PHILADELPHIA — Here’s what I’m thinking after the Redskins’ 27-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday:
Let’s get right to next Sunday’s playoff scenarios.
If the Redskins beat or tie Dallas, then:
- the Redskins would win the NFC East Division for the first time in 13 years.
- they would be seeded fourth in the NFC playoffs and host a first-round game against the Wild Card team with the best record. Seattle (10-5) concluded Week 16 in the top Wild Card spot.
If the Redskins lose to Dallas, then:
- Dallas would win the NFC East.
- the Redskins (9-6) would be in great danger of missing the playoffs. They would qualify for the postseason only if Minnesota (9-6) AND Chicago (9-6) lost. That’s an unlikely scenario.
Minnesota hosts Green Bay next Sunday. Green Bay (11-4) still has to win in order to secure a first-round bye, so they will have something to play for. Chicago, on the other hand, visits lousy Detroit (4-11).
Seattle clinched a playoff spot Sunday night, leaving only one Wild Card berth for one team among the following group: the Redskins (if Washington loses to Dallas), New York (if Washington beats Dallas), Minnesota or Chicago.
Next Sunday’s Redskins-Cowboys game was moved to 8:20 p.m., so the Redskins will know prior to kickoff whether they must beat Dallas to qualify for the postseason (Chicago kicks off at 1 p.m., and Minnesota kicks off at 4:25 p.m.) In all likelihood, they must.
The irony of the Redskins’ incredible six-game winning streak is they still haven’t accomplished anything. They’ve won and they’ve won and they’ve won, and it has been unbelievable to watch, but still they need to win again next Sunday in order to make the playoffs. As it turns out, they really did have no margin for error when they fell to 3-6.
Don’t get me wrong, winning nine games a year after winning five is a MAJOR accomplishment. Coaches, players and executives should be applauded. But that won’t satisfy any of them if they fail to make the playoffs. If the Redskins were to lose next week, a steadfast disappointment would linger throughout the offseason.
That’s ironic, too, because who wouldn’t have taken 9-7 back in July? The difference in that threshold for satisfaction is a testament to what the Redskins have proven themselves capable of.
They scored 38 points in Dallas on Thanksgiving. Their defense held Dallas to three first-half points in that game. The Redskins will be deserving favorites next Sunday.
Winning won’t be easy, though. Remember, the Cowboys didn’t have RB DeMarco Murray on Thanksgiving, and the Redskins can’t rely on Cowboys QB Tony Romo to miss the throw Eagles QB Nick Foles missed to WR Jeremy Maclin in the end zone on the final drive.
If the Redskins win next Sunday and complete a miraculous seven-game “heater,” as LG Kory Lichtensteiger calls it, their payoff will be even more rewarding because of the perfection required to achieve it.
QB Robert Griffin III demonstrated what he constantly strives to prove: he’s not just a running quarterback.
Coach Mike Shanahan said he limited Griffin’s designed runs because he “did not want to put pressure on that LCL.” Redskins coaches even stayed away from a lot of the keepers and bootlegs that moved Cleveland’s defense so effectively last week with QB Kirk Cousins behind center.
As a result, the play action game wasn’t as effective moving linebackers and safeties as it often has been this season. Philadelphia’s defense was more disciplined, at least early on. The passing game opened up eventually, though, and Griffin completed 16 of 24 passes for 198 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. His passer rating was 102.4.
“That’s why they call me ‘quarterback,’” Griffin said. “It’s not abbreviated with a ‘running’ quarterback before that, or whatever else anyone wants to say. They call me ‘quarterback’ because I lead the team. I’m supposed to go out there and throw the ball, assist guys and hand the ball off to Alfred [Morris], and that’s what I was able to do.”
Griffin’s 22-yard touchdown throw to WR Santana Moss was pure brilliance. The offensive line provided him a clean pocket, which enabled him to step into his throw and perfectly place it where only Moss could catch it – and catch it in bounds. That’s up there on the list of Griffin’s best throws of the season, along with the touchdown to Moss at the Meadowlands in October and the long touchdown to WR Aldrick Robinson on Thanksgiving.
The defense provided its portion of the Redskins’ winning formula: force turnovers and protect the goal line.
Washington scored 10 points off of the Eagles’ two turnovers, and that does not include the touchdown the Redskins scored after they turned Philly over on downs in the third quarter.
Of course, rookie QB Nick Foles helped the Redskins by holding the ball too long at times and not protecting it at others, but that’s evidence of the defense doing its job disguising coverages and pressuring him.
Along those lines, OLB Ryan Kerrigan continued his recent resurgence. He’s a cerebral player who benefits from the second time facing an opponent. He said that familiarity helped him against Eagles RT Dennis Kelly as it related to tendencies.
NT Barry Cofield also was very active in the middle. He’s sneaky fast, as evidenced by the way he got outside to make the tackle on a screen pass and how he chased Foles all game. He worked through a double team to deflect a pass that ILB London Fletcher intercepted.
CB Richard Crawford made a positive impact on the game on defense, as well, after replacing CB D.J. Johnson, who played sparingly after he gave up a touchdown on the opening drive. Crawford recovered a fumble, shed a block to make a tackle in the running game in the fourth quarter and seemed pretty good in coverage.
“I still had a couple of mental busts that I’ll work on,” Crawford said, “but I feel like all in all I did pretty good today.”
