By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
A celebration erupted along the Washington Redskins' sideline when Arizona place kicker Neil Rackers missed a 55-yard field goal attempt with two seconds remaining in Washington's 21-19 victory on Oct. 21. The ball sailed inches wide of the left upright, and that small margin could provide the difference in a playoff berth for the Redskins.
If the Redskins and Cardinals finish in a tie for one of the NFC's six playoff spots, the Redskins would advance because of Rackers's unsuccessful kick. The Redskins also have a victory over the Detroit Lions, giving them a tiebreaker against another potential challenger for a wild-card berth.
Although the Redskins (5-5) have lost their last two games and three of the last four, they're still in the thick of things in the NFC, in which only Dallas and Green Bay have pulled away from the pack. As they prepare to face Tampa Bay (6-4) on Sunday, the Redskins are seeking to solidify their position in a crowded field, hoping to emerge with their first playoff berth since the 2005 season.
"We've got a tiebreaker on a couple of those teams already, and we'd like to try to get 'em" against as many teams as possible, defensive lineman Phillip Daniels said. "I wish we could have been in a better spot. We dropped four games I felt like we could have won, but we're 5-5 and still sitting better than a lot of teams right now. I'd rather be sitting here where we are and having a chance than having no chance."
In the NFC, the Redskins, Cardinals and Eagles are 5-5. The New York Giants are 7-3, and Detroit, Tampa Bay and Seattle are 6-4. At 9-1, Dallas and Green Bay are tied for the conference's best record. After playing the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium, the Redskins will have four conference games and two division games remaining among their final five.
A team's record within its conference and division also are among the playoff-berth tiebreakers, and the Redskins -- tied for third with Philadelphia in the East -- are 3-4 within the NFC and 1-3 against NFC East opponents. The Redskins face Chicago on Dec. 6, the Giants on Dec. 16, Minnesota on Dec. 23 and Dallas on Dec. 30. They also play Buffalo of the AFC on Dec. 2.
"We've probably got to win from here on," left tackle Chris Samuels said. "Maybe we can afford to lose one more game . . . but we're not looking to lose any. We want to win out; the tiebreakers are definitely going to come into play. Everybody is kind of neck and neck except Dallas and Green Bay.
"So for except those two teams we can probably put ourselves in a good position if we can snatch these last few games. We've got the tiebreakers over a couple of teams right now, so that's good to know. It just puts you in a little better position if you have them. Obviously, you'd rather have 'em right now."
Of course, tiebreakers only come into play if teams in playoff contention have identical records at the end of the regular season.
"Backs against the wall or whatever you want to call it, we've got to play great down the stretch here," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "We've got six [games] left. The next three will probably put us in a position to have a real, real strong chance on those last three. That's what I'm hoping happens."
Washington has lost four games in which it led at halftime and, had the Redskins preserved those leads, they wouldn't be playing catch-up now.
"We've let games get away from us and that's been tough," quarterback Jason Campbell said. "We could be sitting here with seven or eight wins and eyeing down a playoff berth, but we hurt ourselves.
"We didn't handle our business and now we're in gut-check time. We're not in a bad position, but it's not like it could have been. We could have been in a real comfortable position. I'm just tired of all these close losses."
The Redskins' late rally fell short in a 28-23 loss to Dallas on Sunday, when Campbell threw an interception in the final two minutes with Washington deep in Cowboys territory. On Oct. 14, Washington lost to Green Bay, 17-14.
"Yeah, you'd like to have the Cowboys game back, we'd like to have a lot of games back, but that's not the way it works in this league," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "There's nothing you can do about those games in the past, so you better not worry about 'em. All we can do is just move on and focus on these games we got left . . . just try to win them.
"We know what this football team can do because we've done it, but we just haven't finished off some games like we should. The good thing about it is we can still take care of our business as long as we do what we need to do in these last few games. So it's just on us to go out and do it now."
Before the season, the Redskins thought they were talented enough to reach the playoffs, players said, and their outlook hasn't changed despite the squandered leads and second-half letdowns.
"With the way we played that game [against Dallas], and how we've played in some of the other games, I know we're capable of beating anybody if we can get in" to the playoffs, Samuels said. "We just have to finish up strong and slide in. We'll be fine as long as we can do that. It's as simple as that."