SNIDER: It's now or never for the Washington Football Team


The Washington Football Team is in its happy place. A time when all of its dreams can come true.

But it has to happen now, starting with the New York Giants on Sunday. Four straight games against losing teams means Washington needs at least a 3-1 mark through Thanksgiving, or its race atop the NFC East is likely thwarted.

At 2-5, Washington returns from its bye on a razor-thin margin for success. But, the team has made late runs before. Joe Gibbs (1981) and Marty Schottenheimer (2001) both rallied from 0-5 in their first seasons to finish 8-8. Washington was 0-7 before its 1998 bye to finish 6-3, which set up its 1999 division title. The team won its last four games after Sean Taylor's 2007 death to take the NFC East. The 2012 team ended with seven straight victories after a 3-6 start to reach the playoffs.

So, it happens. But, it has to happen in the middle of the season this time. The final month doesn't look quite as overwhelming as expected when facing Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle, Carolina and Philadelphia. San Francisco and Carolina are faltering and Washington has already beaten Philadelphia. A 2-3 finish might mean 7-9 overall.

Still, December's chances rely on November's advances, and Washington requires 3-1 minimum over the coming weeks.

There's reason for optimism. Coach Ron Rivera was always better in late-season games at Carolina. He's recovering well from cancer treatment and has fresh energy to recharge the team. The bye week freshened players already mentally amped over beating Dallas on Oct. 25.

The offense is finding some rhythm after running over Dallas. Frankly, offensive coordinator Scott Turner looked tentative over the opening weeks, unsure which players to highlight in his Washington debut. He's now focusing on running back Antonio Gibson with a side of J.D. McKissic for backfield options. There's a steadier quarterback in Kyle Allen and receiver Terry McLaurin seems capable of handling the load.

Defensively, two straight strong efforts, even against mediocre teams, shows the line is finally coming together. While "Mama" Young gives her son Chase only a C-plus, the rookie has been performing at a B-plus level. Occasionally, he gets fooled and looks around for the ball, but that will decrease per game. The ends combination of Montez Sweat and Young is the team's best since the 1980s heyday of Dexter Manley and Charles Mann.

There are still plenty of gaps. Kicker Dustin Hopkins has been shaky outside 40 yards and the return game has shown little. The secondary still needs maturing. Receiver depth has been nil.

Nobody's saying Washington's going to the Super Bowl. But in an awful division, Washington has a chance to reach the postseason and then who knows. But it starts now, because any stumbling against poor opponents means Washington won't make the playoffs.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks

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