This week connects the regular season's conclusion and the start of the Washington Redskins first playoff appearance since 2012. With this intersection in mind, we tasked our Breaking Burgundy team with a dozen questions on the overall season, the key moments and what's up next.
1. No. 1 reason why the Redskins won the NFC East
Ben Standig: Talk of locker room culture often leads to glazed-over looks from those listening, but hear me out. No matter whether the Redskins were coming off a rousing win or, more importantly, one of those early season tough losses, the vibe remained positive and the players cohesive. In years past, not so much. Adding talented and stable vets like Terrance Knighton, Ricky Jean Francois and Dashon Goldson combined with holdovers like Trent Williams and Jason Hatcher helped set the tone. Coach Jay Gruden's leadership and Kirk Cousins' calm did as well.
Chris Russell: The Redskins won the NFC East because they stayed committed to a revised plan. They trusted Kirk Cousins and didn't panic. They also did not totally abandon the run.
Peter Hailey: When healthy, the offense was unstoppable. With a healthy Jordan Reed, DeSean Jackson, and Pierre Garcon, Cousins had a full plate of options for downfield targets. Contributions from relatively unknown guys like Chris Thompson and Matt Jones helped as well, making this unit the best I’ve seen in D.C. in a long time.
Dan Roth: This answer won’t win me many friends in Washington, but how can you celebrate an achievement without thanking those who made it possible? The abominable competition in the NFC East was the No. 1 reason the Redskins clinched the division title.
Talib Babb: The No. 1 reason for the Redskins winning the NFC East was because No. 9 on the Cowboys was injured in Week 3. Before the season started I thought the Cowboys were the best team in the division, but once Tony Romo went down with a broken clavicle, things opened up for the other teams in the division and the Redskins capitalized.
Frank Hanrahan: The #1 reason the Redskins won the NFC East was the play of QB Kirk Cousins in the comeback win over Tampa Bay in Week 7. The four-game win streak at the end of the season to get in to the playoffs doesn't matter without the "Code Red" victory.
T Manuel: All teams in the division faced adversity (of various types) but in the final stretch when the division was there for any of the teams to take, only the Redskins grabbed hold and didn't let go. I like to use the quote "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity" The opportunity was there for everyone, only the Redskins were prepared to take advantage.
2. No. 2 reason why the Redskins won the NFC East
Chris Russell: I think the second reason why they won the division is because they are a resilient bunch across the board. They are far from perfect but every time they sensed gloom and doom was going to win out, they fought back and often won the battle.
Ben Standig: The Redskins eventually found a rhythm, but they wouldn't have been in position to win anything if their divisional opponents didn't help. The Giants blew umpteen fourth quarter leads. Tony Romo's injury derailed the Cowboys. Those scenarios plus the Eagles dropping a rung or two after back-to-back 10-win seasons certainly helped.
Peter Hailey: Better depth. Almost every rookie helped, as did a lot of free agent signings. Top to bottom, this team is better than, say, RG3’s Redskins from a few years ago.
Dan Roth: Cohesion. This was a team that bought into Jay Gruden’s system and, at a higher level, Scot McCloughan’s plans. Individuals took a back seat to the team effort, which isn’t always a given in Washington. The way Alfred Morris initially handled his reduction in carries comes to mind as a prime example.
Frank Hanrahan: Jordan Reed is another huge reason the Redskins are where they are. We knew if he could stay healthy, he was a force to be reckoned with and he's been super so far with 11 touchdowns.
Talib Babb: I'll give the Redskins offense credit for being the next main reason for why they won the NFC East. They had their struggles in the beginning of the season, but as the season progressed, so did Kirk Cousins. He became very comfortable within the offense, especially when he had both DeSean Jackson and Jordan Reed at his disposal.
T Manuel: Scot McCloughan and Alex Santos leading the way to pick up valuable free agents during the season. Football is a game of attrition and the Redskins Front Office worked hard throughout the season to compensate for that. Also, signing leaders like RJF, Pot Roast and Goldson. It's a different vibe with this team. Different from last year and different from the rest of the division.
3. Who is your 2015 MVP?
Ben Standig: Obvious or not, you got to like what Kirk Cousins did this season. Because of the RG3 factor, Cousins faced even more pressure than perhaps every other quarterback in the NFL. After the up-and-down first half of the season, he took off down the stretch and so did the team.
Chris Russell: Jordan Reed. Without him, the offense is almost nowhere, with all due respect to Kirk Cousins.
Peter Hailey: Not mainstream at all, but the quarterback. His consistency and peak performances were a pleasure to watch.
Talib Babb: The Redskins 2015 MVP is Kirk Cousins. Can he get Most Improved Player too? That's an NBA award, but still, he really grew after having some very sloppy performances in the beginning of the season. What's impressive is how he was able to torch teams in the final month of the season despite the nonexistent running game. Teams keyed in on trying to stop the aerial attack, but still came up very short in December.
Dan Roth: Kirk Cousins is my 2015 MVP. I had to think about this question for some time, and I think that speaks to the cohesion I was rambling about in my previous answer. Cousins held this team together, owning up to his mistakes at the podium each week after the Redskins’ losses while never exuding a sense of hopelessness. Runner up: Jordan Reed.
Frank Hanrahan: My 2015 MVP is Kirk Cousins. Record setting season in more ways than one. His "You Like That" quip sparked what was looking like a lost season.
T Manuel: Has to be Kirk Cousins. I get that he played better when guys like Jackson came back and Reed was a beast. But the pressure was all on him and he navigated the team through all the peaks and valleys of the season w/o any of the panic we feared we'd see from our experience last year
4. Biggest surprise, good or bad
Talib Babb: The biggest surprise was the fact that Kirk Cousins staved off the threat of being benched all season. Cousins had some rocky starts, but at least to me, there may have been only one moment , which is way less than I expected, where I thought "uh-oh, he might be hitting the bench if this continues." Cousins had been benched for poor performance in 2014, so coming into this year I thought that scenario would repeat itself, but I was way off.
Chris Russell: Biggest surprise is that the Redskins special teams blocked a punt this year. It had been nine years. Overall, special teams have been much improved and have helped the Redskins win a few games. They actually invested in their defense and on guys that could/wanted to play teams and that solidified things.
Peter Hailey: Jordan Reed’s health and production. The offensive line allowing less than 1,000 sacks is a close second, because that unit has hampered this organization for years now, but I went from being worried about whether Reed would play every Sunday to being worried about how many franchise records he’d break.
Dan Roth: The Redskins refrained from making a drastic, mid-season decision and stuck with both Gruden and Cousins after falling to 2-4 on the season. On a related note, they managed to avoid a full-blown media circus, which is surprising in and of itself.
Frank Hanrahan: Biggest surprise of the year was the continued improvement of Cousins. A year ago, he was a third stringer and his meteoric rise was something to behold.
T Manuel: Chris Baker. I was getting worried that Swaggy P was becoming more important to him than Chris Baker, football player. His productivity shows you can have fun and work hard. Maybe I wouldn't say surprised, but definitely pleased.
Ben Standig: Remember the panic back in training camp when first round pick Brandon Scherff shifted from tackle to guard? Remember the concern of having Morgan Moses at tackle, meaning an incredibly inexperienced duo would form the right side of the offensive line? Not only did Scherff and Moses hold up, but they were consistent, solid and then some throughout the season to the point where we rarely heard much about them. For offensive linemen, that's often a good thing.
Part 2: Key moment, key move, silliest debate
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