"I think I'm just trying to wrap my head around this game," head coach Jay Gruden told reporters after the Redskins' 25-16 loss to the Titans on Saturday. "I think we played with great effort and it's tough...these guys played hard and just didn't make enough plays to get it done."
Despite the Titans holding a nine-point lead as the clock hit zeros the game was much closer than the final score made it seem thanks to a Titans pick-six on a last ditch effort by Redskins quarterback Josh Johnson. Despite being underdogs on the road in Tennessee, the Redskins showed up and played one of their most complete games of the season.
It was apparent on the field that the players treated Saturday as if it was a playoff game, knowing they needed to win to sustain their playoff aspirations. Until the final minute and 22 seconds, when Johnson threw a game-sealing interception, Washington looked poised to secure their eighth win.
Games are only heartbreakers when they're close, and this one had everything needed to be classified as one.
The comeback story of Johnson, the journeyman quarterback who had just picked up his first career win last week, made the final unraveling of Saturday's contest painful. But to get to that point there was over 58 minutes of evenly-matched football played.
On defense the Redskins were able to pressure Marcus Mariota and limit Derrick Henry, two of the most important items on the defensive checklist. Saturday's loss was probably the best defensive effort Washington had since November, as they were able to limit the Titans red-hot rushing attack to 99 yards and held their passing game to below 200 yards.
On top of that, the pass rush got after Mariota (and backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert) in the first half, registering three sacks in the second quarter alone. But in the second half the Redskins were held sackless, and linebacker Ryan Kerrigan told reporters after the game he felt they let the team down.
"This loss, I mean it was right there for us," Kerrigan said. "We played too well as a team to not come away with a win. That's why it's so disappointing."
This was a common sentiment in the locker room on Saturday. Many of the players expressed how hard they worked as a team to be in the position to reach the playoffs, and that the game felt winnable from whistle to whistle.
"I've been around teams where people shut it down. This team never did that. We played hard, we played hard every snap, we stuck together, we believed in one another and we had the opportunity to be right where we want to be," Josh Johnson said. "Nobody never worried about who got hurt, who wasn't playing. We all were just like, 'next man opportunity.''
Next man up has been the Redskins' motto of late; a rallying cry for a team that's had injury luck so poor it could have caused some players to give up on the season.
"Yeah you can say we lost a lot of offensive linemen, quarterbacks, but at the end of the day for 60 minutes we had the opportunity," Peterson said. "When we come back and we lose and those opportunities were presented, it eats at me. I feel like we can learn a lot from it moving forward. I don't think no one can question the heart and desire that each and every guy played with these past couple weeks. That speaks volumes. I'm still proud of the guys as a group, for going out and just giving it their all. Sometimes you give it your all and you fall short, that was the result today."
On Sunday, Washington was mathematically eliminated from the playoffs due to Philadelphia and Minnesota winning their games. Week 17 will be about pride for the Redskins, who will face the Eagles at FedExField on Sunday. If they win, they'll get to play spoiler to the Eagles who need a win for a shot at the playoffs.
But maybe more importantly, a win would allow the season to end on a positive note for the Redskins, giving them some optimism to take into the offseason. February through August might not count in the win-loss column, but they will be key in getting the Redskins to compete in 2019. But first: Philadelphia