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Playing to Win

Playing to Win

Rich Tandler is the author of Gut Check, The Complete History of Coach Joe Gibbs’ Washington Redskins. Get details and order at <a href="

http://gutcheckbook.com">http://GutCheckBook.com

The Redskins have five games remaining in the NFL season. There are those who say that the team should use those remaining games to evaluate some younger players and perhaps shut down the season for the likes of Lavar Arrington to let him start rehab on his knee injury a month early. The competitive phase of the season is over, according to this line of thinking, and the few extra losses will improve the team’s draft position.

As well-intentioned as these folks are, there are just too many reasons to keep on fielding the team that gives the Redskins the best chance to win the most games.

  • The playoffs—Certainly, it’s far fetched that the Redskins could make the playoffs, but it’s very likely that an 8-8 team will make it in the NFC. So, until that ninth loss is in the right-hand column in the standings the team is playing for a playoff spot.
  • The playoff picture—This is much more grounded in reality. Of the five remaining games, four of them have potential playoff implications for the Redskins’ opponents. A loss to the Redskins will make the Giants’ road to the postseason extremely difficult. Whatever unlikely scenario the Cowboys have of making the playoffs hinges on beating Washington on December 26. A Minnesota loss to the Skins in the season finale could well force them outdoors for the first round of the playoffs. Similarly, a Redskins win over Philadelphia in two weeks might force the Eagles inside, in the Georgia Dome, for the NFC title game. The concept of integrity demands that the Redskins field their best team and give their best effort for those games.
  • Unintended consequences—As an example, one of the young players that some are suggesting should get a look is rookie tackle Jim Molinaro. Chris Samuels’ contract is getting to a rather sticky cap number (more on that later) and he may need to be replaced. So, the thinking goes, let’s see if Molinaro can get the job done so that we can see if the team would have to go out and get someone to replace Samuels or if his replacement is already on the roster. But such a move is fraught with danger. Suppose that Molinaro isn’t the guy and Patrick Ramsey takes one too many shots to his blind side and is injured and misses mini camps and some training camp while recovering. This isn’t training camp, it’s the regular season.
  • Winning breeds winning—And, on the other side of that coin, losing breeds losing. Sure, finishing at 5-11 last year got the team the fifth overall pick in the draft and Sean Taylor. But if anyone doubts that losing six of the last seven games of 2003 didn’t carry over into this season, regime change and all, you’re kidding yourself. If the Redskins lose, say, four out of these last five, nobody is going to remember how well this kid or that kid might have played. All that will be remembered is the losing and it will take that much longer to get into winning ways.
  • Learning how to win—This is related to the previous topic, but it involves more tangible aspects of the game than emotion. Before enjoying an extended period of success, a team must first figure out how to win. If you have a late lead, how do you hold on to it? If you’re trailing in the fourth quarter, what do you have to do to score to take the lead? The Redskins have too much experience in how not to finish of games this year; you can’t have too many reps in practicing the right way to do it.

Of all of the reasons to continue to make the best effort to win, the last one presented above is the most important. Gibbs’ first team, the 1981 Redskins, was essentially eliminated from playoff contention five games into the season. However, he did not choose to see what he had in the young quarterback Tom Flick and decided to leave veteran Joe Theismann in the lineup. Cornerback Joe Lavender clearly was near the end of the road (in fact he would retire in the offseason), but he still started every week because he gave the team the best chance of winning. Although the offensive line play was very shaky at times, he stuck with that no-name group of guys named Grimm, Jacoby, Bostic, May and Starke even though he had some relatively young but experienced backups.

What happened was that they rallied for some close wins and, in their last two games of the season, they built an early lead, kept the throttle open and routed the Colts and the Rams. They learned how to win, a skill that is not easily acquired mostly because opportunities to acquire it are rare. The Redskins are down to five of them this year. They can’t afford to waste a single one.

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Jay Gruden at Senior Bowl: Redskins 'totally anticipate' Kirk Cousins will return in 2017

Jay Gruden at Senior Bowl: Redskins 'totally anticipate' Kirk Cousins will return in 2017

MOBILE – Jay Gruden provided a glimmer of optimism for Redskins fans freaked out about Kirk Cousins' contract situation. 

"I totally anticipate him coming back to the Washington Redskins," Gruden said. 

The Redskins coach talked from the sidelines of the Senior Bowl where he and much of the team's staff were scouting college seniors. 

Gruden explained he had texted back and forth with Cousins a few times this offseason and looked forward to watching him play in the Pro Bowl. 

Since Gruden named Cousins starter in 2015, the quarterback had passed for more than 9,000 yards and twice broken Skins franchise passing records. 

Some indications of a long term deal for Cousins land in the $120 million range, but the Washington organization also has the flexibility to use the franchise tag this season at a cost of nearly $24 million. 

MORE REDSKINS: Who else might want to trade for Cousins?

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The Final Countdown: Redskins defense can't stop Matt Stafford for 5th worst play of 2016

The Final Countdown: Redskins defense can't stop Matt Stafford for 5th worst play of 2016

As should be expected when a team goes 8-7-1, there were plenty of good moments and a lot of frustrating times during the Redskins’ 2016 season. Over the next couple of weeks, Redskins Insiders Rich Tandler and JP Finlay will take detailed looks at the 10 best plays of 2016 and, to present a more complete picture of the season, the 10 worst.

No. 5 worst play of 2016

Redskins at Lions Week 7

0:22 left in Q4, Lions ball at the Redskins 18, 3rd and 10, Redskins leading 17-13

Matthew Stafford pass short left to Anquan Boldin for 18 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

More Redskins: Podcast--All eyes now on Cousins

Tandler: The Redskins had just taken the lead on a nifty 19-yard option run by Kirk Cousins with 1:05 left to play. All they had to do was keep the Lions out of the end zone but the defense was not up to the task. In fact, it was laughably easy for Stafford. The first three times he dropped back he completed passes for 23, 14, and 20 yards and just like that the Lions were in the red zone. It looked for a minute like the Redskins might hang on as two passes went incomplete. But on third down Stafford found Boldin open inside the five and the defense couldn’t get there quickly enough to keep him out of the end zone.

Related: Gruden's fate hinges on Manusky

Finlay: 65 seconds was all the 'Skins defense needed to preserve a win by holding the Lions without a touchdown. 65 seconds away from a five-game win streak, and knowing what we do now, a playoff berth. The Redskins defense couldn't stop Stafford, or Boldin, and lost in Detroit. A gut wrenching loss as the momentum on the Washington sideline seemed incredibly high just minutes before when Cousins ran in what looked like the game-winning score. 

10 best plays countdown

10 worst plays countdown

RELATED: 2017 NFL MOCK DRAFT 1.0

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN and @Rich_TandlerCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTunes, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!