As disappointing as Sunday’s first round exit was, Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan says he’s entering the offseason heartened about the franchise’s future thanks to an evolving locker room culture in Ashburn.
“[Sunday] wasn’t our best, but we won four in a row to close out the regular season [and] won a couple of road games [which we] hadn’t done earlier in the season,” the fifth-year veteran said. “So I think we are headed in the right direction. If guys work hard this offseason and aren’t satisfied with going 9-7 and being [ousted] in the first round of the playoffs, then I think we’ll be even better next year.”
Kerrigan’s point about guarding against complacency is a valid one considering the Redskins’ history of making the playoffs and then flaming out the following season. In fact, they’ve made the playoffs five times since 1999 and on each of the previous four occasions they took a step backward the next year...sometimes a big step backward.
“I don’t think that’s going to be much of an issue,” said Kerrigan, who saw the Redskins fall from 10 wins in 2012 to just three in '13. “We’re all disappointed. We’re not really thinking, ‘Oh, yeah, we won the NFC East. Good for us, winning season [and] all that.’ We still wish we were playing. We’re disappointed."
He added: “We felt like we’re leaving some football out there for us to be playing. We feel like we should be still playing. We have the talent to still be playing. We’re feeling like we dropped the ball a little bit.”
Locker room leadership and team chemistry are hard to quantify, but Kerrigan suspects both played a role in the team’s late season surge.
“It just seemed like guys were closer,” he said. “We hung out more away from football, it seemed like. We just really enjoyed each other’s company more. Whether that translates to the field or not, who knows? But I definitely think it was a good thing.”
Another good thing is that Kerrigan will enter the offseason healthy and distraction free. The 27-year-old shored up his long term future last July when he signed a five-year, $57.5 million contract extension on the eve of training camp. He's also 100-percent physically after undergoing knee surgery in May and then having a broken hand surgically repaired mid-season.
“I didn’t feel like the knee was bothering me [at the start of the season] necessarily,” said Kerrigan, who has started all 80 games in his career. “I just felt like when you rehab an injury, you’re trying to get back to ground zero rather than trying to improve on where you initially were. So that’s the big thing with having the surgery. That’s the one thing that was tough to overcome initially.”
“So," Kerrigan added, "that is a big thing to be able to go into the offseason healthy and just worry about getting better from a playing perspective and from a physical perspective rather than trying to rehab an injury.”
After nine games this season, Kerrigan had only 3.5 sacks. Then, he got healthy and turned it on. In his final seven games, he notched six sacks to finish with 9.5, a four sack drop off from his 2014 total but good enough to tie him for 17th most in the league. His 46 quarterback hurries, meantime, were the fifth most among 3-4 outside linebackers, according to ProFootballFocus.com.