'It made me want more': Washington's 2020 playoff run has invigorated the roster

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'A small taste': WFT's 2020 playoff run invigorated the roster originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Throughout Washington's November and December run in 2020, there was a small but vocal section of people who decried the team's attempt to climb atop a defective NFC East and secure a spot in the playoffs. To that group, sneaking into the postseason wasn't worth the consequences — What about the draft order!? — or simply felt cheap because of the messy division.

If you ask the players on the Burgundy and Gold's roster, though, having the opportunity to host Tom Brady and the Bucs in January, even if that matchup ended in a loss, was an important experience for them. They also believe it could make a difference in 2021. 

"It made me want more," Daron Payne told reporters earlier this week. "It just reminded me of being at Alabama, really, and playing in big games. I love playing in big games, so it definitely made me hungrier to get there and go deeper next time we get there."

"That's just a small taste of what we have in store," added Kelvin Harmon.

In today's sports world, there's an obsession with either residing at the very top of the standings or tanking and falling toward the absolute bottom. Hanging out somewhere in the middle, like where Washington landed at 7-9 in 2020, is often treated as the worst-case scenario, which is understandable to some extent.

The franchises that just miss their playoffs or qualify for them but exit soon thereafter can get stuck in that limbo-like space for years. Coaching staffs that maybe aren't the best get to stick around because they're also not the worst, which may hold a squad back from advancing into their league's elite territory. Their draft picks, meanwhile, aren't high enough on the board to have access to the game's next wave of rising stars, which acts as another barrier to progress. 

Yet in the NFL, and for Washington in particular, appearing on Wild Card Weekend last winter certainly has merit.

Because football's postseason format features single showdowns instead of multi-contest series, underdogs have a better shot of advancing in the tournament. Hell, Taylor Heinicke put a real scare into Tampa and Brady, after all.

Consider where the Burgundy and Gold are in their rebuild, too. Ron Rivera and his assistants were totally new last year, and they took over an operation that went 3-13 in the campaign ahead of their arrival. Simply exposing what was an incredibly young roster, as well as a roster that largely went through enormous struggles in 2019, to a do-or-die January tilt represents a great foundation for Rivera to work off of.

Just ask Kam Curl, who on Thursday spoke to what it was like prepping for the Bucs and how it compared to a usual week of practice.

"The mindset is different," Curl said. "It's win or go home. Even though, in the regular season, you're locked in and focused, you just take it to the next level."

As for Payne, it was a tremendous change from what he had gotten used to in his Washington career.

"At first, when I got here, it was hard, losing all the time," he said. "The other players just told me, 'You've got to stay the course.'"

For outsiders like radio hosts, bloggers and fans, the debate about the value of sliding in the playoff doors just before they slam shut will rage on, especially as more advanced stats and analytical thinking make their way into mainstream discussion. Those things, by the way, shouldn't be completely ignored, because they can assist organizations in many ways.

Yet the impact of suiting up for 60 super-meaningful minutes also shouldn't be dismissed when it comes to Washington's future. The guys inside of Rivera's locker room feel like making it to that point a season ago will prove useful in ensuring they travel even further in the coming years.

"It's not just about winning the division, it's about taking that next step," Harmon said. "It's not just about making that playoff run, it's about winning that game and so on and so on."