- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 4, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The won-lost column doesn’t include moral victories, which allegedly are nonexistent if you ask coaches and players. But most of us can find some satisfaction in defeats, especially when your team exceeds expectations. If it plays well and remains competitive throughout a game against a championship-caliber opponent, that often suffices if it’s more than you imagined.

The Washington Redskins were in that position Monday night, playing on the NFL’s prime-time stage, facing the defending Super Bowl champions in a December game with postseason implications. Only the wildly optimistic could have envisioned those circumstances three weeks ago, let alone three months ago when the season began.

In that sense, the Mike Shanahan era was vindicated before kickoff at FedEx Field. Entering his 44th game as Washington’s coach and grand pooh bah, Shanahan had led the Redskins to late-season relevance for the first time in his tenure and the first time since they 2008, when they finished 8-8 under Jim Zorn.

So beating the New York Giants and moving into the thick of the playoff race was gravy. The 80,246 fans who chanted “RG3!” throughout the game were able to carry the cheer into the parking lot after Robert Griffin III engineered a 17-16 victory.

“There’s a lot of excitement around this time, and I think everybody feels it,” Griffin said. “We knew the atmosphere was really charged up and electric, and the fans definitely showed up for us. It’s great that we could get the win for them.”

Yeah, it was great. But he had them hooked when he hit Pierre Garcon for an 8-yard, go-ahead touchdown with 11:31 left in the game.

Shanahan and the players would’ve been crushed if New York rallied for a win — like it did in Week 7 — but level-headed fans would have looked at the bright side. Shanahan and RG3 had delivered levels of purpose and meaning that didn’t seem possible a short while ago. Nearly three seasons after he arrived to rescue Danny Snyder’s franchise, Shanahan’s promise of a promised land was coming into focus.

“We knew three weeks ago that every game we played was like a playoff game,” Shanahan said. “… I think everybody knows how important winning is, and we’ve lost a number of games in the fourth quarter, games that we had a chance to put away and didn’t do it. We put this game away, and it took a lot of people working extremely hard to do it. You have to find a way to win.”

After three consecutive losses dropped them to 3-6, prompting questions about goals for the remainder of the season, the Redskins have reeled off three consecutive wins. And the precocious rookie quarterback has the NFL abuzz, partially overshadowing the workhorse rookie halfback.

Alfred Morris, who rushed for a career-high 124 yards and topped 1,000 for the season, gets RG3’s vote for the league’s most impressive newcomer. Morris, picked 173rd overall in the draft, might be the best signal that Shanahan has Washington headed in the right direction. But he’s not the only one.

Selecting RG3 with the No. 2 pick was a no-brainer. Signing Garcon to be the No. 1 receiver was brilliant. He gives the Redskins a dimension that was conspicuously absent when he missed six games with a foot injury. Clearly the quarterback’s favorite target, he caught eight passes for 106 yards.

“You have to have a quarterback in this league,” said wideout Santana Moss. “If you don’t have a quarterback, you don’t have nothing. But at the end of the day, you have to have people block for him, run routes for him and have somebody run the ball well. You have to have all the pieces to the puzzle. That’s what we’ve been building.”

Construction appeared to stall entering the bye week, but it’s back on schedule now. From the outside looking in, best-case scenarios before the season began pegged Washington for seven wins, maybe eight. That still might be the case. But now, the possibility of more is intoxicating.

“I think we’ve always battled, but we never put games together consistently,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “We’re finally starting to do that. … We’re playing complete games.”

The defense, which kept Philadelphia out of the end zone in Week 11 and held Dallas to one touchdown through three quarters on Thanksgiving, forced the Giants to kick three field goals Monday. Placekicker Kai Forbath improved to 11-for-11 on his field goals. RG3’s magic included a fumble-turned-touchdown for the second time this season.

“It was a pitch to [receiver Josh Morgan],” Griffin joked about the Redskins‘ first score. “I knew he was going to be there, so I’m going to stay with that story.”

Washington’s 2012 story had taken an unexpected turn prior to Monday game.

Victory just made it that much sweeter.