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Despite plenty of excuses to lose, Redskins went out and won

Despite plenty of excuses to lose, Redskins went out and won

The Redskins had plenty of excuses to lose.

Two of their best players didn't suit up. A poorly timed turnover. Continued red zone struggles. Coughing up a lead, and, coughing up a game's momentum.

But here's what's happened: The Redskins won.

In Sunday's 26-20 defeat of the Vikings, Washington could have lost a few different ways.

And if players or coaches wanted to, they could have made excuses.

Trent Williams didn't play, serving the first game of a four week-suspension. Few teams can afford to lose an elite talent like Williams, especially against a defensive front like the Vikings. 

But Bill Callahan's unit would make no excuses.

DeSean Jackson didn't play either, still dealing with a shoulder injury sustained two weeks prior in London. Though Jackson's numbers are down this season, his impact on the offense can't always be measured, and without him, surely the 'Skins offense would become more stagnant.

But Kirk Cousins' offense would make no excuses.

RELATED: THE BEST IMAGES FROM REDSKINS' WEEK 10 WIN

To a man - from head coach Jay Gruden to seldom used special teams players - the Redskins insisted on the Next Man Up philosopy that winning teams embrace. After three straight weeks without a win, Washington went out and took one, regardless of how close they came to a different result.

"Quite frankly, I don’t think you ever step into a football game without urgency, otherwise you get beat," Gruden said after his team moved to 5-3-1 on the year.

Like they've done in previous home games against the Browns and the Eagles, the Skins got out to an early 14-0 lead.

For a stretch, it looked like Washington would roll to a big win over the slumping Vikings, but like against the Browns and Eagles, the Redskins could not pull away. Minnesota clawed back to tie, and even took the lead going into halftime.

"We just had to keep our poise. I remind them every game this year, we’ve been leading and we’ve been trailing, and today’s no different," the coach said. "We just have to continue to handle the adversity, the adverse situations."

RELATED: WHAT WE LEARNED FROM REDSKINS' WIN OVER VIKINGS

In the second half the Redskins defense did just that - shutting down the Minnesota attack, allowing zero points over the game's final 30 minutes.

"We have a pretty good resolve in this locker room. We know every game is going to be close," Washington linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. "We know most games we’re playing are going to be close and you have to have that mindset going into every game that you have to play for a full 60 minutes.”

A good effort against a mediocre Vikings offense, the Washington defense was spurred to victory by Preston Smith's two sacks and an interception.

In a way, Smith's breakout game exemplifies what the Redskins did to win against the Vikes. Underwhelming at times this season despite showing great promise last year, Smith made the crucial interception when his team needed it most. 

"He answered the bell, he really did," Gruden said. "Preston showed up in a big way."

Smith wasn't the only one to 'answer the bell.' 

Ty Nsekhe answered the bell at left tackle with Williams out. Pierre Garçon had a season high 81 receiving yards with Jackson out.

"We do miss those players, without a doubt," Gruden said of Jackson and Williams. "The guys that played I’m very happy for, proud of the way they came and competed. It wasn’t too big for them and they made plays.”

In just his second season, Jamison Crowder has become Cousins' most trusted receiver. Leading the team in touchdowns and catches, Crowder again impressed, and afterwards, he explained that the whole offense stepped up with D-Jax on the sideline.

"We knew that with him being out we lost a big-time weapon but, you know, we just have to go out there and still have to do our job," Crowder said. "I wouldn’t say that we were pressured but we knew that we had to step it up another notch and make plays."

Then there is Robert Kelley, an undrafted rookie who has supplanted 2015 third-round pick Matt Jones as the starting running back.

"I really like the way these guys play. It’s a great effort. The guys are stepping up to fill in for crucial players," Gruden said. "A lot of guys are stepping up, everybody’s pitching in and doing their part, whether it’s one catch or five catches. Whether it’s one tackle or five tackles, everyone’s pitching in and doing their part."

To be clear, there is plenty to criticize from the Skins game on Sunday.

Red zone struggles continue to plague Washington, and the problem became very apparent in the second half against the Vikings. Cousins threw a highly questionnable ball early in the game that could have been intercepted, and Chris Thompson had an unfortunate fumble just before halftime. And, oh yeah, the Redskins defense proved entirely incapable of slowing former Maryland receiver Stefon Diggs.

RELATED: COUSINS EXPLAINS ORIGIN OF POSTGAME CELEBRATION

But for the Redskins, there will be no excuses. 

That's the fun thing about winning. Problems can be addressed, but excuses aren't made. Yes, DeSean and Trent didn't play, but the team won without them. Yes, Cousins' group left points on the field, again, but the team won despite it. 

Believe it or not, those are signs of good teams.

