- Happy Victory Monday, y’all! Few fanbases appreciate ugly wins as much as ours, and I would even suggest there is a certain pleasure after a good and ugly Redskins win. I promise I will explain that in a second. First thing’s first: the Redskins are on track at 3-2 to make their scheduled midseason playoff resume push. Like every meaningful NBA game you’ll ever watch, everything will be decided in the fourth quarter of this NFL season. In order for the Redskins to be in position to play a fourth quarter that matters, the next month and a half will be integral to the resume-building part of the season. As we said all week, being a legit playoff contender means you have to beat teams you SHOULD beat. Despite the manner in which the game transpired, the final result is all that will matter by the time we get to mid-December. Put simply (deliberately): the Redskins should have beaten the San Francisco 49ers, and they did beat them. That last sentence has started the same way countless times in the past and was finished a much different way. Keep that in mind.
- Last night, on national television, the football-viewing world was forced to watch the winless and woeful New York Giants take the field IN Denver against a Broncos defense that most people think is pretty good. If you stayed up late enough, you saw what I would have considered to be an impossible outcome: a Giants victory. It gives me no pleasure to see Eli Manning and the boys in blue get their confidence going, but the game did serve as a glaring reminder of how close things really are in the NFL each week. The 49ers have lost their last five games by a total of 13 points, and none by more than three points. They are that team that seems to be just good enough to be worse than their opponent on any given week. You see where I’m going with this? Sure, the Redskins have been whooped plenty when in rebuilding mode (or just “terrible” mode), but I will never be able to shake all those Sundays when the Redskins were simply just good enough to keep the score quasi-respectable. I, along with many of you, have left FedEx or turned off the television after seeing my team do just enough to come out on the bottom. None of us are making it a goal to be just good enough to barely beat winless teams, but an ugly win sure beats what so many people have tried to call “good losses” over the years. (I am comparing previous contests—had the Redskins lost to the 49ers, it would have been a cataclysmic failure.) There is plenty of room to be critical, but surviving a game like the one the Redskins played in yesterday feels pretty damn good—if you happen to be someone like me who has seen that game end with the 49ers kicking the game-winning field goal as time expires more times than your soul can count. Hell, even some of the same characters from all those old terrible episodes were back, albeit wearing San Francisco jerseys (Logan Paulsen, Aldrick Robinson, Pierre Garcon, and a slew of former Washington coaches). I guess you could say Kyle Shanahan applied what he learned while in D.C.—there a million ways to almost win at FedEx!
- Thankfully, the 49ers did what 0-6 teams do: they dropped balls, committed a couple of timely penalties and failed in the clutch moment(s). Kyle Shanahan benched Brian Hoyer and brought in the rookie C.J. Beathard (grandson of legendary Redskins general manager Bobby Beathard), which was almost enough to spark a comeback. The San Francisco defense played tougher against the Washington rushing attack as the game wore on, as neither team ran for over 100 yards (the Skins did out-rush the Niners). Thanks to a missed extra point by Dustin Hopkins and a failure to get a first down on three straight rushing plays, San Fran had a chance to win it at the end—but they didn’t. We can spend an eternity arguing about what this Redskins win means, but I am more focused on the meaning of the non-loss. We are obligated to measure our success thus far this season in a variety of ways. Of course, W’s and L’s are the name of the game, but it isn’t that hard to see where this team is different from past iterations. That same game we all saw yesterday has been played countless times at FedEx...and the honest truth is that the Redskins have regularly failed to emerge as the victor. Surviving long enough to call Victory Formation at the gun and wake up on Victory Monday is sometimes the best that even great teams can muster...the Redskins aren’t great yet, but they are showing signs of being able to sniff out “winning time.”
- Kirk Cousins did not turn in his best performance of the season, as he played almost as inconsistently as we saw him play in the opener against the Eagles. That is somewhat distressing given our upcoming opponent (it’s Philly). Despite staying in the 67% accuracy department, he threw some bad balls. Worse, he—and most of the team—played a better first half than second half. Since the Rams game, the Redskins have gotten to 10 points before the opponent has scored at all. Only the Kansas City Chiefs were able to overcome the deficit Washington served up. While it was refreshing to see Jay Gruden come out of the bye week as strong as he did, this coaching staff is going to have to figure out a way to get more out of the second half. It feels like the Redskins are throwing away possessions in the third and fourth quarters, and that is simply not going to get it done against the Eagles and the Cowboys. It seems like everyone is figuring out how to come out of halftime against us. Kirk has to lead the way on this front—because Kirk has to lead the way in as many fronts as possible if this team is going to go anywhere this winter. I am not advocating for dumping the running game at all, but I do feel like we are about to be in for some high attempt numbers out of Cousins—like 45+ attempts territory (high this season was 40 against Philly).
- Is it just me, or does anyone else cringe when Chris Thompson is handed the ball repeatedly in the backfield? He had 16 carries and five receiving targets (four catches), pushing his touches above 20—and into scary territory in terms of getting hurt. You all know how I feel about CT25, and you all know I have called him the engine of Jay Gruden’s offense, but I am not sure we can reasonably expect many players his size to withstand 11 more 20+ touch games. Living in fear of injury in the NFL is a waste of time of course. Ideally, Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine will both be healthy enough for as much of the rest of the season as possible, which should allow the Redskins to ratchet Thompson down to somewhere closer to 15 touches per game. As our leading rusher AND leading receiver against the 49ers, Chris Thompson proved more than just his worth—he proved some real durability. In fact, he is the leading rusher and receiver for the season on this Redskins team (hmmm...sounds like something Kevin Ricca might be tracking), so managing his touches going forward will be extremely important.
- I get it...an ugly win with a weird aftertaste is not destined to be the pinnacle of our season. Let’s be thankful for that. Let’s be thankful that we have reason to expect better from this team. Injuries (keeping an eye on Jonathan Allen and Bashaud Breeland especially) are cropping up, but this roster has so far been able to serve up worthy replacements. This week on “After the Whistle,” the boys from The Audible will pay tribute to all the supporting characters who are shining in this dramatic season of Redskins football. We will also begin looking ahead to Monday Night Football next week in Philadelphia. Facing a 5-1 Eagles team on the road will feel very much like what it felt like ahead of the Kansas City tilt a couple weeks ago. Based on that experience, as well as the home-opener when the Eagles came to town, I have to think Redskins fans have reason to hope. Both the Chiefs and the Eagles sit on top of their respective conferences, which means the Redskins have quite an opportunity ahead of them. Yet another nationally televised primetime affair against a team that has roasted us in the same spot in the past. These are just the kinds of chances for which we should be hoping, because these are just the kinds of occasions which good teams rise to meet. Yesterday, the Redskins were just good enough...next week we will find out if the Redskins are just good.
Ugly wins count the same as pretty wins.