Mike Shanahan knows the Washington Redskins' success this season is all about chemistry.
Certainly the deal that sent four draft picks to the Rams for the right to draft rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III was paramount in the Redskins' transformation into NFC East champions. However, Shanahan realizes the standout play by the "dems and dose" guys played a huge role as well as Washington prepares to face Seattle in Sunday's NFC wild-card game at FedEx Field.
This run to the playoffs is about offensive and defensive linemen who quietly find success. It's about a sixth-round pick who set the franchise rushing record. Washington has just three Pro Bowl selections, including special teamer Lorenzo Alexander. That is a little light for a playoff team.
After 38 years of coaching, Shan?ahan understands the value of role players.
"I think if you learn one thing as you get older in coaching," he said, "it's that you're going to get the people that you feel like will give you the best chance to win. When you're younger, you're always looking for the best athletes. You always think that athlete is going to get you that championship, and through experiences you realize that everybody has to know their role. There's only going to be so many great athletes on your football team, and [of] those great athletes you're hoping they're your leaders."
Shanahan won two Super Bowls in Denver with Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway and now has a potential NFL Rookie of the Year in Griffin. Surely he wouldn't mind a roster stuffed with Pro Bowl players. But the offensive line illustrates Shanahan's ability to run block with linemen who are team players more than talented.
"That's the only way you're one of the best in rushing in the [NFL]," Shanahan said. "You've got to have everybody working together."
And that's how a 28th-ranked defense steadily improves during a seven-game winning streak. It's about defensive linemen Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield becoming captains and showing younger plays how to play unselfishly.
"When you take a look at a Bowen or a Cofield ... you're lucky enough to go in free agency and get two good quality guys that are not only good football players but set the bar for some of the younger guys and some of the older guys on your football team, along with a guy like London [Fletcher]," Shanahan said.
The chemistry has proved decisive since the Redskins returned from the bye after a 3-6 start. The players have learned to rely on each other.
"I think that it separates teams," Shanahan said. "Teams that play with a lot of confidence are used to winning. You expect to win. I've been in that situation a few times, where it's a tough third quarter, a tough first quarter, fourth quarter and you find a way to win. It's a mindset: a lot of guys believing in each other and concentrating on their job and -- at the end -- finding a way to get it done."
Because it takes more than a star quarterback to win playoff games.