By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 29, 2008
After intercepting a pass late in the fourth quarter that all but sealed the Washington Redskins' 20-17 victory Sunday over the Seattle Seahawks, cornerback Shawn Springs shifted his focus to the rest of the NFC East during the closing seconds of the game at Qwest Field. Every team in the division still is in contention for a playoff berth, so this is the time of year for scoreboard watching.
"The board flashed the scores across the screen," Springs said. "In the NFC East, you know it's going to be very competitive. Every game down the stretch is going to be like a playoff game."
With five games remaining, the Redskins are among many teams in a tight race for the two NFC wild-card berths. Within the NFC East, Washington is trying to keep pace with the Dallas Cowboys and remain ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Redskins are in a familiar position, having needed strong finishes to reach the postseason in two of the previous three seasons, and they benefited from the experience, coaches and players said this week.
Washington (7-4) might need another impressive sprint to the finish, and it hosts the East-leading New York Giants (10-1) tomorrow at FedEx Field. The Giants are widely considered the NFL's most complete team, and any setbacks down the stretch could be bad for the Redskins.
"They are playing great in all three phases of the game, guys are making plays, and they have one of the best rushing games and best defenses in the NFL," quarterback Jason Campbell said of the Giants. "It's another tough challenge and another big game in the NFC East. The guys have to get ready and we have to get ourselves ready to go play.
"If we want to have any kind of shot or opportunity [at winning the division], this is a game we have to win. It's another home game and we haven't been doing really well with the big games at home this season. We are 3-3 at home, and we need to continue to try and do better at home to put ourselves in a better situation."
The Redskins are third in the division behind the Giants and Cowboys (8-4) and ahead of the last-place Eagles (6-5-1). Dallas has played one more game than Washington, which also trails the Carolina Panthers (8-3) for a wild-card spot. Among teams not leading their divisions, the Atlanta Falcons (7-4), Minnesota Vikings (6-5), New Orleans Saints (6-5) and Eagles are bunched with the Redskins.
"Losing isn't in the mind-set of these guys right now," weak-side linebacker Rocky McIntosh said. "We're definitely focusing on the Giants, but we want to make it to the playoffs."
In the 2005 season, the Redskins won their final five games to clinch a playoff spot. A season-ending four-game winning streak last year brought another wild-card berth. The Redskins were 5-6 and 5-7, respectively, in 2005 and '07 when their streaks began. Teams under .500 late in seasons "have to treat every game like a must win, and we did that," secondary coach Jerry Gray said. "We learned from that, so I think we're in a better situation this year. The team is better with more experience.
"Last year, we kind of dug ourselves in a hole, and that's the position you don't want to be in. But we played with a lot of intensity and we got to where we wanted to be. What you wish is that you can always have that same intensity when you're playing from ahead, so that you're not in that hole. That's the way really good teams like the Giants play. Those guys play with great intensity and they're not in a hole. That's when you know you can really play."
Earlier, the Redskins seemed to be on a clear path to the playoffs. Washington, which lost to the Giants in the first game of the NFL schedule, was 4-1 after impressive road victories at Dallas and Philadelphia, but then suffered a two-point loss at FedEx to the formerly winless St. Louis Rams. The victory over Seattle followed consecutive losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cowboys on the Redskins' home field.
"I feel like in the Pittsburgh and Dallas games, we had opportunities that we didn't capitalize on and we didn't do the things we needed to do to win," Campbell said. "Not to take anything away from them, they also have great defenses, but this is the part of the season where whoever gets hot at the right time has an opportunity to win games."
The Redskins acknowledge it could take another strong push for them to reach the playoffs, "and it's okay to have that thought in your head, but what good [is] the thought going to do unless you go out there and handle the first thing?" wide receiver Santana Moss said. "That's the best way I would be able to handle it, by just letting it come."
Moss and running back Clinton Portis played key roles in the streaks that propelled Washington to its last two playoff appearances.
During a Week 16 rout of the Giants in 2005, Moss had five receptions for 160 yards and three touchdowns. He had eight catches for 115 yards -- including a 42-yard touchdown reception -- as Washington closed the 2007 regular season with a 27-6 victory over visiting Dallas. Portis rushed for at least 105 yards in each of the final five games of 2005 and scored four touchdowns in the last four games last season.
"We knew every game last year, and a few years back, was a playoff game," Moss said. "That gave us more purpose to play to try and win 'em all."
Portis leads the league in rushing with 1,206 yards -- 26 more than Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. Portis hopes to win the first rushing title of his seven-year career, "but I think Adrian is a good running back," he said. "He is doing his thing, but at the same time, I think my track is to try to carry this team to put us in a position to make the playoffs -- and make a move in the playoffs."