This Redskins team isn't great — but they are good. And there's a lot of season left to keep improving. 

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Redskins Playbook: 3 under-the-radar players who could make big impact

Redskins Playbook: 3 under-the-radar players who could make big impact

Much of the Redskins offseason has been focused on players like Josh Norman and Kirk Cousins, or the addition of guys like Terrelle Pryor and Zach Brown. Further down the roster, however, is where games are won. Here's a look at three players that will have the opportunity to make a big impact in 2017.

  1. Kendall Fuller - Let's be honest: the second-year Hokie had a tough rookie year. He started the season injured, and probably wasn't all the way up to speed when he began playing Week 4. Early on he produced at a good level for a rookie, but quickly, the league saw how to beat him. In a November game against the Vikings, Fuller repeatedly got beat on the inside by Vikings wideout Stefon Diggs. After that, the Redskins coaching staff looked elsewhere for a slot corner. 2017 is a new season, and Fuller will be a full year removed from his knee injury. He still has good vision and hips, an NFL pedigree, and should have the first crack at the slot corner role. If he can produce like many expected from him in 2015 - when he was an assumed first-round pick - Fuller could make a big difference for the Washington defense. Third round draft pick Fabian Moreau might also push for snaps at corner, once he gets healthy. 
  2. Stacy McGee - A new addition to the defense, McGee might be the answer Redskins fans want at nose tackle. Last season was by the far the best of McGee's career, and he emerged as a strong run stopper in Oakland. With his frame, and Jim Tomsula's coaching, McGee might play a big role this fall. His biggest hurdle? Staying healthy. In four seasons in the NFL, McGee has only played 16 games one season. Last year, he was limited to just nine games.
  3. Spencer Long - A free agent at the end of the season, Long comes in to 2017 looking to prove he can be a top tier center in the NFL. He excelled in pass blocking and calling the assignments on the Redskins line, but his run blocking could improve this fall. The literal centerpiece of a strong, young 'Skins line, 2017 will be a big opportunity for Long. Don't forget Washington moved up to draft Chase Roullier from Wyoming in the 6th round, and he played center and guard in college. Life in the NFL always has pressure, and Long will be facing some.

Always something on social: Enjoy the weekend folks.

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Who will surprise, who will play NT

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Who will surprise, who will play NT

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, May 27, 17 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp on June 13.

Timeline

It’s been 146 days since the Redskins played a game. Their season opener against the Eagles at FedEx Field is in 106 days.

Days until:

—Redskins minicamp (6/13) 17
—Training camp starts (7/27) 61
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 75

The Redskins week that was

Here are some of the most popular post from the last week on www.CSNmidatlantic.com and on www.RealRedskins.com

How well will the Redskins' defense adjust to six new starters? The Redskins unquestionably got an infusion of defensive talent but as we have seen in the past that does not guarantee better results. Throw a new defensive coordinator into the mix and it could take some time for this unit to reach its full potential. I think that there will be struggles early in the season and a better (but not dominant) unit by the time November rolls around.

Which Redskins will surprise in 2017? Every player carries expectations into the season. Some will be better than we believe right now (think of what many thought Vernon Davis would do last year) and some will play worse (Josh Doctson). I take out the crystal ball to figure out who will exceed expectations and who will fall below them.

Don't count out 3rd straight franchise tag for Cousins—Yes, Bruce Allen said that he is willing to franchise tag Kirk Cousins for a third time next year, a move that would cost $34 million for one season. But I think that’s a total bluff; the Redskins’ salary cap situation for 2018 would make such a move very difficult for them to pull off. The best hope for Cousins being a Redskin in 2018 is getting him signed to a long-term contract by July 15 of this year. The tone of the conversation regarding a new deal has been positive lately but the team must come up with a serious offer for a deal to happen.

For Redskins, finding a nose tackle needs to be a priority—Well, it’s up to Jim Tomsula to “make” a nose tackle. Phil Taylor is a true NT and he will get a shot. But he hasn’t played a snap since 2014. Undrafted free agent Ondre Pipkins also has nose tackle size at 6-3, 325. But he is a long shot, as are the Redskins’ chances of being significantly better against the run if they don’t find someone, anyone to be an adequate solution as the nose tackle.

Did Vernon Davis make the NFL change celebration rules? Although I prefer the John Riggins way of celebrating a touchdown—hand the ball to the referee because you’ve been in the end zone before and you expect to be back again soon—elaborate celebrations don’t bother me. After a TD in a game I’m covering I’m focused on writing about the scoring drive. When I’m watching at home, my attention goes to Twitter or to the refrigerator. I do think that it was dumb for the Redskins to lose 15 yards of field position because Vernon Davis put a jump shot over the crossbar so that’s why I’m glad that the NFL changed the celebration rules.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.