Moral victories can come in bunches when a team wins seven games in two seasons, but the Redskins have bought into a new approach so far in 2015.*
The Atlanta Falcons came into last Sunday's matchup against the Washington Redskins as the heavily-favored home team; the can't-miss pick of the week with an unblemished record and an unstoppable offense.
The Redskins, respectfully, cared nothing about those projections. They legitimately believed they had a team capable of not only keeping up with the Falcons, but one that could go into the Georgia Dome and win the game.
For these very reasons, one might understand why the postgame atmosphere in the Redskins' locker room was one of exhausted disappointment. There was no satisfaction for simply being competitive with one of the better teams in the league.
The Redskins were hurting, knowing they had every opportunity to not only win the game, but to do it in convincing fashion. Instead, they went home with a 25-19 overtime loss in an exciting game that ended abruptly when Atlanta cornerback Robert Alford stepped in front of a rushed Kirk Cousins pass and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown.
Now sitting at 2-3, the Redskins have already been a part of five games with all sorts of lessons: a season opener they probably should've won against the Dolphins; a Week 2 all-around beating of the Rams; a flat follow-up performance on short rest against the Giants; a come-from-behind, last-second victory against the Eagles; and finally, an overtime loss on the road where they just couldn't capitalize and pull away with the win.
Now, more than a quarter of the way through the 2015 season, there's certainly a feeling that something is different about this Redskins team.
"You should never, ever get used to losing. It should hurt every time and it should hurt more the next time than it did the last time," second-year Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. "I think our guys are starting to feel that. They understand the work that they're putting in here and the effort that they're giving on the field. When you give maximum effort on the field and you don't get rewarded with a victory, it hurts. It does."
'We're going to get after it'That change in attitude is due to a variety of factors. First, back in January, the Redskins, coming off a combined seven wins in two seasons, hired noted personnel executive Scot McCloughan to be their general manager.
During training camp, after seven full months of beginning the roster-building process, McCloughan already liked what he was seeing.
"I know this: when you play the Redskins this year, you're going to know you played us," he told reporters at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va. "You're going to feel us from the standpoint of being physical. The next morning, you're going to be sore."
McCloughan wasn't going to measure success during his first season in Washington by wins and losses; instead, he simply wanted one outcome: competitiveness – and lots of it.
"We're going get after you and we'll not back down from anything. I promise you, we will not back down from anything," he said. "If we do, changes will be made, but we're not going to. We're going to get after it."
McCloughan made no huge splashes this offseason. Instead, he brought in guys like Terrance Knighton, Ricky Jean Francois, Dashon Goldson and Chris Culliver to add their distinct brands of leadership learned from the locker rooms of perennial winners in Denver, Indianapolis and San Francisco.
"We got guys like Dashon Goldson inside the meeting room and the leadership that he provides, the years of experience he has, we feed off of that – especially everybody else in the room being kind of younger," said Redskins rookie safety Kyshoen Jarrett, who has settled nicely into a role as the team's nickel cornerback. "When we have Dashon Goldson in the room, D-Hall [DeAngelo Hall] in the room, you know Cully, we kind of feed off that veteran swagger, I guess you could say. I mean that's kinda just how we roll in this locker room."
After last Sunday's loss to the Falcons, it was Knighton who could pinpoint exactly what went wrong for the Redskins, as well as place things in perspective – both in the division and for their next game against the 3-1 New York Jets.
"We have the mindset, it's just that guys in crunch time have to be thinking in their head that 'I'm going to make this play to help win the game.' We just have to execute better," he said. "Luckily we're in a division where everyone is 3-2 or 2-2 or whatever, but we'll continue to fight. You know, this loss hurt but we have to bounce back because there is a good team we are about to play against."
'It makes me proud'
After winning an NFC East title in his rookie season in 2012, Alfred Morris – perhaps one of the more outspoken team-first guys on the Redskins' roster – did not have much in the way of prideful moments over the next two seasons.
Check out these top photos from the Washington Redskins' 2015 Week 5 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons Oct. 11, 2015, at the Georgia Dome.
Sure, Morris would be named to his first two Pro Bowls in 2013 and 2014, but that recognition meant little to the Florida Atlantic product when his team performed to the tune of a combined .219 winning percentage.
But last Sunday, even in a losing effort, Morris could feel the change in the air. Case in point: the Redskins, who had led most of the game, saw the Falcons drive down the field late in the fourth quarter and take a 19-16 lead with just 24 seconds remaining.
Game over, right? Wrong. Starting their final drive of regulation from their own 20, Cousins and the Redskins' offense used three quick passes – completions of 20, 19 and 7 yards – to get into field goal range for first-year kicker Dustin Hopkins.
His 52-yard attempt was good, and Washington – the team most believed would get blown out – had willed its way into forcing overtime.
"It makes me proud to be a part of this team, not giving up when it's down," Morris told reporters. "That's a team you can continue to play with; keep on fighting with."
Morris conceded that things "just kind of fell apart" on the final play of overtime, but reiterated that he's "so proud to be a part of this team."
"The way we have been fighting the last few weeks," Morris continued, "overcoming turnovers, overcoming penalties and just not giving up no matter what."
'Started to turn a corner'The Redskins certainly aren't a finished product on the field. Injuries to some of their key contributors – Culliver, Hall, DeSean Jackson, Jordan Reed, each of whom did not play against the Falcons – have left Washington without its strongest offensive and defensive lineups since Week 1. And that doesn't even include the six or seven potential starters or key backups who were placed on Injured-Reserve before their seasons could get off the ground.
But McCloughan sees it. Gruden sees it. The players see it.
Things have changed at Redskins Park.
"I think some of the guys that have been here, they see how we've started to turn a corner and how disappointed they were we didn't get a big win [last Sunday] against a good football team," Gruden said. "Moving forward there's a lot of positives to build off again. Hate to keep saying that, but there are. We'll get some guys healthy I hope for next week against the Jets. Play another good opponent and go from there."