Back-to-back win­ning sea­sons key for Redskins

Gru­den: ‘I think we are build­ing some­thing spe­cial’

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY MATTHEW PARAS

CHICAGO | Bashaud Bree­land’s sea­son hasn’t gone the way he thought it would. The third-year Wash­ing­ton cor­ner­back has been tar­geted in cov­er­age and the coach­ing staff moved him to the slot with the hopes that he’d play bet­ter there. Bree­land has en­gaged with his crit­ics on Twit­ter of­ten.

“This year, it showed me that things aren’t al­ways go­ing to go your way,” Bree­land said. “You’ve just got to learn how to cope with it.”

Bree­land isn’t alone. The Redskins, in gen­eral, have been learn­ing how to cope with an up-and-down, 8-6-1 sea­son that has fea­tured more than its share of pen­du­lum swings.

But even though Wash­ing­ton still needs out­side help to make the play­offs, it did se­cure a guar­an­teed win­ning record in backto-back sea­sons for the first time since 1996 and 1997 with Satur­day af­ter­noon’s 41-21 thump­ing of the Chicago Bears.

For a fran­chise that’s be­come syn­ony­mous with fu­til­ity in re­cent decades, con­ti­nu­ity — even if that means just a cou­ple of win­ning sea­sons — is a vic­tory.

“I think we are build­ing some­thing spe­cial here,” coach Jay Gru­den said. “We are a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed that we are not in bet­ter shape for the play­offs this year, but I think we are

trending up as far as what we are try­ing to build around here and I am happy with where are go­ing.

“We still have one more game to take care of and hope­fully we will get it done next week­end against the Giants.”

This sea­son, the Redskins have found a for­mula for win­ning on the field — when they stick to it.

Run­ning back Chris Thomp­son said he didn’t want to dis­cuss the dis­ap­point­ing Dec. 19 loss on Mon­day night to the Carolina Panthers again, but then, af­ter Satur­day’s con­vinc­ing win over the Bears, he did it any­way.

Thomp­son said it was clear in the mo­ment against the Panthers that the Redskins weren’t run­ning the ball well. But on Satur­day, the Redskins ran the ball a sea­son-high 35 times.

“(Our balance) makes it much eas­ier for (of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor) Sean McVay,” Thomp­son said. “When we’re get­ting four yards on first down, he’s able to open up and do dif­fer­ent things. It makes it real tough to get be­hind be­ing 2nd-and-12 or 2nd-and-14 ... When we’re in man­age­able sit­u­a­tions, he’s able to be more com­fort­able.”

The Redskins have also found balance through ros­ter build­ing. Bree­land and Thomp­son were both draft picks from the fourth and fifth rounds, re­spec­tively, and they each had break­out games against the Bears, with Bree­land grab­bing two in­ter­cep­tions and Thomp­son scor­ing two touch­downs.

Wash­ing­ton is also get­ting big-time per­for­mances from high-pro­file free agents like DeSean Jack­son and Josh Nor­man. Nor­man, who was signed to a five-year $75 mil­lion con­tract, had just his sec­ond multi-in­ter­cep­tion game on Satur­day, his first as a Red­skin.

“If we con­tinue out here and do what we do, I don’t see why we can’t build on this,” Nor­man said. “This was a build­ing win for us. The de­fense showed up and we played our game.

“When you can get every body on the same page like we did in the sec­ond half, we can build off of that,” he added.

Jack­son, who will be a free agent af­ter the sea­son, racked up his third straight 100-yard re­ceiv­ing game.

Against the Bears, quar­ter­back Kirk Cousins had his best game in weeks, in part, be­cause of the pro­tec­tion from his of­fen­sive line.

“It en­ables him time and when he can be com­fort­able back there, he can go through one or two or three pro­gres­sions, he is pretty darn good,” Gru­den said. “Hats off to the of­fen­sive line, they played out­stand­ing. The re­ceivers win­ning the one on one bat­tle, Kirk find­ing the holes in the zones, it was very cru­cial for us.

“And those guys were ex­cel­lent, Pierre (Gar­con) and DeSean.”

The win did come against the now 3-12 Bears, but a loss would have elim­i­nated the Redskins from play­off con­tention.

“We just chal­lenged our­selves in­di­vid­u­ally all week,” safety Will Black­mon said. “Es­pe­cially this year, there’s just so many games that we def­i­nitely should have won be­cause that speaks to the vol­ume of tal­ent we have. There are so many games we should have won out.

“It was time for us to lis­ten ... put it all to­gether and just fight, have each other’s back.”

The Redskins will close out the 2016 reg­u­lar sea­son Sun­day, New Year’s Day, with a home date against their NFC East ri­vals, the New York Giants.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Wash­ing­ton Redskins cor­ner­back Bashaud Bree­land cel­e­brates the sec­ond of his two in­ter­cep­tions in Satur­day’s win over the Chicago Bears. The thirdyear cor­ner­back had been tar­geted in cov­er­age and the Redskins coach­ing staff moved him to the slot with the hopes that he’d play bet­ter there.

GIANTS AT REDSKINS Sun­day: 4:25 p.m. TV: Fox

Ra­dio: 980 AM wash­ing­ton­times.com /sports

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Wash­ing­ton run­ning back Chris Thomp­son ran for two touch­downs on Satur­day against the Chicago Bears and has given the Redskins balance in their run­ning game.

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