CHICAGO – The wild swing from one week to the next can be revealed in the sights and sounds of the Washington Redskins’ locker room. A week ago: glum faces, hushed tones, star linebacker Ryan Kerrigan heading to the exit looking like he’d been punched in the gut. Again and again.
Then there was Sunday after a 24-21 win over Chicago: linebacker Will Compton shouting out the name of quality control coach Chad Grimm a few times, a verbal shoutout for a tip he provided during the week; several players walking past tight end Jordan Reed, extolling his virtues and letting anyone in earshot know that the Chicago Bears could not stop him.
It’s the life of a team fighting for first place, enduring wild mood swings based on results. But it takes a mature team to know how to handle them, and that’s what the Redskins have become. Or at least are becoming.
They have faced four must-win situations this season and responded each time. They continue to lose players and have stayed in the NFC East race (helped, of course, by it being the NFC East). Look at their defensive starting lineup: Only three starters Sunday were in that spot when the season began; three of them weren’t even on the roster. No, the defense did not excel Sunday. But they survived; that’s what this season is about.
And they survived a difficult loss a week ago because of that mentality. Just survive.
“The good thing about it is you don’t get style points,” Redskins corner DeAngelo Hall said.
But the Redskins also know they must execute better. They can’t give up a 14-point lead in a must-win game. They have to run the ball better. They have to eliminate the big plays allowed by the defense. Yes, they finally won a road game, but now must win back to back.
But this is a mature team that understands this point.
After the game, defensive end Jason Hatcher told the team they should have won this game by more. His teammates agree.
“It’s trying to live in the details,” Redskins linebacker Will Compton said. “Having the mindset that this is what we should have done. That’s the mentality you want to have. You don’t want to be happy and relax that you slipped by. We could have handled more of our business.”
But handling their business also means responding during tough times. So Kirk Cousins throws a disastrous interception that led to a tie game. He responded by leading the Redskins on a field goal drive for the eventual winning points.
And the defense allowed a 50-yard pass from the Chicago 15-yard line. But they allowed just three more yards and forced Robbie Gould into a 50-yard field goal he pushed wide right.
“Just a resilient bunch, man,” Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said. “We’ve been in this position before.”
Seemingly every week.
But they haven’t been in position to make the playoffs since 2012 – and for Williams, it’s the second-best record he has been a part of after 13 games since joining the team in 2010. That’s why he doesn’t want to see it wasted.
After the Redskins’ first practice last week, he didn’t see the response he wanted after the Dallas loss. He let players know what he wanted.
“This week, more than anything, I felt we had to speak up,” Williams said. “Guys were hanging their heads longer than we would have liked. The first day of practice was a little dead. Guys felt that letdown, bodies were tired. I felt I had to speak up and motivate guys to keep going forward.”
The Redskins continue to be a tough team to figure out in some ways. They were good at home but couldn’t win or play well on the road. They have a quarterback who looks good one series, or a game or even two games, who then makes a bad throw that puts them in a tough spot. They have a run game that sputters, though it worked at times Sunday.
But the mainstay all season has been the mindset. It continues to drive them forward, perhaps to an NFC East title. If nothing else, it has kept them in the race when few expected them to be near any such thing a couple months ago.
Just look what it means to players such as Hatcher. He was limited to a handful of plays because of a pinched nerve that likely would have sidelined him for a less important game – like any one played last December.
“It don’t come around very often,” Hatcher said of playing in the postseason. “So you have to capitalize on them when you get an opportunity like this to control your own destiny. Just have to cash in.”
Sunday, the Redskins cashed in. Now all they need to do is repeat it again next Sunday.