You Have to Beat the Bully

By Michael Wilbon
Monday, November 7, 2005

You don't dare think of the playoffs without first beating division rivals, without winning at home, without rebounding from a humiliating defeat.

A contender's resume has to have something other than running up the score on everybody's favorite homecoming opponent, the sorry, no-account 49ers.

Finally, the Redskins loosened the grip the Eagles have had on their throats the last four years, holding off Philly, 17-10, to keep pace with the contenders, to show that last week's loss was one game and not a trend, and to remain undefeated at home as FedEx Field begins to resemble something of a home-field pit that even conference champions find hostile and uncomfortable.

It shouldn't particularly matter to the Redskins that the Eagles suspended selfish jerk Terrell Owens Saturday and that he didn't play. What more could an opponent ask for than to have a division rival start to implode smack in the middle of a season?

Of course, the rest of us naturally wonder what Donovan McNabb might have been able to do with a first down at the Redskins 13-yard line, more than a minute to play and T.O. lined up to run that fade route to the corner of the end zone.

Perhaps even the egomaniacal Owens wonders, too, if he bothered to watch the game. But McNabb threw incomplete on second and third downs and watched Ryan Clark intercept the final pass, on fourth down, to seal the game.

There no conclusions to draw from last night's victory, other than the Redskins are 5-3 after beating a team they haven't been able to beat, whether we're talking pre-T.O., with T.O. or without T.O. "It's a big deal for us; we all knew it," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "I pretty much had it pegged that if we lose this our back is going to be against it the rest of the way." But Gibbs, wisely, didn't project or declare, not with half the season left.

"What this does," Gibbs said, "is give you a lift." When asked if his team is a strong 5-3 or a soft 5-3, the coach said: "I wouldn't want to characterize ourselves. I just don't know."

All he could know as last night turned to this morning is that his team beat a team it had been unable to beat for a long time. The Cowboys and Eagles really have brought the Redskins much of their misfortune over these last 10-plus years.

The Eagles have positively owned the NFC East for four years. In that time, the Redskins lost seven straight in what used to be a rivalry.

The Eagles have so dominated the matchup that Philly fans don't even bother anymore to beat up people wearing Redskins jerseys when the games are up there. In that time the Eagles have beaten the Redskins close and beaten 'em bad, beat them here and beat them there, beat them every way imaginable.

It's tough to make the case that any game between a pair of 4-3 teams fits into the must-win category. But the fact is, there are a whole lot of teams fighting for precious few playoff spots in the NFC. The Seahawks, Bears, Falcons and Panthers all appear headed for the playoffs, which leaves two spots for the Giants, Cowboys, Eagles, Buccaneers, Rams and Redskins. And the Redskins have to play three of those teams -- Eagles, Bucs and Rams -- on the road.

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