Washington controls tiebreakers, its fate for playoffs

CLEVELAND -- This was laughable five weeks ago, improbable even two weeks later. But after a 38-21 win over Cleveland on Sunday, it's reality: The Redskins are in first place in the NFC East and firmly in control of their fate.

All this without Robert Griffin III.

All of it because rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins entered and threw two touchdown passes, because the defense intercepted two passes and because the Redskins didn't think the credit for their success belonged solely to Griffin.

"It's been a long time, and it's great to be back," Redskins receiver Santana Moss said. "We're on a high right now. We just have to keep it going."

Said Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall: "I haven't been in first place in nine years. It feels good to control your own destiny."

The Redskins are 8-6 and tied with New York and Dallas for first place in the division. But the Redskins own the tiebreaker because of a better head-to-head record among the three teams. With upcoming games at struggling Philadelphia and a home game against Dallas, the Redskins are in excellent position to win their first division title since 1999. The Cowboys' victory over the Steelers on Sunday means the Redskins can't clinch the division next week.

"We have to keep it going," Redskins safety Reed Doughty said. "You're happy with a win like this, but there's no way you're satisfied ,because if you lose the next two, you're sitting at home talking about what might have been."

The Redskins could have been doing that with Griffin sidelined because of a sprained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee. But Cousins and the defense wouldn't let them. Cousins missed on his first three passes, but a dose of play-action passes and bootlegs fooled a Browns defense with one mission: stop running back Alfred Morris.

But with a rookie quarterback making his first start, the defense needed to play well. The Browns were 1-for-4 on third downs in the second half, but more importantly, the Redskins intercepted quarterback Brandon Weeden twice. Rob Jackson's interception on the second play of the second half and subsequent 17-yard return to the Cleveland 15 changed the momentum. Morris scored from three yards out for a 17-14 lead. The Redskins never trailed again.

"It was definitely a game changer," Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson said of Jackson's pick.

London Fletcher's interception occurred with Cleveland at the Washington 43, ending a third-quarter drive. The Redskins capitalized with another touchdown and 31-14 lead.

"Fans around here are definitely starved," Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield said. "We're on the path. We have to keep it going. Any slip up and we're back where we were. We have to keep our foot on the gas."

The Redskins insist they felt a hot streak was possible after a 3-6 start. But winning five straight is tough to anticipate. However, the players say there's a different attitude than in previous seasons. It's one that enabled them to win without a player, Griffin, who some say deserves MVP consideration.

"It feels good to know that you can get behind, something bad can happen and the guys in the locker room are so resilient that they can come back from it," Hall said. "That hasn't been the mentality over the last couple years. We have that mentality and that confidence that no matter what we can get the job done."