Understanding the reality of where his Washington Redskins are after eight weeks, coach Mike Shanahan on Monday busted out the phrase that players agreed best describes the upcoming game against the Carolina Panthers: "I think everybody knows that it's a must-win game," he said.
It's thrown around far too much in sports. This, though, is a must-win game if this season is to be about contending in any way. A victory Sunday makes the Redskins 4-5, while a loss drops them to 3-6.
"I think coach said it best, it's a must-win. At some point you've got to stop digging yourself into a hole and start climbing out of it," defensive lineman Kedric Golston said. "We've got to stop the bleeding this weekend."
The bleeding has been slow so far in 2012, close losses at least until last week's blowout at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Take away a couple of fourth-quarter meltdowns and the situation is much different. But take away Robert Griffin III's heroics, like his 76-yard touchdown, the same can be said in the other direction.
Those are the breaks of a season with a rookie quarterback at the helm and plenty of injuries on both sides of the ball. But if there's going to be a turning point, it realistically has to come against the Panthers.
Specifically on defense, where the Redskins have been without linebacker Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker since Week 2, Shanahan put the burden on the rest of the leading cast.
"This is where, normally, football teams are taken over by their veterans. You can go one direction or the other and you expect these guys to play at a higher level, even with some inexperienced guys," he said." You expect them to get the most of these other players that may not have played at the highest level they can. But they either step up or shut up and that's where you've got to get it done."
On paper, the Redskins should be able to get something done against a 1-6 Panthers team that features Cam Newton mired in something of a sophomore slump.
"He's definitely improved. He's a little calmer in the pocket. I don't know why they haven't had the success that they had because it seems like they even added Mike Tolbert to their offense, to their already formidable rushing attack," linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. "I'm not sure why their record is what it is because the whole unit has improved along with Cam Newton."
A couple of players said they viewed every game as a must-win. Naturally, but this one carries with it the understanding that the season is just about on the line.
"[If] you're talking about playoffs, you pretty much have to win out being 3-6; 4-5 you're right in the thick of things with a bunch of division games coming," middle linebacker London Fletcher said. "For us, it is a, I guess you can say, a must-win game. It's definitely a big game for us and what we need to have."
Golston said the Redskins have as good a chance as anyone given that they have five of their six NFC East games left. But even that might not be enough if they fall to beat the Panthers.
"First, you need a win to stay in the hunt in the division, and you don't want to have a bad taste going into a bye," defensive end Stephen Bowen said. "It's a must-win. We've got to get it done."
Or, if you're not inclined to go with "must-win," there's right guard Chris Chester, who put it bluntly.
"The way things are going for us right now, it would be greatly to our benefit to win this game," he said.
The pressure is on, even if Griffin said he doesn't feel it going into Sunday.
"I do know there is a sense of urgency," Griffin said. "Guys just know it, 'Hey we've got to go out and get a win.'Of course everyone wants to go on a bye week to get away and rest your mind and get ready to go back for the second part of the season. But for us right now the biggest thing is making sure we come out with a win on Sunday so that when we do go on our bye week we can relax and get ready for the last stretch."
Perhaps the bye week has little to do with the importance of this game, other than the psychological impact with some extra time off. Regardless of that, the Redskins need something after two straight losses.
A sense of desperation is at hand.
"It may be there, but I don't know if we feel desperate," Chester said. "I don't know if this locker room or people in here feel desperate."
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