Before those hot, muggy days of training camp last summer, Jack Pardee pinpointed some goals for his Redskins.
First, he wanted to mold a competitive team that would be stronger, faster and more physical than the first Washington club he coached in 1978.
Second, he wanted to win at least nine games, one more than he managed that first season.
Third, he wanted to make the playoffs.
"We've accomplished the first two," he said yesterday. "Now the third one is within our reach.
"This is the position he wanted to be in after 14 weeks, to be in contention for a playoff berth.
"It all boils down to two weeks and how we play. It's that simple. That's what I'm going to tell my team this week."
Pardee, the eternal optimist, has taken the complicated NFL playoff tiebreaker system and reduced it to the point it can be understood by everyone at Redskin Park:
"All I know is that if we win those last two games, we are in the playoffs.
We don't need anyone else's help, we don't need a tie breaker to qualify, we don't need to be disappointed.
"I'm not looking for help from anyone else. The last two weks, nothing has changed. Everyone lost one week, and everyone won the next week. You can't worry about the other guy. We can win both games; we know that. But we have to prove it first."
And what will it take to win two more games?
"The same kind of play that we showed in the last half against Green Bay," he said. "We can play like that all the time. It wasn't perfect. We had some drops and mistakes but we came right back and made big plays.
"That is what you have to do to win. We can be that consistent if we put our minds to it."
But even Pardee is not sure which Redskin team will show up for the games against Cincinnati (3-11) here Sunday and at Dallas (9-5) Dec. 16.
Will it be the team that clobbered the Cowboys three weeks ago? Or will it be the team that gave New Orleans a victory and embarrassed itself for a half against the Packers?
"This is about how I thought we'd play," Pardee said. "With the players we have and the way the league is balanced, we weren't going to steamroll anyone.
"If things were decided early, I knew we wouldn't be around right now. As long as it took time for the league to settle down, I knew it would help us."
That is why Pardee was so effervescent yesterday. Being a playoff contender in December he said, "makes practices and meetings important. You don't have any trouble getting anyone's attention.
"That's what I said before the season; I hoped the last few weeks of the season would have some meaning. And they have.
"I'm sure I won't have to remind the players of very much. They can read. They know what is at stake. They will be up for this game. I'm sure."
Yet Pardee had thought the Redskins would be up for other games this season, only to see them struggle and lose. It has been a year to test the strongest stomach, and Pardee said his "was holding up because I was prepared for what has happened."
The road to a playoff berth has been anything but easy for this team. Just look at what Pardee and his players have had to endure:
They had a 27-13 lead against Houston going into the fourth quarter of the season opener, only to fumble twice and lose, 29-27.
They took a 24-3 lead the next week against Detroit, only to see mistakes help the Lions rally to tie at 24-24.Mark Mosely won the contest with eight seconds left on a 41-yard field goal.
After pouncing on Cardinal errors for a 14-0 advantage, they had to withstand 306 yeards passing from Jim Hart to emerge with a 17-7 triumph in the fourth game.
With 1:55 left and the Cleveland end zone 80 yeards away, quarterback Joe Theismann directed a magnificent two-minute offense that ended in a 14-yard scoring pass to Clarence Harmon and a 13-9 win over the Browns.
In what remains their most heart-breaking game of the season, the Redskins ran 15 plays inside the New Orleans 10and could come away with only points, a final drive stalling when tackle George Starke was called for holding at the two.
Coming off a one-side loss to Pittsburgh, Washington had a 27-7 lead on St. Louis with 15:06 left in that contest, only to see the Cardinals rally behind Hart's passing and go in front, 28-27. Another Theismann two-minute drill then set up Moseley's winning 39-yard field goal with 36 seconds remaining.
Against a 4-9 opponent, the Redskins were behind, 21-7, at the half, before a tough pep talk from Pardee spurred them to a 38-21 triumph over Green Bay. a
Of the first 14 games, only two defeats have been lopsided (28-17 to the Eagles and 38-7 to the Steelers) and just four wins have been relatively easy (27-0 over the Giants, 16-7 over Atlanta, 17-7 over the Eagles and 34-20 over the Cowboys).
Pardee realizes his team easily could be 10-4 or 11-3 and assured of a playoff berth. He says he can only hope that its inconsistent days are over and "we play out the year at our maximum."
If they win their final two, the Redskins clinch a wild-card berth no matter what any other team does. They also could wrap up the home-field site for the opening playoff game against the other wild-card club.
A victory Sunday would give them 10 wins, which longshot playoff contender Chicago could equal but not top by winning its last two games.
The tie-breaker between these two teams would be net points, in which Washington holds a 20-point lead. But that is not an insurmountable margin.
The Redskins will be rooting for Dallas to beat Philadelphia Saturday. If the Eagles win they will have clinched the NFC East title no matter what they do in their finale at Houston. If the Eagles lose to Dallas, the Redskins could capture the East championship by winning their last two.
The Redskins' offensive burst against Green Bay made a dent in the statistic books. Their 437 yards were the most in the last 52 games and their 31 points in a half were the most since 1966 . . . Washington leads the NFL in fewest turnovers (22), in give-away-takaway difference (plus 22) and have lost the fewest fumbles (nine). Their third-down efficiency (47 per-cent) is No. 1. Their 36 sacks are one more than all of last season . . . Theismann already has a personal season high 198 completions (198), best for a Redskin since Sonny Jurgensen's 204 in 1970. His 17 touchdown passes are another personal high, and he is completing 58.6 percent of his passes . . . John Riggins now has scored 50 touchdowns as a pro and has gone over 900 yards for the fourth time in his career . . . Eleven Redskins have intercepted passes while six running backs have gained at least 100 yards. . . The Redskins came out of the Green Bay game without any major injuries . . . Cincinnati has scored just five fewer points than Dallas this season but has surrendered more than any other club in the NFL.