Things could have gone downhill Oct. 21 when tight end Fred Davis was lost for the season with a torn left Achilles tendon, but Paulsen stepped up and the rest of the offense, including Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris, ramped up production.
Losing Davis wasn’t as much of an impetus for improvement as time, players said.
“I just think it’s everybody kind of coming into their own in this offense, everybody understanding what their role is and everybody starting to know the nuances of the offense. That doesn’t happen overnight, that takes a long time to develop,” Paulsen said. “I think you see it in other sports. I think a great example is the Miami Heat; they got all these great, talented players, but it took them a while to figure out how to win in the system because they all didn’t understand it.”
Griffin growing during his rookie season was part of the recipe, although he came into the NFL fairly polished and has only five interceptions to go with 20 touchdowns. During this streak, he and Kirk Cousins are 105-for-152 for 1,462 yards, 15 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 124.4 quarterback rating.
Dealing with a right knee injury suffered Dec. 9 against Baltimore, one impact Griffin made on the six-game roll the Redskins are on came when he addressed teammates and said the season wasn’t over.
“It’s self-talk. You want to talk yourself up, but you don’t say something you don’t believe in,” Griffin said. “Going on the break, I told everybody I was able to clear my head and just know that you don’t have to freak out in a situation like that.”
One of the major differences since the bye is that the Redskins haven’t lost control of games late.
“There were some early games where we were in them and in the fourth quarter the other team was making the plays to win the game,” Cofield said. “The biggest thing to me has just been making plays down the stretch.”
On defense, the evolution of linebacker Rob Jackson has helped fill the void left by Orakpo’s injury and made life easier for Ryan Kerrigan.
As a group, the defense improved from allowing 6.2 yards per play to 5.5.
“I think we’ve seen pretty much what a lot of offenses are going to do against our defense. We’ve seen and we’ve been put in a lot of different positions and situations,” Jackson said. “I think we can just go out there and play football now and play for each other.”
Winning makes it easier for any team to do that. As fullback Darrel Young said of the streak, “We’re just having fun.”
They’ve gotten some crucial bounces, such as a late Niles Paul fumble against the Ravens that instant replay reversed and Nick Foles’ underthrow of Jeremy Maclin in the end zone in waning seconds of Washington’s 27-20 win over Philadelphia on Sunday.
But players always say good teams make their own breaks, and from 3-6 to 9-6 the Redskins have become a good team. Even though they thought that all along.
“We got a lot of potential on this team. We all know that we got a lot of good players on this team; we just have to put it all together and make it work. That’s what we saw when we were 3-6,” Garcon said. “We knew who we got in this locker room; we knew all the players. All their skill sets, we just had to put it all together and continue to go.”