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McCloughan's Plan Reaches First Step, But Veterans Know There's More

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*General manager Scot McCloughan recruited veteran players from winning organizations. His moves before and during the season made Saturday night's division win possible. *

The initial aftermath of the Redskins' 38-24 victory over the Eagles, one that clinched them an NFC East division championship, was of celebration – players cranked up stereos, broke out into dance sessions and encouraged coaches and front office personnel to try dance moves that were out of their vocabulary.

Once that first burst of excitement wore down, some continued hugging and dancing, wearing their gray champion T-shirts and hats while getting interviewed. But a few others retreated to their lockers, sitting on their stools, slowly undressing, digesting a huge win with solemnity, knowing this was only the first step.

"Before we think that far ahead, let's win a playoff game in the DMV and see how that feels," defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said. "We have steps to make. I understand that we are going to celebrate and that we're going to be happy, but once we walk out of the locker room and I put this hat up, I'm thinking about Dallas."

Jean Francois was the first free agent general manager Scot McCloughan signed at the beginning of 2015, already a part of McCloughan's rebuilding process as a member of the San Francisco 49ers. So was safety Dashon Goldson, who was traded from Tampa Bay in April and quickly became a Redskins team captain.

McCloughan's other additions, which have included everyone from Will Blackmon to Mason Foster to Quinton Dunbar, became key contributors in unlikely roles, exemplifying the tough, hard-nosed kinds of athletes he valued from the minute he walked into Redskins Park.

"I can already feel the passion yesterday just walking through and meeting people," McCloughan said at his introductory press conference last January. "I can see smiles, I can see…there's no reason why this team can't win. There's no reason at all."

He saw many more Saturday night, imagery confirming his prophetic vision for what the Redskins could achieve in 2015. Still, even his disciples, the ones that followed him to Washington after he sold them his plan, didn't have something like this in mind right away.

Check out images of the Washington Redskins celebrating their 2015 Week 16 victory -- and their NFC East title -- over the Philadelphia Eagles Dec. 26, 2015, at Lincoln Financial Field.

"At first, no I didn't [believe]," Goldson said. "But as practice went on and OTAs and all that stuff and the season and how I saw our guys get better and start to learn things, that's when I realized that we had a lot. We had a lot of potential here, and we can really do it if we come together."

It was hard to see the plan six games into the season, with Washington sitting at 2-4. The Redskins had suffered a fair share of injuries, several season-ending, that forced them to find alternatives, and then alternatives hit the shelf, too.

But "next man up" became the norm -- or, as defensive coordinator Joe Barry likes to say, "starters in waiting" were catapulted into starting roles.

Dunbar converted to cornerback and then found a starting role. Blackmon stepped in and became a helpful crutch to a depleted secondary. Foster, needed with injuries to inside linebackers Perry Riley Jr. and Keenan Robinson, waited for his turn for several games and then excelled in his first start against the Cowboys.

"I didn't want to let anybody down, but [McCloughan] gave me a chance and took a shot when no else would, so the last thing I wanted to do was let somebody down," Foster said. "So I went out there, worked hard every single day, and was ready for my opportunity, man."

Even McCloughan's draft picks played major roles in key positions – Brandon Scherff, Preston Smith, Matt Jones, Jamison Crowder and Kyshoen Jarrett – expediting an initial process that had promised to take longer and require more patience.

The veterans, with an understanding of what it took to win and get to the playoffs, kept instilling a resiliency. The team, winning three straight games, two of which came on the road, responded accordingly.

"Scott McCloughan put together a team that he was sure was going to win, and we did just that," Jean Francois said. "We're not done. A lot of people didn't even believe that we were going to get to this point, but hey, I got a hat on my head. I believe. This team believes, Jay Gruden believes, the ownership believes, the president believes. That's all that matters."

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