The Washington Times - December 18, 2011, 09:32PM

Here’s what I’m thinking immediately after the Redskins’ 23-10 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday:

Performances such as today’s should reassure those inside the organization, as well as fans, that the roster is being built with players who possess the desired intangibles: pride, focus, heart and commitment.

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“I think it shows the character we have,” veteran S Reed Doughty said.

Some teams around the league don’t have it. Look at what Tampa Bay did Saturday night. Amid reports that their coach will be fired only one year removed from a 10-6 finish, the Buccaneers didn’t show up for their home game against Dallas and fell behind 28-0 en route to a 16-point loss. That’s weak. The Redskins, on the other hand, should be proud of how they are clawing and scratching down the stretch of a season that got away from them six weeks ago. It helps, of course, to know there’s stability regarding the head coach – as opposed to 2009’s finish under lame duck Jim Zorn – but the professionalism bodes well.

TE Fred Davis’ and LT Trent Williams’ drug suspensions limit the praise one can justifiably heap on this team’s collective character, but those two appear to be the exception. A 4-9 team can’t beat the division leader on the road in December if players aren’t focused in meetings, studying film and practicing hard. That will help next season when an improved talent level might have the Redskins playing meaningful games in December.

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Players generally believe at least some of their recent success can carry over to next season. NT Barry Cofield spoke to the entire team about that in the locker room.

“Barry said it best after the game,” WR Donté Stallworth said. “It’s a lot of optimism in here. Obviously you want to finish out the season well, but speaking on next year, we get a lot of guys back from injuries. We put some more pieces to this puzzle, man, and we can do something special here.”

Confidence shouldn’t be undervalued. If the Redskins have to go on the road next December and beat a playoff contender, they’ll be able to rely on their experiences Sunday.

“There’s always a good feeling,” Doughty added. “We know there are some positive things we can get out of this year even though it’s a bust season. The fact we can get some momentum going and really play well, I think, proves going forward that this team can compete.”

I’d disagree with the notion that such optimism is not worth the tradeoff of falling in the draft order. Players’ confidence and belief in coach Mike Shanahan’s program is that important.

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The Redskins’ defensive front seven has established itself this season as the cornerstone for the franchise’s building project. The secondary has been erratic, but Sunday we saw what the team is capable of if that unit creates turnovers. As defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said during the week, the Redskins have to establish some stability at safety. If they do, these games could occur more regularly.

FS Oshiomogho Atogwe might have had his best game as a Redskin. In addition to his diving, one-handed interception on the pass ILB London Fletcher deflected, he broke up a first-down pass near the left sideline late in the second quarter. The Redskins have missed those plays on the ball. Atogwe hasn’t proved he can consistently, explosively change directions and close on receivers, and time is running out for that. But Sunday showed what the payoff is for installing a free safety who can.

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CB DeAngelo Hall broke his weeklong media silence after the game. His approach was obvious – let last Sunday’s embarrassment against New England blow over and be replaced by another game and set of storylines.

As much as I want players to talk to media, I don’t necessarily believe that equates to leadership. However, there is an element of accountability missing when a player whose head coach called out his effort using the words “embarrassed” and “disappointing” declines to talk to reporters. It’s not that Hall owed us reporters anything, but it forced other players to talk for him.

It’s easy for players to talk to media when things are going well. It’s off-putting, however, when those same players dodge reporters when things aren’t. Hall, to his credit, spoke to reporters after each of his two letdowns against Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant earlier this season – although at times it took some pleading on our end. As a reporter, my expectation for a captain is that he talks to media every week. That’s an important part of being out in front of the team as a public voice.

Other reporters and I received a few questions this week regarding Hall’s future with the organization. My take on it: he has been more physical in run support this season and he has covered fairly well, albeit with some high-impact letdowns. The Redskins don’t have the luxury of adding “No. 1 cornerback” to their list of needs. Hall stays, and the Redskins just have to put up with the baggage that always has accompanied him.

Oh, and here’s what Hall said after Sunday’s game regarding last week’s game.

“Who’d we play last week? New England? I thought had a good game against New England.”

He continued: “The flag incident, probably shouldn’t have done it, but I was kind of just pissed off, caught up in the moment. The play on the sideline, I just felt like the guy stepped out of bounds, felt like he was out. You see two guys draped on somebody, 99 out of 100 times the guy is going to either be down or go out of bounds. Just a freak play, man, where the guy stayed in bounds, was able to show he’s a hell of a football player and keep going.

“I wasn’t harping on that or focused in on, ‘Aw, man, that play last week, I’ve got to prove something this week.’ Nah, man. I didn’t feel like I had to come out here and do anything special this week.”

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Credit Redskins coaches for sticking with the run even though the yards-per-carry average was low. It kept the Giants’ defense honest and made them respect play-action.

Washington ran 22 times for 79 yards (a 3.6-yard average) in the first half. RB Roy Helu averaged only 2.1 yards on 14 first-half carries.

“It was absolutely important,” Helu said. “From the looks of it, they were concerned about the running game, which is understandable from our previous games and how well the offensive line is blocking. It is what makes us go, so to keep true to that was really important.”

Helu’s right eye was almost swollen shut after the game, and his face was all cut up and red. He said he took a knock to the face during the play on which his helmet came off. He’s a physical runner, and the bumps and bruises add up. This was the fourth-straight game in which he’s had at least 23 carries. It will be interesting to see how his body feels when this season is over, assuming he continues to get so many touches. A running back will wear out against such a beating over the entire season.

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More props for the Redskins’ game plan: Coaches got FB Darrel Young involved in the running game after noticing how New York’s ends like to get up field and penetrate. Young had four carries - three resulted in first downs and the other was a 6-yard touchdown.

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Sorry to cut it off here, but I’ve got to start driving back to D.C. I hate leaving QB Rex Grossman out of the thoughts blog, so allow me to link to my sidebar about Grossman’s performance in the win. Check it out: here.