- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 27, 2012

At 3-6, the Washington Redskins were a mess. Coach Mike Shanahan talked about evaluating players and then, the next day, quickly clarified his meaning to explain he wasn’t calling it a season.

Soon after, Shanahan illustrated to his players what was ahead of them by putting the schedule up on a board for everyone to see. It crystallized what was ahead of this team.

“Before you’re kind of lost like, ‘Man, we’re 3-6, this isn’t going the way we want it to go.’ And then when coach gets up there and says, ‘Hey guys, everything we wanted at the beginning of the season is still attainable,’” tight end Logan Paulsen said. “I think it just kind of focuses you on a task.”

The task was to win out. The Redskins couldn’t lose, or else their hopes of winning the NFC East or making the playoffs would evaporate amid missed plays and blown opportunities.

Six straight victories later, the Redskins need just to beat the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night to clinch the division, or for the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears to lose earlier in the day to reach the postseason. The past several weeks have produced a “special run” to get the Redskins to this moment.

“Honestly to think that we would be able to win the division when you’re 3-6 after the loss we had with Carolina, it was definitely a down moment,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “The season was either going to go to hell at that point or we were going to fight back. Obviously, we are where we want to be.”

It’s hard to ask for more than control, the chance to win and get in. But the Redskins didn’t get to this point just by inspirational speeches and believing they could make it.

The evidence is in their play: An offense averaging more than 30 points a game thanks to the return of Pierre Garcon, a kicker in Kai Forbath who hasn’t missed a field goal attempt since he signed in October and a defense that came together despite season-ending injuries to Brian Orakpo, Adam Carriker and Brandon Meriweather.

Since the bye week, the Redskins have played like an entirely different team.

“Adding a guy like Pierre and we had Brandon for a week and just getting people healthy after the bye,” Cofield said. “I think we just came back energized and gained some confidence after that first Philly game and just the ball’s been rolling ever since then. Everyone individually’s been playing better.”

Garcon’s influence shouldn’t be overlooked. His presence in the opener at New Orleans, in just the first quarter when he played, showed flashes of what the offense could do.

A sprained right foot robbed him of the ability to play or practice effectively for most of September and October. Since returning against the Eagles on Nov. 18, Garcon has 33 catches for 434 yards and three touchdowns.

Pierre’s been awesome. A lot of people are saying when he’s in the game, he’s a difference maker for us,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “Pierre brings that attitude to the receiving corps. All of those guys are playing really, really well. He just tops it off and gives us better depth at receiver. You know, he’s our guy. When he’s out there, we can move the other receivers around a little bit more. So it’s good to have him out there.”

The Redskins also haven’t lost since Garcon returned.

“I just do my part, really. There’s nothing to it, really. Just got out there and help the team as much as I can,” Garcon said. “We got a young team, so guys are getting older and understanding the offense and getting confident in it, and they’re playing a lot better.”

Story Continues →