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Don't Settle for Second Best

Sunday, January 2, 2005; Page E08


Linebacker Marcus Washington (53) will be Washington's lone Pro Bowl representative, a fact the defense will use as incentive in today's finale. (Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)

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Even before tailback Clinton Portis was ruled out of today's game because of a torn right pectoral muscle, offensive linemen said his chance at breaking Stephen Davis's single-season club rushing record would only be an afterthought. Portis needed 125 yards. The Redskins were dismissive about any personal goals after last Sunday's demoralizing loss to Dallas on a last-minute touchdown. Redskins players insist that their only goal is to end the season with a victory. One team achievement that remains within sight, however, is finishing as the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL. A strong defensive effort against Minnesota's offensive juggernaut would increase the odds for a victory. After allowing 306 yards last week, including 75 in the final, fatal 55 seconds, the Redskins are 94 yards behind the Pittsburgh Steelers for the top defensive ranking. Passing the Steelers would be a monumental accomplishment for an injury-ravaged unit that has several inexperienced, little-known players filling in for injured starters. The Redskins have an added incentive by having had only one player voted to the Pro Bowl -- linebacker Marcus Washington. The Steelers today face the Buffalo Bills, assistant head coach Gregg Williams's former team, which is averaging 38 points over the past six games. But Washington faces a stiff challenge against the NFL's third-ranked offense. Minnesota is averaging 25.8 points and 401 yards a game. Wide receiver Randy Moss, who has a hamstring injury, doesn't appear to be 100 percent, but he's healthy enough for a big game. And quarterback Daunte Culpepper has already set single-season franchise records with 37 touchdown passes and 4,418 passing yards. The Vikings, who have scored 81 points over the past three games, have the second-best passing attack in the NFL. Several of Washington's lesser-known defenders will be free agents this offseason and have one last chance to prove themselves.


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