Santana Moss reached the playoffs in three of his first four NFL seasons, all with the New York Jets. After Washington acquired him in 2005 for Laveranues Coles, via a straight-up trade, Moss advanced to the postseason in two of his first three years with the Redskins. He was accustomed to such success, having lost just eight times in three seasons at Miami, going 3-0 in bowl games.
But he hasn't been part of a winning team since Washington went 9-7 in 2007. With a good chance to end that streak over the next four weeks, Moss says this season felt the same as his others in D.C., whether the coach was Joe Gibbs, Jim Zorn or Mike Shanahan, and whether the quarterback was Mark Brunell, Jason Campbell or Donovan McNabb.
"Every team, I've felt like we had enough players to go out and compete against anybody and be one of those teams that goes to the postseason," Moss said Monday after Washington's 17-16 win against the New York Giants. "When [Shanahan] came and we didn't go the first two years, my mindset was still the same. I'm not going to sit here and lie and say I knew something was going to be different this year."
There would be more flash and pizzazz with Robert Griffin III at quarterback, though that wouldn't necessarily translate into more wins. Cam Newton dazzled while setting rookie records for rushing and passing last season, yet the Carolina Panthers finished 6-10. Considering the Redskins' concerns on the offensive line and in the secondary, a similar record with RG3 wasn't out of the question; it actually would be an improvement from the Rex Grossman/John Beck campaign (5-11).
But RG3 is the Redskins' most obvious upgrade and most significant factor in Washington's resurrection from 3-6 afterthought to 6-6 contender. The only thing more impressive than his ridiculous numbers (17 touchdowns, 4 interceptions and a 67 percent completion rate) is the way his presence inspires and energizes the team. The results are more evident now, after three consecutive victories, but the raised expectations were in effect even before that.
"RG3 gave us hope that we had something that was going to be unreal," Moss said. "We didn't have that kind of threat in the backfield as far as our quarterback. But other than that, you have to go out there and play."
The receiving corps has done just that. Moss was held without a reception Monday for the first time this season, but he still leads Washington with 416 receiving yards and seven touchdown catches. Six other players, none of them named Fred Davis, have caught touchdown passes. Pierre Garcon has missed half the games, but he's only 66 yards behind Moss and only 16 receptions behind team-leader Josh Morgan, who has 39.
RG3's special gifts have elevated the running game, too, rookie halfback Alfred Morris as well as the linemen up front. Washington leads the league in rushing, and no other team has two rushers with at least 700 yards (Morris 1,106 and Griffin 714). Even rookie placekicker Kai Forbath has raised his game; although he would need one more field goal attempt to qualify among the league's leaders, he has the only perfect mark at 11-for-11.
Not wanting to be the weak link, the Redskins' defense has improved its performance during the streak. The unit has played much stingier since the bye week, keeping opponents out of the end zone in nine of the past 12 quarters. In the second half Monday, Washington held the Giants to three points and 1-of-5 on third-down conversions.
Their resolve will be tested further down the stretch without cornerback Cedric Griffin, who was suspended for four games Tuesday for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
But the absences of Davis, Garcon, Brian Orakpo, Brandon Meriweather, et al haven't stopped the Redskins' resurgence, so a missing nickel back won't be accepted as an excuse.
"I think it's the mindset of the team," RG3 said Monday, explaining the difference since Washington's last loss (and, unintentionally, his role in creating it). "Each individual guy has to go out and dominate his position. If every guy on your team dominates the guy in front of him, or the guy he is supposed to dominate, then you should never lose. I think that's what the guys are doing."
In other words, they're following the leader.
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