The Redskins' Week 16 loss to the Tennessee Titans was nothing short of a heartbreaker. Coupled with wins by the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings, the defeat eliminated a team that had battled through a great deal of adversity from a chance at a postseason berth.
“It was [tough], it really was,” cornerback Josh Norman said about the loss. “Gosh, after the game I sat at my locker for a long time with a whole bunch of things on my mind. It was tough, it really was. Shed a couple tears for a lot of reasons.”
To many on the outside, the results of the second to last week of the NFL regular season signified the end of Washington’s season, rendering the final contest pointless. However, those preparing to take the field on Sunday understand that is not the case. Though a win cannot extend the season, there is still plenty to play for against the Philadelphia Eagles.
A playoff push is no longer the mentality the Redskins hold as they prepare for one final battle, but the team’s overall goal still remains the same: get a win.
“Win, it’s every week. In and out, win. Nothing more nothing less than that,” Norman said. “Finish it all out, for the gusto.”
In a season of ups and downs both on and off the field, a win on Sunday can provide relief for many in the locker room. Victories are victories, and they’re something that players will always cherish no matter what the after effects may be.
“It’s a good opportunity to finish off on the right note for us,” running back Adrian Peterson said. “That’s all the motivation you need.”
In addition to the prospect of winning, Sunday’s game allows players a final chance to showcase their talents. Each time a player steps on the field, they have a chance to prove themselves to all those watching. Though one game doesn’t always sum up a player -- as head coach Jay Gruden stated in his press conference on Thursday when discussing how the staff has been evaluating the composition of the roster all season long -- Sunday’s game give players another opportunity to show their skills and importance to the team.
For different players at different stages in their careers, the showcase can come with different motivations. Some players will get an opportunity to play in expanded roles, such as safeties Deshazor Everett and Jeremy Reeves. Others can use the game as a chance to put out more tape before entering crucial stages in their career, like wide receiver Jamison Crowder who is set to enter free agency in 2019.
Quarterback Josh Johnson is someone who falls into both of those categories. Preparing to play for the Alliance of American Football less than a month ago, he’s now set to make his third straight start for Washington. Johnson has played well in both of his prior appearances this season, but his future is still unclear. Earning another start in the NFL doesn't come easy, and he understands the benefits that can come from another good performance.
"One thing I’ve learned, you don’t want to put bad things on tape because that carries you, this is who you will be next year whether it be on this team or any other team that’s evaluating you and this can ultimately affect your career,” Johnson said. “My thing is to just lead by example being a veteran guy and understanding how this league works, so I mean the motivation for me is easy. I mean it should be for everybody, honestly."
No matter the personal situation a player may be in, Sunday also allows everyone on the 53-man roster to show head coach Jay Gruden and the staff, the fans and anyone else watching that they aren't done yet. With the ups and downs 2018 has brought the Redskins, it would be easy for players to succumb to the negatives and give up. But Week 17 provides an opportunity to show their heart and determination.
“This game is important. I want to see the type of character guys we have, I want to see how they compete, regardless of the score," Gruden said. "Whatever happens in that game I want to see guys wanting to play football, wanting to compete and wanting to get a win."
If the factors above were not all ready enough incentive, Washington can also spoil its division rival’s dream of another Super Bowl run. Philadelphia enters the final week of the regular season still in the playoff hunt. Currently on the outside looking in, the Eagles will need a little help from the Chicago Bears if the team wants to head to its second straight postseason.
However, the Redskins can end all of that with a win. A loss by the Eagles would eliminate them from contention no matter the result of other games around the league. While Washington may no longer be in the hunt, players are excited at a chance to make sure that a fellow NFC East team is in the same situation, especially if the result comes from something they did.
“Try to ruin Philadelphia’s season,” Jonathan Allen said about his mindset for Sunday. “Hope they don’t get in the playoffs.”
Week 17 may not be exactly what the Redskins envisioned when the season began, but it doesn’t mean it’s any less important to those who wear the Burgundy and Gold. Motivated and prepared to play spoiler, Washington is not ready to lay down and roll over.
“It’s football, man, anytime they’re keeping score I want to win,” linebacker Mason Foster said. “I’m going to go out there and play my heart out like you do every game.”