The Redskins' 17-14 win over the Bears was notable for CB DeAngelo Hall's record-tying four interceptions, a great individual effort in a turnover-plagued game. But also notable was the play of NT-DE Albert Haynesworth, who turned in his best performance as a Redskin — not just this season but including last year as well. It has been a trying season for Haynesworth, with many of his problems self-inflicted, but he responded with a huge effort.
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There has been no mincing words between Haynesworth and new head coach Mike Shanahan about the player's dissatisfaction over playing in a 3-4 defense that he believes doesn't suit his skills. But both men have to take a step back now that the team has a 4-3 record — matching the Redskins' win total of a year ago — and recognize that things are working relatively well, albeit in a strange fashion.
The Redskins' defense is not without its flaws, but Sunday's win showed that having a motivated Haynesworth playing at or near his top level can make huge difference. The team mostly played him in its nickel package, and Haynesworth responded with a big effort. He sat out Week Five because of the death of his brother and was a healthy scratch last week against the Colts and their two-minute offense, and Haynesworth was not happy about it. Perhaps Shanahan has found a way to channel Haynesworth's energy and get him to focus it on the field, as he did Sunday.
Against the Bears, the Hall interception and 92-yard TD return was a major momentum changer. But Shanahan indicated that Haynesworth's assistance on a goal-line stand and forced fumble on Bears QB Jay Cutler was the turning point of the game. Haynesworth vaulted over the middle of the line, beating a tandem block, and helped stonewall Cutler, who had the ball knocked out by LB London Fletcher.
"Obviously that's the difference in the game, any time you make a play like that at the one-yard line," Shanahan said. "(Haynesworth) did a great job of penetrating and was the difference on the play."
We've come a long way from failed conditioning tests and trade demands.
The credit is two-fold: Both Haynesworth and the coaches have learned how to adapt. Haynesworth is adjusting to the 3-4 scheme he once loathed, and Shanahan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett have learned to work with Haynesworth's unique skills and find ways to best use him. He's certainly an expensive one- or two-down pass rusher, but that's a problem for the offseason. Instead of having to clog lanes and absorb constant double-teams, Haynesworth is being put in positions where he can knife through gaps, slant and penetrate, which is what he did in his best two seasons in Tennessee.
Credit both sides for — temporarily, at least — moving past their differences to put the football team first. Haynesworth could continue to brood, upset he didn't play the week before, and Shanahan could have continued to wield his power and show who was boss. But both men have seen the opportunity the Redskins have at 4-3 in a wide-open NFC picture where no team has moved to the forefront.