- - Monday, October 14, 2019

In a season that couldn’t be much worse — beating Miami on Sunday was like putting a Band-Aid on a spouting jugular — thank goodness for Terry McLaurin. Washington’s rookie receiver is the gift that keeps giving.

Meanwhile, the team as a whole remains the toilet that keeps overflowing.

The 17-16 victory kept the Washington Redskins from continuing down the road to 0-16, leaving the Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals alone in walking that path. It should be noted that Miami came within a failed two-point conversion of winning, after eschewing a point-after kick that could’ve forced overtime.

Interim coach Bill Callahan improved his career record to 16-17. The bulk of those wins came in his first season as Oakland Raiders coach, when he went 11-5 after replacing Jay Gruden. Mathematically, Washington could finish 11-5 now that Callahan has replaced Jay Gruden.

But the inverse would be almost as astonishing.

Coaching changes often follow a familiar pattern, and Washington’s latest switch is no exception. Washington went from the easy-going, loosey-goosey Gruden, to the no-nonsense, strict-and-disciplined Callahan. Naturally, last week’s practices stressed fundamentals and conditioning, flavored by an up-tempo pace. Halfback Adrian Peterson called it the best week of preparation since he’s been in town.

It’s no surprise that Peterson is Callahan’s No. 1 fan in the locker room. The new coach’s commitment to run the football likely caused Peterson’s heart to skip a beat. After being inactive in the season opener and averaging 10 carries per game entering Sunday, the future Hall of Famer had 23 totes for 118 yards in Miami.

“It’s about having opportunities and sticking to it,” Peterson told reporters after the game. “There were a couple of times they stuffed us, but we stuck to running the ball.”

Indeed. Washington went three-and-out on the first three possessions, gaining four yards on three carries.

Commitment gave way to circumstances as they passed on six of those first nine plays. But they were off on running on the next drive, executing six consecutive rushes (for 68 yards) before quarterback Case Keenum found McLaurin in the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown.

McLaurin being open seems more sustainable than Peterson rumbling for 100 yards.

Callahan’s insistence on running the ball worked well against Miami, which was being gashed for 175 rushing yards per game entering the contest. There was little fear of falling behind and abandoning the ground game; opponents had outscored the Dolphins 81-0 in the second half prior to Week 6. The strategy is unlikely to work when the halftime score is, say, 28-3 or 17-3, the case when Washington lost against Chicago and the New York Giants.

Running also becomes an afterthought when consistent penalties negatively impact down and distance for the offense.

To Callahan’s credit, Washington reduced its self-inflicted wounds, committing no offensive penalties for the first time this season. For one week, at least, his sense of urgency and attention to detail paid off, injecting new vigor into a formerly lethargic bunch. As a result, they celebrated being on the left side of a final score, even if the merriment was muted in some corners.

“I’m not jumping for joy,” defensive end Jonathan Allen told reporters. “We won. We were supposed to win.”

He’d be wise to stay away from “supposed to” scenarios in considering the remaining schedule.

Unfortunately for Washington, it plays the NFC East, not the AFC version that would guarantee another game against Miami. And even the presumably vulnerable New York Jets might present a tougher challenge than imagined, given their victory against Dallas.

Beating the Dolphins was good for team morale and bad for draft positioning, but it didn’t alter the big picture. Washington remains rudderless and directionless, and not just because it has a temporary head coach. Whereas other teams are in the midst of carrying out clear plans — like Miami, the 2-3-1 Arizona Cardinals, and the undefeated San Francisco 49ers who visit FedEx Field on Sunday — Washington remains lost in the wilderness.

McLaurin, who finished with four catches for 100 yards and two TDs, won’t lead the way out. But he’s definitely a member of the advance party. It’s not asking too much that quarterback Dwayne Haskins, his college teammate, join him on the rescue mission in the near future.

McLaurin leads rookie wideouts with five touchdowns and he has amassed 408 yards receiving in five games, numbers that would be bigger if his quarterback was better.

Callahan’s emphasis on running might be futile in the end. But if it does works, one of the best side effects would be enhancing McLaurin’s game-breaking speed and route-running precision.

Thankfully, we can look forward to more of that, if not many more wins.

⦁ Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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