- The Washington Times - Monday, November 12, 2012

Laughter competed with hip-hop beats for dominance inside the Washington Redskins’ locker room after practice Monday afternoon. A blackjack game broke out, as usual. A$AP Rocky’s latest single blasted from speakers in the center of the room. Nose tackle Chris Baker danced because that’s what he does every day.

The atmosphere was boisterous and the mood was upbeat as the Redskins returned from their bye week and began practicing for Sunday’s home game against the reeling Philadelphia Eagles.

Their 3-6 record means they likely are headed for a disappointing finish. But certain points of the season, namely training camp and the bye week, are occasions for optimism. And considering the Redskins sit 21/2 games out of first place in the NFC East with five divisional games remaining, the door to greater heights isn’t completely closed and airtight.

“You see everybody is really rejuvenated and now talking about how the way chips are falling in the division, we still can control our destiny,” defensive lineman Stephen Bowen said. “If we win these next three, we’re right back in the top of the division. It’s crazy these games are happening like this, but it’s giving us an opportunity.”

Bowen referred to the scheduling quirk that back loaded Washington’s divisional games. Five of their last seven are against NFC East foes. The Redskins host Philadelphia on Sunday, followed by a trip to Dallas on Thanksgiving and a home Monday night showdown against New York.

That’s a lifeline for a Washington team hoping make the postseason after starting 3-6, something only four teams in league history have accomplished.

Perhaps that’s blind optimism considering all the reasons the Redskins have lost two thirds of their games to this point. To expect them to suddenly prevent big passing plays, pressure the quarterback at will and consistently convert third downs is unreasonable.

What they have, though, is an opportunity. And considering the depths to which they sunk after losing to a one-win Carolina team at home two Sundays ago, the Redskins will take that.

Whatever is to come of the second half of their season begins with Sunday’s game against Philadelphia. As tempting as it might be to consider how five of their final seven games are within the division, the “one-game-at-a-time cliches flew around Redskins Park on Monday.

“What we have to focus on is Philly, man,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “You can’t get caught up in it. If you start looking too far down the road, it takes away your focus from what you need to do.”

Coach Mike Shanahan was similarly positive and focused following Monday’s workout. His staff spent last week analyzing film of Redskins players, seeking ways to improve. Coaches also started to prepare for the upcoming short week preceding the Dallas game. On Sunday, they began game-planning for this Sunday’s game against the Eagles.

“You look at your personnel,” Shanahan said. “You go back and evaluate players and look at your scheme, take a look at the things that you’ve done poorly and you try to correct it. It’s been a good, productive week.”

That’s not to say Washington’s outlook is all rainbows and lollipops. Players understand the path to turning the season around begins with better individual play.

That’s the top priority beginning with Sunday’s game.

“You’ve got to be ready, focused,” Bowen said. “Everybody has got to be responsibility-sound. We start working today, and you can see the sense of urgency on everyone’s face.”

“I can’t say anything besides giving up the big play, some of the mental busts that we’ve had,” added linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. “That’s probably the biggest thing. Just step up and make a play. We’ve got to make plays that other teams have been making on us.”

And even if the postseason is out of reach, Alexander, for one, believes the Redskins have something significant to play for.

“We really just want to come back for ourselves and just start putting some games together and winning,” he said. “Obviously for personal pride, and everybody in here is a competitor. It’s good we play a lot of division opponents because we know them, we’re familiar with them. It gives us a great chance to be able to achieve some of our goals.”

• Rich Campbell can be reached at rcampbell@washingtontimes.com.

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