PHILADELPHIA, PA - In a five week stretch that's seen the Washington Redskins overcome one adverse situation after another, they fittingly had to navigate through another mini-crisis Sunday afternoon against the Philadelphia Eagles: A frenetic, maddening, pull-your-hair-out fourth quarter drive that threatened to derail the season.
The state of the Redskins' magical run hung in the balance with every Nick Foles completion, and every Philadelphia first down, as the Eagles offense chipped and chipped away at what looked like a game tying (or perhaps game-winning) march against the Redskins defense as the clock was oh-so-slowly winding down.
"Oh, man, [that was] stressful," said left tackle Trent Williams, who had to watch it all unfold from the Redskins sideline along with the rest of the offense. "Very stressful. My [heart rate] was at an all time high. I thought I was going to pass out."
That anxiety quickly turned into relief, however, as Foles committed a game-ending illegal forward pass to help extend the Redskins win streak to six. But even after a hard-fought divisional victory in the regular season's penultimate game, Redskins players were already showing a steely-eyed focus towards the next game, a mindset emblematic of their late-season run.
"I was thinking about [the Cowboys] since that clock said zero-zero," said fullback Darrel Young. "Let's go get the Cowboys, man. There's nothing else on my mind."
With next Sunday's opportunity at a playoff berth in front of them, it's hard to imagine that this team started 3-6. At that time, the Redskins were considered an under-achieving team in the third year of Mike Shanahan's under-achieving rebuilding project. Pundits across the league wondered if the franchise would ever return to prominence with Shanahan at the helm, and whether or not he'd be able to ever recreate the success he had in Denver over fifteen seasons ago.
But instead of allowing their season spiral out of control, the Redskins players and coaches changed the narrative. They took on the cliched one-game-at-a-time, do-or-die, backs-against-the-wall mentality each week, and haven't lost since Week 9.
"It takes a lot of character of your football team to fight through what we've done," Shanahan said.
"We had to flip it [on] after the bye week," added nose tackle Barry Cofield. "We didn't have a choice."
With each victory, the Redskins brought themselves up off the mat and resurrected their season. Now, as Shanahan said after the Eagles win, they expect to win.
"That's definitely the case," said Cofield. "It's a different type of pressure. It's the way you want to be. It's the way good teams operate. You play to win, you expect to win, and losing is extremely disappointing. When you can have that kind of collective mindset, the sky is the limit ."
That mindset was why the visitors locker room inside Lincoln Financial Field wasn't filled with elation, but rather resolve. The Redskins had already put the previous game in the rear view mirror, as they had so many times before during this six game stretch. But this time, they know next Sunday is more than just the next game on the schedule.
Instead, it'll represent a chance to cap their astounding rally by winning the NFC East crown against their arch-rivals.
"That's everybody's mindset. We're already on to the next one," said quarterback Robert Griffin III. "You don't have to celebrate wins at this point of the season. You just know what's ahead of you, and all that is for us is the Cowboys."
And the anticipation that will be building all week has already begun.
"It's gonna be hyped," said linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. "I know it's gonna be packed out. I know Redskins Nation is gonna have the stadium pumping."
And in a second half run that's had a playoffs-or-bust feel to it, it seems appropriate that the Redskins regular season will end as such, something they don't mind at all.
"It all comes down to next week," said linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, "and we wouldn't want to have it any other way."