ASHBURN, Va. -- In the past month, the Washington Redskins:
Lost their top two quarterbacks and replaced them with two who’d been on the street.
Claimed Reuben Foster after his arrest and release, leading to a week’s worth of attention.
Had players pop off with criticism more than once.
Were distracted by controversial messages on a starting linebacker’s Instagram account.
Lost four consecutive games.
Somehow, though, all that hasn’t sunk them. So here they are, still alive in the NFC playoff race with two games left.
“You would think we’d be out of the whole thing the way everything’s been going, week in and week out,” cornerback Josh Norman said. “Oh my gosh, this is like a circus. But at the same time, all that doesn’t matter. We are still in this thing.”
Whether or not they’re equipped to win their final two games -- at Tennessee and versus Philadelphia -- remains to be seen. The Redskins (7-7) have 19 players on injured reserve and other key contributors, such as tight end Jordan Reed, are uncertain for Saturday’s game.
Still, here’s how the Redskins can make the playoffs: win their final two games and see Minnesota lose once. If that happens, the Redskins would be 9-7; the Vikings, at best, would be 8-7-1. And the Redskins winning their last two games would mean beating Philadelphia, so the Eagles, at best, would finish 8-8.
For the Redskins to win the division, Dallas must lose its last two games and Washington must win out. There are multiple scenarios in which the Redskins can make the postseason with an 8-8 record, but that would have to include a victory over the Eagles in the season finale. But if the Vikings and Seattle both win another game, the Redskins would not make it at 8-8.
Five weeks ago, the Redskins were in a far better spot, leading the NFC East by two games with a 6-3 record. Then they lost a two-point game at home to Houston, hurt by a pass-interference penalty that wasn’t called, a call the league admitted was missed. But the real dagger was losing quarterback Alex Smith to a compound spiral fracture of his right leg.
They lost four days later, on Thanksgiving, to Dallas. Eleven days later, No. 2 quarterback Colt McCoy broke his leg against the Eagles. In between, the Redskins claimed Foster three days after he was arrested and charged with domestic violence. A two-day story turned into four when team president Doug Williams spoke about it on the radio -- and then apologized for some of his comments the following day.
Then they lost by 24 to the New York Giants.
There were defensive players sounding off on various matters, from safety D.J. Swearinger to linebacker Zach Brown, who lost his starting job for a variety of reasons, including inconsistent play. There was friction among the players on defense.
Then, last week, a private Instagram chat involving Mason Foster included derogatory statements about the fans and team. His rationale: His cousin was in charge of his account and made a mistake. The attention, in a negative way, never subsided.
“We need to have guys that really have a lot of passion and desire to want to win and get out of the rut,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “I don’t mind a lot of people speaking up and playing hard and speaking their mind and showing their competitive spirit on the practice field. But, also we've got to understand that this is about the team and everybody moving forward and playing together and being on the same page. Our guys for the most part have done that. Any time you have a four-game losing streak, you're going to have differences; differences are natural.
“We've had our share of differences, but aired them out and got them cleaned up and guys got ready to play.”
That’s why Sunday’s victory over Jacksonville was huge.
“It was tough,” Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said of the past month. “To go from 6-3 riding high and to have it all fall apart like it did at that time, it was tough. But we’re still right in this thing and we still got a chance.”
Mason Foster said still being alive for a playoff berth beats the alternative.
“I was telling guys last week, I’ve been on teams before where you’re playing for a roster spot right now,” he said. “You’re not playing for anything because the team has been eliminated. To even have a chance to play meaningful games in December is something you always remember.”