- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 20, 2015

LANDOVER — The preparation was not any different this week for the Washington Redskins, but the attitude and intensity was.

Redskins defensive end Chris Baker said the team had its best week of practice to date, something he said he felt translated to the field in Sunday’s 35-25 win against the Buffalo Bills at FedEx Field.

With Sunday’s win, the Redskins have now put themselves in position to win the NFC East. Regardless of the result of the Philadelphia Eagles’ game against the Arizona Cardinals, the Redskins can lock up the division with a victory in Philadelphia on Saturday night.

“Nothing really changed, we’re just extremely focused,” Baker said. “We know what we have on the line. Making it to the playoffs and winning games in the NFL is not a promise. We have to enjoy the moment and attack the moment.”

The challenge, Baker said, came from various players on the team. It came from coach Jay Gruden, too.

“I think obviously being this late in the season – on top of our division – I just challenged the guys,” Gruden said. “We have a responsibility – first-place teams have a responsibility, and the guys recognize that – the importance of flying around to the football, protecting the ball and playing good sound football. Our guys came out, and played with great effort and great energy, and got a win against a very good Buffalo team.”

The Redskins certainly did all of that on Sunday. There was a lot to like, especially the way the Redskins executed out of the gate. From the opening drive, they controlled the pace, effectively balancing the offense as they raced to a 21-0 halftime lead. Even when it got rough in the third quarter after the Bills scored consecutive touchdowns, Washington bounced back with anther touchdown in the fourth quarter to end the Bills‘ hope for a comeback.

With that, here area look at three takeaways from Sunday’s win.

** Back to that sound football Gruden mentioned. The Redskins were penalized five times but only for six yards — the fewest in a game all season. The Bills, notorious for their lack of discipline this season, were penalized eight times for 56 yards. Washington was not flagged until there was less than two minutes left in the first half. Defensive end Chris Baker jumped offsides on third-and-goal from the one-yard line after the Redskins stuffed running back LeSean McCoy. It hardly mattered though. The Redskins denied the Bills on their next two attempts. On the ensuing drive, tight end Jordan Reed was called for a false start. The half ended after wide receiver Pierre Garcon was called for illegal formation. It’s a good day for a team when the worst penalty was a false start on rookie running back Matt Jones in the third quarter. Lined up next to quarterback Kirk Cousins in shotgun, Jones appeared to have forgotten the snap count and moved early. Obviously, the Redskins will work to correct mixups like that, but it was a fairly clean game. This time of year, with a playoff berth on the line, that type of football is invaluable, especially when the Redskins have shot themselves in the foot a fair amount this season. Perhaps the most encouraging development was Reed making it through a second consecutive game without a holding or offensive pass interference call.

** The Redskins allowed the Bills to rush for 240 yards. That’s obviously not good, but that’s an area the Redskins have struggled all season. They’re not getting a pass, either, but for once it hardly had an effect on the game. On the flip side, the Redskins rushed for 123 yards on 27 carries, an average of 4.6 yards per carry. Of course, those numbers are aided by Alfred Morris’ 48-yard run, but even still it was a good showing from the rushing attack. The balance it provided the offense was the key. On the first drive, the Redskins went 84 yards on 10 plays to score a touchdown. Cousins passed the ball six times, while Morris rushed four times for 11 yards. Four carries for 11 yards isn’t great, but again, it’s efficient. That is all the Redskins need for the running game to have a positive effect on the play-action and bootlegs the coaches love to run. The coaching staff also deserves a nod for the play calling on Sunday, which was efficient.

“Great balance going on right now,” Gruden said. “We’re making plays. [Offensive Coordinator] Sean [McVay] and the offensive staff is doing a great job of mixing up the play calling and keeping the defense off-balance, but really it’s a player’s game and Kirk is doing a great job of managing it. The play-actions have been outstanding. The players are making plays. The protection’s been outstanding. We haven’t had, like I said, many negative plays. When the ball’s in the air our players are making plays after the catch. Of course our running game is staying on track, so everything’s been positive so far and that’s important.”

** Here’s a friendly reminder that at one point this season, running back Chris Thompson said he believes wide receive DeSean Jackson is yet to showcase the full depth of his speed. According to Thompson, Jackson uses what he has to when getting past opponents and that’s it. There’s a reserve tank he rarely uses, which is hard to believe. Jackson made it look easy again on Sunday during his 77-yard touchdown pass. This one was more impressive in the sense that he had to come back for the under-thrown ball, then broke away from the Bills‘ defensive back for the score. In Jackson’s last five games he has four touchdowns. Clearly he and Cousins have started to click, and it’s dangerous for defenses when Jackson is moving like he was on Sunday.

“The one wideout [Jackson] makes a big difference for them, there’s no question about it,” Bills coach Rex Ryan said. “I never thought he was Jerry Rice, but I guess I was wrong.”

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