The Redskins have had plenty of time to think and refocus since a tough loss in Dallas on Thanksgiving, which has led to an upbeat week of practice in preparation for the Arizona Cardinals.
In the days leading up to the Redskins' Thanksgiving Day game against the Cowboys, there was plenty of talk regarding Washington's lack of rest compared to Dallas'. Not only did the Redskins play on the Sunday night before a Thursday game, while Dallas played at noon local time earlier that day, but Washington was the team that had to travel.
Whether rest played a factor or not, Washington came up just short against the Cowboys in a 31-26 defeat. Although the Redskins must have felt exhausted on the plane ride back to Washington, D.C., the break that came afterward was a welcome one for the players as they will have had eight full days of rest when Sunday's game kicks off in Arizona.
"I think having those days off, it gives us some time to just get away from football a little bit and just relax, get our minds right, because this game is all mental," tight end Vernon Davis said. "If your mind isn't right, then you're not going to do well. From a mental standpoint, I think it was a great opportunity for us to get ourselves together."
The result of the off days has been an exceptionally upbeat week of practice, so much so that the team has been asked about the enthusiasm displayed. Much of the team attributed that to a refocus.
"I think it did, it helped a lot for the guys," head coach Jay Gruden said of having the weekend off. "I just saw the energy from play-to-play, the one-on-one battles. You could see the energy was there – fresh legs, so to speak. It was good to have those three days off. It was a grind, three games (in) 11 days was tough on these guys, but to give them three days off and a sharp practice on Monday, and then another day off – so four out of the last five days they've been off – it was good for everybody, including the coaches."
The NFL season has a habit of flying by, and the 2016 campaign is no different. As Gruden reminded bluntly on Wednesday – "you get 16 cracks at it" – and the Redskins have five remaining. Washington currently holds the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC at 6-4-1, but the race has tightened quickly with Tampa Bay at 6-5. New Orleans, Green Bay and Philadelphia are all 1.5 games back.
The tight Thanksgiving Day loss to Dallas added to the list of close losses for the Redskins, which have had three of their four losses decided by five points or loss. The chance to decompress before two more road games – this week in Arizona and next week in Philadelphia – feels almost like a second bye for the Redskins to prepare for the stretch run.
"Yeah, it was a close game [in Dallas], tough situation coming from [a short week], that's not an excuse because they had a short week, too, but getting that time to get our bearings back and get healed up," center Spencer Long said. "We got some nicks, and a lot of guys are toughing it out right now, but if we come prepared we'll play well this week and just keep moving. That's the plan, we got to finish strong."
After going 13-3 and reaching the NFC Championship game a year ago, 2016 has not gone to plan for the Cardinals, which have lost back-to-back games and sit at 4-6-1 on the season. Arizona's descent has been puzzling due to the amount of talent that remains on its roster, which has Washington preaching that it, "can't sleep on them," as Long said Wednesday.
"That what makes the good teams great and the not-so-good teams not so good is the ability to come out week-in and week-out and play with great energy and great passion for the game with a sense of urgency," Gruden said. "This is a good football team that we're playing, I don't care what their record is, they are a very good football team. If you go 13-3 not too long ago, you have good players – Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, [David] Johnson – I mean it goes on-and-on the list of players that they have offensively and defensively. We have to get geared up."