Kory Lichtensteiger assumed his 2015 season was over. The veteran center's streak of 53-straight starts ended three weeks prior because of a lingering neck injury. As the 3-5 Redskins prepared for a Week 10 matchup with the New Orleans Saints, he learned Washington was placing him on injured reserve, a move that typically means no more playing that season.
Then Lichtensteiger heard Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan wanted to talk. During that converstion, he learned that a path existed for his return, but also just how much belief McCloughan had in this team.
"It didn't seem like there was any doubt in his mind that at 3-5 we were going to go on a run and take the division," Lichtensteiger said of McCloughan's sincere optimism. "That's something that stuck in my mind from having that conversation with him."
The general manager explained the plan. The team was designating Lichtensteiger as the short-term injured reserve, meaning he could return if Washington made the playoffs. Ha, good one. The Redskins were 1 1/2 games behind NFC East-leading New York Giants. Coming off a 27-10 loss at New England, they remained winless on the road and showed no clear signs of stringing together wins.
Yet McCloughan's tone during the conversation oozed confidence. This season wasn't over. Not for Lichtensteiger, not for the Redskins.
McCloughan's belief proved accurate. While the Giants faltered, the Redskins won six of their final eight games and the NFC East title. The Redskins host the Green Bay Packers Sunday in the Wild Card round, their first playoff appearance since 2012.
Lichtensteiger, activated from IR Tuesday, appears on track for a significant on-field role. He suspects McCloughan wishes he could put on the pads as well.
"Scot is just an intense guy," Lichtensteiger said of the first-year GM. "I think if he could suit up and play he would. I get that impression on game day. I get that on off days when he's out watching practice. It's not just a shoot around kind of time for him. It's all about business. It's all about what he can do to make this team better. I think it's pretty evident that he has."
Others in the locker room have a similar outlook on McCloughan's work.
"He saved us a little bit," left tackle Trent Williams said.
It remains uncertain whether Lichtensteiger returns to the starting lineup or the team sticks with Josh LeRibeus. "You'll have to ask the coaches that," he said Wednesday.
Redskins coach Jay Gruden was indeed asked Wednesday about his level of confidence in Lichtensteiger. "I feel good about it. He's been here in all the meetings, obviously, so from a mental standpoint he's good to go. We'll keep him after here today and let him get his pads on a bang around a bit to see how he feels. So that will be telling tale," he said.
As for how he feels about getting back into action, Lichtensteiger copped to some rare and surprisingly desired nerves.
"Feeling a lot [of adrenaline]. I have butterflies I haven't had in a while, which is a pretty nice thing to have," the seventh-year veteran said. "You just realize how much you miss [the game] when you're out."
He did join the team on the practice field Wednesday, a needed step toward playing Sunday.
"I don't know what I can add, but I hope I can add something. Just looking forward to it," he said.
Based on his conversation with the Redskins general manager back in early November, Lichtensteiger knew to keep looking forward with the playoffs in mind.
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