- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2014

With each loss, the list of possible goals continues to shrink.

Whatever faint hopes the Washington Redskins had of winning the NFC East or returning to the playoffs were dashed nearly a month ago. Then they set out to finish .500 or better, a feat the organization has accomplished only once in the past five years. But following Sunday’s loss in Indianapolis, that goal, too, is gone.

So now, with one month remaining, the Redskins are left grasping for benchmarks, some modicum of success that can still be attained.

“We’ve still got three division games left. We can finish 4-2,” linebacker Keenan Robinson said. “As funny as it sounds — it’s a longshot — but we can still finish at the top of our division, on division record alone.”

As coach Jay Gruden nears the end of his first year in Washington, he is determined to squeeze as many wins out of his team as possible. But in the process, he will also be monitoring Washington’s tempo and energy over the final four games, the demeanor with which the team plays. And, on Sunday at least, Gruden didn’t see as much energy as he would have liked.

“No sense of urgency I felt like on offense,” Gruden said Monday. “Not to say they weren’t doing their job. I just want to see us with a more of an upbeat tempo and more ‘go get ‘em’ type attitude, hunger attitude, run around, fly around to the football. Defensively, same thing. A lot of times we are looking around trying to get everybody lined up instead of getting to our guys and set and ready to kick some tail.”

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Gruden has not publicly questioned his team’s effort or preparation this season. “We’re putting in the work Monday through Saturday,” he said. But with each loss, examples of poor body language become more prevalent.

“We’ll try to do the best job we can as coaches to prepare them and put them in the best situations possible to succeed, but ultimately it’s about their tempo,” Gruden said. “We need leaders to stand up defensively and take them by the throat, make sure they’re playing fast, and the same thing with offense. For whatever reason — and I’m not saying they were loafing or anything like that — we’ve just got to work on our tempo and everything, the whole display of the game.”

In recent weeks, several Redskins players have talked about playing for pride and for one another, even though most of their preseason goals are now out of reach. They have also repeatedly shot down questions about whether the team is lacking effort, or whether it is difficult to maintain effort in the midst of another losing season.

“I mean, guys are going to fight. We’re professionals,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “Nobody’s going to go out there and go, ‘Here goes the game.’ … As a leader, I don’t have to put any pep in anybody’s step. We’re all professionals and that’s something that comes with the territory.”

After Washington’s loss in San Francisco, Gruden said the rest of the season will in part serve as an evaluation period, a chance to find out “what players we can depend on this year, and in future years.” Work ethic during the week, and effort on the field during games, will constitute one part of that evaluation process. And the players know it.

“You use it as building blocks,” Robinson said. “For us, it’s just finishing hard and finishing in a professional manner, meaning do not give up on our goals. Because, as a man, what you put out there on film, everyone sees it. You don’t want to put bad things on film.”

Through 12 games, the Redskins have been haunted by some of the same mistakes time and time again. They have committed more penalties (93) than all but four teams. Their turnover margin (minus-7) is worse than all but two teams: the New York Jets (minus-12) and the Oakland Raiders (minus-18). And they have been victims of repeated blown coverages, allowing 45 plays of 20-plus yards and nine plays of 40-plus yards this year.

In the final four games of the season, beginning Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, the Redskins will hope to improve in these areas while simultaneously improving their demeanor on the field.

“We’ve got to make it the most important four games of their careers,” Gruden said. “We’ve got to challenge them to play like it and see what happens.”

In a season of lost goals, it’s just about the only one they have left.

• Tom Schad can be reached at tschad@washingtontimes.com.

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