1st-place Redskins ‘not just a one-trick pony’

The team that was supposedly riding the coattails of Robert
Griffin III kept right on winning when those coattails
disappeared.

It can no longer be argued that the Washington Redskins are
overachievers who were prospering only because of a
multidimensional rookie quarterback who stubbornly refuses to give
up. They look legitimately like a first-place team – which they now
are – having won five straight to put themselves in control of
their playoff fate.

With backup Kirk Cousins leading Sunday’s 38-21 win over the
Cleveland Browns, Washington (8-6) now has the same record as the
Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants atop the NFC East and holds the
tiebreaker over both clubs. The Redskins next visit the struggling
Philadelphia Eagles (4-10) before hosting a potential
all-or-nothing regular season finale against their biggest rival,
the Cowboys.

”I’ve never underestimated the importance of Robert,”
offensive lineman Kory Lichtensteiger said. ”That guy has put the
team on his back many times throughout the year, and we’d certainly
like to have him back whenever he does come back on the field.

”But it’s nice, it’s really good, for Kirk to step in and to
perform like that. It’s good for the offense as a whole to kind of
tell the football world that we’re not just a one-trick pony of
having a triple-threat quarterback that can do everything and
that’s the only reason we’re winning. Robert certainly is the man,
but being able to show that you’re capable without him is a pretty
fulfilling thing for us.”

Griffin missed his first game of the season with a sprained
right knee and is awaiting the doctors’ OK to see if he can return
for the Eagles’ game. Without him, the Shanahans – head coach Mike
and offensive coordinator Kyle – had their finest hours Sunday
since arriving in Washington.

Kyle Shanahan has enjoyed a fun and productive season as a
play-caller, experimenting with new concepts because of Griffin’s
ability as a passer and a runner, but he made the most of Cousins’
talents and adjusted masterfully against the Browns, using play
action and bootleg to counter an aggressive defense.

”A lot of three-and-outs to start that game,” Lichtensteiger
said. ”But thankfully the coaches really hunkered down and figured
out what was working.”

The rest of the roster assembled by Mike Shanahan is coming
together at the right time. A defense that couldn’t stop anyone in
September or October has clamped down in the second halves during
the winning streak – even though linebacker Brian Orakpo, defensive
lineman Adam Carriker and safety Brandon Meriweather were lost many
weeks ago for the season with injuries.

The offensive line, theoretically the weak spot headed into the
season, has helped anchor the NFL’s top rushing attack even though
right tackle Jammal Brown never suited up because of a hip injury.
There’s concern this week, however, because center Will Montgomery
sprained his left knee in Sunday’s game and right tackle Tyler
Polumbus suffered a concussion. Polumbus’ backup, Jordan Black, was
suspended for four games Monday for violating the NFL’s policy on
performance enhancing substances.

The roster has more its share of rookie contributors:
quarterbacks Griffin and Cousins, running back Alfred Morris and
punt returner Richard Crawford. Kicker Kai Forbath, who counts
technically as a ”first-year player” instead of a rookie because
he spent a season elsewhere on injured reserve, is one 3-pointer
shy of tying the NFL record for consecutive successful field goals
to start a career.

Shanahan has had his slip-ups, among them his poor choices in
quarterbacks during his first two seasons in Washington and his
statement this year that the playoffs were essentially a lost cause
at 3-6. Fortunately, his players didn’t believe the latter – he
backpedalled the next day, anyway – and now the team is on the cusp
of its first playoff berth since 2007.

”I understood we were going to struggle the first couple of
years,” Shanahan said. ”We didn’t have a football team. It was
getting the right guys on the football team where we felt like we
could make a run. I told our football team at the beginning of the
year that, `You guys don’t know it, but you guys are a lot better
than you think you are.’ They’ve obviously been proving that
now.”

Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and
http://twitter.com/AP-NFL