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Scenes unfold for Redskins to make postseason
If anyone outside the team could just see the reaction after the Washington Redskins' overtime victory Sunday, Alfred Morris said, "Oh my goodness, it was electrifying." Players celebrated not only an emotional win but that they're 7-6 and very much in contention.
"We're trying to go to the playoffs," said cornerback Richard Crawford, whose 64-yard punt return set up the game-winning field goal. "That's all I'm going to keep saying is playoffs, playoffs, playoffs."
Playoffs? Yes, playoffs, something that has been elusive for the franchise of late. The Redskins have made it just three times in the past 19 seasons, but this team is close enough to think about it, even if many players don't want to discuss it.
With three games remaining (at the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, at the Philadelphia Eagles on Dec. 23 and vs. the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 30), Washington is postseason bound if it wins out and gets help. But for some, talk still is premature.
"Playoffs is three weeks away. We have three very, very important games in front of us," left tackle and offensive captain Trent Williams said. "Without those games, we don't have the playoffs, so you really can't focus on nothing that you don't have at this point."
What the Redskins have is a four-game winning streak for the first time since 2008 and a record above .500 in December for the first time since Week 17 of the 2007 season.
Not long ago, they were 3-6 and coach Mike Shanahan was attempting to clarify his comments about evaluating players. But more so than that fiasco, the Redskins were aided by the bye week: Some banged-up players had extra time to heal, and the entire team had a chance to refocus.
"Coach Shanahan kind of put it out in front of us: 'Hey, this is where we're at, this is what we've got to do.' From there, it was really about guys just taking a more focused approach during the game that's in front of us," inside linebacker and defensive captain London Fletcher said. "And once you win a couple games, you get some momentum going your way, you start to feel a lot different about yourselves. That's how we are right now. We feel great about ourselves."
That can change in an instant, and it almost did against the Baltimore Ravens. Quarterback Robert Griffin III suffered a right knee injury, and it took backup Kirk Cousins finishing off the game-tying drive just to force overtime. Crawford's return and Kai Forbath's 34-yard field goal kept them from falling to 6-7 or 6-6-1.
"It's just hard work, man. The game is a wild, wild turn of events," Williams said. "That's just the NFL. You've just got to stay diligent and keep focusing in, play in, play out. Special things can happen."
Going from almost a dead team walking to right in the thick of a playoff race qualifies as special. It's uncertain whether Griffin (sprained lateral collateral ligament) or Cousins will start against the Browns, but the Redskins have enough veteran leaders to spread the message that it's ill-advised to overlook anyone.
"Like each and every week since we've been on this run, we got to continue to stay focused, not get ahead of ourselves and take each and every week like a playoff game," special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander said. "Because at any time anybody can jump up. So we're not taking Cleveland lightly. Whatever their record is, regardless of that, we got go out there and play at our level and win that game as well."
Technically, the Redskins don't have to win Sunday to keep their playoff hopes alive. Losing to an AFC team such as the Browns wouldn't hurt the NFC wild card or NFC East tiebreakers.
Of course, 10-6 would be better than 9-7 and needing lots of help. If the Redskins win out, they need only one loss by either the Chicago Bears or New York Giants to get in. A Giants loss and three Redskins wins clinches the NFC East and guarantees a home playoff game.
There's plenty of time and games that need to be played before the picture fully develops. But the Redskins are well-positioned.
"This is the best I've felt around here. We're on a great run right now, just trying to keep it going," Fletcher said. "Really hard to describe. Just right now, we're just playing really good football."
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