- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2011

By the time day turned to night Sunday, Mike Shanahan had shoved football to the back of his mind. The Washington Redskins, fresh off their second victory, were hours from claiming sole possession of first place in the NFC East division. Shanahan wouldn’t know that until later, though. While the Philadelphia Eagles lost the night game to Atlanta, leaving Washington alone at the top, he dined with family members who were visiting from out of town.

Two wins to start the season have the fan base bubbling with hope, but Shanahan is not celebrating.

“You just won two games; that’s about it,” he said. “I don’t think our players are overly excited that we’re 2-0 because they understand we’ve got a big game Monday night against Dallas. Things change very quickly, so our concentration will be on Dallas. I’m not really concerned about what our record is.”

That’s understandable, especially considering his history. In 14 seasons as Denver’s coach, Shanahan started 2-0 eight times. The Broncos missed the playoffs in four of those seasons, including the one that preceded his firing in January 2009.

On the other hand, Redskins fans’ optimism can be forgiven. For starters, the team hasn’t been two games over .500 since the middle of 2008. And the Redskins made the playoffs the last two times they were 2-0 — in 2005 and 2007 under Joe Gibbs.

Then again, Steve Spurrier’s Redskins in 2003 turned 2-0 into 5-11. Not that Shanahan should be compared to the Ol’ Ball Coach.

Players, meanwhile, are pleased with steady progress — and they’ll leave it at that.

“We’re not feeling like we’re on top of the world,” linebacker London Fletcher said after Sunday’s one-point win over Arizona. “We’re ecstatic to be 2-0. The thing about [Sunday’s] game, we know we can play a lot better.”

Those looking for areas that need polish can start with the red zone. Washington scored touchdowns on three of its four drives inside the 20-yard line in the Week 1 victory over the New York Giants but only 2 of 7 against Arizona.

Rex Grossman threw an interception near the goal line on the opening series. Early in the second quarter, the Redskins failed to convert third-and-goal after left tackle Trent Williams cost them five yards with a false start.

And near the end of the first half, the Cardinals blocked a 30-yard field goal attempt by surging through the interior of the Redskins‘ line.

“Those are things that we’ll look at and get better on,” Grossman said Sunday.

While there were enough shortcomings to keep things grounded at Redskins Park, plenty of positive takeaways from the first two weeks form a substantial foundation and possibly a springboard.

“The thing we can be happy about is the character of our football team, being down eight points in the fourth quarter and coming back and winning that ballgame,” Fletcher said.

Beyond that, Sunday’s win required contributions from all three phases.

Grossman led two scoring drives in the final 11 minutes, including an 18-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-3. The defense got the ball back by forcing the Cardinals to go three and out on their third-to-last series, and it forced a fumble to seal the win. And kicker Graham Gano converted a 34-yard field goal for the decisive points.

All that left them on a high that will propel them into the start of Dallas Week on Wednesday.

“We are never going to put our heads down and say, ‘Oh, here we go again,’ ” said cornerback Byron Westbrook, who forced Arizona’s fumble in the final two minutes. “That was last year’s mentality. This is a new year and a new mentality. I think there is something special going on around here, and everyone in the locker room senses that.”