The Redskins may be tied for first place with five games remaining, but three-time Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams knows that the job of winning the division is far from complete.
When the Washington Redskins won the NFC East title in 2012 with a rookie quarterback and rookie running back leading the way on offense, and younger defensive players like Ryan Kerrigan playing well alongside veterans like DeAngelo Hall and London Fletcher, it appeared that the team's bright future was fast tracking into immediate success.
Those plans fell through, though, as the Redskins would struggle the next two seasons. While few things would go right for Washington in 2013 and 2014 – which had a cumulative record of 7-25 – Decembers were especially bad.
With nothing to play for other than mostly pride, the locker room "was miserable," left tackle and team captain Trent Williams told reporters on Wednesday.
"You [were] there. You've seen it. You've seen how dead the locker room was," Williams said. "It was a dark place to be to know that you come into work for a whole month, month and a half knowing that the games were basically meaningless. As you can imagine, it was pretty tough."
That isn't the case for the Redskins this season, though, as they are currently tied for first place in the NFC East with the calendar now turned to December.
With five games remaining, three of which against NFC East rivals, the Redskins have a very realistic chance to replicate some of that 2012 magic when they strung together seven straight wins en route to their first division title since 1999.
"I'm going to be pushing to keep the locker room as it's been in the past weeks, just keep guys relaxed," Williams said. "We know we have a lot to play for. That's not a question anymore. It's just how we're going to play, how much work are we going to put in during the week and go out there and try to repeat that same performance. I think that's the huge part. I don't think it's about how happy everybody is. It all comes down to your play on the field."
Williams admitted that being relaxed at a time when a playoff appearance is on the line isn't easy, but they must find a way to remain calm in the face of pressure.
"It's so hard to try to relax and feel accomplished when there's so much more to be had," Williams said. "We have five more games, and those games are just as important as the last one. It's not a time to sit back and kind of gloat on accomplishments."
The push for a potential playoff berth continues on Monday night when the Redskins host their archrivals – the Dallas Cowboys – at FedExField.
This is the first time the two NFC East foes have faced off on Monday Night Football since Week 8 of the 2014 season when the underdog Redskins went into AT&T Stadium and knocked off the Cowboys in overtime.
While the Cowboys are mathematically alive in the NFC East, they are without Tony Romo, who went down with a season-ending clavicle injury on Thanksgiving Day against the Carolina Panthers. The same injury kept him out of several games earlier this season, and Dallas hasn't won a game without him this season.
Williams knows the Cowboys will be gunning to prove they're capable of winning without Romo in front of a national audience.
"Anytime you play a division opponent, it's always going to be a dogfight," Williams said. "You never know who's going to have the advantage. It's a weird deal. The teams know each other really well and it really doesn't depend on the personnel. It ultimately comes down to which team doesn't make the mistakes in the end to cost their team the game."