First, let's be clear: The Washington Redskins are still a bit of a mess. But even the messiest wins are a hell of a lot better than the cleanest losses (if there is such a thing). And yes, the Redskins did manage to defeat the Chicago Bears Sunday.
They're still a mess, though, because they surrendered 41 points at home to an injury-riddled Bears team that was without its starting quarterback for the majority of the game.
They're still a mess because they cut it as close as they did against a depleted defense that was without key defensive linemen Henry Melton and Nate Collins, and starting middle linebacker D.J. Williams. Linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman also left the game
They're still a mess because they surrendered a touchdown on special teams for the third consecutive week, this time allowing Devin Hester to score on a punt return for the first time since 2011. They entered the week with the worst special teams in the league, according to Football Outsiders, and that isn't likely to change based on what we saw Sunday.
They're still a mess because, while they took only five penalties in total, two were personal fouls against top safety Brandon Meriweather, who continues to break rules when it comes to where he's hitting players and may be suspended.
We mentioned that they won, though, right? And this was a must-win game, because 1-5 is a hell of a lot tougher to come back from than 2-4.
And why'd they win?
They won because the offense finally looked completely like the unit that scored more points than all but three other teams in 2012.
They won because franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III recovered from an early mistake (a brutal first-quarter interception to Tillman) and put together his most impressive game of the season. His 105.2 passer rating was the highest he's recorded since that original knee injury he suffered last December against the Ravens. Including that playoff loss to the Seahawks, that's half a season's worth of games.
|Robert Griffin III: Best games since initial 2012 knee injury|
|Sept. 15||Green Bay Packers||104.2|
|Dec. 23||Philadelphia Eagles||102.4|
|Sept. 29||Oakland Raiders||91.7|
|Sept. 9||Philadelphia Eagles||77.7|
|Pro Football Reference|
They won because Griffin looked fast. More importantly, he looked faster than he did last week. Every week, that right knee is becoming less of a factor. And when RGIII is a threat as a runner, he naturally becomes more dangerous as a passer.
|Robert Griffin III as a runner, 2013|
|First 4 games||4.5||18.0||4.0|
|Last 2 games||10.0||80.5||8.1|
The Redskins won because, in a tight, back-and-forth game, Griffin completed six of his nine fourth-quarter passes and was five-for-seven on Washington's game-winning touchdown drive.
They won because, on that drive, Griffin made two exceptional throws on separate third downs. Down three and out of field-goal range with just over two minutes to play, he escaped immense pressure and hit a tightly covered Pierre Garcon on the right sideline. And then on a 3rd-and-4 with less than a minute to play, he threw a dart to Jordan Reed to set up a goal-to-go situation.
They won because of Reed, too. That receiving corps has dropped too many passes and lacked consistency, and incumbent starting tight end Fred Davis has been missing in action. But the rookie Reed has become Griffin's most reliable weapon. The third-round pick out of Florida caught all nine passes thrown his way, registering a career-high 134 yards and a touchdown.
They won because the running game, beyond RGIII's contributions, is picking up steam. Alfred Morris is still Alfred Morris, and he had a solid day with 95 yards on 19 carries against Chicago, but the emergence of Roy Helu as an alternative option has been crucial. You can never have too many effective backs, and Helu was a monster in the red zone Sunday.
In fact, Helu carried the ball five times inside the Chicago 21-yard line and scored on three of those carries. On those five attempts, he managed to gain 38 of a possible 54 yards, which is quite amazing.
Washington won because the offense is finally beginning to get into a groove, and that's exactly why the 'Skins will remain contenders throughout the year. Don't expect them to fall out of the playoff race before the end of December—especially in the NFC East, where the inconsistent Cowboys are only a 1.5 games ahead with a 4-3 record. Philadelphia has a slew of problems at 3-4 and the Giants are still seeking their first victory of the year.
In this division and with this offense, the Redskins can afford to slip up on defense and special teams (perhaps against teams like Denver, whom they face in Week 8) and still come out on top at the end of the regular season.
In the NFL in 2013, high-powered attacks like these can survive those problems. Two years ago, the Patriots and Giants met in the Super Bowl despite both being ranked in the bottom six defensively, and the Saints gave up a ton of yardage in their 2009 Super Bowl campaign.
The Redskins would rather not resort to having to win shootouts every week, but this is an imperfect team and that's better than nothing.