Redskins Find a Reason To Celebrate Their Season

By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 31, 2007

When the most improbable run to a most unimaginable place was over yesterday, they filed off the field beneath a gold sign that said "Gibbsville." And the Washington Redskins players stopped before the FedEx Field tunnel on a misty evening with the roar still spilling all around them, soaking in a scene that four weeks ago they were certain they would not see.

From speakers above, the stadium announcer's voice boomed: "The Redskins are in the playoffs!" Linebacker London Fletcher held his helmet aloft, pointing to the Redskins insignia on the side. Wide receiver Santana Moss held his hands above his head -- thrusting his index, middle and pinkie fingers up in a "21" as a tribute to slain teammate Sean Taylor. And grown men in the stands all around pumped the air with their fists like teenagers.

Behind them the scoreboard said: Washington 27 Dallas 6, and maybe they all needed to keep looking at those numbers to believe it was really true. The Redskins are heading to the playoffs, and will open the postseason on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. when they travel to Seattle to play a first-round game against the Seahawks.

"Oh, man," Fletcher later said in the locker room, shaking his head. "I've been on two Super Bowl teams. But I've never been on a team where we lost a teammate and needed to win four straight games to get into the playoffs. This has been the most special to me, the most special run."

Then he laughed, much the way that at some point Sunday night they all laughed, simply because this was not supposed to happen. Four weeks ago, with Taylor yet to be buried, they stood on this very field and watched in horror as the Buffalo Bills moved down the field in the last frantic seconds of a game the Redskins had won and kicked the last-second field goal that stole away the victory. They were 5-7 at that moment and had to walk back into the locker room and stare at Taylor's locker, encased in Plexiglas, figuring they somehow had let him down.

In a hallway outside the locker room that day, Coach Joe Gibbs looked team owner Daniel Snyder in the eye and apologized for the loss. The playoffs seemed out of the question.

But something happened in those following weeks, something that culminated in Sunday's trampling of the Cowboys, in a victory so complete that Dallas had just one yard rushing. The players weren't sure exactly what it was. Certainly some of it came from quarterback Todd Collins, a 36-year-old career backup who replaced starting quarterback Jason Campbell when Campbell dislocated his kneecap in a game against Chicago three days after Taylor's funeral.

Yet there also was a memory many of them held Sunday night. It came at that empty, foggy time just after Taylor's death when the player's father, Pedro, flew up from Florida and spoke to them in the locker room. "Win these next five games and go to the playoffs for Sean," they remember him saying.

Then they immediately lost the first one, to Buffalo.

Still, Pedro Taylor's words resonated and several players said they kept coming back to them as the season wore down.

"I think Sean's family not only gave us permission but motivation to keep going," tackle Pete Kendall said.

In recent weeks players have talked about the strange circumstances that occurred -- a gale force wind in New York that blew a punt 20 extra yards, missed opponents field goals in which the wind blew the kicks wildly to one side, passes that seemed to hang in the air an extra second until Redskins could catch them -- and said they believed Taylor was at work for them.

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