Like John’s Minnesota Vikings, the Washington Redskins played a game on Sunday that they had to win to make the playoffs. Like the Vikings, the Skins were facing a hated division rival — in our case, the Dallas Cowboys. Unlike the Vikings’ situation, Washington’s opponent also needed a win in order to keep its season going. Yes, it was the Redskins and the Cowboys playing for all the NFC East marbles with the loser going home.
Like the Vikings, the Redskins got the job done thanks to their running back. In our case, it was unheralded rookie Alfred Morris, a sixth round draft pick out of Florida Atlantic University (the pick came from the Vikings in exchange for Donavan McNab).
While another Skins rookie, Robert Griffin, III deservedly received massive recognition for his amazing season, Morris quietly turned in one of the greatest seasons ever by a rookie running back. He also happens to be among the most humble, least pretentious pro athletes I’ve ever seen.
On Sunday, with Griffin still a bit hobbled by his knee injury, the hopes of Redskins Nation were riding on Morris. He responded by rushing for 200 yards (one more than Peterson) and three touchdowns. That brought his season total to 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns. The yardage total is a new Redskins record. I believe it also represents the third highest total by any NFL rookie (the great Eric Dickerson holds the rookie record with 1,808).
In front of every outstanding running back is a good offensive line. So I should also recognize the Skins front six: center Will Montgomery; guards Kory Lichtensteiger and Chris Chester; tackles Trent Williams and Tyler Polombus; and tight end Logan Paulsen.
Williams, who was just named to his first Pro Bowl team, was the fourth player picked in the 2010 NFL draft. Chester was a second round pick of the Baltimore Ravens. Washington signed him as a free agent before last season.
By contrast, Paulsen was an undrafted free agent. Polumbus was also undrafted and had been waived by two teams before Washington picked him up. Montgomery, a seventh round pick of the Carolina Panthers, had also been waived twice.
Lichtensteiger, generally considered our second best offensive lineman, was drafted in the fourth round by Denver as a center. However, the Broncos released him after one season. The Vikings then released him after a month. Now he’s the starting guard on the top rushing team in the NFL.
And let’s not forget fullback Darrel Young who is often Morris’ lead blocker. He’s an undrafted free agent whom the Redskins converted from linebacker to fullback.
Behind these shrewd personnel moves, and the recognition of Morris’ potential, and the courage to trade away four draft picks (three firsts and second) for Griffin, stands Mike Shanahan. Things went poorly for Shanahan in his first two years here. Last year we won only five games, and after nine games this season, our record was 3-6.
Seven consecutive wins later, we have a home playoff game (our first since 1999) against Seattle. The Seahawks defense bears little resemblance to the porous one Morris shredded Sunday night, so we’ll probably need a healthier, more productive RG III in that game.
But win or lose, the Redskins’ future, like that of the Washington Nationals, looks bright. And like the Nationals, that future is founded on two of the best young players their sport has seen for a while — Bryce Harper and Steven Strasburg for the Nats; Griffin and (incredibly) Morris for the Skins.