With no playoff hopes to fight for, the Washington Redskins have developed an approach of 8-8 or bust.
“We’re just trying to finish out the season strong because we know 8-8 looks a lot better than whatever other record we could have,” linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said.
Though coach Jay Gruden joked that he never wants to use 8-8 as motivation, winning the final two games against the Denver Broncos and at the New York Giants would be something of a historical accomplishment. Gruden would be the first Redskins coach to post three consecutive .500 or better seasons since Super Bowl winner Joe Gibbs from 1989-1991.
Washington hasn’t had three seasons in a row at .500 or better since 1999-2001 under a combination of Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie and Marty Schottenheimer. The Redskins won’t get to the postseason like they did two years ago, but there’s value in not being 6-10 or 7-9.
But Gruden understands it would be somewhat of a hollow achievement with no postseason on the horizon, but it is also a chance for players to make a statement.
“I don’t know what the perception is or will be if it’s 7-9 or 8-8 or whatever it is,” Gruden said Monday. “I know the perception is it probably wasn’t a good enough year for anybody. But to finish strong and get to 8-8 says a lot about the character of these guys and their ability to continue to work hard through tough times.”
Injuries have helped bring about those tough times and should be justification enough to make Gruden’s job safe. Beating the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday to improve to 6-8 has at least temporarily quieted any speculation stemming from back-to-back blowout losses at the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Chargers.
Reaching 8-8 would mean beating the NFL’s top defense in Denver and then the rival Giants in what could be Eli Manning’s final game with them. Neither of those teams has anything tangible to play for, so the Redskins are finding inspiration where they can get it.
“It doesn’t feel good to lose,” said linebacker Preston Smith, who had an interception and fumble recovery against Arizona. “We got the monkey off our back. We have got to keep rolling the ball forward. We have to make sure we finish the season strong and try our best to finish out 8-8.”
The defense didn’t allow the Cardinals into the end zone and excelled on third down, but the offense and special teams left a lot to be desired. A botched kickoff that Arizona recovered at the Washington 22, a leverage penalty on a field goal and a 1 of 9 offensive showing on third down are on Gruden’s must-improve list for the final two games.
Special teams units particular have been a sore spot in recent weeks, something Gruden explained was a result of roster turnover.
“We talk about some of the changes we’ve made on offense and defense, but that’s true for special teams also,” Gruden said. “I think it’s just a matter of trying to get some consistency in the guys who are playing and making sure we coach them up a little better.”