Philadelphia bailed the Redskins out twice on the final drive with unforced errors. QB Nick Foles had WR Jeremy Maclin open in the corner of the end zone but underthrew the pass. FS Madieu Williams appeared upset with CB Richard Crawford on the play. Crawford told reporters it was a Cover-2 and that he stayed in the flat to defend there. The Redskins got away with the bust because Foles bounced the throw.
And on first-and-goal from the 5 on the penultimate play of the game, TE Evan Moore dropped a slant that probably would have resulted in a touchdown. He was matched up against Crawford, who would have had a difficult time tackling the bigger Moore before crossing the goal line.
Still, the Redskins don’t need to apologize for getting those breaks. NT Barry Cofield sure didn’t.
“We lost some games we could have won; that’s just the league,” he said. “Everyone is so talented. There’s so many good players around the league. Parity is what makes this league better than all the rest. So you count your blessings, but at the same time, the work you put in Wednesday through Friday makes you feel like you deserve to have the ball bounce your way every once in a while.”
By the way, Eagles reporters said coach Andy Reid was not asked after the game whether he would have gone for the 2-point conversion if the Eagles had scored a touchdown at the end.
I was a bit surprised coach Mike Shanahan didn’t go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Philadelphia 43 with 4:23 remaining and the Redskins protecting a 7-point lead. Shanahan usually is aggressive on fourth-and-short when the Redskins have a chance to put the game away.
I understand him punting, though, especially with QB Robert Griffin III affected by his sprained knee and a rookie quarterback on the other side.
“You’ve got to go the distance to tie the game,” Shanahan said. “It’s probably a decision I would have made no matter what.”
RB Alfred Morris always runs physically and gains yards after contact, but this seemed to be the case Sunday even more than usual.
“I think teams have been loading the box on us since the bye week, since we’ve been on a roll,” Griffin said. “We still find a way to get those tough yards. It’s a testament to the offensive line, getting all their blocks and getting guys on the ground, and a testament to Alfred just running so hard like he has all year.”
Morris finished with 91 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. He had only 18 yards on nine rushes at halftime.
He now has 1,413 yards on the season, fourth on the Redskins’ all-time single-season rushing list. Clinton Portis set the record with 1,516 in 2005. That’s within Morris’ reach against Dallas next Sunday. Morris after the win over Philly said he doesn’t care about the record, only beating Dallas.
One of the most impressive elements of Morris’ yardage total this season is that he has started every game despite such a physical style. He has been amazingly durable. It’ll be interesting to see what type of toll the punishment takes over time because it hasn’t seemed to faze him this season.
As the Redskins continue to win games, we collectively marvel at how they’ve turned their season around from a 3-6 record. We search for answers. How could this happen?
The week off on Nov. 11 helped refresh some players and coaches mentally, and it helped them regroup. And, yes, players and coaches made speeches and all that. But players and coaches make speeches all the time. That doesn’t mean anything unless it translates to the field.
How interesting, then, that coach Mike Shanahan on Sunday explained what he believes sparked the turnaround: “We had the running game going but didn’t take it to the next level with our receivers,” he said. “I thought that probably has been the biggest difference on our offense, how our receivers have performed over the last six games.”
There was no greater example than WR Josh Morgan’s 11-yard touchdown Sunday. He ran in a routine bubble screen because WR Pierre Garcon and WR Santana Moss successfully blocked defensive backs.
“We’ve been playing for each other all year,” Morgan said. “We’ve been doing a great job feeding off each other.”
It’s no coincidence this winning streak began when Garcon returned from his sprained right foot. The Redskins are 8-1 when he plays.
The Redskins started their second offensive line combination of the season. RT Maurice Hurt replaced concussed Tyler Polumbus.
Hurt said last week his goal was to make sure there was no dropoff with him in the lineup. At first glance, he succeeded. Hurt wasn’t particularly noticeable, which is a good thing. His best play might have been a cut block against the defensive end on Morgan’s touchdown catch.
Hurt wasn’t perfect – he was pushed back on one rush that went for a loss – but there wasn’t a noticeable dropoff, even with Griffin’s mobility limited.
“It could have been a lot worse,” Hurt said. “It’s just repetition and reps and being out there on the edge and having to go against those guys. The more you do it, the better you get. I definitely wasn’t perfect. There’s a lot of stuff I can improve on.”
QB Robert Griffin said he wished he hadn’t thrown to WR Josh Morgan on the fourth quarter interception. Because Morgan had a cornerback close behind him and a safety in front of him, Griffin intentionally threw the ball high to try to protect Morgan and give Morgan a chance to jump and make a play on the ball. In hindsight, Griffin said he should check down if he has to protect a receiver as such when protecting with the lead in the fourth quarter.
Morgan’s take: “I’m going to just put it on me and say I’ve got to jump higher next time. I’ve got to turn my 40-inch vertical to a 45. That’s all I’m going to say.
Kai Forbath is good at kicking field goals. His 17 consecutive makes are the new NFL record to start a career. Forbath is an incredible 11-of-11 from 40-49 yards.
Merry Christmas to those of you celebrating on Tuesday, and Happy Holidays to everyone.
Start your Dallas Week with this quote from NT Barry Cofield: “We feel like we got the recipe. We got the coaching. We got the leaders, and we go the young, talented guys, so there’s no reason we can’t keep it going.”