The best reason the Washington Redskins can still win the NFC East was sprawled on the field in Denver on Sunday afternoon holding his knee.
By Monday it was clear that Robert Griffin III should be able to play this weekend which is a good thing for the Redskins. Because as long as he is on the field, Washington still has an excellent chance to win a division that nobody wants.
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In an ordinary year, the Redskins' season would be all but done at 2-5.
In an ordinary year, the 35 points by which the Philadelphia Eagles have been outscored overall would have banished them to the bottom of the NFC East. Instead they are but a game out of first place and very much alive for the postseason despite having scored just 10 points in two weeks.
But this is not an ordinary season. As recently as last December, the NFC East was still one of football's toughest divisions. Going into the last game of the season, the NFC East had three teams with a legitimate chance at two playoff spots. Now there is no guarantee the division winner will have a winning record.
This is why the Redskins might have the best chance to win the NFC East. They have the division's best player.
Griffin may have come back too soon from knee reconstruction, but he is better than he was in September – Sunday's 132-yard passing performance in Denver notwithstanding. When healthy, he is the most dynamic player in the division, the one capable of pushing the Redskins through the second half much like he did last year.
The Dallas Cowboys should have run away with the NFC East by now. They had the Redskins weakened, the Eagles lost and the Giants hopeless. But the Cowboys have been unable to win games they should, making critical mistakes at the worst time. The team that should be 7-1 is instead 4-4, which has allowed the rest of the division to lurk nearby, setting up a possibility of an 8-8 or 7-9 division champion.
And if that happens, Griffin is the best bet to be a difference-maker.
The Redskins are struggling to find themselves in the months after Griffin's injury. They have been tentative offensively, not wanting to expose the franchise to another hit in the open field. Because he missed offseason workouts and many training camp drills while recovering from his injury, Griffin does not have timing with his receivers. There are, however, signs that that is returning. And when it does, the Redskins are too talented not to make a run.
One of the reasons the NFC East has struggled so much lately is that it has not drafted well in recent years. Russ Lande, a former NFL scout who has been a draft analyst in recent years, looks at the division and sees teams "who hit on one player each draft," but lack the overall depth that good teams need to have in drafts.
His exception to that is Washington which has overcome the draft sins of the past to fill a roster with young talented players like tight end Jordan Reed, pass rushers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo, and tackle Trent Williams, in addition to Griffin.
Now that Dallas has left the division to be taken, the Redskins' young talent still has a chance to win out. Washington has gone through the toughest part of its schedule and remains just a loss behind the Cowboys. The Redskins still face the soft defenses of San Diego, Atlanta and Minnesota, and have two games left with the Giants. They also play the suddenly punchless Eagles one more time and get Dallas at home. The chance to win six or more games is there and that might be enough to win the division.
The Redskins will have to improve upon a defense that has given up more yards than all but three other teams. But they've already played the most explosive teams on their schedule – Denver, Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago. And the moment Griffin finds his timing with the offense, the defense will automatically improve.
"Everything is a growing experience," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said Monday when asked about Griffin and the team's passing game. "The more reps you get the better off you do and get, and we all understand that. … This is a combination of a lot of different things. Sometimes you might see a guy wide open and it may be a misread or it may be a dropped ball or it may be a missed assignment or it may be somebody getting beat."
Eventually this will fix itself. Eventually the NFC East's best player will be himself again. And since the Dallas Cowboys have turned a sure title into an ugly fight to survive mediocrity, RG3 might just be the difference.
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