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In a Balanced League, Redskins Are Staying Alive

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Never apologize for winning.

Not when it's a sloppy win. Not when it's an ugly win. Not when it's any kind of win.

No one would want to paint a collage of the Redskins' 17-14 triumph over the Chicago Bears and hang it in the National Gallery, especially if the focus was the offense.

The Redskins gave up one touchdown on an interception and another was erased by a penalty. They fumbled six times, losing one. They wasted outstanding field position and scored only one offensive touchdown.

Fifteen possessions, seven punts, two turnovers, a missed field goal.

Ouch.

That's all there but it's secondary. As coach Mike Shanahan said after the game, "The first thing you do is look at us winning."

The Redskins won. They won on the road. They beat a team that was leading its division and they came from behind twice to do it.

The four victories equal the total of all of last season, which was no piece of artwork itself. The 17 takeaways through seven games equal the total of last season's meager harvest and lead the NFC. The Redskins again allowed only one offensive touchdown, as they have in every victory.

That's the good stuff. Six takeaways against the Bears, coupled with four sacks, powered this team. DeAngelo Hall's 92-yard return of an interception – one of his four that tied an NFL single-game record – gave the Redskins the lead in the third quarter and they held the Bears scoreless in the second half. The Bears have yet to score a point in the third quarter this season and a forced fumble by the Redskins at the 1-yard line extended that streak.

Individual plays – Hall's picks, Albert Haynesworth's goal-line crushing of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and London Fletcher's strip of Cutler – certainly belong on a highlight reel. The big picture? Not entirely suitable for framing.

The Redskins and Bears combined to go four-of-23 on third down. That doesn't lend itself to scoring drives. They combined to turn the ball over nine times and punt 14. There were four touchdowns and two came on interception returns.

It all fits the weird pattern of Redskins victories. No offensive touchdowns but a defensive score to beat the Dallas Cowboys. One touchdown to beat the Philadelphia Eagles. One touchdown to beat the Green Bay Packers. In all of them, a defense noted for allowing massive yardage kept potent teams away from the end zone.

The Redskins are not alone in discussing how to close out their opponents, how to finish. There are 60 minutes in a game and occasionally more and every one counts in a balanced league with no unbeaten teams.

Consider the slate of Sunday games and think about closing out, finishing, and the fascinating way in which even seeming blowouts turn.

The winless Buffalo Bills watched a 14-point lead over the Baltimore Ravens evaporate. The Ravens then let a 10-point edge slip away before winning in overtime. The Ravens should have known better, having failed to close out the New England Patriots the week before after leading by 10 in the second half and losing in overtime.

The Atlanta Falcons held a 21-point lead over the Cincinnati Bengals but found themselves behind before rallying. The Philadelphia Eagles led the Tennessee Titans by nine in the fourth quarter before crumbling in the face of a 27-point onslaught.

The St. Louis Rams led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17-3 in the second quarter, never scored another point, allowed a touchdown with 10 seconds left and lost a game that should have been secured.

The Miami Dolphins took the ball away from the Steelers on Pittsburgh's first two possessions, led the Steelers 6-0 but lost at home, where they are 0-3, 23-22. Those teams combined for six red-zone possessions and kicked field goals every time. Yes, the Dolphins got hurt on a controversial officiating decision but the point remains the same. Finishing isn't as easy as we like to make it sound … for either the Dolphins or the Steelers or almost anyone.

Flip back to last year, painful as that may be. The Redskins' first five games were decided by a total of 19 points and they were 2-3 against a less-treacherous schedule than 2010's. After seven games, they were 2-5, those decisions by a combined 43 points.

Now? The first five games, in which the Redskins were 3-2, were decided by a total of 31 points, 14 of those in the loss to the St. Louis Rams. Through seven? A 4-3 record, 37 points making the difference.

The Redskins make big plays instead of a series of smaller, more consistent ones. Staying alive in every game may be akin to nearly dying every time out but the heartbeat continues and the pulse remains strong. At least in the locker room. Fans, of course, keep reaching for the oxygen mask.

Life on the edge isn't easy. But it's life in the NFL and the Redskins are making it worth living.


Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for Redskins.com and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at Redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.

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