By MARK F. GRAY
If nothing else Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan proved that despite some personnel and public relations miscues that he has changed the culture of the franchise with the victory at Tennessee. Where Joe Gibbs – the next generation – talked of heroic efforts after his team lost and Jim Zorn was professionally neutered by upper management costing him the respect of the team, Shanahan proved Sunday that he can still hold a team together.
After last Monday’s embarrassing performance against the Eagles the Redskins could have easily gone into Nashville flat and uninspired. Following 10 game ending injuries affecting nearly every position they still fought. With chances at the end of the first half and regulation to kick field goals that would have won the game but they grinded on. In fact the Tennessee Titans did as much to give the game to them with penalties and weakened by those injuries the Redskins couldn’t take advantage of them.
Ultimately, however, the Redskins won a game that in the recent past would have been a dagger into the hopes for the rest of the season. It had the makings of the kind of game that would have sent them spiraling downward with players making plans for the off season. Instead their 19-16 win and 5-5 record means more than just they are firmly back into playoff contention. They have bought into Team Shanahan and that was evident by the character and resilience they showed by playing with a makeshift lineup for the last 20 minutes of the game.
Shanahan’s took Titans coach Jeff Fisher to school rendering his defense clueless how to contain the deep passing game. Santana Moss ran through the Tennessee secondary so often it was hard to tell whether he was playing receiver or safety. The addition of the tight end screen packages which took advantage of the aggressive Titans blitz was a stroke of genius. Using the short passing game on first and second down to offset the injuries to their running backs and pick up yardage to set up manageable third downs was masterful. Jim Haslett’s defense, which led to the historic nightmare against Philadelphia, contained the league’s best running back Chris Johnson which forced Tennessee to be patient and they couldn’t score an offensive touchdown.
If Donovan McNabb had been more accurate the game probably doesn’t go into overtime. The first time Moss got deep McNabb overthrew him. There were times where he delivered pass to open receivers that were either high or behind them. McNabb playing behind that makeshift offensive has been in an accuracy slump for the last month but he has extended enough plays to bail them out in the face of jail breaks against their protection. He has to get better if they hope to make the playoffs but he twice led two minute drives where they should have scored if Graham Gano converts the field goals at then end of first half or regulation.
The question of whether the Redskins have enough to make the playoffs will be answered over the next six weeks. But the questions of whether the culture of burgundy and gold has changed were answered with a resounding yes in Nashville.