Streaking Redskins need 1 more for NFC East title
It has something like the feel of 2005, when someone posted a
sign that read ”Five in a row or we don’t go!” in the locker
The Washington Redskins, 5-6 at the time without much of an
offense, then somehow rolled off five straight to claim a wild-card
Or maybe it’s more like 2007, when the Redskins dropped to 5-7
following a coaching blunder: Joe Gibbs’ decision to call
back-to-back timeouts, resulting in an unsportsmanlike conduct
penalty. That allowed the Buffalo Bills to move much closer to kick
a winning field goal.
Nevertheless, riding a swell of emotion in the aftermath of the
death of safety Sean Taylor, those Redskins took their next four
and again claimed a spot in the playoffs – beating the Dallas
Cowboys, of all teams, to finish the job.
But, really, 2012 is something else altogether.
These Redskins were 3-6 on Nov. 4. They had just lost what coach
Mike Shanahan had proclaimed a ”must win” against the Carolina
Panthers, who entered the game 1-6.
And while Shanahan can massage it all he wants – and he’s tried
to, in many different ways – he clearly no longer had realistic
postseason goals when he spoke after that game.
Shanahan said, among other things: ”You lose a game like that,
now you’re playing to see who obviously is going to be on your
football team for years to come.”
”He was having a moment of frustration,” defensive tackle
Barry Cofield said. ”But I think the whole team knows exactly
where he stands, and where we stand is a testament to that.”
Shanahan clarified his remarks two days later, telling the
players in the final meeting before the bye-week break that the
playoffs remained a possibility. Still, even a veteran like Cofield
couldn’t envision, say, an NFC East title.
”I thought we needed to win the next game, but I definitely did
not look that far in advance,” Cofield said. ”It was too low of a
moment to look and think we could win the division. We wanted to
win as many games as possible and hopefully sneak into the
playoffs. It was a low point for us. The bye came at a perfect
time. We came back and were energized.”
So, as it turned out, that Panthers game wasn’t a must win. But
every game since then has been.
Six victories later, the Redskins (9-6) are definitely not a
team playing ”for years to come,” as the coach put it that
November day. They’re playing for this year’s division
championship, attempting to become the first team since the 1996
Jacksonville Jaguars to rally from 3-6 to the playoffs.
What a sight it will be, therefore, when the Redskins and
Cowboys (8-7) meet Sunday night, a game flexed to prime time to
mark the end of the NFL’s regular season.
The winner takes the NFC East. Dallas will be eliminated from
playoff contention with a loss. Washington can lose and still get a
wild-card spot, but only if the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings
lose earlier in the day.
”It is two great franchises playing hard to beat one another,
and that is good stuff,” Redskins tight end Chris Cooley said.
Shanahan said he will tell his players that it will be a game
they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. The fact they’ve been
playing on the brink for a month and a half should have them well
”I think they get used to the pressure,” the coach said
Monday. ”Over the last six weeks, they knew every game was
do-or-die, and they’re used to that scenario.”
The Redskins turned it around by following the leadership of
rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. His demeanor has lifted the
entire franchise and he showed in Sunday’s 27-20 win over the
Philadelphia Eagles he can win even when he’s not as much of a
running threat because of a sprained right knee.
There’s also rookie running back Alfred Morris, whose 1,413
yards puts him within range of Clinton Portis’ franchise record of
1,516. And midseason pickup placekicker Kai Forbath, who had a game
ball shipped to the Hall of Fame on Monday after breaking the
record for most consecutive field goals to start an NFL career.
The Redskins are no longer the most penalized team in the league
– they committed only three against the Eagles – and a defense once
on pace to break the NFL record for yards allowed through the air
is getting sacks and forcing turnovers.
Washington has exorcised several demons this year. It ended an
eight-game losing streak against rookie quarterbacks; a 10-game
home losing streak on Monday nights; an 0 for 6 futility against
the Cowboys in Thanksgiving games; and a four-year hold on last
place in the division.
Now they can clinch their first division title since 1999.
”Everything we’ve been working for comes back to this weekend,
taking advantage of what we’ve done over the last six weeks,”
Shanahan said. ”It really doesn’t mean anything unless we take
advantage of our game versus Dallas.”
Notes: S DeJon Gomes has a second degree sprain of the MCL in
left knee, which could leave the secondary more short-handed than
usual for the regular season finale. … The coaching staff worked
extra hours Friday and Saturday nights to get a head start on the
Cowboys game plan, allowing the coaches to have Christmas Eve
dinner with their families and arrive later for work than usual on
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