Correction to This Article
A Jan. 6 Sports column incorrectly said that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played seven games this season against teams that lost 12 or more games. The Bucs played five games against teams with 12 or more losses: one game each against Green Bay, the New York Jets and San Francisco, and two games against New Orleans.

Gibbs Does His Best Work in the Playoffs

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By Thomas Boswell
Friday, January 6, 2006

Few events in Washington sports remotely approach the buzz before a Redskins playoff game. When Joe Gibbs also happens to be the coach, that anticipation builds to a climax akin to the roar of a jet aircraft by game time.

If you think your heartbeat is a bit irregular during the next day, if your mind keeps flicking ahead to 4:30 p.m. in Tampa tomorrow instead of attending to matters at hand, then your odd behavior just means you have a keen sense of Redskins history.

Washington learned a long time ago never to underestimate any team that reaches the postseason if Gibbs coaches it, even in those years when the NFL barely has the Redskins on its radar screen. There are plenty of examples. Let's focus on one.

In 1987, the Redskins were a flawed team that needed December wins by four, four and three points to make the playoffs. Few expected much of them, despite an 11-4 record (a strike cut the regular season one game short). The 49ers (13-2) were the league power. You think the Colts are hot now? Frisco won its last three games by 124-7. Meanwhile, the Redskins played a dozen games decided by a touchdown or less.

Even worse, the Redskins were bereft of star power. Neither Jay Schroeder nor Doug Williams was as good as current Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell. Gary Clark was the only receiver with more than 630 yards in catches. Top running backs George Rogers (613 yards) and Kelvin Bryant (406) barely combined for 1,000 yards.

Those '87 Redskins never dreamed of record-setters such as Santana Moss (1,483 yards) or Clinton Portis (1,516) much less a proven playoff quarterback with mobility like Brunell. On that '87 squad, Chris Cooley's 71 catches would have led the team -- by 15. Those Redskins had a negative turnover differential and their most famous player, Art Monk, missed the last nine games with an injury. Even the defense was none too special, allowing 19 points per game -- a bit more than the current Redskins (18).

What chance did the Redskins have, starting the playoffs on the road against Mike Ditka's Bears who, over the three previous seasons, had gone 40-7? Of course, the Redskins won the Super Bowl -- by 32 points. A team with cohesion and character, but modest talent, became a champion.

Variations on this saga were the rule, not the exception, during Gibbs's first tour. The '82 Super Bowl champs had to win four postseason games. The '86 team was a wild card yet beat the 14-2 Bears in Chicago to reach the NFC title game. Both the '90 and '92 Redskins were only wild cards, yet won their first-round games on the road. Year after year, the Redskins improved in December, then went deeper than expected in January. Just five weeks ago, drawing parallels between Gibbs's past and Gibbs's present seemed Pollyannish. Now, failing to examine those parallels would be downright dopey. Are the old patterns returning?

If Gibbs is reading this story, by now he is shredding the newspaper into tiny pieces and setting them afire. Optimism, bah humbug! After Sunday's playoff-clinching win, Gibbs said: "Human nature being what it is, when you win a few games you feel better about yourself. People brag on you. Then you back off a little bit. Somewhere in there it leads to having real problems."

Compared to Gibbs teams of the past, the current Redskins haven't done much yet, though a five-game winning streak to reach the playoffs is certainly a good start. After the win over the Eagles, it was clear that many Redskins may not yet grasp what Gibbs and his staff consider "normal." They were pretty giddy over a fairly modest accomplishment. "It's an amazing feeling," said Lemar Marshall. "I am glad to be on a team that will get to know what the playoffs feel like," said Cory Raymer. "There are guys like LaVar [Arrington] who came a year after we went to the playoffs [in '99] and have not been there," said Jon Jansen. "They've worked hard and deserve all this."

All this?

On the outside, Gibbs is all self-deprecation. Of his 6-10 record in '04, he recently said, "To be quite truthful, I felt that there were a lot of first-year coaches who did a lot better job than I did."


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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