In a game that was never really in doubt after halftime, the Washington Redskins improved their chances of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2007 with a 27-20 win over the hapless Philadelphia Eagles.
This is a stunning turnaround for the Skins, which had a 1% chance of reaching the post-season after a 3-6 start. After reeling off six consecutive wins, Washington can capture the NFC East championship with a win next week against the Dallas Cowboys. This is dizzying news for long-beleaguered fans of the team. If the Skins win next week, they'll host a first-round playoff game.
It would be their first division title since 1999.
For much of the season, the team's fortunes seemed largely tied to the remarkable talents of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. With Griffin sidelined last week with a sprained knee ligament, and slowed a bit this week, the rest of the team stepped up to fill the void. The result is a Redskins team that appears to have found a winning formula.
The defense isn't good exactly -- it still gives up too many yards and too many big plays. But it's been "good enough" at slowing the opposing attack just enough to allow the Griffin-led offense room to operate.
And that offense has proven nearly impossible for opposing defenses to stop this season. Against Philly, the Skins were productive offensively in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, and was supported by a defense that forced multiple turnovers and relentlessly hounded Philly QB Nick Foles.
Griffin was slowed by the sprained knee and the brace he wore to protect it, but again demonstrated that he's not "just a runner." He's a dangerous passer -- 16-24, 198 yards and 2 TDs. His lone interception hit Josh Morgan in the hands, but was deflected to an Eagles defender.
Washington's "other" rookie is Alfred Morris, who's closing in on the team's single-season rushing record. In a normal year, Morris' 1400+ yards would make him a lock for Rookie of the Year. This year, Morris is competing for the honor with three historic QBs -- Indy's Andrew Luck, Seattle's Russell Wilson, and Griffin. I've written a couple times that Griffin may actually be the best rookie QB in league history, but he could well end up losing out to Luck or Wilson for ROY honors.
The Redskins offensive line held up despite missing right tackle Tyler Polumbus, and despite injuries to left tackle Trent Williams and center Will Montgomery. Both Williams and Montgomery played, but were slowed. Polumbus was replaced by Maurice Hurt, who started at left guard for the team last season when Kory Lichtensteiger was out with a knee injury.
Another positive for the team has been kicker Kai Forbath, who has yet to miss as a pro (17-17). His kickoffs aren't good, which is odd considering his range on field goals, but Forbath's ability to actually make kicks has been a welcome change for the team.
Yet still one more positive has been the decision to bench Brandon Banks. I've been critical of Banks as a returner since last season, and the team finally has made the change, replacing him on kickoffs with Niles Paul and on punts with Richard Crawford.
Consider this: today against the Eagles, Crawford returned a punt for 20 yards and lowered his yards per return average. He's accumulated 138 yards on 6 returns -- Banks generated 178 yards on 26 returns this season.
Paul hasn't excelled on kickoff returns, but at least he'll contribute on the field in other ways. Banks is strictly a hit or miss return man, and the misses are far more plentiful.
But, tonight it's time to celebrate. The Redskins are on the verge of entering the playoffs for the first time in 5 years. They could win the division for the first time in more than a decade. Wow.