LANDOVER, Md. -- The Washington Redskins reached this stage thanks to a number of factors on which they can build. They also exited the stage knowing there's a lot of work to be done if they want to return. That much was evident in their 35-18 playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
And that leads to this question, one which the Redskins can't answer until next season: How much of a springboard will this season provide? Or was it only a one-year mirage based on playing in a bad division -- and being a plucky team that still needs plenty of help?
The Redskins deserve credit for reaching this stage and don't need to apologize because other teams were bad. But to take that next step, the Redskins must be honest about where they're at in their rebuilding program. Yes, this was a rebuilding year, which can't be forgotten. However, it was an opportunity lost as well.
When facing their toughest opponent since a Week 11 loss at the Carolina Panthers, the Redskins failed. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was off target too much in the second half, just as Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers was showing all sorts of rhythm and confidence -- something the Redskins entered the game with in large doses.
Cousins was not intercepted Sunday but could have been twice -- and a third was erased thanks to a wonderful one-handed catch by tight end Jordan Reed. Cousins did a terrific job this season, but he's not a finished product and he is dependent on those around him. But he showed plenty of reasons why they should keep him around and be excited. Was Sunday just an example of not having playoff experience? It could be. The Redskins had not been punched that hard -- figuratively -- in a while. But that's a typical playoff battle. You need to keep countering. Cousins was off. It happens. But with anything Redskins, you always wonder what it means going forward.
The Redskins face an offseason filled with hope, but it's also one with plenty on their to-do list.
What it means: Washington finished the season 9-8 and as NFC East champions. Of course, now there will be questions about how good they really were. After all, none of their nine victories came against a team that finished with a winning record. They showed plenty of resiliency all season, but to reach this stage again it'll take more.
What were they thinking: DeSean Jackson did not try to stretch the ball across the pylon on his first quarter catch that was initially ruled a touchdown. But even though he stepped across the goal line, the ball never crossed into the end zone. Jackson might have been concerned with having the ball poked away. Regardless, the Redskins had a first-and-goal inside the 1 and failed to get a touchdown. It was a pivotal series for momentum and confidence.
No pressure: The Redskins recorded one sack but applied little pressure on Rodgers. He completed 1-of-8 passes in the first quarter for 11 yards. In the final three, with little pass rush, he was 20-for-28 with 199 yards and two touchdowns.
Reason to be excited: The offense has legitimate weapons in the pass game, they have a young offensive line and a good nucleus overall.
Reason to be concerned: The defense needs plenty of help to become a legitimate and consistent unit.
Game ball: Tight end Jordan Reed. He was the Redskins' most dangerous weapon on offense all season and it showed once again Sunday. He caught nine passes for 120 yards and a touchdown.
What's next: Free agency.