ASHBURN, Va. -- As the Washington Redskins returned to practice Monday, the routine was common: They still had a number of injured players unable to practice, while the rest of the team went through practice in the same fashion as usual, with defensive backs talking a little smack with receivers in one-on-one work.
But this was different. The 5-7 Redskins now face the final four games knowing that, barring a Hail Mary of a finish, there won’t be any postseason this year. That illusion all but died with last Thursday’s loss to Dallas. The key now is how to finish strong.
The players say it won’t be difficult.
“We’re professionals, we know what’s at stake,” Redskins corner Bashaud Breeland said.
In other words: jobs, reputations, future contracts. The Redskins also aren’t officially eliminated from the postseason. But at 5-7, they trail 10 teams in the NFC and would need to win out and receive a lot of help. It’s not realistic.
Therefore, the motivation for the rest of the season must stem from other factors.
“It all depends what type of competitor you are,” Redskins nose tackle Ziggy Hood said. “You go out there if you love the game and you compete no matter what, regardless of your chances. Not only that, you want to show your teammates that I’m going to give everything I got regardless of what happens at the end of the year.”
Redskins coach Jay Gruden reiterated that the team doesn't have plans to shut any player down -- unless it’s a season-ending injury. That means unless players such as left tackle Trent Williams (knee), right tackle Morgan Moses (ankles) or tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring) just can’t play, they’ll keep preparing to go. It’s likely that both Williams and Moses will need surgery after the season. The question that remains unanswered is, how long will the recovery period be?
“They’re all trying to get back in the lineup,” Gruden said.
There’s a financial benefit as well: Reed, Williams and Moses, among others, receive a $15,625 bonus for every game they’re active. They also might want to garner individual honors, such as the Pro Bowl.
Or, as is the case with Breeland, they might be playing for a new contract -- here or elsewhere. But Breeland said that doesn’t matter.
“It really don’t,” he said. “I love ball and I’m playing ball and I got four games guaranteed to play in a Washington Redskins uniform. Whatever the case may be after that is up for grabs.”
The Redskins have 10 players on the active roster in the final year of their deal.
“Hopefully that’s not the only reason they play hard,” Gruden said. “They’re going to play hard because they want to win and want to do well. That’s the reason they’re all here. We try to target guys that love football, are passionate about the game and are going to play hard no matter what. For the most part, we’ve got that here. So whether you are on one year left or five years left, doesn’t really matter.”
Most players, at some point, have been in a situation in which there is no postseason berth left to play for in the final weeks of a season. The Redskins recently endured back-to-back seasons -- 2013 and '14 -- when they were eliminated before the final month.
“It’s like being out there when you’re a kid,” Redskins tight end Vernon Davis said. “You’re out there competing, you’re trying to win. You wanted to hit that 3-point shot or make everyone miss and score. Same thing. When you have that, if everyone’s doing their job and out there
competing, then as a team you’re going to win and you’re going to be successful.”
Perhaps the hardest part when the playoffs are no longer a possibility will be putting in the same time off the field. Playing hard on Sundays will be fine; making sure they're as prepared entering the game will take work. Right now, that playoff dream remains a small flicker of hope. Regardless, players said, they want to finish the right way.
“We put ourselves in this spot -- now we have to get us out of this spot,” Davis said. “We win out the rest of this season and everything takes care of itself, who knows? But we can look back and say we had a winning season, we won together and we kept fighting through adversity and stayed together. That’s all that matters, if we stayed together.”