Redskins blend optimism, realism as they enter bye week

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For the first time this season, Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan could smile at his Monday press conference.

His team didn’t play a pretty game on Sunday in Oakland. And down 14-0 in the first quarter, it was in serious trouble. But the Redskins rallied to win 24-14 and at least enter their bye week with a 1-3 record.

It isn’t a good one. But the situation also isn’t as dire as it was last year heading into a Week 10 bye at 3-6 with little hope to make the playoffs. Instead, Washington won the NFC East despite trailing the New York Giants by three games in the standings. The lessons from that comeback remain in place, if difficult to execute again.

“You’ve just got to focus on the job at hand,” said Shanahan, whose team will not play again until Oct. 13 against NFC East-leading Dallas. “Once you get too carried away, to me, that’s when a team goes one way or another.”

But in a division where the Cowboys lead with just a 2-2 record, there is at least hope again. That would have been extinguished with a loss to Oakland on Sunday.

It doesn’t hurt that while the Redskins rest this weekend, Dallas has to host unbeaten Denver, which has won every game by at least 16 points and has yet to be held under 37. Meanwhile, the winless Giants (0-4) host the Philadelphia Eagles (1-3). The NFC East race is far from over.

“We’ve still got a chance to turn our season around,” defensive lineman Stephen Bowen said after the Oakland victory.

But before Washington gets ahead of itself, there are plenty of corrections to make. The Redskins are converting just 32 percent of their third-down conversion attempts. That ranks 26th in the NFL.

Too many drives are stalling, too many points are being left on the board. And the defense, while better against the Raiders, still isn’t playing well enough to handle top NFL teams. Oakland isn’t close to being one of them.

“We’ll take it however it comes,” wide receiver Pierre Garcon said. “But we still have a lot of work to do.”

Shanahan also acknowledged on Monday that his special teams unit must be better. It allowed a successful fake punt deep in Oakland territory and had a Sav Rocca punt blocked for a touchdown. Still, a victory served as a much-needed balm on the long flight home even if few players were in a celebratory mood after the game.

“It’s just one step in the right direction in getting this bad taste of having a losing record right now out of our mouths,” Redskins running back Alfred Morris said. “Going into the bye week 0-4, to have that just sitting on your mind the whole entire week, you really wouldn’t be able to enjoy it.”

Even more so because just one NFL team has ever rallied from 4-0 to make the playoffs. That was the San Diego Chargers in 1992, a team Shanahan mentioned during his Monday press conference because he saw them do so first hand when he was coaching the rival Broncos.

The Redskins will use the bye week to heal some bumps and bruises. Morris said X-rays on his bruised ribs were negative, as expected. He left Sunday’s game in the third quarter. Roy Helu was the primary running back the rest of the way and scored a late touchdown to seal the victory.

Morris said that his ribs were sore early in the game and he simply played through it. He also said that he’s never suffered a rib injury before and wasn’t sure about a timetable for recovery.

“It wasn’t nothing that I felt like would take me out of the game,” Morris said. “I feel like when I fell on it on that [third quarter] play it was kind of icing on the cake. I had to come out and be like ‘Yeah, this isn’t something I’m going to be able to walk off.’”

In other injury news, Shanahan said the team was still awaiting word on the MRI for tight end Logan Paulsen’s left knee. Paulsen was wearing a brace during Sunday’s game.

Reserve defensive lineman Chris Neild told ESPN 980 that he sustained a mild calf strain and is considered day-to-day. Shanahan did not have an update on Neild.

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