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Chain Reactions: Suddenly, 'Skins Have Life in NFC East

The Redskins have new life after two big division wins.

Ronald Martinez

The Washington Redskins suddenly have plenty to be thankful for, as they are alive in the NFC East thanks to their 38-31 Turkey Day win over the Dallas Cowboys. Now, next Monday’s showdown against the Giants at FedEx Field has a chance to be for first place if the Packers can beat Big Blue Sunday night.

Just a week ago, before the Eagles game, I called for baby steps -- like beating someone in November at FedEx Field. That mission was accomplished with the 31-6 beatdown of the Eagles. Even after the Eagles game, though, the 'Skins could not celebrate because they found out defensive difference-maker Brandon Meriweather was done for the season. Thursday, Washington was playing on short rest with a banged-up defensive captain in London Fletcher and a major question was whether Pierre Garcon would play, let alone be effective ( his 59-yard TD reception answered that).

What a difference a week can make -- unless you are the Wizards, who still have as many wins as the Capitals do right now: 0. In this week’s "Chain Reactions," we give thanks for Washington's first-ever win in Dallas on Thanksgiving, and, of course, give thanks for RGIII.

Robert Griffin III

So this is what it is like to have a real quarterback. There is no first-ever win in Dallas on Thanksgiving without RGIII. The Redskins quarterback promised to be better after the bye week. He has delivered, throwing 4 touchdown passes in each of the past two games, with completion percentages of 93% and 71.4%, and QB ratings of 158.3 and 132.6, respectively. Oh, forgot to mention: the two wins have come against division opponents. The big plays we saw on the highlight reel at Baylor are now being seen here too. It helps having Pierre Garcon on the field. Garcon proved on Turkey Day he’s not just a decoy. He still has some burst even with the toe injury.

"It all came down to how the turf felt," Garcon said. "I wanted to play. I wanted to go out there and gut it out and I did that, really."

Speedy Aldrick Robinson suddenly is finding a role as a deep threat and Santana Moss is because the new Cris Carter: just catching touchdowns. Josh Morgan continues to get the tough yards and move the chains. The other rookie, Alfred Morris, gave the Redskins a big boost once again with 113 rushing yards and a TD. RGIII’s leadership is off the charts too. He is "Cool Hand Luke" as Mike Shanahan called him after the win in Dallas. Afterward, RGIII talked about how the win was just another step.

"It feels as if something is building," Griffin III said after another spectacular outing. "Being 3-6, the character of your team is tested. If you don’t beat the Eagles, you’re 3-7 and you’re likely to kill your season or the morale of your team. Then we come out on Thanksgiving and really dominate the game, let [the Cowboys] back in and close it out. It was big for the mindset of everybody." "Hey," he added, "We might have thought we could do it. Now we know we can do it and it’s in our hands."

Redskins fans are just thankful the ball will be in RGIII's hands next Monday night when they take on the Giants at Fed Ex Field.

Takeaways Give Redskins D a Chance

Going into the bye week, the Redskins defense went two straight games without a takeaway. Since returning from the bye, the defense has come up with 6 takeaways in two wins over two weeks. For the season, they already have 22 takeaways, one more than last year's season total of 21. The Redskins defense is not going to shut anyone down this year given the issues they have in the secondary and their lack of a consistent pass rush. But the 'Skins are an effective enough defense when they give the offense short fields as they did against the Eagles and Cowboys. It was encouraging to see they could continue to make plays even after losing their best play-making safety in Meriweather.

A Psychological Boost for the Shanaskins

Let me first say this: I thought Mike Shanahan would be the Redskins coach next season, no matter what happened this year. However, going into the bye his proclamation that the franchise was headed in the right direction sounded a little hollow without real results. Now, after two straight wins over division opponents, his credibility seems to be suddenly restored. To a man, the players have openly supported the coaches' thoughts on the direction of the team. Again, though, without results, it comes off as spin. However, a win like Thursday's should empower the belief among coaches and players that they are headed on the right path.

The built-in excuses were everywhere this week for the Redskins. The loss of Meriweather, the short week on the road, a banged-up London Fletcher, and a hobbling Garcon. The Redskins are suddenly looking resilient when you stack up all the season ending injuries (Brian Orakpo, Adam Carriker, Fred Davis, Roy Helu, Chris Neild, Meriweather) they have had to overcome in order to still be in position to play big games in December.