The players sorely missed by the Redskins this season were back at practice following the bye, part of an overall feeling of renewal for a team heartened by the collective struggles of the NFC East.
"I think everybody is refreshed, and they're looking forward to the second half of the season," coach Mike Shanahan said. "And you could see they were a lot fresher, rejuvenated and hopefully ready to go."
After losing what the coach had called a "must-win" game before the break—and then suggesting the playoffs were out of reach and it was time to play out the string—Shanahan now says there's no margin of error as the Redskins (3-6) prepare to host the Philadelphia Eagles in the first of three consecutive division games.
"The way the chips are falling in our division, we still can control our own destiny," defensive end Stephen Bowen said. "If we win these next three, we're right back on top of the division. It's crazy that these games are happening like this, but it's giving us the opportunity."
It would help if the team could get Garcon, Brown and Meriweather fully healthy and somewhere close to top form. Perhaps Garcon could be the true No. 1 receiver currently missing from the attack. Perhaps Brown at right tackle could buy more time for agile rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. Perhaps Meriweather at safety could be a bandage for one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL.
Of the three, Meriweather was the most optimistic about his chances of playing against the Eagles. He's been sidelined all season with multiple setbacks in his recovery from a sprained left knee, watching helplessly as the defense has allowed eight passes of 40-plus yards. He joked that if he does finally get to play, he'll walk right up to the press box in full uniform a few minutes before kickoff to make sure everyone knows.
"I just want to have fun, man," Meriweather said. "I think us going out there, we don't look like we're having fun. And I think when somebody comes in and we get to having fun, then I think all aspects of the game will go up."
Garcon has been in pain since Week 1, when he tore a toe ligament in his right foot. He's played in two games since but wasn't effective. Monday was his first practice in a month, and he's doing his best to try to avoid surgery—which wouldn't even be guaranteed to fix the problem anyway.
"It's a pain every time—walking, running, cutting," Garcon said. "It's a pain all the time."
Shanahan was guarded about Garcon's chances of playing this week. The coach will know more after a more rigorous practice Wednesday.
"I know it's painful for him, but he wanted to work through it today," Shanahan said. "And we'll find out over the next few days exactly where he's at."
Brown practiced for the first time since his latest hip injury, a torn ligament that required surgery in late August. He remains on the physically unable to perform list and will need time to work himself back into football shape.
"I started to feel lonely for a while, but now I'm back on the field with my teammates," Brown said. "I'm eager to see after a week or so how it feels, but I feel good. It was a great day for me."
Given their three-game losing streak, a defense that can't stop anybody and an offense that has slacked off its early torrid pace, the Redskins normally would have no business harboring any kind of realistic thoughts about the postseason.
But the NFC East has become a weekly horror show. The first-place New York Giants (6-4) have lost back-to-back games, including an 18-point defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. The other three teams are 7-14 outside the division.
The Redskins might be teetering, but they're practically stable compared to the Eagles, who have lost five straight amid persistent questions about the futures of coach Andy Reid and quarterback Michael Vick. Vick might not play Sunday because of a concussion, which would give rookie third-round pick Nick Foles his first NFL start.
"We've still got opportunities, for sure," tight end Logan Paulsen said. "Because our record is what it is, you do have to watch the standings a little bit. At this point, it's kind of a good reminder to say, 'Hey, we're still in it.'"
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