- - Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sunday at FedEx Field was gray. Gloomy. Dreary.

Oh yeah. The sky was overcast, too.

More-depressing victories are hard to imagine. Washington couldn’t breathe easy until Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald, an all-time NFL great, failed to corral a pass inside the 10-yard line with 16 seconds left.

Before Kendall Fuller and D.J. Swearinger combined to break up the fourth-down pass attempt, the tense, final moments threatened to end in another heartbreaking defeat. But Washington held on for a 17-12 win, a triumph that felt as empty as the stands.

Don’t get me wrong. There were upsides and positives in the first game with Washington officially eliminated from postseason contention. However, the bright spots only highlighted the futility of it all.

The defense didn’t yield a touchdown and set up the game’s first, when Anthony Lanier recorded a strip-sack just 47 seconds into the action. Halfback Kapri Bibbs, who spent 10 weeks on his couch before signing with Washington, scored a touchdown in his first game on the active roster. Kicker Dustin Hopkins boomed his kickoffs and connected on both field goal attempts as he returned from the injured list after missing eight games.

Washington never trailed as Kirk Cousins threw two touchdowns in a tidy, efficient showing that overcame his nonexistent rushing attack. The Cardinals were stymied on offense, partially due to Washington and largely due to Blaine Gabbert being their quarterback.

But there was no shaking the feeling that everything was meaningless, especially during the expansive stretches when both teams played listless, dreadful football. It was about what you’d expect from a couple of middle-of-the-pack squads.

Speaking of the break-even mark, no other significant goal remains, though coach Jay Gruden wants no part of that inspiration.

“I never really want to use 8-8 as motivation,” he said. “Finishing strong is what I want to talk about. The only way you can finish strong is to win your last two. Whatever the record is, it is.”

The record was 5-8 entering the game, casting a pall over the fans who bothered to show up.

Washington’s play-by-play broadcaster Larry Michael said in an interview on ESPN 980 that he’d “be willing to bet (FedEx Field) is gonna be packed and it’s gonna be rocking.” He predicted a strong showing from “the silent majority of Redskins fans.”

It was more like the invisible majority.

The announced paid attendance was 71,026. Owner Dan Snyder was lucky if half that many people were in the place. There were times when crickets would’ve made more noise. When an Arizona player was carted off the field in the second half, the applause sounded like it came from a polite golf gallery after a runner-up finished his round.

There were reports that midfield seats could be had for less than $20 on SubHub. They might go for less than 10 bucks when the Denver Broncos are in town on Christmas Eve. None of this should be a surprise, not to Michael or anyone else who follows this franchise.

The only real drama is whether next week marks Cousins’ last home game here.

Of course, players’ professional pride and career interests keep them from checking out as easily as fans were in desperate need of a victory after back-to-back ugly losses put their season in the morgue.

“I would call it desire more than desperation,” Gruden said. “I think everybody wanted to win because they’re great competitors and worked extremely hard.”

It certainly beats playing well and losing, which happened at least a few times. And watching young players blossom provides some hope for the future. Lanier had a monster game at defensive end, batting down three passes and recording two sacks to accompany his forced fumble. Nickel cornerback Kendall Fuller came up big, too, with solid coverage and a team-high eight tackles.

“I think you can see a lot of positives building in the right direction, a lot to be encouraged about,” Cousins said. “As much as people can write off the playoff picture, for us individually and for this organization — there’s so much more to play for to really be building for future years.”

That sound’s great, but it’s hardly convincing. Fans have heard such talk for two decades with no signs of progress,

That’s why the outlook felt so dismal Sunday.

Sunny days seem far away.

Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

• Deron Snyder can be reached at deronsnyder@gmail.com.

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