- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 4, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Until the Washington Redskins started beating the NFL’s better teams, they couldn’t be considered one themselves. They finally accomplished that Monday night at loud and proud FedEx Field, coming from behind in the fourth quarter to hang a 17-16 loss on the division-leading New York Giants — and keep their various playoff possibilities alive.

It was, by any measure, a watershed win. Not only did it give the Redskins (6-6) three straight victories for the first time in the Mike Shanahan era, it also completed a three-week sweep of the NFC East (Philadelphia/Dallas/New York) — opponents that have proved very troublesome for them in recent seasons. Something like that does wonders for a club’s self-esteem.

As Will Montgomery put it, “With three wins in a row, we have a little confidence. We know we’re a good offense and a good football team.”

Redskins fans know it, too. They exited the stadium chanting “RG3! RG3!” — and no doubt counting down the days to the next game (against the equally formidable Baltimore Ravens, also at home). A fourth consecutive victory— over one of last year’s AFC finalists — would be yet another breakthrough for this fast-improving club.

Let’s face it, before Monday night, none of the Redskins‘ five wins — New Orleans (5-7), Tampa Bay (6-6), Minnesota (6-6), Philadelphia (3-9) and Dallas (6-6) — had come against teams that are currently above .500. And when they’d faced better competition — Cincinnati (7-5), Atlanta (11-1), Pittsburgh (7-5) and the Giants (7-5)— they’d come up empty. So they didn’t just need to knock off New York, they needed, desperately, to knock off one of the league’s Power Elite, just to show they could.

For a while, it looked like the Redskins might fall short again. They hardly had the ball in the first half, when the Giants converted eight of 10 third downs, racked up 273 yards and had possession for more than 20 minutes. Indeed, it looked a lot like the Atlanta loss, when the Falcons ran 80 plays to Washington’s 45. There’s no better way to beat the Redskins than to keep their most dangerous weapon, Robert Griffin III, confined to the sideline.

“I think everybody was getting a little frustrated,” Shanahan said. “[The Giants] were doing a great job of controlling the tempo in the first half.”

At that point, the Redskins were fortunate to be down only 13-10. A potentially disastrous Griffin fumble at the New York 13 had resulted in a manna-from-heaven touchdown — thanks to Josh Morgan’s alertness — and the Giants‘ Lawrence Tynes also had helped keep it close by missing just his second field goal try inside 50 yards this year (from 43).

In the locker room at halftime, the defense gathered, Stephen Bowen said, and told itself, “This is the season on the line. The time to get it done is now. And in the fourth quarter we got it done. We got off the field and gave the offense a chance to make plays.”

Some of the biggest came on the 85-yard TD drive that bridged the third and fourth quarters. Alfred Morris got things started with runs of 10 and 16 yards, and RG3 ended them with a 14-yard dart to Leonard Hankerson and an 8-yard scoring toss to Pierre Garcon on a rollout. “Devastating” was how Giants coach Tom Coughlin described the Kid Quarterback’s speed outside the pocket.

The Giants had two more possessions after that but couldn’t make much headway. When the Redskins got the ball with 3:51 left, they were determined not to give it back. It was a tall order, to say the least. Four minutes — or thereabouts — can be an eternity in football.

“We knew we needed a couple of first downs to finish the game, ” Griffin said, “and that’s what we went out and got.”

Finally. How often they’ve lost in these situations. They led St. Louis in the fourth quarter this season and couldn’t close. They led Atlanta in the fourth quarter and couldn’t close. They led the Giants in the fourth quarter in Week 7 and couldn’t close. Some of it was growing pains. And some of it wasn’t growing pains.

“We had a number of chances to put the game away … and we didn’t,” Shanahan said.

But this time they did. That might have been the biggest watershed of all, especially since their victims were the Giants, some of the best closers around. “We talk finish, finish, finish, finish, finish,” Coughlin said. “I thought we could do that. I thought we could punt it down there [with just under four minutes remaining]. I had two timeouts.”

But the Redskins had Griffin (101.9 passer rating, 72 yards rushing), Morris (124 yards rushing to set the franchise’s rookie record with 1,106) and Garcon (106 receiving). And in the biggest game at FedEx since Joe Gibbs left in 2007, they outplayed the defending champs down the stretch to post a huge win.

And just think: We could have four more weeks of this drama. Unless, of course, we have five. Or six. Or (fill in the blank).