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NFC East uncertainty could lead to opportunity for Redskins

LANDOVER, Md. -- The relief was evident on their faces and in their voices. The Washington Redskins knew they needed to win; they knew a second straight loss would do more than just dig an 0-2 hole. It would be a second straight home loss; it would trigger whispers about job security.

Instead, the Redskins won, and now the world -- or at least the NFC East -- looks a lot different. Let’s not go crazy about a 1-1 record or a 24-10 win over the St. Louis Rams, a team that has a tendency to beat good teams and follow them with losses.

But the NFL is crazy, and now Dallas will be without quarterback Tony Romo because of a fractured clavicle and the Eagles look lost and the Giants are 0-2. The Redskins aren’t the team in a big mess. That, alone, is cause for celebration in Ashburn.

And, suddenly, the Redskins might stay interesting longer than usual (lately, that’s meant mid-October). Of course, one injury or a three-interception game can alter perceptions. Last year, the Redskins were encouraged by a loss at Philadelphia -- and then got hammered versus the New York Giants in a Thursday night game.

This time, they’re encouraged by their win over the Rams and get the Giants again Thursday. This game will reveal whether Sunday was an aberration or the start of something. But it beats the alternative.

The Redskins have been through so much bad in recent years it’s tough to get excited over splitting two home games to start the season. Then again, the bar has been set so low that this is cause for encouragement: “Hey, they’re not the worst team!”

“It was huge,” Redskins center Kory Lichtensteiger said of the win. “We talked about it all week. We can’t go 0-2 and we can’t lose another home game. We felt last week we should have won.”

The Redskins, though, like their blueprint, one that revolves around a powerful run game and stout defense. Just as they promised, though promises here often lead to disappointment. But, through two games, the Redskins have rushed for a combined 343 yards and have held opposing offenses to a combined 469 yards and 20 points. Games like that produce mindsets. And they haven’t had that sort of mindset in a few years.

“For us, we have an attitude right now like nobody is going to stop our run,” Lichtensteiger said. “The running backs were running their tails off, getting big runs and making people miss. It does a lot for team morale when you can bust some things.

“We’re off to a good start, but some teams will challenge our run. We’ll get loaded boxes, and we have to answer. The good thing for us is that all our runs are clicking right now. If we can keep that up it’s going to be a fun year.”

The season opener showed what they wanted to be, too, as they ran well and played good defense against Miami. They just didn’t convert and turned it over twice. Sunday, they turned it over once (while not producing any). But the line did a terrific job against the Rams -- the Redskins' three tight-end look surprised them and the play calling kept them off-balance. Quarterback Kirk Cousins completed 23 of 27 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown -- and was barely mentioned. He played well, but it was the other signs that have been visible for two weeks in a row now.

Defensively, they weren’t challenged by an offense that lacks a consistent passing attack. Still, a win is a win. And when you’ve had a combined seven in two years, any win should be enjoyed.

“We know what type of team we have, and we can be a great all-around physical team,” Redskins linebacker Keenan Robinson said. “Last week we should have showed it but didn’t finish. This week it was important to get the haters off our back and make sure we silence critics and just go out and dominate and play team ball.”

Those critics and haters are born from the frustration of recent years -- five double-digit loss seasons in the past six. That tends to produce doubters. Heck, the players needed to see proof.

“We needed this win,” running back Alfred Morris said. “We needed it to keep morale high.”

Now they need to do the toughest part, at least from what we’ve seen in recent years: duplicate a winning effort. The Redskins won two in a row last season, but it took them to 3-5. Getting to 2-1 would be a big boost. Coach Jay Gruden needs that to keep players believing in the message.

“The big thing is you want to have something positive these guys can build off of,” Gruden said. “The only way to show it is getting victories. It was a huge win in that regard.”