The Washington Redskins are coming off an early bye week, and that provides both short-term relief and long-term issues for a team that must now play 13 weeks in a row to finish the 2018 season.
A Week 4 bye gave Washington (2-1) the chance to rest, recover and prepare for the New Orleans Saints (3-1) on Monday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Running back Adrian Peterson (ankle) deemed himself “ready to roll” and cornerback Josh Norman (hamstring) and left tackle Trent Williams (knee surgery) had time to heal and ease their way into practice this week.
That helps the Redskins now. The grueling schedule the rest of the way might make things difficult for them during the NFC playoff stretch run.
“That’s the grind,” head coach Jay Gruden said. “That’s going to be the biggest challenge, 13 straight weeks of nonstop football.”
On the Saints side, the return of Mark Ingram II figures to give the New Orleans running game a significant boost.
But Ingram’s return from a four-game suspension and anything the running game does against Washington on Monday Night Football is bound to be overshadowed by Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
A sellout crowd will arrive in a celebratory mood, eager to see Brees pass for the 201 yards he needs to break Peyton Manning’s NFL career record.
“Prime-time game, good team, in New Orleans,” Ingram said. “It should be a real good environment.”
But Ingram sort of downplayed Brees breaking the latest record in a record-breaking career.
“He’s breaking records every year,” Ingram said. “He’s always accomplishing something, always some milestone that he’s setting. It won’t be the first time I’ve seen him break a record and it won’t be the last time I see him break a record.
“I’ve been a part of a lot of Drew Brees’ records or I have witnessed them in the Dome in some form or fashion. It’s just another day in the life of being a teammate of Drew Brees.”
The Superdome was the site of a disastrous Week 11 loss that all but ended the Redskins’ playoff hopes last season. They led 31-16 with 5:58 to go, gave up two quick touchdowns and fell in overtime. That was the same game running back Chris Thompson broke his right leg and left guard Shawn Lauvao made his final appearance of the year.
“It was a pretty solid game for what it was at 55 minutes probably on both sides of the ball,” Gruden said. “On the road, it was a tough environment, but offense, defense, special teams played well. Then the last five minutes, we failed to get a first down and they scored two touchdowns and 15 points in five minutes.”
It’s unclear exactly what the Redskins are. They earned a dominant road win over the hapless Arizona Cardinals (0-4) and looked good in Week 3 against the Green Bay Packers in a 31-17 win. But they struggled in a 21-9 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 2 at home.
Washington is in first place in the NFC East, a half step ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. But the Redskins aren’t looking at the standings yet. They haven’t even played a division game and won’t until Week 7 against Dallas at home.
“It’s way too early right now,” defensive end Ziggy Hood said. “There’s no point. It’s up and down each week. It doesn’t matter in the first quarter of the season. As we go along we’ve got to make sure that we remain No. 1.”
Concerns remain about wide receiver Josh Doctson, who has not practiced the past two days and endured bouts of heel pain this season. Doctson is also off to a slow start. The 2016 first-round pick has five catches in three games.
Lauvao (calf) remains out, but Williams was at least working on a side field as he recovers from scheduled bye-week surgery. Morgan Moses (concussion) is also back on the field after getting hurt in the Green Bay game. Norman insists he will be ready to go Monday against the Saints.
“The bye week came at the right time,” Peterson said. “Not only for me but a lot of other guys on the team that were banged up. Gives you that extra week to heal up and lick your wounds.”
Monday will be the 27th regular-season meeting between the teams. The Redskins lead the all-time series 17-9.