- - Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden didn’t just exorcise the ghosts of losing seasons with his team’s 24-6 opening win over the Arizona Cardinals Sunday. He frightened those demons away with a Redskins performance that ranks among the most dominant of Gruden’s tenure in Washington.

When he spoke with reporters a day later, Gruden tried to temper the good feelings that came with such an impressive victory.

“I think we did some good things,” Gruden said, understating his team’s play against the Cardinals. “There’s some things that, obviously, we need to clean up. You know, we had a chance to put them away and keep them down for good, but we failed in the fourth, late in the third quarter. Third quarter-fourth quarter we kind of had a low there. Overall, I think we were pretty diverse in what we did.”

But he really couldn’t contain his giddiness as he talked more about the win.

He said he told his offensive line coach, Bill Callahan, that Sunday was “one of the few times I could remember I was having trouble calling plays because there were so many good ones that I liked that we could get to.”

Like a kid in a candy store.

AUDIO: Redskins great Joe Theismann with Thom Loverro

The 24-6 score doesn’t do justice to the dominance of the Redskins victory. These numbers tell a better story:

Washington totaled 429 net yards (5.7 avg.) on offense surpassing the 400-yard mark for the first time since recording 456 yards of offense on Nov. 19, 2017, at New Orleans. The last time the Redskins opened a season with 400 or more yards of total offense was September 9, 2012, when Washington defeated the New Orleans Saints on the road, 40-32.

They converted 30 first downs on Sunday, the first time the team has converted 30 or more first downs in a single game since converting 30 against the Cincinnati Bengals October 30, 2016.

The Redskins recorded 182 rushing yards (4.3 avg.), with Adrian Peterson leading the way with 96 yards on 26 carries, followed by Chris Thompson’s explosive 65 yards on just five carries. That’s the most since opening the 2015 season with 161 yards vs. the Miami Dolphins.

Washington led 21-0 at the half. The last time they held a team scoreless in the first half was Sept. 24, 2017, against the Oakland Raiders at FedExField.

You remember that Oakland game, don’t you? That was the last time Gruden’s team dominated an opponent so thoroughly.

Of course, that was part of a 7-9 season.

The Redskins did what they had to do Sunday to start a successful season. Opening with the Cardinals and now facing another opponent susceptible to domination — the Indianapolis Colts Sunday at home — Washington needs to get off to a 2-0 start before facing a trio of imposing quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers (if healthy), Drew Brees and Cam Newton.

I suspect that new Redskins chief operating officer Brian Lafemina sold a few more tickets for the home opener with that dominant Redskins win.

What we don’t know is if there will be enough to accomplish what Lafemina told 106.7 The Fan radio recently, when he said that “the main thing we want to do, we want to grab back the home-field advantage at FedEx Field.”

We’ve seen those Jay Gruden-led dominant performances before, and they haven’t translated to a successful season.

Last Sunday’s 24-6 win ranks among the best, up there with last year’s 27-10 victory in Game 3 of the season over a favored Oakland team at FedEx. Kirk Cousins had 356 yards passing, three touchdowns and no interceptions, while the team rushed for 116 yards. The defense held highly touted quarterback Derek Carr to just 118 yards passing and the Raiders running game to 32 yards.

Then there was the 42-24 victory over the Green Bay Packers on a Sunday night, Nov. 20, 2016, also at home, when Cousins had another three touchdown, zero interception game, with 375 yards passing, while running back Rob Kelley rushed for 137 yards.

Also among the best games of Gruden’s era is their 47-14 stomping in 2015 of the New Orleans Saints, when Cousins had four touchdown passes and 324 yards, while Washington, led by Alfred Morris and Matt Jones, rushed for 209 yards. The Saints rushed for 158 yards, but they held Brees to just 209 yards passing, intercepting him twice and catching him for two sacks.

In other words, we’ve seen flashes of domination like we saw Sunday over the three previous seasons. The end result has still been a 24-23-1 record.

It speaks to the key question about Gruden and his teams — consistency over the course of a 16-game regular season. Not dominance. Consistency.

Gruden put to rest the questions about preparing for a season opener with this win. Now he faces the question of whether or not he can produce more than one memorable victory a season.

Thom Loverro’s podcast, “Cigars & Curveballs,” is available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver network.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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