Jabar Gaffney (US Presswire)
In truth, after the Redskins were eliminated from playoff contention with their ninth loss the season on Dec. 11, they were better off losing out because that would lead to a higher first-round draft pick and a better chance of landing the right quarterback to run their offense for the next decade.
However, the current Redskins, especially the veterans, aren't worried about what might happen during some brighter tomorrow when they might no longer be wearing NFL uniforms. They want to win now. Despite heading into the Meadowlands on Sunday at 4-9, they delivered their best performance of the season in derailing the New York Giants' path to the NFC East title with a dominant 23-10 victory.
While rookies Ryan Kerrigan, Roy Helu, DeJon Gomes, Maurice Hurt and Willie Smith started, as did inexperienced second-year men Perry Riley, Darrel Young and Logan Paulsen, relatively grizzled receivers Santana Moss (age 32), Jabar Gaffney (31) and Donte Stallworth (31) combined for 10 catches, 160 (of Washington's 300) yards and a touchdown (one of Washington's two).
"You gotta have wide receivers make some big plays and that's what they did today," said Redskins coach Mike Shanahan. "On third-and-(17 with Washington leading 3-0 late in the first quarter), Donte ran up the field and did what he could to give us the chance to go for it (on fourth down). "
On that fourth-and-1, Gaffney picked up the first down. Four plays later, Moss squirted free and hauled in a perfectly thrown ball in the back left corner of the end zone from quarterback Rex Grossman (31).
But making things happen in the passing game wasn't the only contribution that Shanahan got from his veterans. Free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (30), who has lost his job to Reed Doughty, intercepted Eli Manning's deep throw two plays after Moss' score and returned it 26 yards to the New York 41 to set up Washington's second touchdown.
Two plays into the third quarter, cornerback DeAngelo Hall, the 28-year-old goat of the pair of gut-wrenching late losses to archrival Dallas and the hurler of the penalty flag during last week's narrow defeat, picked off another long pass by Manning to set up a field goal that expanded Washington's lead to 20-3.
And then, cornerback Josh Wilson, who hadn't caught ball all year until last week, provided the coup de grace with a nifty interception of Manning's errant toss into the end zone for Manningham five plays into the fourth quarter.
The three interceptions were half as many as Washington's secondary had produced during its previous 13 games combined.
"Our secondary, I thought they played phenomenal," raved outside linebacker Brian Orakpo.
"I guess it shows we can catch," Hall said with more than a touch of sarcasm. "(Giants safety Antrel Rolle) came out saying we couldn't beat 'em five times outa hundred. Those comments were in the back of our heads. You want to prove 'em wrong. This Giants offense is pretty good and they've got the stats to prove it."
Just not against the Redskins, who held New York to a total of 24 points in sweeping the series for the first since 1999. The Giants have averaged three touchdowns in their other 12 games but managed just three in the two games against Washington including the meaningless score with 33 seconds remaining on Sunday.
"It shows what we're capable of doing ... what kind of character we have," said co-captain London Fletcher, proud that his Redskins played so well while playing out the string on the road against a Giants squad that's battling for the division crown. "The last ... five games, we've been in every game (they've been outscored by all of six points). A play here and there, and we're in first place in the NFC East."
Incredible as that sounds given Washington's 5-9 record, Fletcher's correct. If Hall had managed to corral enemy receiver Dez Bryant on third-and-21 and third-and-15 in crunch time in the pair of heartbreaking defeats against Dallas, the Redskins would have swept the Cowboys and Giants and be atop the division at 7-7 with only reeling Minnesota and underachieving Philadelphia left to play.
But for now, the Redskins have to settle for possibly costing the Giants the division title while looking ahead to 2012.
"If we play like this and get everybody back healthy and get (tight end Fred Davis and tackle Trent Williams) back from suspensions, we're going to be a competitive team," said nose tackle Barry Cofield, an ex-Giant who's an amazing 11-1 in Washington-New York games.
That possibility and the prospect of a talented young quarterback has to leave Redskins fans feeling better about their team heading into the holidays than the team's record would indicate.
WUSA-9's Redskins Insider, David Elfin, has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of five books on the Redskins including the new "Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History."