ASHBURN, VA. (AP) After seeing their team unravel following a disputed penalty call in a 28-point loss, a couple of veterans on the Washington Redskins - safety Dashon Goldson, nose tackle Terrance ''Pot Roast'' Knighton - decided that a players-only meeting would be a good idea.
On the night before their next game, Goldson told all of his teammates to stick around after the coaches cleared out of the room. He spoke up. So did Knighton. Another defensive lineman, Ricky Jean Francois, did, too.
''To believe in what we've got,'' Goldson said. ''We've got the talent here. It's just the mindset.''
Heading into Monday night against the visiting Dallas Cowboys, the Redskins were only 5-6, but they were alone in first place and full of confident talk about how they can win the NFC East to make the playoffs. That players in their first season with the Redskins would take charge of trying to put them on the right path speaks to the way new general manager Scot McCloughan set about rebuilding the team.
''Those guys are leaders. And you just look at what they've done - there's a reason the team brought them in. Obviously they can play football, too. But if there are older guys still around in the NFL, it's usually because of their leadership and what they can show by example. And they can talk about it, too, and back up what they say,'' fullback Darrel Young said. ''Those guys are our leaders and we're going to follow them.''
That's not to say other recent editions of the Redskins did not have folks with leadership abilities, Young pointed out, mentioning former players such as London Fletcher and Santana Moss.
The current crop just has ''different voices,'' Young explained.
And none is shy about expressing himself.
''If we feel that guys are being cancers ... we're definitely going to expose them and get them out of here,'' Knighton said.
Goldson (acquired in a trade) is in his ninth NFL season. Knighton (free agent) and Jean Francois (free agent) are both in their seventh season. All three were with winning clubs in the past. All three played in a Super Bowl (Goldson and Jean Francois with the San Francisco 49ers; Knighton with the Denver Broncos).
So they know what it's like to have success, something the Redskins are not familiar with lately: six last-place finishes in the past seven years.
''It's made a huge difference, just as far as the young guys being able to turn to veteran guys,'' 12th-year cornerback DeAngelo Hall said.
''These guys ... have come from places that have had a lot of success,'' Hall said. ''Anytime you get a guy who's come from somewhere with some success, it kind of resonates a little more than just a guy who's just talking and hadn't had that much success or hadn't played in big games.''
The Redskins' new leaders decided something needed to be done after seeing the way Washington fell apart in a 44-16 loss at Carolina in Week 11, a game that was tied when Redskins cornerback Chris Culliver's apparent interception return for a touchdown was wiped out by a penalty.
That reversal ''deflated the team,'' Knighton said. ''Those type of teams don't make the playoffs and those type of teams don't win, so we had to decide what type of team we're going to be. The good teams would have responded after that play.''
Goldson, in particular, earns praise around the locker room for being a key addition off the field. He was voted captain of the defense, and takes that role seriously.
He doesn't limit himself to trying to lead his unit, either.
Goldson prodded quarterback Kirk Cousins to be more of a visible and vocal leader - the point being that a team's QB needs to play that sort of prominent role.
''When something needs to be said and everyone is kind of saying `Oh, gosh, should I say something?' he is that guy that says it and it's always the right thing,'' defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. ''Whether it's something encouraging, whether it's something motivational, whether it's something that he has to put an arm around a guy or get in a guy's face ... he does a phenomenal job.''
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