ASHBURN, Va. — If the Washington Redskins want a blueprint for 2012, this is pretty close.
A diverse offensive attack that controls the clock and keeps the other team guessing. A defense that pressures up front and makes momentum-swinging plays in the secondary. A game in which the Redskins actually commit fewer turnovers than the opposition — something that hadn't happened before in 2011.
Sunday's 23-10 victory over the New York Giants — which completed the Redskins' first season sweep since 1999 of their NFC East rivals from the Meadowlands — is a boon for morale that coach Mike Shanahan figures could carry over into next season.
"You're always hoping your football team's improving, even though you may not have anything to play for except for pride," Shanahan said Monday. "And we get a chance to evaluate those guys on a day-to-day basis and obviously, with a couple of games left, see who gives us the best chance to win next year."
"I think," the coach added, "some of that does carry over into the following year."
Before thinking too much about next year, it's hard not to give a thought or two about what might've been this year — were it not for several injuries and a few bad breaks. Just look at the two losses to the Dallas Cowboys: The Redskins didn't allow a touchdown in the first game and allowed a third-and-21 conversion on the winning drive, then missed a field goal in the opening possession of overtime in the second game.
If those two plays go the other way, the Redskins are 7-7 instead of 5-9 and tied for first place in the division with the Giants with two games to play.
"I know it's a great win that the fans will enjoy," defensive tackle Barry Cofield said Sunday. "But at the same time it just made me think 'What if?' What if we had come out like this every week. We're a couple of games from being on top of this division ourselves.
"At the same time it made me think about the future. If we can build off this, if we play this way the rest of the season and have an intense offseason and grow as a team, then next season will be a great year."
The Redskins entered the game with only six interceptions this season from their secondary, but their got three more off Eli Manning. The offensive line, playing with rookie starters at left tackle (Willie Smith) and left guard (Maurice Hurt) and another fill-in at right tackle (Tyler Polumbus), allowed only one sack and paved the way for 123 yards rushing; even Shanahan admitted he was "very surprised" at how well they held up.
Rex Grossman, meanwhile, remains as polarizing as ever. He added two more turnovers to his season's total — now at 22 — yet was as resilient as ever and has been making his case to be a part of the team next season, even if it's only as a mentor to a quarterback taken with a high first-round draft pick.
Shanahan said it's too early to start talking about Grossman's future — the quarterback will be a free agent at the end of the season — but teammates are positively glowing about the way the offense has played since he retook the job from John Beck.
"We've been feeling that rhythm again once Rex got back out there, giving us that swag that he carried on the first part of the season," receiver Santana Moss said. "That's leading us to go out there and do what we do. We needed a guy like that to take advantage of those opportunities that we have."
The Redskins have a favorable game on the schedule this week for a change, hosting the Minnesota Vikings (2-12) on Saturday. Then they close the season with a visit to the Philadelphia Eagles (6-8), who might or might not have anything to play for.
But however they finish, no one can accuse the Redskins of giving up.
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