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In Final Seconds, Redskins Are Finding Ways to Win


With four of the first five games having come down to the final play, Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan acknowledged Monday he's sailing in different waters.

Different, but not uncharted.

"I don't think I've ever been involved in four games that were determined on the last play," he said, following the Redskins' 16-13 overtime win over the Green Bay Packers. "I don't believe I can remember any scenario like that since I started coaching."

The last-second theatrics began in the opener when the Redskins (3-2) staved off the Dallas Cowboys' comeback attempt and earned a 13-7 victory when a touchdown pass on the last play was nullified by a holding penalty.

In Week 2, the Houston Texans erased a 17-point lead and won in overtime. In Week 4, DeAngelo Hall intercepted a deflected pass in the end zone to seal a 17-12 triumph over the Philadelphia Eagles. On Sunday, the Redskins came back from a 13-3 deficit in the second half to tie and win in overtime.

Creating drama in the final moments never enters into the coaching mindset. It's actually the opposite of what Shanahan, what any coach, desires.

"We'd all like to put teams away early and then we'd like to dominate teams. I mean, that's your goal," he said. "Obviously it doesn't always work out that way but that's your plan. I think ultimately you have to find a way to win."

While no one knows exactly how end-game situations will unfold, Shanahan said preparation for the multitude of possibilities enables the players to cope with the frenzy on the field. This, and confidence in the coaching, were common themes in the Redskins locker room Sunday.

"I think you, number one, go through the scenarios that can occur at the end of the game," Shanahan said. "Maybe it's a Hail Mary. What do you want to do on a Hail Mary? When do you use a Hail Mary, what circumstances, what type of defense do you have if you're on the 50-yard line and there's 17 seconds and you have one timeout? What are the two or three scenarios that exist? Or you're ahead by two points and your scenario is whether they're going to use the clock to get five or six yards (so) what's the focus of your defense to keep them honest?

"So there are so many different things that you look at and try to put them through so in a game situation like we face they're not surprised, they've been through it, you've practiced it, you've walked through it and somehow you just try to go out there and execute it."

The preparation, Shanahan said, is not simply a function of week-to-week instruction and effort now.

"The commitment starts in the off-season. When players see people working together, they make a commitment to each other that football is very important, they're going to work out together, they're going to learn the defense, they're going to learn the offense. I don't know of an offense that is maybe ranked in the top five that they don't work out throughout the off-season," he said.

"In order to get good, you've got to practice, whatever endeavor you're in, you've got to practice to get good. One of the reasons are players believe in each other is that they had a good commitment to weight lifting relative to getting in shape … if you go over things time and time again, then you get luckier at the end of games."

A little success goes a long way in creating the belief that no game is out of reach … either way.

"If you do find a way to win, you get a lot of confidence so if you do get behind you can say, 'We've been there before.' Or, if you get ahead, if you're ahead by 17 or 20 points, you understand that this is the National Football League. If you don't take care of business, if you don't keep up playing at a certain level, you can get beat very quickly," Shanahan said.

"It's all part of growing up as a football team."

Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at and follow him on

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