EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If you're a Washington Redskins fan, you're looking for reasons to feel good. With a third straight losing season assured and the playoffs unattainable, it'd be easy to get down about the state of your team. And if you're team was playing the way, say, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are playing right now, you'd have every reason to be down.
But if you're a Redskins fan and you watched your team punch a hole in the New York Giants' playoff hopes with a 23-10 victory here Sunday, you can feel good about a number of things. You can feel good about your team's heart, which is impossible to question after they and not the Giants played like the team that had postseason goals. You can feel real good about the fact that the Redskins have the best defense in the NFC East. And while that may be a little bit like being the tallest dwarf, it's not a bad thing on which to build.
"We're building something that will last longer than this season," said Redskins safety O.J. Atogwe, who signed with the Redskins as a free agent way back before the lockout hit. "We're building something for the future, and it starts with games like these where everybody comes together and believes in each other to the point where we're able to beat the best team in our division."
Actually, because of what the Redskins did to the Giants here on Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys are the first-place team in the NFC East. But it's only by a game, and Atogwe's point was made. The Redskins went 2-0 against the Giants this season, and they did so by accomplishing something no one else has been able to accomplish in 2011. They made life miserable for Eli Manning. There have been only three games this year in which Manning has not thrown at least one touchdown pass -- the victory over the Bills and the two losses to the Redskins.
"It means a lot," Redskins linebacker London Fletcher said. "Last year, the Giants swept us. They've really been our nemesis around here for the last five years. But this year, so be able to sweep them, it means a lot."
To the Redskins, it justifiably means progress. They used to roll over in the Giants games. Now, they don't roll over for anyone. They are 5-9 in large part because of personnel deficiencies and a rash of injuries that would have shaken even a much deeper roster's chances. But they have not quit on their season, and they seem to understand the value of playing hard to the wire and building on the dramatic advances they have made on defense over the past calendar year.
"I think it's just our attitude," defensive end Adam Carriker said. "We expect to do well now. Last year, the first year switching from the 4-3 to the 3-4, I don't think we expected to perform well. Now, we believe we're good and we expect to play like it. Even last week against New England, yeah we gave up  points, but that team ran the two-minute drill all game. So if nothing else, we proved to ourselves we were in shape."
The Redskins are a remarkably positive 5-9 team, and the reason is because they can see and feel things getting better. There will be offseason work to do, of course, especially on the offensive side. But the work they did on the defense last offseason has shown up all year. As much as they struggled on offense during the short-lived John Beck era, as much as Rex Grossman has hurt them with turnovers, and as many guys as they've lost on offense to injury or suspension, the defense has been a reliable constant for the Redskins this season, and they are justifiably proud and encouraged by that.
"This is a team with character," Atogwe said. "Regardless of where we are in the standings or what point of the season it is, we're going to play with passion, we're going to play with integrity and we're going to play to win."
If you're a Redskins fan, you've got to feel good about that.