LANDOVER – NFL coaches can do a lot of talking.
They have deals for TV and radio shows. They are obligated to address the media regularly each week. They step to the podium immediately after each game and return the day after each game.
And that’s just the times we get to hear from a coach. In meetings, on practice fields and in the locker room, he has a special soundtrack just for players.
In just his second season as Washington’s coach, almost all of Jay Gruden’s yapping was for naught. But on Sunday, against the favored St. Louis Rams, his team responded with an impressive 24-10 victory, proving that it hasn’t gone completely tone deaf.
It was only the fourth time in Gruden’s 10 home games that players in the burgundy-and-gold locker room could celebrate. He hadn’t changed what he said – run the ball, play good defense, be solid on special teams, limit mistakes – but the result changed.
Instead of detailing what went wrong with the plan, or explaining how the philosophy remains sound despite another loss, Gruden could point to the scoreboard as proof that his spiel can work.
“You can talk all you want, until you’re blue in the face,” he said. “But the only thing that matters is getting Ws. I’ve said all along we felt good about the way these guys are working and the change in our team, just from offseason to training camp to now. But the only thing that could really back up what I’m saying is victories.”
A handful of plays can separate winners from losers each week. Those in the latter category usually can say “if not for …” and “if only we had …” to make the argument that they’re close. (That often wasn’t the case here last year, as nine of the team’s 12 losses were by 10 or more points).
But following Gruden’s blueprint, Washington pounded St. Louis from the beginning, opening a 17-0 halftime lead while holding the Rams to 72 yards. It appeared that Gruden’s team sifted the Week 1 loss, with a determination to extract every positive and leave the ‘L’ behind.
Fans grew nervous when the Rams scored 10 unanswered points to close within a touchdown midway through the third quarter. A frightening sense of “here we go again” floated through the stadium. That typically was the juncture when recent Washington teams made like folding chairs ready to be put away.
But the defense remained stout and the offense engineered a 12-play drive that consumed nearly seven minutes. Quarterback Kirk Cousins completed all three of his passes on the drive and rookie halfback Matt Jones rushed for 14 of his game-high 123 yards, punching across the goal line for his second touchdown of the afternoon.
“This is definitely a different team,” captain Trent Williams said. “There’s a different attitude, different atmosphere. There are a lot of new starters, different coaches. It’s nothing like last year – not saying anything bad about last year.”
There was no need for Williams to disparage last season, as the 4-12 record speaks volumes. Besides, fans and media already do an excellent job of kicking the dead.
Sunday’s victory wasn’t a must-win situation for Gruden and Washington. But it was the closest you’ll ever find in a Week 2 game. The possibility of an 0-5 start wasn’t out of the question, which could’ve had Gruden sweating out the team’s bye in Week 8.
Another loss would mean another week of Gruden’s discourse had proved unfruitful. It would make us continue to question everything he says – though we’d get less this week due to Thursday game against the Giants.
Now there’s some weight behind his words. More importantly, the players have some game film to view without regret.
“Winning obviously is important fo the confidence of these guys,” Gruden said. “We have a lot of young players. We have to get them used to winning and show them how to win. And then building off a win, how to prepare after a win.
“There’s a whole lot of things you have to do as a football coach after a victory that are equally important as after a loss.”
Gruden has done more than enough preaching after losses without winning many converts.
He’s hoping a victory can give his words new life.