At 5-8 and blown out in two of their last three games, the Carolina Panthers are struggling to close out the 2016 season. At 7-5-1 and caught in a dogfight for a Wild Card spot, the Redskins most likely need to win all three of their remaining games to get in the playoffs.
Add that up and it would seem Washington should come out with much more incentive to win next Monday night, but for 'Skins coach Jay Gruden, his team is not looking past the Panthers.
"It is a huge game for us, again," Gruden said. "Carolina is the defending NFC Champions with obviously Cam Newton, awesome players, so we got a lot of work to do. It’s going to be a great challenge for us."
Gruden's response came after a question that asked about his plans to prepare for the Panthers and take advantage of the extra work day considering the Skins play Monday instead of Sunday. With a number of injuries on both sides of the ball, Gruden said he hopes his players get their needed rest, but in no way will his or his team's focus venture from Carolina next Monday night.
"We understand that we’re right in the mix [for the Wild Card]. We do know that, but we also know that one slip up and you’ll be a game-and-a-half, possibly, back. It’s just up to us to take care of what we can take care of – that’s Carolina right now," the coach said.
Remember, Gruden was livid with his team after a loss in Arizona two weeks ago. In that game, Gruden said afterward that he did not like the energy his squad played with early in the game, and there was some talk if the Redskins approached the Cardinals game with the right focus.
In a lot of ways, the Panthers and Cardinals are in the middle of similar lost seasons. The two teams met in the NFC Championship game last year and both were predicted as possible Super Bowl teams this season.
Washington traveled to Arizona after a long week - they played the Cowboys on Thanskgiving the week before - giving them an additional few days of rest. While playing the Panthers on Monday is not identical, it is again an abnormal week for the players.
Gruden seemed adamant that his team will not lose perspective. Lose to the Panthers, and it's very likely the Redskins playoff hopes are over. Sometimes with long weeks, coaches will look ahead to the next opponent to get a leg up on scouting and game plans. That won't be the case this week.
"We’re going to focus on Carolina. [Week 16 in] Chicago doesn’t matter right now," Gruden said. "We’ve got to put all of our eggs in Carolina’s basket right now and do the best we can."
Last year the Redskins went on a late-season win streak and landed in the playoffs. Sounds like the coach wants to pull it off again.
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