- - Sunday, December 25, 2016

CHICAGO | Bashaud Breeland’s season hasn’t gone the way he thought it would. The third-year Washington cornerback has been targeted in coverage and the coaching staff moved him to the slot with the hopes that he’d play better there. Breeland has engaged with his critics on Twitter often.

“This year, it showed me that things aren’t always going to go your way,” Breeland said. “You’ve just got to learn how to cope with it.”

Breeland isn’t alone. The Redskins, in general, have been learning how to cope with an up-and-down, 8-6-1 season that has featured more than its share of pendulum swings.

But even though Washington still needs outside help to make the playoffs, it did secure a guaranteed winning record in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1996 and 1997 with Saturday afternoon’s 41-21 thumping of the Chicago Bears.

For a franchise that’s become synonymous with futility in recent decades, continuity — even if that means just a couple of winning seasons — is a victory.

“I think we are building something special here,” coach Jay Gruden said. “We are a little disappointed that we are not in better shape for the playoffs this year, but I think we are trending up as far as what we are trying to build around here and I am happy with where are going.

“We still have one more game to take care of and hopefully we will get it done next weekend against the Giants.”

This season, the Redskins have found a formula for winning on the field — when they stick to it.

Running back Chris Thompson said he didn’t want to discuss the disappointing Dec. 19 loss on Monday night to the Carolina Panthers again, but then, after Saturday’s convincing win over the Bears, he did it anyway.

Thompson said it was clear in the moment against the Panthers that the Redskins weren’t running the ball well. But on Saturday, the Redskins ran the ball a season-high 35 times.

“(Our balance) makes it much easier for (offensive coordinator) Sean McVay,” Thompson said. “When we’re getting four yards on first down, he’s able to open up and do different things. It makes it real tough to get behind being 2nd-and-12 or 2nd-and-14 … When we’re in manageable situations, he’s able to be more comfortable.”

The Redskins have also found balance through roster building. Breeland and Thompson were both draft picks from the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively, and they each had breakout games against the Bears, with Breeland grabbing two interceptions and Thompson scoring two touchdowns.

Washington is also getting big-time performances from high-profile free agents like DeSean Jackson and Josh Norman. Norman, who was signed to a five-year $75 million contract, had just his second multi-interception game on Saturday, his first as a Redskin.

“If we continue out here and do what we do, I don’t see why we can’t build on this,” Norman said. “This was a building win for us. The defense showed up and we played our game.

“When you can get every body on the same page like we did in the second half, we can build off of that,” he added.

Jackson, who will be a free agent after the season, racked up his third straight 100-yard receiving game.

Against the Bears, quarterback Kirk Cousins had his best game in weeks, in part, because of the protection from his offensive line.

“It enables him time and when he can be comfortable back there, he can go through one or two or three progressions, he is pretty darn good,” Gruden said. “Hats off to the offensive line, they played outstanding. The receivers winning the one on one battle, Kirk finding the holes in the zones, it was very crucial for us.

“And those guys were excellent, Pierre (Garcon) and DeSean.”

The win did come against the now 3-12 Bears, but a loss would have eliminated the Redskins from playoff contention.

“We just challenged ourselves individually all week,” safety Will Blackmon said. “Especially this year, there’s just so many games that we definitely should have won because that speaks to the volume of talent we have. There are so many games we should have won out.

“It was time for us to listen … put it all together and just fight, have each other’s back.”

The Redskins will close out the 2016 regular season Sunday, New Year’s Day, with a home date against their NFC East rivals, the New York Giants.

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