Last July, Alfred Fincher was with the Detroit Lions, a team heading nowhere fast. He was a surprise cut by the Lions before training camp and the Redskins signed him to their roster.
Now Fincher has a chance to finish the season on a team with a winning record. That's a far cry from the Lions, who could finish at a historic 0-16 if they don't beat the Green Bay Packers this Sunday.
Fincher made his case to stay with the Redskins on Aug. 28 in a preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It was the last week of preseason, considered little more than a basic dress rehearsal for many of the NFL's top players.
For those struggling to make a roster--like Fincher--it's everything.
Fincher, the 6-1, 238-pound University of Connecticut product, went into that game as something of a long shot to stick with the Redskins. The fact that he had a hamstring problem didn't make his situation any easier.
Despite a 24-3 loss to the Jaguars that night, Fincher really stood out for the Washington defense.
Fincher, a fourth-year pro, posted a team-high eight tackles and two tackles for losses in just the first half alone.
Largely on the basis of that single preseason game performance versus Jacksonville, Fincher stuck around.
"I was fortunate enough to go against the Jaguars' starters and played well," recalled Fincher. "I had a nagging hamstring injury, and luckily the hamstring held up for a half."
He added: "I had to grind to make the team here. Coming into camp late, I had to try to make a name for myself as much as I could."
Head coach Jim Zorn began to take notice of Fincher during training camp.
Said Zorn: "I've been impressed by the fact that Alfred has stepped in and made plays when his number has been called. He's helped on special teams as well."
Four months later, Fincher, who hails from Norwood, Mass., has become a key part of special teams and an occasional contributor on defense.
In the Redskins' Week 8 game at Detroit, a 25-17 win, Fincher was one of the effective blockers on the 80-yard punt return for a touchdown by Santana Moss.
The following week, in Washington's 23-6 Monday Night setback to Pittsburgh at FedExField, Fincher was alert on the opening kickoff by the Steelers' Jeff Reed and recovered the surprise onside kick.
In Week 15, at Cincinnati, Fincher took over for a struggling Rocky McIntosh at halftime and recorded two tackles. He was part of a defense that allowed the Bengals to score just three points in the final 30 minutes of the game.
Fincher entered the NFL as a third-round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints in 2005. He played parts of three seasons in New Orleans before joining the Lions last offseason.
As Fincher establishes himself on the Redskins' roster, it's easier for him to reflect on how he responded to getting cut by the Lions last July 26.
Simply put, it's never easy for a player to hear they are being released. For a special teams player like Fincher, it could have spelled the end of his NFL career.
Five days later, as he tells the story, Fincher was still in the Detroit area and thinking about his next move as the strolled through a grocery store.
As he was checking out his groceries at the counter of the local supermarket, Fincher checked his cell phone to see if he had any messages.
Sure enough, he had one from his agent, indicating the Redskins wanted to bring him in for a workout.
He signed on with the club--and he hasn't looked back.