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Washington Redskins' NFL playoff hopes are still alive despite injuries

Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 24, 2010; 1:27 AM

With six games remaining, the Washington Redskins still are positioned to compete for a postseason berth despite season-long problems on offense and defense, and a staggering number of recent injuries.

The Redskins hold potential tiebreakers against some of their competitors for the two NFC wild-card spots, but they face major challenges as they try to achieve the overall record they'll likely need before tiebreakers will matter.

Owner Daniel M. Snyder hired Coach Mike Shanahan to be a difference-maker in such situations, and the Redskins, albeit somewhat surprisingly, are still in the hunt.

"It's definitely not over for us," cornerback and defensive co-captain DeAngelo Hall said. "We've been through some ups and downs, but we're still with these teams [in contention]. We've got to take care of business, yeah, but we can get there."

Probably not without at least 10 victories, though.

A conference race that seemed wide open a few weeks ago appears clearer now. There are six NFC teams with at least seven victories, including the Philadelphia Eagles, who lead the East at 7-3. The South-leading Atlanta Falcons (8-2) have the conference's top mark.

The Redskins (5-5) are third in the East, trailing the Eagles and New York Giants (6-4). The surging Eagles have won three in a row to move atop the division, and although anything could happen, the reality is that the wild-card seems to be the Redskins' most likely route to an extended season.

Among non-division leaders, the Green Bay Packers (7-3), New Orleans Saints (7-3), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3) and Giants have better records than the Redskins. If Green Bay, New Orleans and Tampa Bay split their remaining six games, each would finish with 10-6 records. The Giants would end the season at 9-7.

The Redskins' path to the playoffs is clear. And difficult.

They must finish 5-1, which would put them at 10-6, and hope that's good enough. Records within the division and conference are among the playoff tiebreaker criteria, and the Redskins already have defeated the Packers and North-leading Chicago Bears (7-3). The Redskins have two games remaining against the Giants and also host the surprising Buccaneers Dec. 12 at FedEx Field.

The Redskins are at home against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, and have road games remaining against the Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Although aware of the big picture, most players preferred to focus on Sunday's game against the Vikings because "this is a week-to-week league," said inside linebacker and defensive co-captain London Fletcher. "I've never been one to say, 'Well, if we do this in this game, then if we do this in this game,' because each week's game is the biggest game you play.

"It all goes into the big picture and what your goals are for the season, but you're not going to reach them if you're always looking down the road. As players, we've done a good job keeping our focus where it needs to be, and the coaching staff has done a good job preparing us each week. That's the reason you're still asking these questions."

The Redskins displayed their resilience in Week 11, outlasting the Tennessee Titans, 19-16, in overtime at LP Field despite injuries to nearly a dozen players. Washington rebounded impressively on the road only six days after one of the most inept performances in franchise history, a 59-28 blowout loss to the Eagles on Washington's home field.

A loss at Tennessee would have dropped the Redskins to 4-6 and delivered a major blow to their playoff hopes. Washington was 5-7 at one point in 2007, but won its final four games to make the playoffs in Joe Gibbs's final season as coach - the last time the Redskins reached the postseason.

Of course, that sort of thing doesn't happen often.

Washington needed to even its record and reaffirm its status among playoff contenders. Those achievements, however, came at a high price.

Center Casey Rabach, who left the game in the first quarter, has a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee and could sit out the game against Minnesota. Strong safety LaRon Landry, who did not accompany the team to Tennessee because of a lingering Achilles' tendon injury, is "98 percent" certain to remain sidelined against the Vikings, Shanahan said.

The running back situation, in flux for weeks, is unlikely to be significantly more settled by Sunday.

Clinton Portis, who returned to the lineup after missing five games because of a severe groin tear, aggravated the injury early against Tennessee and may need more time to heal properly. Ryan Torain filled in well for Portis, but he has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury and is considered a "long shot" to play against Minnesota, Shanahan said.

At many positions, the Redskins must rely on backups as they continue their pursuit of a playoff spot, "but we just had a lot of guys show that they're ready to step up," said outside linebacker and special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander, who also could be out this week because of an injured hamstring. "And with our coaching staff, you know they'll have us ready."

Despite benching quarterback Donovan McNabb in Week 8 and badly mishandling the ensuing controversy, Shanahan has restored players' confidence in the organization just a season after 2009's 4-12 debacle.

But Snyder did not pay such a high price - believed to be an average of $7 million per season - to bring Shanahan to Washington for .500 seasons. He is paying him to produce success rarely achieved during Snyder's tenure as owner, and an opportunity exists to do that this season.

"At times, we've shown the type of team we're capable of being," Fletcher said. "We've just got to keep doing it now."

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