while the Redskins were handling the part of the playoff-fate equation that was in their hands

CLEVELAND — They know, and don’t let them tell you otherwise. All you have to
do is watch the right now to know this is a team that can smell its
opportunity. After over the here Sunday, with backup quarterback playing in
place of injured star , the Redskins are 8-6, tied with the for first place but
in possession of all the tiebreakers they need to put them in first place ahead
of the Giants or even the . And they knew it as it was happening. They knew the
Giants were getting clobbered in Atlanta. The Redskins came off the field after
their game well aware of the fresh circumstances.

«They gotta chase us now!» defensive end bellowed. «Everybody’s gotta chase us
now!»

That includes the Giants, who now head into the final two weeks needing the
Redskins to stumble if they’re going to defend their division title. It
includes the Cowboys, who had a tough matchup Sunday against the Steelers and
who play in Washington on the final week of the season. The Redskins no longer
need to watch any scoreboard but their own, though they don’t deny that keeping
an eye on their rivals’ fate has helped fuel their current five-game winning
streak.

«You preach to have that tunnel vision, but I know I like to feed off that
outside stuff,» Redskins nose tackle said. «I came into this week, I knew the
Giants had two tough road games these next two weeks, and knowing that I think
makes you feel like you do have that opportunity if you can take care of your
own business.»

There was a lot driving the Redskins on this day. The announcement Saturday
night that Cousins was getting his first career start because Griffin’s knee
hadn’t healed enough to let him play made everybody sit up and take notice.
Cofield said the defense used that announcement as a «rallying cry,» convincing
itself it had to play its best game of the season in case the backup
quarterback couldn’t deliver the same kind of offensive performance the
starter’s been delivering all year.

Cousins said he saw it as an opportunity to show he could start and win a game
in the NFL — something he felt people may have had reason to doubt after he
was drafted in the fourth round to be a backup. He had his family with him, and
quite a few college friends from Michigan State who drove in for the game once
it appeared he’d be starting it. And after he was 0-for-3 with an interception
to start the game, he felt he had an opportunity to show something even more.

«When you get down like that, you’ve got to have character,» Cousins said.
«You’ve got to find it within yourself. You’ve got to dig deep. That’s what I’m
most proud of, and that’s what I’m most proud of about our team — the way we
bounced back after a slow start. It’s a good feeling. I said to my dad
[Saturday] night, ‘It’s either going to be the highest of highs or the lowest
of lows.’ We’re certainly feeling the highs right now.»

Whatever the Redskins are feeling right now, they should bottle it, because
it’s working for them. There was no stress Sunday morning about Cousins
starting in place of Griffin. Cousins himself took the second bus to the
stadium, sauntered onto the field about two hours before game time and warmed
up lightly, same as he always does. As Redskins left tackle walked onto the
field around 11 a.m. ET for his own warmups, he was surprised by a question
about the team’s chances with Cousins starting.

«Kirk?» Williams said. «Kirk’s good,Josh Leribeus Jersey
. We’ve
been practicing with Kirk all year. We know he was a steal in the first round,
and he’ll play well. We’re not worried about Kirk.»

It was 329 yards and two touchdown passes later that Cousins left the field,
trailing his teammates by a few minutes because he’d been stopped for
interviews, and allowed himself a moment of solo celebration in the tunnel
leading back to the Redskins’ locker room. He skipped once, clapped his hands
together and let out a «Whoo!» to no one in particular.

«If I die tomorrow,» he said later, «I’ll be able to say I started a game in
the NFL.»

And won it, for a team that just six weeks ago was 3-6 and hoping, but is now
8-6 and looking at a division title, the playoffs and possibly even more as a
very realistic possibility.

«As soon as you start winning,» wide receiver said, «everything feels more
realistic.»

Everything feels possible for the Redskins right now. Cofield said coach Mike
Shanahan «had us repeat about 30 plays in practice this week» and is «coaching
this team like it has a long way to go.» The players like it, though, because
the result is that they show up Sunday with complete confidence in what they’re
doing. Williams said they knew the Browns were a backside pressure defense that
would sell out to stop running back , and as soon as the Redskins were able to
establish play-action and roll out Cousins, the offense would click. That’s
exactly what happened. The defense apparently heard that «rallying cry» of
which Cofield spoke and came up with two big interceptions in the second half.

And while this was all happening, while the Redskins were handling the part of
the playoff-fate equation that was in their hands, they knew what was going on
in Atlanta,Ray Rice Womens Jersey
. By the time
their game ended, the Giants’ game had already gone final, and the Redskins
left the field aware that they were in first place. They need only a win next
week in Philadelphia and then at home against Dallas the following week to call
themselves NFC East champions. Won’t be easy, but knowing it’s possible has
been the fuel for the winning streak that has them, finally, where they want to
be.

«The early reports of our demise were greatly exaggerated,» Cofield said.
«We’re a hot team right now, but we also know, if we lose next week, it dashes
a lot of our dreams. So we’ve got to make sure we stay focused and hungry.»

Hungry is exactly the way these Redskins have begun to look at the most
critical time of the year. The hunger with which they’re playing is the reason
it’s all in their hands now.

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