A Win, and They're In More Than the Playoffs

Joe Gibbs and the Redskins are emerging from a 5-7 start and will clinch a playoff berth with a victory over the Cowboys tomorrow at FedEx Field.
Joe Gibbs and the Redskins are emerging from a 5-7 start and will clinch a playoff berth with a victory over the Cowboys tomorrow at FedEx Field. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
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By Mike Wise
Saturday, December 29, 2007

The debate all week has been about whether Washington-Dallas tomorrow amounts to a big game. Seeing as how the Cowboys have nothing to play for -- they've already clinched home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs -- and the Redskins need this game to somehow finagle a postseason berth out of this impossibly turbulent season, it's a fair question.

The answer is, irrespective of who plays for the Cowboys, it's a monster game, the biggest single event involving the Redskins in the 10-year history of FedEx Field.

That whole win-and-you're-in proposition is part of it. But as important as this game is to the Redskins' seat-of-the-pants thrill ride toward the postseason, it also is about something less tangible. It is about seizing an opportunity, about becoming part of the national conversation again.

A loss would not undo the resilience shown by the Redskins the past few weeks in the wake of Sean Taylor's death, but it would mean the Redskins would essentially become a footnote at the end of NBC's NFL broadcast tomorrow evening, in which Bob Costas says, thoughtfully, "We wish the Redskins well after a very trying and tumultuous season."

A victory, on the other hand, would change everything, especially the national perception of the franchise. For the first time in forever, a victory that puts Washington in the playoffs would cast the Redskins as underdogs.

"The Redskins instantly become that sentimental favorite if they win a playoff game," said Brian Mitchell, the former kick returner and now a radio and television analyst. "They become the team that everyone roots for nationally."

It wouldn't just be the maudlin nature of the national media seizing on how Taylor's death devastated the club, which it did. Of course Santana Moss and Clinton Portis are playing for something larger than themselves right now.

It wouldn't just be about Todd Collins finding time in the pocket and zinging the ball downfield after having started exactly zero games at quarterback from December 1997 to November 2007.

In the aftermath of Taylor's death, Greater Washington has seen a different public face of Gibbs, team owner Daniel Snyder and the entire Redskins organization than it has glimpsed before, and the new portrait is that of gracious, respectful men in the face of tragedy.

Before this season, the image of a free-spending, maniacal billionaire unsuccessfully playing chess with his players and coaches -- using money and bravado to try to buy a championship -- was the only portrayal America got of Snyder.

Taylor's death provided the public with a different picture, a more human side to an organization that has taken its lumps on the field and in the court of public opinion the past decade.

On the field, rebounding from a 5-7 start, from essentially kissing the season off with one more loss, is a huge accomplishment. Beating Dallas would reaffirm what began after the Buffalo loss a month ago.

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