The Washington Redskins have this vision. Maybe you can see it. Maybe you’re blinded by their imperfection. Nevertheless, their minds are fixated on the moment when their game comes together, all of it, for 60 minutes. And when it does, they can’t wait to see your reaction.
Actually, they can’t wait to see their reaction, either.
“The day we play four-quarter football is the day you actually see the Washington Redskins be the team that everybody once knew,” defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said. “Four quarters. Not a half. Four quarters. We have to play four quarters of football, and the day you see us play four quarters of football, you can shake your head and be like, ‘That’s going to be a team rolling.’ ”
Through nine games, they’ve dodged their blunders and managed a winning record. For conversation, they’re ideal fodder. They’re a flawed winner, which means you can argue on either side of their play and exit the debate feeling like you won. It’s effective, but never satisfying. You want more. They want more.
After a bye week of contemplation and revision, Washington commenced the second half of the 2016 season by taking an encouraging step toward improvement in a 26-20 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at FedEx Field. In the NFL, the next month is moving time. You’re making a push toward the playoffs, or you’re fading from contention. There’s no more standing still. This victory, over the reeling Vikings, punctuated the belief that Washington is capable of being a team that climbs during this stretch.
You saw what a free-falling squad looks like; Minnesota has lost four straight games after a 5-0 start. But what does that make Washington? Well, it is getting there. It is moving slowly, indirectly and without the aid of a GPS, but this is a 5-3-1 (the “and one” on the record looks goofier every day, doesn’t it?) team that is in playoff position and still progressing toward playing its best.
After several games of playing the same ol’ way, Washington showed signs of advancement in this game. Overall, you continue to see the hallmarks of an inconsistent team that can’t keep a lead and looks too often like a person who forgot his belt and struggles to keep his pants up. But improvement is a process. And sometimes you need a microscope to see progress rising in the crevices of something that looks familiar.
In this win, Washington played well for all but about six minutes. Naturally, in those six minutes, the team was a disaster. It gave up all of Minnesota’s 20 points in the final 5:39 of the first half, losing a 14-0 and walking into the halftime locker room stupefied. So it remains troubling that Washington can’t move past blowing leads and losing its mind for stretches in every game. But there were promising signs.
New starting running back Rob Kelley, who had 97 rushing yards, is giving the offense balance and an ability to play a ball-control style at times. It’s no surprise that an improved running game is helping quarterback Kirk Cousins be even more efficient. Cousins’s numbers on Sunday were ideal: 22 of 33, 262 yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers, 110.9 passer rating. And while the offense scored a touchdown in just one of four red zone opportunities, the touchdown came on the game’s first drive, which was a pressure reliever and set up an attacking style that defined all phases of the game.
On defense, Washington was good. It was great, except for the second quarter. It allowed 200 of its 331 yards in that quarter. Beyond that, the defense played well, albeit against a team that has struggled so much offensively that coordinator Norv Turner recently quit.
Still, Washington held Minnesota to 47 rushing yards and just 2.2 yards per carry. It couldn’t stop wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who returned home and caught 13 passes for 164 yards. But led by linebacker Preston Smith’s two sacks and one amazing one-handed, fourth-quarter interception, the defense did its job, right down to denying the Vikings on their final possession to preserve a victory.
Washington hasn’t found a rinse-and-repeat winning formula, but it’s getting closer. Without suspended left tackle Trent Williams and injured wide receiver DeSean Jackson, the team was a six-minute collapse from posting a dominant result over the Vikings, who have plenty to play for despite their struggles. Every team wants to feel refreshed coming off a bye week, and clearly, Washington looked that way.
The beauty of a midseason bye: It’s the perfect time to reassess and split the year in half. The week off meant that Washington didn’t have to manufacture a divide between the first and second halves. It was a true opportunity to pause and sever ties. The players were free to approach this as something new.
Before they took the field Sunday, Jean Francois offered a passionate reminder to members of his unit.
“I don’t care what you did the first half of the season,” Jean Francois said, minus a few curse words. “The second half is different. New season. The past doesn’t matter. It’s all about what’s in front of us. This is when the real teams start moving.”
They almost made a statement about how ready they are to make a move. Instead, the results were mixed.
“We feel good, but it’s not good enough,” defensive lineman Ziggy Hood said. “And we’re not where we need to be.”
Tell the players that you don’t really envision the excellence that they’re dreaming about, and they won’t be offended. They understand. They’re pragmatic dreamers, surprisingly.
“Nobody is going to see it because we’re on the inside,” Jean Francois said. “You’re tired of seeing the same thing every week. You see us 14 up, and the next thing you know, we’re tied and then we’re going to halftime behind, and you be like, ‘How?’ And you think that’s just who we are.
“But we’re nowhere close to what we can be. Nowhere close. It’s the little things that we’re not doing that could help us put us in that position.”
The NFL is all little things. A couple of plays each week separate great from good from average from bad. But this wacky team is still striving. It’s still moving, and this is the time of year to be in motion.
More from The Post: