- Ashley Fox
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PHILADELPHIA -- Get in line.
That's Santana Moss' advice to his Washington Redskins teammates. Get in line, buy in and hang on, because as crazy as it sounds -- and man, the notion would have been completely nuts just six weeks ago -- Robert Griffin III is that special kind of player who can indeed lead Washington to the playoffs as a rookie.
Why not? At the bye week, the Redskins were 3-6. But after a 27-20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday that featured basically a one-legged Griffin, Washington now has won six consecutive games -- against Philly twice, Dallas, the Giants, Baltimore and Cleveland. The Redskins can win the NFC East by beating the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field in the season finale, which would mean they would host a playoff game for the first time in 13 years. Only three teams in NFL history, and none since 1996, have made the playoffs after starting 3-6, and yet here are the Redskins in control of their own fate.
This is a team whose coach basically conceded the season was over after a 21-13 loss to Carolina in Week 9, only to watch his players return from a five-day break during the bye week with renewed purpose. They took the unusual step of voting Griffin a captain for the second half of the season, something Mike Shanahan said, "doesn't happen very often, so it kind of gives you an idea of what people think about him and how he handles himself on a day-to-day basis."
One by one, the wins piled up. The defense played with what Moss called more "swag," like the offense, and with each passing win, the confidence grew and got reinforced. Even with a defense that gives up yards, the Redskins now believe they will win every game, no matter how close or how ugly. They believe the offense will put up points, that the defense will hold, that Griffin will do what he does, and that if he can't Kirk Cousins can, and that the coaches, starting with Shanahan, really know what they're doing.
Confidence is everything in football, and Washington is a supremely confident team right now. That is a dangerous thing for opponents. Look at the past two Super Bowl winners. The Green Bay Packers and New York Giants weren't the best teams in football over the course of the 2010 and 2011 regular seasons. They became the hottest by playing -- and winning -- meaningful games in December. But they developed a playoff mentality well before the playoffs started, because every game was do-or-die. Every possession mattered. And everyone bought in.
The Redskins are very much like that. By starting 3-6, they had zero room for error. Shanahan explained to the team that they could gain ground in the NFC East, because they had five games against division opponents in the second half of the season. But they would need some help, and they couldn't afford to slip up.
And, they haven't.
"We've already had six playoff games," veteran middle linebacker London Fletcher said. "We've got a seventh coming up."
Washington entered Week 16 not totally sure what Griffin could bring. He missed a Week 15 win at Cleveland with a sprained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee, but he practiced all week and, on Saturday, doctors cleared him to play.
Griffin wore a bulky black brace on his knee, which he said limited his mobility. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan tailored his game plan to keep Griffin in the pocket more and out of a position where he might aggravate the injury.
"We did not do everything that we would normally do," Mike Shanahan said. "I did not want to put that pressure on that LCL."
So Griffin, who entered the Eagles game with 112 rushing attempts and an average of 57.5 rushing yards per game, ran the ball twice for four yards. Fellow rookie Alfred Morris got 22 carries for 91 yards and a touchdown. Griffin completed 16 of 24 passes with two touchdowns and one interception to finish with a 102.4 passer rating, his fifth consecutive game in triple digits.
Naturally, Griffin wanted the interception back. It was a bad throw to wide receiver Josh Morgan that bounced off Morgan's hands and into the arms of Eagles safety Colt Anderson. Philadelphia scored on its ensuing drive to pull within 27-20 and had a chance to tie or win the game at the end. But the Eagles fell short when Nick Foles threw an illegal forward pass, resulting in a 10-second runoff of the clock to end the game.
"We're playing the best ball that we have all year at the right time," Griffin said. "We're rolling, and we all know that. It's been a change in our mindset since after the bye week, and I think everybody is just dialed in now. We know that we can win any kind of game, and we have to, whether it's a high-scoring game or a low-scoring game or a gut-wrencher at the end. So it feels good to be in this position. We've controlled our own destiny since we were 3-6, and we continue to control our destiny until next week."
Actually, beyond. Win next week, and the ride continues. Listening to players in the Redskins' locker room, they expect the ride will be long. It is not cockiness, but confidence that started with the quarterback and filtered down. If Griffin believes, why shouldn't everybody else?
"I think everybody just gets in line behind him and says, 'Take us to the promised land,'" Moss said. "I know it sounds funny to say that, but he shows what it takes every day to get to where he's trying to get by how he prepares. There's no question you want that guy to be your captain."
And the captain is at the head of the line. The Redskins will go wherever he takes them.
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1dEric D. Williams