Santana Moss fastened the buttons on his red-and-green plaid shirt inside the MetLife Stadium visitor’s locker room late Sunday afternoon and let the holiday spirit take over.
“I saw mommy kissing Saaaaantaaaaaa!!” he belted out, hitting maybe one correct note.
His song blended into the buzz in the air, an energetic chatter only victory can inspire. At the end of a lost season, the Washington Redskins still are striving for progress. And in Sunday’s 23-10 victory over the New York Giants, they took another meaningful step toward fulfilling coach Mike Shanahans vision for them.
The Redskins stayed committed to the running game, converted third downs through the air and held New York — the NFC East leader entering the day — to its lowest point total of the year.
“We’ve talked about it from the beginning,” Shanahan said. “We’d like to have that balanced offense. It starts with the running game. Once that running game gets going, it sets up the play-action pass and you can control the tempo of the game. And then you’ve got to play great defense. I thought we played extremely well as a unit.”
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect is that the Redskins‘ offense played well despite being undermanned. They scored at least 23 points for the fourth time in the past five games, and they have done so in both games they have played without suspended tight end Fred Davis and left tackle Trent Williams.
Backup left tackle Willie Smith, an undrafted rookie, played well enough against Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. Rookie receiver Niles Paul contributed again as a run blocker. Second-year fullback Darrel Young took advantage of his expanded role by scoring his first career rushing touchdown.
The experience those players are gaining is one reason Shanahan believes a strong finish can carry over to next season. Another is the commitment players are demonstrating despite being out of playoff contention.
“If it’s practice or a game, it’s pretty simple to see guys playing hard, guys not playing hard, people knowing their responsibility,” Shanahan said. “If one guy gives in, you have a pretty average day, or a couple guys give in all of the sudden you are losing by 14 or 21 points, and it’s easy to happen just like that.
“That’s what you try to do as a coach, saying, ‘Hey, do we have everybody preparing as hard as they can, people playing as hard as they can?’ It doesn’t always relate to winning or losing, but you make sure you put that in the back of your mind when you are deciding what direction to go with personnel in the following year.”
The Redskins executed Shanahan’s formula for winning Sunday. And after one of the young defense’s finest performances of the season, the major question is how much of the same offensive personnel will be back in 2012.
Quarterback Rex Grossman improved to 5-6 as the starter this season by rebounding from two early interceptions. Hes not under contract next season, though, and Shanahan could draft a prospect in search of more consistency.
“We’ll talk about our football team and who will be part of it — I’m not going to go through each situation, but we’ll talk about that after the year is over,” Shanahan said Monday in response to a question about Grossmans future.
Overall, though, it’s clear to Shanahan what the Redskins need to progress even further.
“What you want is playmakers,” he said. “Thats what separates the teams. The great teams do it consistently. If you dont have enough of those, then there’s not a chance to win the Super Bowl.”