No one would label the Washington Football Team a playoff regular. Instead, the franchise is more like a once-in-a-while renter: Every so often, they pop by, but then they're gone before anyone really notices.
The Burgundy and Gold have advanced to the postseason just four times in the 2000s. Thanks to their upset win over the Steelers, though, they now have a major chance to boost that to five.
And if you look at it, what's happening now feels an awful lot like the previous runs to the NFL's second season that the organization has experienced this millennium.
Check out how Washington's latest playoff-bound outfits fared record-wise in December and January on their way to being a part of the post-Week 17 fun:
- 2005: 5-0
- 2007: 4-1
- 2012: 5-0
- 2015: 4-1
That adds up to a mark of 18-2. 18-2, people!
Now, can the 2020 edition go on a streak that resembles the ones its successful predecessors ripped off? Well, they'll likely have to in order to capture the division (which isn't their only route), but because they just defeated mighty Pittsburgh, there's a growing sense that they can — and those with that sense aren't exactly crazy, either.
In recent pressers, when pushed to identify why the Football Team is all of the sudden in a rhythm, Ron Rivera has spoken about how his guys are playing better because he understands them better. When San Fran's Kyle Shanahan, who was a coach on the 2012 staff that was undefeated in the winter, was asked by local media on Wednesday for insight on why certain groups wake up and sprint to the finish line, he came up with a similar line of reasoning.
As simple as that sounds, that process can take serious time, and that's especially true this year. Rivera didn't get as much offseason exposure to his roster or any preseason action to evaluate them. The tinkering he would've normally done then — like the changes he's made at quarterback, the rotation he's settled on at linebacker and the shifting that's occurred at safety — have instead happened mid-campaign.
Also, Rivera is now done with the most intense stage of his cancer treatments. When he was in the middle of them, he couldn't stay at the facility as late as he typically does and he didn't have the energy to lead like he prefers to. With that now behind him, he's feeling more and more like himself by the day.
So, Rivera's got a more solid idea of who he can trust and his health is returning. On the field, meanwhile, things are developing really nicely as well.
Since taking over as starter, Alex Smith has shaken off a large amount of rust in a not-large number of snaps. Logan Thomas is transforming into a very trustworthy tight end. The defensive line is clicking and being disruptive. Kam Curl is holding it down at safety along with Deshazor Everett.
Like the 2005, 2007, 2012 and 2015 collections before them, the 2020 version of Washington appeared very flawed throughout September and October. Some flaws do still exist, too — their first half performances leave a lot to be desired, for example, and their tackling can be spotty — but with a combination of lineup adjustments, coaching and players getting comfortable in their roles, others have been erased or at least minimized.
If this sort of reminds you of 15 years ago, when Clinton Portis posted five-straight 100-yard outputs and Gregg Williams' (oops) already good unit turned it up multiple notches, you aren't alone. If this sort of reminds you of eight years ago, when Mike Shanahan brought up wanting to look toward the future and then his charges casually captured seven wins in a row, you aren't alone. Another perfect storm could be brewing.
Would it a relief if Rivera's bunch didn't need to, ideally, go 3-1 in this last and challenging quarter of the schedule on top of their current heater to ensure they participate in truly meaningful football soon? Mhm. At some point, Washington's going to cruise into the playoffs instead of hustle in at the last moment. Hopefully.
With how the standings are now, however, hustle is probably required once more. Fortunately, this squad seems as if they're ready to accept and handle the pressure. Hopefully you are as well.