Redskins have a shot to finally be relevant in December

LANDOVER, Md. -- The Redskins' resiliency continues to be tested, whether it’s another injury or a lead that’s slipping away after it once appeared safe. So they lost a top corner in Chris Culliver and replaced him in the lineup with a receiver-turned corner who happens to make a touchdown-saving interception.

And they watched the New York Giants score 14 unanswered points only to answer with a drive that lasted four minutes, 38 seconds and consumed all but the final 19 seconds. It ended the threat and saved a 20-14 win.

It also makes the Redskins relevant in December for the first time since 2012. The past two Decembers were a circus, with quarterback moves and coaching rumors in 2013 and more quarterback changes a year ago. It was an unpleasant situation, and there were plenty of concerns about the direction of the franchise.

Their record the past two Decembers combined: 1-8. You want some other highlights? OK, just Google “Redskins/source said/Robert Griffin III" and you will have all you need to know about how toxic it was at times out here. Now? Griffin is the quiet backup and the Redskins are winning.

In those seasons, Washington's players were playing to keep their jobs for the following season. That’s not the focus now.

“It’s very exciting,” receiver Pierre Garcon said. “This is where you make your money. Every play, every down is important. This is a good feeling and we’re definitely happy to be back in it.”

Let’s not go overboard: Washington still has a way to go to become a consistent contender. But the first step was changing the culture, and there’s no way the Redskins would be 5-6 with the injuries they’ve suffered if that hadn’t been accomplished. Now it’s a matter of fortifying the roster, but they know the sort of players they want to sign.

“It’s a whole mindset, and it takes time for the whole mindset to change,” defensive back DeAngelo Hall said. “And for us to take on the identity of our coaches. You can see the attitude and mentality start to change. Guys aren’t in here scared of the Giants or they’re not in here down 24-0 and thinking it’s the end of the world. We’re still thinking we’ve got a chance to battle back and win games. Proof's in the pudding.”

Sunday, the secondary looked nothing like we thought it would when the season started -- not unless you predicted Quinton Dunbar becoming a factor, Kyshoen Jarrett playing well in the nickel, DeAngelo Hall moving to safety, and Will Blackmon starting.

Yet they intercepted Giants quarterback Eli Manning three times and held him scoreless until early in the fourth quarter. Then Odell Beckham Jr. makes a highlight-reel catch for a touchdown and the Redskins responded by nearly running out the clock.

“This team has come a long way,” Redskins end Ricky Jean Francois said. “We had ups and downs at first and we didn’t know how to handle it. Now we do. We don’t flinch. Odell Beckham had a hell of a catch, but nobody flinched."

But the Redskins know they can’t revel in this win for too long. They are still tied with the Giants in the NFC East and only a game ahead of Philadelphia. Relax and enjoy this win now, and the season won’t turn out the way they now hope. Lose at home on Dec. 7 to an undermanned Dallas team and suddenly they're 5-7 and their relevancy could quickly end.

That’s why left tackle Trent Williams said coach Jay Gruden’s message after the game was this: “We got Dallas.” Throughout the locker room Sunday, players spoke about the need to stay focused. Yes, they’re happy they won and the locker room certainly reflected that mood. They did not celebrate like they had won anything yet. They were a little annoyed about a shutout being lost and they were upset about opportunities missed offensively.

Five games remain. Winning a game is fun, but more enjoyable times await.

“It’ll be fun when we win the division,” Williams said. “Having first place with five games to go, it’s nice, but we could stumble for two games and we’re back in the same predicament.

“It’s a series of one-game seasons. The next game is make-or-break for us as well.”

Jean Francois said he thought the Redskins got a little complacent after beating New Orleans by 33 points in their last home game, only to lose at Carolina the following week by 28. There hasn’t been a drop-off in intensity during practices, but the feeling he said was not knowing how to handle situations.

“We learned from that,” Jean Francois said. “We understand now when we get a big win, celebrate in the locker room, but when we walk out of the building we have to be on to the next team.

“We don’t need to look in the rearview mirror to see what we did before. We’re in the driver’s seat now. The only person that can mess that up is ourselves.”