The Washington Redskins raised only a small victory flag yesterday. They said Sunday's 42-20 victory over Miami was nice enough, but would remind one another that this season they've had other days when they've looked for all the world like a playoff team.
That was true in the first game with Philadelphia, when they won a bruising 13-7 decision.
Before they could lift a victory toast to that one, they went to New York and looked lifeless in losing to the Giants, 21-10.
They rallied from 21 points down to beat the Detroit Lions.
They were awful against the Eagles in Philadelphia eight days later.
They were chastised publicly and privately after that one and followed it with a 31-17 victory over New Orleans.
A loss in Dallas ensued four days later.
So yesterday as the Redskins begin preliminary preparations to play the Chicago Bears at RFK Stadium Sunday, Coach Joe Gibbs urged caution and a lot of other things that fell short of passing around victory stogies.
"I hope people don't get carried away after this one game," he said. "Our emphasis has to be on what we do this week. We've been going berserk one way or the other from week to week depending how we do. We're either heroes or dog meat. The press is guilty of that, we as coaches are guilty of that, everyone is. What we've got to do is look at this and realize we did a lot of good things. Now, we need another great effort against the Bears."
Gibbs again said he had absolutely no idea why his team's performances have swung so wildly. The Redskins have not won back-to-back games since Weeks 3 and 4, and the last seven weeks have been a string of drastically different performances.
The yardage totals began to swing after 321 yards in the victory over Philadelphia. Over the next six weeks, the Redskins got 213, 674, 200, 423, 297 and 467 yards.
They certainly were at their best on Sunday, registering 467 against the NFL's top-rated defense. They pretty much ran an offensive and defensive clinic as Earnest Byner rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns and Art Monk caught 10 passes and scored twice.
Meanwhile, they held the Dolphins to 34 rushing yards and harassed Dan Marino (17 for 33, 223 yards) all day.
"One of our best efforts in all areas," Gibbs said. "It was solid and sound all the way around. We were facing someone who had all our attention, and we did a good job. We rushed the football and stopped their rush, and that was two of the things we'd been concerned about."
The victory pushed the Redskins (7-5) a step closer to the playoffs. They are tied with Philadelphia (7-5) for the first NFC wild-card spot. Three teams will make the playoffs as wild-card contestants and Green Bay (6-6), Minnesota (6-6) and Dallas (6-7) all still have realistic chances, although the Packers have the easiest schedule and clearly are on the inside track.
The Redskins entered the game with the Dolphins having beaten only one winning team -- the Eagles -- in the last three seasons.
Gibbs clearly was subdued yesterday in his afternoon news conference and probably will convey that same attitude to his players this week.
"We're still fighting for our lives to get into the playoffs," he said. "We haven't played two good games back-to-back yet. Our football team has to find a way to solve that, and that's going to be my emphasis to our team all week. It still remains out there what kind of team we're going to be. We've been erratic, and that's not going to get it done. We've got to find a way to turn this around. We're not where we want to be. I hope our players will set their jaws and get after it. But I hoped that after the Saints game too. We're going to enjoy it for a day and then go move on."
But even Gibbs would have to admit that some of the things his team did against the Dolphins must make him wonder if another December -- they are 25-7 that month since he arrived in Washington -- stretch run has begun.
The Redskins cranked out 222 rushing yards against the Dolphins and that was their best day on the ground since Super Bowl XXII when they chopped up the Denver Broncos for 280. The last time they did that well in a regular season game was Week 7 of the 1987 campaign when they had 299 against Buffalo.
Byner's 157 yards made it the third-best day of his career, and it was his second 100-yard game in three weeks. He ran behind an offensive line that manhandled the Dolphins despite being reshuffled during the game.
The Redskins ended with two giants -- Jim Lachey and Joe Jacoby -- on the left side. Jacoby hadn't played guard since his rookie season of 1981, but the results were so impressive that he'll probably start there against the Bears.
One of the things the Redskins love about their team is the experience factor. When they heard other coaches were criticizing them for getting rid of two personalities, Doug Williams and Dexter Manley, they privately responded that the Redskins had never been built around that kind of fire.
Instead, they said Washington had been driven by Darryl Grants and Art Monks and Don Warrens, quiet players who know how to win.
But when things go badly Gibbs has prepared himself to answer some of the same things Chuck Noll answered in Pittsburgh: Had he stayed with his veterans too long?
"That'll be answered the next five weeks," Gibbs said, "and they'll answer it themselves. Maybe that's right. That's one of the things people have been saying. But I picked this football team and I disagree. Maybe they'll play badly enough and prove me wrong. The thing I disagree with is if you study teams in the league, we have six starters 30 years old or better."
He said the 49ers, Giants and Bears also have six starters who are 30 or older. All those teams will soon start bringing in younger players, and the Redskins say that with defensive lineman Tim Johnson, running back Brian Mitchell and young offensive linemen Raleigh McKenzie and Mark Schlereth they've already started.
"We're not programming ourselves to have an old football team," Gibbs said. "What we'd like to have is the right transition, and that takes place by having the right young guys that will come in work hard and gradually win the jobs."