SNIDER: Washington Football is for real. Believe it.


The Washington Football Team had a puncher’s chance to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers Monday. They knocked the NFL’s lone unbeaten team right out, 23-17.

Forget Pittsburgh was playing on a shorter week because of Covid-19 rescheduling. That’s a weak excuse. When it came down to a brawl along the lines, Washington beat the black and blue right out of the black and gold.

The Steelers were 78-1-1 at Heinz Field with a two-touchdown lead and Washington hasn’t won a big game like this in many years. Yet, the visitors owned the second half after trailing 14-0 late in the second quarter.

It wasn’t a mirage. It’s time to believe that a 5-7 team can truly contend for the NFC East with four games remaining. They’re tied with the New York Giants, but lose the first tie-breaker so Washington needs some help to reach the playoffs. But no matter how this season ends, it’s setting up for 2021 success.

The game was much like the season figured for Washington – strong defense, mediocre offense. The defensive line never sacked Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but it buzzed around him like bees for much of the game and especially at the end when forcing the final turnover.

Meanwhile, the offense has been transformed in recent weeks under quarterback Alex Smith went through a transformation in the second half from poor to good enough.

Washington is reflecting coach Ron Rivera’s lunch-pail attitude that hard work will eventually pay off. Now, a season that opened as a disaster with a defense allowing five 30-point plus games seems a century ago.

A year with three different quarterbacks starting four games appears focused on one that is 3-1. A pandemic time where so many weird things happen around us daily feeds into a 5-7 team suddenly tied for first place.

The team optimistically projected in August of being decent is finally coming together in December. There were a lot of ifs when the team started over paths to success at midseason. Now they’ve melted together.

The defensive line is dominating. Young offensive playmakers are emerging. A coach that underwent cancer treatments for the season’s first half is now carrying the franchise.

It’s all good stuff.

But it was one thing to beat the other crummy teams. Of escaping Cincinnati and dominating Dallas. They were feel-good moments. But beating a potential Super Bowl champion in Pittsburgh is a feel-great moment because it shows all things are possible.

This may be the jumping-off point. Washington probably needs a 3-1 finish to beat New York for the crown given the tie-breaker disadvantage. But, with San Francisco losing its home field on Sunday with the game moved to Arizona and Carolina and Philadelphia on the schedule along with Seattle, there’s reason to believe Washington can finish 3-1.

It was the most unlikely of wins for Washington, but that’s how winning is really made. Now, opponents know they’re in for a brawl when playing this defense.

Pittsburgh didn’t have anything left in the end and Washington knocked them out. Now we’ll see if Washington has enough to keep going.

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

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