Josh Wilson didn’t even want to entertain the question, posed in the minutes after the Washington Redskins’ 17-16 victory over the New York Giants on Monday night, about being 3-6 not long ago.
“I’m talking about winning. That’s it. We’re talking about winning,” the cornerback said. “So if you want to talk about 3-6, you can go back to three weeks ago. But right now we’re winning, so let’s talk about how we’re winning right now.”
The Redskins have won three games in a row and suddenly look like contenders. But amid the postgame celebration, players made one thing clear: They have not accomplished anything yet.
In reeling off what guard Kory Lichtensteiger called a “bona fide winning streak,” the Redskins clawed back to .500 and turned Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens into yet another most important game of the season. But they’re not ready to talk about the playoffs.
“We still feel like underdogs. We’ve got a good Baltimore team coming in, and I’m pretty sure we will be the underdogs. That’s a good thing,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “We don’t want anybody to pick us. We want to have an inner strength. And when guys come together over a thing like that, a me-against-the-world mentality is a beautiful thing.”
“Me against the world,” or at least the Redskins against the media, was how coach Mike Shanahan portrayed his Nov. 4 postgame comments about the process of evaluating players following the sixth loss of the season. Players bought into the idea that everything was taken out of context, rallying behind their coach.
Whether it was that or the aid of the bye week for a tired, banged-up team, the difference has been stark.
Take out the fourth quarter at Dallas on Thanksgiving, and the Redskins have allowed just two touchdowns since the bye week; meanwhile, the offense looks dynamic with the return of fleet receiver Pierre Garcon.
Shanahan said he doesn’t necessarily consider “us against the world” a motivating tool.
“What you’re doing is you’re trying to find a way to win,” he said. “And when you do lose some close games, a lot of times people lose confidence. I always felt with this group, it’s a special group, a special group of people.”
Yet still a group that doesn’t want to get ahead of itself with dreams of playing in January dancing in their heads.
“We still got to come out every Sunday and prove our worth in this league,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “We haven’t done anything yet. We’re only 6-6.”
As Lichtensteiger quipped, “Six wins is never going to get you into the playoffs.” Ten would put the Redskins in an excellent spot, though that would require them to win out.
While basking in the glow of relevant pro football in December in Washington for the first time under Shanahan, a few players are allowing themselves to think about what could be next.
“As long as you got a chance, that’s the goal. You don’t want to play just to play. You’re going out there, every team in this league, all 32 are going to try to get to the ultimate goal of being Super Bowl champs,” Wilson said. “That’s what our focus is, is trying to make sure that we give ourselves the best chance to get into the playoffs and go from there.”
That best chance would obviously be stringing together a seven-game streak by beating Baltimore, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Dallas to end the regular season.
But the Redskins have excelled in recent weeks at making the cliche “one game at a time” actually mean something, so the focus is on the Ravens. And a short week with little margin for error means there’s no room for overconfidence, either.
“We can’t be complacent, because we don’t have the opportunity to be complacent,” Shanahan said. “Every game, to us, is like a playoff game. We understand that, and our players understand that. You’re hoping that mindset’s there, because if it’s not, you’re out of it very quickly. Hopefully, that’s not the case and you’ve got the character to persevere.”
The Redskins are in this spot despite season-ending injuries to tight end Fred Davis, linebacker Brian Orakpo, safety Brandon Meriweather and defensive end Adam Carriker. Shanahan was waiting for things to come together in the meantime.
It looks like it has happened. But no one is satisfied.
“It feels good, but we have more goals that we want to accomplish,” quarterback Robert Griffin III said. “You can put a check by that one, but there are a lot more goals that this team is stretching for and striving for, and I know that we can definitely achieve them.”