Ten days ago, after Pittsburgh had mauled the Redskins badly, it would have seemed ludicrous to talk about a divisional championship for Washington. But yesterday, that idea did not appear nearly as far-fetched, especially to the occupants of Redskin Park.
"It probably will be just as easy to win our division as to get into the playoffs," said a smiling Jack Pardee, still absorbing the repercussions from Monday night's startling Philadelphia triumph in Dallas.
"We don't know if we are good enough to win the division, that hasn't been shown," admitted Pardee. "But at least we can control our own destiny now. If we are good enough, we have a chance to show it. If we can win what's ahead of us, they can't keep us out of the playoffs."
To bolster their kicking game for the stretch run, the Redskins added former Giant Bobby Hammond to the roster yesterday. Pardee said that if Hammond picks up the special teams system fast enough, he will be used immediately as the No. 1 kick returner, a role he once filled in New York.
It would have been tense enough around the Redskin practice facility this week, just because Sunday's opponent is hated Dallas. But now the contest has become even more important, if that is possible.
A Redskin victory would create at least a two-way tie for the NFC East Division lead, between Dallas and Washington. And if Philadelphia beats St. Louis Sunday, three teams would be at the top with four games each left.
The Redskins always believe they can handle the Cowboys in RFK Stadium, but what makes these final weeks of the season so intriguing is that now Dallas -- thanks to Philadelphia's win -- appears vulnerable in Texas Stadium, too. And that is where the Redskins and Cowboys end the season Dec. 16.
"Sunday really is a championship game now," said safety Mark Murphy. "It won't decide the championship, obviously, but if we win it will set up a great stretch run. Who would have thought this would be happening two weeks ago?"
Only a stroke of good fortune has put Washington in this favorable position. While the Redskins were losing two in a row before beating St. Louis Sunday, Philadelphia was going through a three-game losing streak and Dallas was dropping two of three and pulling out a triumph over the Giants in the final minute.
"By everyone else losing, it's given us a chance to right ourselves," Pardee said. "If we can get ourselves over the hump at the end of the schedule like we did at the beginning, we will be in good shape."
No Redskin official was about to say his team has the overall talent to stay with the Cowboys, although most coaches and players feel they can equal Philadelphia's ability. But a combination of Washington's emotion and Dallas' inability to play consistently this year could close the gap.
"I'm almost kind of sorry Dallas lost," said tackle George Starke. "I like to see them come up here high and mighty and on top, so when we beat them, it really means something.
"Not that beating them Sunday won't mean anything.We want to win and it will help us. But even before Monday, we had to win. It really doesn't change our goal that much."
Some players, such as cornerback Joe Lavender, did not bother to watch the Monday night game. For Lavender, just playing Dallas in six days was enough to worry about.
"I didn't matter to me who won or lost," he said. "We still have to worry about ourselves. We take care of our own business; it doesn't matter what Dallas does.
"I'm sure the fans will be hyped up about this more after the Eagle win. That's good too."
Telephone calls poured into Redskin Park yesterday. Some people sought tickets, others wanted players for quicky personal appearances and at least one offered advice. He said the Redskins should wear war paint Sunday.
"And I'm not drunk," he added with the next breath.
Pardee's war paint will consist of words. He already has pointed out to his players the significance of the Eagles' triumph and what it means to the Redskins.
"We haven't got the greatest schedule, but it's ours and it gives us a chance to make some headway," Pardee said.
"We know what is at stake."
The Redskins have two other home contests after Sunday, against Green Bay Dec. 2 and Cincinnati Dec. 9. They most likely will be favored to win both, against below-.500 opponents.
Their last two road games will be difficult. On Nov. 25, they must travel to Giants Stadium, where they probably will be underdogs to Phil Simms and Co. And of course, they have the season-ending date in Dallas Dec. 16.
The Cowboys still must play in Philadelphia Dec. 8. And, on Thanksgiving Day, they host tough Houston, which also is in the hunt for a playoff berth. Their other opponent is the Giants Dec. 2 in Dallas.
Philadelphia has the most favorable schedule. The Eagles, besides hosting Dallas, play weak Detroit and struggling St. Louis at home and Green Bay on the road before finishing at Houston.
The Eagles already have helped themselves by winning five of their first six divisional games. Washington is 4-1 in the NFC East and Dallas 3-1.Divisional records are the first thing used to break ties.
"The Eagles played the way you have to play to win any game," Pardee said of their Monday night showing. "They were fired up, they were aggressive, they controlled the ball and they hit people.
"That game gave us a lot to look at about Dallas. We can study them trying to rally at the end.
"Gosh, with the remaining schedule, that loss puts Dallas with the rest of us, even if they have a one-game lead. That's nice to have, but with five to go, they are going to have to play good ball to win the division and get into the playoffs.
"Nothing will be decided this week. No matter what happens, there are too many games left to have anything solved. It will be just one of a lot of big ones."
Pardee probably would feel more confident were his team playing better. The Redskins have had their troubles the last three weeks, something he noted yesterday when he said, "We certainly haven't played our best football yet. But how good is anybody? How good are the Eagles or the Cowboys or us?
"Right now, I don't think anyone knows for sure."
Hammond, who had a tryout last week, replaced Dennis Law on the roster. Law had replaced Buddy Hardeman last week but was not used Sunday against St. Louis. "With Buddy Hardeman out, we had to make three changes in our teams and that hurt us last week," Pardee said. "This way, Bobby can replace Buddy and everyone else stays the same" . . . Hammond, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound fourth-year man from Morgan State, had rushed for 1,131 yards as a Giant . . . Safety Don Harris is being tried at wide receiver. "He's got good hands and, if he can make it, he'll give us some depth at the spot," Pardee said.