Quick Links

Redskins savor rare opportunity

lorenzo_alexander_giants.png

Redskins savor rare opportunity

The last time the Redskins played a home game in December that had postseason implications was 2007.

The next time arrives Monday, when the Giants (7-4) visit FedEx Field for a pivotal NFC East matchup on national television. With a victory, the Redskins (5-6) would vault themselves into the thick of the division and wild card races. 

For veterans like Lorenzo Alexander, the five years in between have felt like an eternity. 

“It’s great,” he said Wednesday. “This is the first meaningful game I’ve played in December in a while, still having the playoffs on the table. It’s a great feeling that we’re still playing for something outside of personal pride. It’s for postseason play.”

The mood around Redskins Park, as a result, has been more upbeat in comparison to recent years, when the post-Thanksgiving focus had already shifted to the following season.

Not this week, however. Not after back-to-back wins over the Eagles and Cowboys breathed life back into a season that had been left for dead at the bye. 

“It’s more important to everybody,” defensive end Stephen Bowen said. “They’re putting in the work. Whether it’s in weight room, the classroom, the field, they’re putting in extra work.”

"The last two weeks have given us confidence because of the way that we’re playing," Bowen continued. "We know we still have an opportunity to make a run. It’s good for team morale. It shows that all that hard work you put in the offseason wasn’t for naught." 

Tackle Trent Williams added: “The last couple of years, we haven’t had anything of this nature. It feels great. It’s definitely a huge game for us, for this organization. A win Monday night could do a lot for us in the near future and also in the distant future.”

Coach Mike Shanahan noted last week that there's been an increased sense of urgency for his players. Fullback Darrel Young, however, said the key to the turnaround has in fact been something more tangible: players are making clutch plays at critical junctures.

“Execution under pressure,” Young said. “Look at Santana [Moss] making big plays on third-and-one. We didn’t have that. We came into the season with the worst percentage on third down. We’re not we want to be, but guys are making plays.”

Alexander agreed.

“If you look at all of our losses, we have had mental lapses, especially the last Giants’ game when we gave up that big play at the end,” he said. “Compare that to the Dallas game where you had Dez Bryant in the end zone and Madieu Williams comes over, hits him and dislodges the ball. A couple of weeks ago, [Bryant] would have caught that ball.”

The challenge now, Alexander said, is maintaining the momentum.

“It’s all about confidence and winning games,” he said. “The great teams, especially the Super Bowl teams over the last three or four years, have been able to play good ball in the second half of the season. They’ve gone into December playing at a high level, like the Giants and Green Bay Packers. They started a little slow but were able to finish strong. If we’re able to mimic some of that, we have a great chance achieving a lot of our goals here.”

Quick Links

Jay Gruden views Chris Thompson as the NFL's best third-down running back

Jay Gruden views Chris Thompson as the NFL's best third-down running back

In 2016, Chris Thompson simply needed to prove to Jay Gruden that he could handle 16 NFL games.

Now, looking ahead to 2017, the fifth-year running back hopes to show his head coach he can shoulder 16 NFL games and a larger workload.

"I have a feeling that I might get a little more this year," Thompson said Monday at the Redskins Charitable Golf Foundation. "[Gruden] knows now that I'm healthy and I can stay healthy, which I think that was one of his biggest concerns. So now he sees that I can handle the load, I think that I'll get a lot more opportunities this year."

Last season was by far the best in the 26-year-old's career. He played a full slate of games after playing in just 19 over his first three seasons combined, and he set career highs in rushing attempts (68), yards (356), receptions (49), receiving yards (349) and total touchdowns (5).

MORE REDSKINS: TEAM IS AHEAD OF SCHEDULE WITH PLANS FOR NEW STADIUM

He also held up well in pass protection, a key duty for him as the team's third-down running back. And it's all of those qualities — being able to contribute on handoffs and with catches while also providing help in keeping Kirk Cousins upright — that make him an excellent fit for a popular NFL duty.

The most excellent in that duty, actually, if you ask Gruden. 

"I think Chris Thompson's role is big," he said. "When you're talking about third downs, that's the most important down in football. There's nobody better as a third-down back in my opinion than Chris. He's got a huge role on this football team." 

Gruden went on to indicate that an increase in Thompson's responsibilities is likely coming, though No. 25 will still do the majority of his work when the offense needs him most.

"Whether he does some more stuff on first- and second-down will be determined," he said. "I'm sure he will. But he's so valuable on third-down that I gotta keep him in that role for now."

A 2013 fifth-round pick who came into the league with a history of injuries, Thompson has now fully gained the trust of his coaches and teammates. The 5-foot-8 running back may be small in stature, but the Redskins know he's not small in importance.  

RELATED: RANKING THE TOP ROOKIE QBS FOR FANTASY FOOTBALL

Quick Links

Fantasy football: Ranking the top eight rookie quarterbacks in 2017

Fantasy football: Ranking the top eight rookie quarterbacks in 2017

Rookie camps are in the books as teams now move to organized team activities. Does that mean it's too early for fantasy football rankings? 

Probably, but seeing as the rookies are new to the scene, we might as well start projecting where and how they fit. 

CLICK HERE FOR CSN'S 2017 FANTASY FOOTBALL ROOKIE QB RANKINGS

Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, Sterling Shepard and Michael Thomas were among the rookies who produced and then some in 2016.

Based on the early rounds of the 2017 NFL draft, there’s hope for even more first-year standouts.  

Starting with the Bears selecting quarterback Mitch Trubisky second overall, 19 skill players were drafted in the first and second round.

That includes fellow first-round quarterback selections Pat Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Several sleeper candidates followed. 

Here’s my look at the Elite Eight quarterbacks with the 2017 fantasy football season -- and beyond -- in mind.

CLICK HERE FOR CSN'S 2017 FANTASY FOOTBALL ROOKIE QB RANKINGS

2017 Fantasy Football Rookie Rankings:

Running Backs - No. 1, Leonard Fournette, Jaguars

* Wide receivers - No. 1, Corey Davis, Titans