By DERON SNYDER
LANDOVER – It was the night before Christmas and all through the DMV, fans wondered what Washington would leave under their tree.
Would the season’s final home game bring a coal-like lump of a loss, another demoralizing defeat to ensure a sub-.500 record?
Or would coach Jay Gruden’s squad present DC’s faithful with a shiny parting gift, a professional effort and third consecutive win at home?
Skeptics will argue that Sunday’s 27-11 triumph against the Denver Broncos was meaningless. They’re right, in the most-cynical sense of empty victories – i.e., those that occur after playoff hopes have ended.
But using that logic, every victory is meaningless for 31 of the 32 NFL outfits each season, the exception being the sole team that posts a ‘W’ in the Super Bowl.
Washington is a long ways from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in the next few Februarys. Nonetheless, fans who stayed at FedEx Field until the sweet end had a great time. They swayed along with the burgundy-and-gold band. They rocked to tunes from the stadium DJ. They taunted the orange-clad Broncos supporters, whose squad entered double-digits in the loss column.
Denver’s garbage-time touchdown with 1:15 left was a bit of a downer, as the defense had kept opponents out of the end zone for eight-plus quarters. But in season that has gone horribly wrong through 16 weeks, enough went right Sunday to leave a pleasant taste in everyone’s mouth entering the finale against the New York Giants.
After that, we’ll have all winter to worry about who might not return, specifically the triggerman who led Washington to 386 yards against the league’s No. 1 defense. We won’t worry about that here.
If this was Kirk Cousins’ final game for the home team, he made the most of it with 299 passing yards and three touchdowns. (A fourth would-be score was dropped by Josh Doctson in the end zone.) The specter of Cousins’ possible departure hung over the stadium like a light mist, but there was plenty else to enjoy if you weren’t too depressed.
The patchwork offensive line kept Cousins upright (no sacks) and paved the way for 87 hard-earned yards on the ground. Nine different Washington players caught a pass, with four of the targets recording long gains over 20 yards.
“After the first couple of possessions I didn’t know if we’d get 100 yards,” Cousins said.
They gained a total of 14 yards on the first three drives. All the questions that arose a few weeks ago, after back-to-back embarrassing losses, were back in play. The notion that Washington had folded and stopped competing seemed completely plausible.
Adversity had struck, and won. Or so it seemed.
Washington responded by scoring on four of its next six possessions. The defense recorded turnovers on two consecutive series. Instead of getting down after the slow start – trailing, 3-0, after the first quarter – Washington played with a pride and passion that’s often absent in also-rans
“The team that hangs in there and keeps fighting and punching away for that win, that’s the team that’s resilient,” tight end Vernon Davis said. “It’s the people, the guys who make up that team. We have a lot of young energy around here, guys who have that winning spirit and attitude. Those are the kind of guys you want on your team.”
Tackle Morgan Moses said: “It would be great for us to finish off .500, especially with all the things we’ve been through this season – the injuries and things like that. That shows that if we can pull off these last three wins, how hard we fought. We didn’t give up. We didn’t throw in the towel. It’s really big for us.”
And, yes, they actually DO deserve credit for playing hard and not surrendering. Think of the co-workers you know who might slack off (or maybe you yourself). Talking about how others “should” respond in tough times is way easier your easy chair.
“Everybody wrote us off and questioned the character and quitting,” Gruden said. “I knew it wouldn’t happen. The guys stepped up and played their tails off and there’s still a lot to play for … a three-game win streak at the end of the year, which is important.”
Cousins noted that 8-8 isn’t 13-3. But it’s better than most seasons around here the past 25 years and it would mark a third consecutive non-losing season, a rarity in the Dan Snyder era. Sunday’s win also gave Washington a winning home record for the second time in three seasons.
As far as Christmas gifts go, fans have received a lot worse from this outfit.
With that being the case … happy holidays from Washington’s NFL team!