LANDOVER, Va. – NFL players and coaches have made a pact, reached a secret agreement on acceptable language when discussing games publicly. The terms of the accord are clear and rarely broken.
No single contest is worth more than any another. Whether it’s an early-season, mid-season or late-season match-up, doesn’t matter. Each Sunday, Monday, Thursday (and sometimes Saturday) carries equal weight, merely one-16th of the whole, period.
Naturally, we on the outside refuse to play along. When the New York Giants have won five straight against Washington and visit FedEx Field with first place on the line in late November, that’s a big game. Certainly bigger than, say, the Week 3 meeting at MetLife Stadium when the season was just getting underway.
And when Washington responds under those circumstances with one of its best all-around outings, taking a shutout into the fourth quarter and holding on for a 20-14 victory, that performance says something. It make a point and speaks loudly.
“You can say this was a statement game,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “It just felt good to play the way we know we’re capable of as a team. If you want to be blunt about it, we have another statement game next week, followed by another statement game.”
But a team has to start somewhere.
Washington had failed miserably entering Sunday’s contest, losing to the undefeated Patriots and Panthers, as well as the underwhelming Dolphins and Jets. Every time coach Jay Gruden’s team had a chance to make the league take notice, they sent regrettable messages: we’re not ready … same ol’ same ol’ … more questions than answers.
They delivered a different dispatch against New York, accumulating 407 yards of offense, notching three interceptions and three sacks against Eli Manning, and scoring on a 63-yard bomb from Kirk Cousins to DeSean Jackson. The score was 17-0 at halftime and easily could’ve been worse, considering the two drives that began in Giants territory but were fruitless.
It’s not that Washington previously hadn’t looked good at times. On occasion, the team has looked very good. But never when it had a chance to prove anything, never when it had an opportunity to build momentum. There hasn’t been a two-game win streak all season.
On the flip side, there’s been just one losing streak (two games). The resiliency has been impressive but the inconsistency has been maddening.
After Washington thoroughly out-played the Giants to move into first place, Gruden mostly adhered to the unspoken code that prohibits him from acknowledging that some games are bigger than others. He said he was more impressed by the rebound from last week’s 44-16 whipping at Carolina, regardless of Sunday’s opponent or stakes.
“It means a lot,” he said. “We just have to keep showing these guys that their hard work is going to pay off. … It’s going to be important for us to bounce back from a game like this – an emotional game, an important game, a game that we had to win.”
He almost slipped up right there. As Williams noted, wins earlier in the season against Miami or Atlanta – or the Giants, for that matter – would’ve given Washington some breathing room entering their rematch with New York.
Yes, all games count the same. But there’s something about the calendar that gets everyone’s attention. There’s a lot less season left in December. Playing meaningful contests down the stretch has been a foreign concept around here since 2012.
“Anytime you’re playing for something significant, it’s going to get your blood pumping a little more than usual,” Williams said in a borderline violation. “We’re a young team. I don’t know if the majority of this team has ever been in this position. That’s why the best thing to do is approach it week by week.”
Fair enough. No sense in looking too far ahead, even with the Tony Romo-less Cowboys headed to town. It was just last season that Washington started a replacement QB (Colt McCoy) at Dallas and won a shocker on Monday night.
Whatever message Gruden’s team sent Sunday will be null and void unless it’s backed up against Dallas. “The next step is to put two good games together, rather than having one good game and one bad game,” Williams said. “That’s been our pattern so far.”
True. For all that Washington proved in a battle for first place in the NFC East, it hasn’t yet made a convincing case about its identity. Not at 5-6 overall, 0-5 on the road and 0-4 following a win. But there are five weeks remaining to present a closing argument.
“It’s not about making statements it’s about getting the next win,” defensive end Jason Hatcher said.
That’s code for: “Monday night is a really big game.”