1. Happy Victory Monday y'all! I have to say...the crowd at FedEx was rowdy and emotional--on both sides. The stadium was shockingly empty for such a big game, but the people who were there were all the way in. As is my custom, I want to personally thank so many New York Giants fans for showing up to witness their team get beat down. The entire row behind me was wearing blue yesterday. Before shaking their hands after the final whistle and delivering my best, "Good game and good luck the rest of the way," I had the joy of celebrating their misery on countless plays. Wait, that may have come out wrong. I want to make sure I get this right. It was more that...their pain throughout the game fueled my happiness. It has gone the other way countless times. New York fans are not quiet fans, so when things go the other way on them, there is little cover. For the entire row behind me decked out in Giants blue, you're welcome for the front row seats you had to my celebration.
2. At 5-6, the Redskins are sooooooooooo close to being considered an actual good team. Let's clean up some things though, before we get too carried away. Zero points on three interceptions is not what good teams do. Failing to win two games in a row for the better part of--if not longer than--a year is not what good teams do. Multiple consecutive penalties that push the offense out of field goal range after solid drives is not what good teams do. If DeSean Jackson is going to be our top receiver, we have to find more ways to get him the ball. Good news everyone: these are correctable things. In fact, I only bring up this topic at all because I 100% believe in the difference between "bad" and "not good yet." We know what bad looks like--intimately. This ain't it. It would be fair to suggest that the Redskins are limited to just how good they can get this season. There is a lot of youth and inexperience out on the field. Hell, there is a lot of "undraftedness" out on that field. That is a far cry from there being a lot of "players who don't belong in the NFL" out there. We know what that looks like. This Redskins team is improving as the season wears on, slowly approaching their true potential. At 5-6, that true potential probably tops out somewhere around 9-7, and everyone here understands the kind of work left to do to sniff that kind of result. SPOILER ALERT: 9-7 probably wins the NFC East by two games.
3. Let's talk about the things that put us in the "good team" conversation. The clench factor in the fourth quarter was registering pretty high, but the clock management by Jay Gruden ultimately put the Redskins on top. I heard people complaining about the conservative nature of the play-calling, but when you are up 20-0 in the fourth quarter, it comes down to math. You give up the center of the field underneath and make Eli use a ton of clock to try and put points on the board. On offense, you keep the ball on the ground and in-bounds. Granted, we cut it rather close on the math. Granted, math doesn't take into account how good Odell Beckham is, but Jay Gruden did exactly what he was supposed to do to give his team the greatest chance of bringing home the win. It's like in baseball, when a team stakes its pitching staff to a huge lead, and you ask your pitcher to just throw strikes from here on out. Induce hits, record outs and keep it moving. I would be lying if I told you I wasn't feeling awful as Eli Manning took the field with time left on the clock and a chance to win, but the math just wasn't working for him.
4. Speaking of what good teams do--they win at home. As someone who has been going to home games for a very long time, let me tell you how amazing it has been this year to experience this many wins. Last season, I saw three home victories. In 2013, it was two, which means that in 2015 we have already equaled our home win total for the last two years. Prior to the magical run in 2012, things were worse. It got to the point at tailgates where you just kind of hated breaking the party down to go inside. That is not the case with this group. It has been somewhat confusing having to watch us get hammered on the road before getting to witness these huge home successes, but when you take care of your business at home, you at least give yourself a chance to figure something out on the road in December. Good teams win the time of possession game. Good teams protect the ball. The Redskins do some of the things you expect to see out of good teams (mostly just at home, though). We are firmly on the "getting better" path, and we are doing it with a group of guys that we expect to watch for years to come. To be clear: this team is learning how to win during a season in which expectations (realistic expectations) were tempered from the start. This isn't about "just being happy to be here." This is about a roster that can carry the lessons from 2015 into the future. This is about McLovin setting the organization on a collision course with success and contention.
5. Good teams know that the division standings are the most important standings of them all. If and when you win your division, a couple of things happen. First, you are the champions of something, and it matters. I could give two craps about the record that wins the NFC East. Every team in the division has won it over the last four seasons, so we should expect it to be a highly contested title. Every team wants to win it. In the NFL, WINNING YOUR DIVISION MATTERS AND MEANS SOMETHING. Second, you get to host a playoff game. When you are riding a 5-1 home record, the thought of a home playoff game sends the mind reeling. When you see the kind of player Kirk Cousins is at FedEx, the prospect of a home playoff game causes fans like us to believe we can win--even if it appears that we would host A-A-Ron and the Green Bay Packers. A quick scan of the divisional records in the NFC East shows that a victory at home this coming Monday night would secure no worse than a .500 record in the East for the 'Skins. If you superimpose the remaining schedules of our divisional foes onto this conversation, it is probable that a 3-3 divisional record for Washington would stand up. That is because the conference records of the other NFC East teams are not looking so good. The Redskins are 5-3 in the NFC, which is two losses better than our closest rival (Giants are 4-5). I'm not counting chickens, but these are tiebreakers I am ultimately talking about here. Everyone knows that the NFC East could be decided by such things. This is also to suggest the importance of the road game in Chicago coming up on our schedule. We need a win period, of course, but that NFC conference game will almost certainly factor into the NFC East playoff picture. Speaking of the importance of wins this time of year, the Eagles will be facing a hungry New England team and the Giants take on their in-city rivals this week. Here's hoping Todd Bowles gives his old team an early Christmas present!
6. Which brings us all the way to...DALLAS WEEK! When the schedule came out, it was only in my wildest hopes that we would be playing a meaningful game on Monday Night Football against the Dallas Cowboys in December. In addition to the importance we discussed above (divisional game, conference game, etc.), beating Dallas is always its own reward. Further, evening our record at 6-6, while simultaneously pulling off back-to-back wins, would set up an opportunity--only an opportunity--to force the league to look at us far differently down the final stretch of the season. We now have two less games against Tony Romo, which can't be understated. The Eagles...oh man. I had kind of hoped that Chip Kelly would bring on more of a slow burn in Philly, resulting in at least two or three years of watching him lose control. Instead, they are in full-blown disaster mode up there now, which is great (but it could result in them addressing the issue sooner rather than later). The Cowboys looked woeful on Thanksgiving, and when the going gets tough in Dallas, look for guys like Dez Bryant and Greg Hardy to lose their cool. It is hard to imagine more things going right for a 5-6 team. The Washington Redskins are growing up in front of our eyes, and face a huge test next Monday. Those test results--along with the activity from the day before--will propel us in one direction or the other. It says here that the home cooking reigns supreme.