Since week off, turnovers, Garcon and QB play result in reversal of fortunes
No one factor turned the Redskins' season around. It started with their knowledge that some games could have turned out differently with a play or two. Once they started making those plays, their confidence gathered an avalanche of momentum.
Now the Redskins find themselves in a winner-takes-all season finale vs. Dallas. It's a scenario few would have predicted when they were 3-6. It's now reality.
Here's how the Redskins have run off six consecutive victories since their bye week:
Turnover differential » Coaches often turn first to this statistic to explain wins and losses for a game and for the season. The Redskins have caused 12 turnovers while turning it over only five times during the winning streak. The Redskins are 8-2 when they win the turnover battle. Redskins opponents have turned the ball over multiple times in a game 11 times; the Redskins have done so only twice. They have won the turnover battle in five of the six wins during this streak.
Pierre Garcon » Though coach Mike Shanahan has praised the entire receivers group, it's not as if the others have started to post big numbers. Here are reception totals in the six games before and during the winning streak for the other receivers: Leonard Hankerson (20 before, 11 during), Santana Moss (17 before, 15 during) and Joshua Morgan (21 before, 19 during). They have been consistent.
But Garcon is a difference maker. He remains the only Redskins wideout to surpass 80 yards receiving; he has done so five times. And the Redskins are 8-1 when he plays. In the six-game streak, Garcon has caught 33 passes for 434 yards and three touchdowns.
"Pierre has the ability to move in different spots. ... We think we can get one-on-one coverage with him more than [other] offenses dictate," Shanahan said.
Defense » Really, it's a handful of players who have started to play well -- or at least make timely plays, including linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Rob Jackson. Nose tackle Barry Cofield, having a decent to solid season before the streak, has responded with some of his best games of the season. Against Philadelphia, his tipped pass and a tackle he made on a receiver screen are unusual plays for a nose tackle. Good nose tackle play is a must in a 3-4 defense.
"He's been playing good all season, but it almost looks like he's picking it up," Shanahan said. "You can see him making plays a lot of nose tackles can't make."
Quarterback play » In the last six games, the Redskins' two rookie quarterbacks have combined for 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. Obviously, Robert Griffin III's role has been much greater than Kirk Cousins'. Still, they have a combined passer rating of 124.4, and the passing game has averaged 9.6 yards per attempt during the streak.
Confidence » It's hard to measure intangibles such as this one. But one reason the Redskins didn't waver at 3-6 is because they felt they were better than their record. Teams often say this, but body language suggests something else. In this case, it suggested they truly believed what they were saying. They're confident because they have Griffin and even because of kicker Kai Forbath (9-for-9 during the streak, including six between 40 and 49 yards).
That's why Shanahan now can say this:
"We have a goal, and that's not just to be in the playoffs. It's to do something when we get there," he said. "That's why you saw a locker room [after the Eagles win] under control."
But they didn't boast of potential winning streaks. They took care of each step along the way.
"I definitely did not want to look that far in advance," Cofield said. "It was too low of a moment [at 3-6] to think we could win the division. We came back [after the bye] and were energized. We seized that momentum, and we're in a beautiful spot right now."