With a win finally on the board and his team a day away from beginning its five-day bye-week break, Coach Mike Shanahan expressed confidence that the Washington Redskins are headed in the right direction. The Redskins have completed the first quarter of their season and would prefer to have a better record than 1-3. But the progress shown in the 24-14 victory over Oakland and the vibe inside the locker room provide encouragement, Shanahan said.
“It’s the same message we’ve had throughout the year: ‘We’re trying to get better each week, each practice,’ ” Shanahan said Monday. “ ‘Remember, this is a long season. Don’t get carried away with things that happen very early or very late. Just stay the course. Understand your objective and your goals and try to get better each day.’ ”
The Redskins find themselves in a familiar situation. Last season they entered their bye week with a 3-6 record and needed an improbable run to save their season. Washington reeled off seven consecutive victories, won the division and reached the playoffs.
This year, the Redskins have a longer stretch run: twelve games. But they haven’t given up hope. They believe steady improvement will help them change their fortunes.
“We’ve been fighting hard to get a win,” wide receiver Santana Moss said. “We have to take it for what it is: We got the ‘W.’ But we still have a lot to do and a lot to go, and we have to improve in so many ways. The win, we’re going to feel good about it. . . . But at the end of the day, it’s not over, and we’re still trying to get better and have to keep battling.”
The key to success? A critical eye and attention to detail, Shanahan said.
“I think what you do is you go back and you’re tough on yourself — especially when you win. You look at the film and you talk about the things you could’ve done to put away the game much earlier on both sides of the football,” the coach said. “And that’s what you’re constantly trying to do: look at the things you did poorly and try to improve on those. You always feel good when you win. That’s the objective. But our football team is pretty realistic. They know what kind of effort we have to have to get to the next level. They know the kind of play, and we have to do it consistently to win the division.”
Fortunately for the Redskins, every team in the NFC East has struggled this season. Dallas leads the way at 2-2, Philadelphia, like Washington, is 1-3, and New York has lost all four of its games.
So, the Redskins still have a chance to thrust themselves back into the thick of things.
Through the first three games, none of the Redskins’ units looked particularly strong, however. The defense allowed a league-record 1,434 yards through the first three games. The offense ranked among the worst in the league on third downs and struggled to extend drives until opponents had called off the dogs. And the special teams units didn’t provide a spark either.
The defense made the most drastic turnaround in Week 4. They throttled a Raiders offense that played without its starting quarterback for the entire game and without its starting running back for the bulk of it. The Redskins racked up seven sacks, held the Raiders on 12 of 17 third-down attempts and returned an interception for a touchdown.
“We tried to get better this week,” Shanahan said. “We talked about trying to take away the run and taking away the run, and you go to giving up 3.4 yards per rush and you feel like you’ve improved. You try to put a team in a one-dimensional game and you’re able to get some sacks and turnovers, and that’s how you win football games.”
The offense still has to find a way to get off to better starts. Early struggles on third downs chiefly were to blame. But Shanahan insists the problems are correctable. He referenced the 1992 San Diego Chargers, who opened the year with an 0-4 record before reeling off four straight wins. The Chargers lost one game after the four-game win streak, then won the final seven of the regular season to end the year 11-5 and in the playoffs.
Shanahan declared his squad capable of going on a similar run.
“You have to know what gives you a chance to win, and that’s doing the little things the right way. If you don’t do the little things the right way, then the sky’s falling,” Shanahan said. “The sky is not falling. You’ve got to go back and do the little things the right way. If you’ve got that mind-set, then you’ve got a chance to overcome anything. Even though we won the football game, we know that we didn’t play one of our better games — especially offensively. And when that happens, then you’ve got a football team that has a chance to get better.”
More on the Redskins:
Outsider: Position-by-position look at the defense
Outsider: Position-by-position look at the offense
Photos: Scenes from Oakland