consider reevaluating what you think of this 6-8 Washington season, which still has two winnable games left. When you consider the team's blighted roster and its brutal schedule, the toughest by far in the NFL this year, maybe Coach Jay Gruden and his team are just a couple of respectable wins away from having one of the best "disappointing" seasons this town has seen in years.
The three leading tacklers for Washington in its homely but huggable 20-15 victory Sunday over the Arizona Cardinals at FedEx Field were Zach Vigil, Kendall Fuller and Martrell Spaight. The overall star of a victory that was built on a Washington defense that didn't allow a touchdown probably was defensive end Anthony Lanier, who had two sacks, a forced fumble, three passes batted down and two quarterback hits. In training camp, Vigil wasn't on the radar, Fuller was a nickel back, Spaight a backup linebacker and Lanier an undersized project.
The biggest offensive play of the day was a 36-yard dash for a touchdown on a screen pass by Kapri Bibbs, playing his first game for Washington after only 22 days with the team. The bubbling, smallish Bibbs was out of the NFL and "on the street for 10 weeks" just hoping he one day would get another chance.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins, almost devoid of offensive weapons against a strong Arizona defense and playing behind a smashed-up offensive line that included backups Ty Nsekhe, Arie Kouandjio and rookie Chase Roullier, still managed a stellar 116.8 quarterback rating and two touchdown passes.
Without injured Trent Williams to cover his blind side against NFL sack leader Chandler Jones, Cousins played game manager all day, nursing a Washington lead with conservative calls yet still completing 18 of 26 passes for 196 yards. He also survived a vicious, legal, center-of-the-back, full-speed sack by Jones late in the game that left Cousins wincing. But he returned, saying, "I dodged a bullet."
This team, which has played 26 different combinations on its offensive line, according to tackle Morgan Moses, and is without 11 players projected as starters before the season, at least the way safety D.J. Swearinger counts it, still has a shot at an 8-8 record. The Redskins haven't done it yet, but they are facing a decent 5-9 Denver team at FedEx next Sunday, then the woeful 2-12 Giants in the Meadowlands on New Year's Eve. If they win both games, they will wind up with an average final record in a season that, all things considered, may be one of their better-coached and most professionally played seasons in years.
These Redskins will never admit to much pride in any a record that doesn't have "playoff spot" attached to it. But you can hear the dignity when Swearinger, who broke up the last fourth-down pass to future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald with 23 seconds to play inside the Washington 10-yard line, says quietly, "That's the NFL game — make the most of what you have. We're still looking for wins."
This team even will take homely ones such as this, in which it was outgained on the ground 141 to 31 and lost time of possession 36:16 to 23:44.
When your third-stringers are suddenly starters, development-project players must turn into contributors immediately and you just hope that those Guys Off the Street can remember the plays they just learned, you can't be choosy.
Instead, you have to be tough; and put an end to Arizona drives at your 23-, 17-, 9-, 1-, 16-, 14- and, finally, 21-yard lines; and turn those possessions into five field goals, an interception for linebacker Preston Smith and that final fourth-down stop. "That was the game, story of the day," Gruden said. "Their red-zone offense against our red-zone defense.
"I would call [this win] more desire than desperation," Gruden said. "We celebrated. . . . Everybody's relieved. They played hard, and I feel happy for them."
Perhaps Gruden's most overlooked quality is his sincere belief in the talent of his players, an infectious confidence. Some, such as me, see limitations in basic ability throughout his roster — players who are injury-prone or who came here from the scrap heap or are inconsistent or who have ability but show no signs of turning it into significant production — in other words, the stuff that makes a 9-7 or 10-6 team in the best of seasons.
But Gruden honestly sees much more. At bleak points in bad games, he may seem deflated. But he's essentially optimistic and jovial by nature, and after the pain subsides, he sets an example of resilience.
Players know and care what the head coach really thinks. Gruden really thinks they are good, that they can constantly get better and, even after their past two stinkers and plenty of ugly spots in this win, that they should stay proud of themselves. Over the last three years, are they 23-22-1 because of these qualities in an often relaxed non-NFL-type coach or despite it?
At the least, Gruden brings out the best out of players whom others have doubted or rejected. This year, he has had to count on them by the boatload. His bond with Cousins may even have its roots in their common experience — Gruden in trying and failing to get to the NFL as a quarterback and Cousins in trying to be anointed as a trusted franchise quarterback — of constantly being doubted.
"I've been that [doubted] guy. I've been cut twice. I've been on the couch watching football. You're just hoping to make your presence felt in the league again somehow," Swearinger said, praising all the unlikely contributors this year.
Professionals, the best ones anyway, never make excuses, even when they are chest-deep in them. Unlike so many Washington teams in the past quarter century that shirked responsibility for their failings or flat-out quit late in seasons, this team owns its record and its beatings.
One player after another mentioned how badly they had played the past two weeks in losses to the Cowboys and Chargers. And some recounted the two games that got away that might have changed the season. If Josh Doctson, held to two catches for 16 yards by the Cardinals, had held a potential touchdown pass in the end zone in Kansas City with 51 seconds left or if the team, with a 99.6 percent chance of a win late in the fourth quarter against New Orleans, hadn't collapsed, this season might have been different.
But it wasn't. So it will have to be swallowed whole — just in the proper context. And that context includes a schedule so tough that, according to the website Pro Football Reference, Washington has, in effect, started its 13 previous games at a deficit of about 48 points before the opening kickoff.
For one day, let the newest mini-hero on this team, the 5-foot-11, 203-pound Bibbs, stand for all the fill-ins who have played like standouts.
"When I scored . . . it made my heart glow," Bibbs said.
"Three weeks before [Washington] called me for a workout, I had a dream that I was trying to make a team in burgundy-and-mustard uniforms — this team," Bibbs said. "When they really did call, I thought, 'It can't just be a fluke.' "
But Bibbs didn't make the team after that tryout. "I thought, 'Maybe I wanted it too bad,' " he said. "Then two weeks later, they did call me back.
"And now it's worked out just like my dream."
This Washington season has been closer to a nightmare. But, in a couple of weeks, maybe the players will end their season with their heads up and the sense that sometimes, even though you're not allowed to say it out loud in the NFL, a bad season, all things fairly considered, can still be pretty good.
For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.
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