The wins matter for the Washington Redskins, as does finishing with a non-losing season. The question then becomes: What does it mean for next year? And that will be hard to assess until they figure out the quarterback situation and how they add to the roster.
For now, though, Sunday's finale against the New York Giants is a chance for the Redskins to end the season feeling better about themselves. There certainly were games they could have won despite their numerous injuries -- such as against New Orleans (though building a 15-point lead on the road was almost as inexplicable as their collapse). But finishing 8-8 with their schedule -- they played seven games with teams who have won at least nine games; and five vs. teams with at least 11 -- would be an accomplishment.
It's certainly not what anyone wanted, but it beats falling apart and going 5-11. For those who only care about the draft, yes, it hurt their standing. But coaches and players do not consider tanking. Besides, the draft is a crapshoot and talent can be found in every round; who would have predicted Allen would fall to No. 17 last spring? The Redskins will pick around that spot again this April. Trying to build a certain culture does not include “tanking” games to get a better draft pick.
Last season, seven teams won two or more games in a row to close the season. Three already have clinched a playoff berth this year (New England, Kansas City and Philadelphia). Another, Atlanta, has a chance to earn one in the season finale. But the Eagles are the only ones who finished strong, with two straight wins, and didn’t make the postseason in 2016 but then made the playoffs in 2017.
Conversely, no parades will be thrown for the Redskins if they finish with a non-losing record for a third straight season -- the first time that would be accomplished since 1999-2001. The playoffs are what matter. But this feat is what they’ll try to build upon.
The question, though, remains whether they build with or without quarterback Kirk Cousins. He continues to talk as if he’s part of the future, knowing full well he might be elsewhere. Going 8-8 for him is better than 7-9. His answer reflects some of what he’ll be looking for in the future, be it here or with another team.
“I want this brand, this organization to be associated with winning and when people around the league and our fans that support this league think about this organization, I want them to think of winners,” Cousins said. “I know 8-8 isn’t 13-3, but it also isn’t 7-9 and I think that’s where our focus is right now to get to another non-losing season and say now we’ve strung three together in a row and we can build on that with some of the talent we have that’s been on [injured reserve] and coming back, so that’s really where our focus is.”
It matters to coach Jay Gruden, too.
“We’re accomplishing the standard we set here, that’s the No. 1 thing,” Gruden said. “Every week you come and prepare and you play your tails off, and that’s what the guys are doing. We set a standard here with the veteran guys we’re going to have next year, and that’s how it’s going to be, week in and week out, no matter what the circumstances are.”
The Redskins have been helped by playing quarterbacks such as Arizona’s Blaine Gabbert and Denver’s Brock Osweiler the past two weeks. They end the season against a 2-13 New York Giants team. But that also was a quirk of the schedule; had these teams been interspersed through their most difficult stretch, they might be playing for a winning record. But they weren’t, so here they are.
“We didn’t give up,” right tackle Morgan Moses said. “We didn’t throw in the towel. It’s really big for us.”
The Redskins have won two straight with some starters who had been cut in camp; and with other players viewed as a part of the future. The Redskins might have developed added depth for next season. The trick, though, is not to measure themselves only by the finish. That won’t take them where they need to go; they need to figure out why they couldn’t close games against Kansas City earlier this year, for example. Those are the sort of games they’ll need to win in the future in order to take that so-called next step.
“Sometimes things go bad before it gets good,” Redskins linebacker Martrell Spaight said. “We had a little bump in the road a few games this season. These last two games showed we still have a phenomenal team. We had bad breaks earlier in the year, but deep down in my heart, I know it’s going to be a special year [in 2018), man. We have to finish these games strong, get everyone back healthy and guaranteed we’ll be competing for something special.”