LANDOVER — If you squint really hard from a certain angle and hold up the Washington Redskins so that the light hits them just right, you could reach a regrettable conclusion.
No matter how much you abhor the thought and shudder at the possible consequences, you might concede that beleaguered team president Bruce Allen was (swallow hard) right. Washington IS close.
At least closer than their 3-12 record suggests.
On Sunday, for the second consecutive game Washington went to the wire against a division rival at FedEx Field. The New York Giants needed overtime to pull out a 41-35 victory. In the prior contest, the Philadelphia Eagles scored the go-ahead touchdown with 26 seconds left on the clock.
In Washington’s first game against the other NFC East member, Dallas led by just seven points entering the fourth quarter before pulling away.
At this point of our conversation, let’s note that Dallas and Philadelphia entered Week 16 at 7-7. That meant the division champion will have a 9-7 record, at best, or finish 8-8 at worst. So the distance between Washington and the automatic playoff berth isn’t as far as it seems.
Against the Giants, a two-point conversion with 29 seconds remaining might’ve secured victory. But interim coach Bill Callahan opted for the game-tying point-after kick instead, a conservative approach that belied the no-stakes affair.
“I thought it was the right decision,” Callahan said. “Guys were playing hard and I thought our defense had an opportunity to make a play in overtime. I felt confident we could stop them and get the ball back and score.”
That was either blind faith or wishful thinking, because Washington exhibited little stopping power all afternoon.
The Giants scored touchdowns on five of their first seven possessions, all on passes from rookie quarterback Daniel Jones. Halfback Saquon Barkley carried 22 times for 189 yards and caught four passes for another 90 yards. New York amassed 552 yards of offense.
But Washington, which rallied five times to tie or take the lead against Philadelphia in Week 15, demonstrated impressive resiliency once again. Washington twice came back from 14-point deficits. The game-tying touchdown concluded a 99-yard drive engineered by backup quarterback Casey Keenum, who had replaced injured starter Dwayne Haskins.
“It’s unfortunate that we’ve lost these games,” Callahan said, referencing the last three contests that swung on late possessions in the fourth quarter. “I feel like I’ve gotten up here several times and said the same thing: ‘We’re close.’ We’re close, but we haven’t closed out.”
When it comes to Washington’s proximity to competitiveness, Callahan’s assessment seems more credible than Allen’s widely mocked pronouncement in December 2014. Back then, Allen declared that Washington was “close to being better,” as if that low bar was something to brag about.
Under Callahan, Washington has shown enough clear signs of improvement to use the C-word. Haskins opened against the Giants by completing all 10 of his first 10 attempts for 118 and two touchdowns. His afternoon ended with an ankle injury suffered on the second half’s initial play from scrimmage, but he finished with his highest passer rating this season (143.2) and recorded back-to-back games without an interception for the first time.
“You know Dwayne didn’t get the start until the second half of the season,” said Washington halfback Chris Thompson, noting the rookie’s growth alongside the rookie-laden receiving corps. “Had he started at the beginning, I think we probably could’ve caught up and gotten into that groove a lot earlier than we have. It’s just something good to see for the future.”
Thanks to the loss, Washington’s future could include the No. 2 pick in the 2020 draft. Ohio State pass rusher extraordinaire Chase Young is the potential grand prize and he would provide a significant boost.
Yes, Washington has lost nine consecutive NFC East games. Yes, it won only once at FedEx Field this season. Yes, it can equal its worst record since 2013 if it loses at Dallas next Sunday.
But, don’t laugh. With the right hires to run football operations and coach the team, along with another good draft and better play on defense, Washington is almost within spitting distance of winning eight or nine games and contending for the division title.
The clear and present danger is Allen convincing owner Dan Snyder that the front office structure should remain intact. If so, Washington is almost guaranteed to remain somewhere between “almost” and “you must be kidding.”
Let’s just say Washington is close to being close.
But only if Allen is close to being gone.
⦁ Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.