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.”

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