Losing to the Detroit Lions wasn't the end of the Redskins' season. But you can see it from here. We're now entering the endgame of this season, and perhaps Norv Turner's tenure as head coach. If the Redskins don't beat Arizona on Sunday, you can say good night, Gracie.

Oh, sure, the four playoff contenders in the NFC Central could knock each other around to such a degree that the Redskins would sneak into the playoffs as a wild card ahead of one of them, Green Bay maybe. Or Dallas could fail to take advantage of its cream-puff final four--home games against the Eagles, Jets and Giants; a road game at New Orleans--and not even tie the Redskins. (A tie would give Dallas the automatic NFC East playoff berth by virtue of its sweep of Washington.)

That could happen.

Sure, and we could get attacked by giant, Martian flesh-eating asparagus.

But at the moment there's no rush to have your credit card handy and log on to Redskinsplayoffs.com if you know what I mean.

Three victories should get Washington into the playoffs. (I'll pause here and wait for you to stop laughing.) But where do the three come from?

Washington plays home games with Arizona and Miami, and road games in Indianapolis and San Francisco.

At the moment the game in Indianapolis appears unwinnable. That could change. Every member of the Colts could seek political asylum in Cuba. If that happens, call me, and I'll erase the "L" I just penciled in.

The Redskins should beat the 49ers. Everybody else has. (Everything you need to know about this volcanic NFL season is contained in this once-absurd juxtaposition: The Redskins can't beat Indianapolis, but they should waltz through the 49ers.)

The harder games to figure are the home games. Miami may still be fighting for its playoff life by the last game of the season. Theoretically, Miami would be at a disadvantage playing in cold weather--if we ever got cold weather here; suddenly we're Ecuador. But the Redskins have shown nothing so far to indicate they can beat a good team, even if you were to stuff that team in a meat locker. Of course, first, the Redskins have to upend Arizona to have any realistic chance at the playoffs. And this time Jake Plummer seems to be on his game.

Plus, it couldn't have sounded like music yesterday when Stephen Davis and some offensive linemen expressed chagrin at Norv's second-half pass-intensive play-calling against Detroit.

Excuse me, Tony, but you seem to be depressed.

Not depressed, exactly. I didn't think the Redskins would beat Detroit. And any team that turns the ball over four times and draws 14 penalties has no leg to stand on. Fourteen flags, geez. That's more than the Pan Am Games. (Don't worry, though, Detective Michael Westbrook has identified the villainous zebra, and Janet Reno is getting right on it.)

But it's galling to see Desmond Howard and Gus Frerotte standing there like matadors. When you look back on the beginning of the end of the Redskins dynasty, you'll see Desmond Howard reporting to camp a month late. I grant you I thought Desmond would be a great pro--just like Joe Gibbs thought. After all, Desmond was a great college player from a big-time program in a big-time conference. But he was a dry hole as an NFL receiver. And you can't justify spending the No. 4 pick in the entire draft on a kick returner.

I remember after Desmond's first practice a Redskins starter saying to me, "He can't play in this league." I was dumbfounded. I said, "What do you mean?" The starter said, "I mean, he can't play in this league. They've wasted their money." This was after one practice. Desmond begat Heath Shuler, another terrible waste of a top five pick. I see them as links in the chain. They haunt this franchise. It's fine for Desmond to break off a couple of great returns in a Super Bowl for Green Bay and become the MVP; it's sweet, actually. But for Desmond to return that punt for a touchdown 24 hours after he signed on with the Lions--for Desmond to make the Redskins special teams look foolish (for a change)--for Desmond Howard, who was a complete and total bust here, to be the wrecking ball on the Redskins like that, well, that's galling. What now? Will Detroit cut him so Arizona can pick him up, and he can kill the Redskins this week too?

I feel the same way about Gus Frerotte, who played so professionally on Sunday. I expected Gus to be so jacked up that he'd hyperventilate and throw some interceptions to the Redskins, instead of for them. But Gus didn't make any mistakes. He was solid and unflappable--plus, he didn't smash his head into a single concrete object. How come he wasn't like that here the last two seasons?

See, this is the annoying part: Desmond Howard and Gus Frerotte were cut here because they weren't good here. Let them be good against somebody else--not the Redskins. It's what drives you crazy when Chris Webber drops a triple-double on the Wizards. A triple-double! How can he go and make Sacramento good, and he couldn't make the Wizards good when it was all set up for him and his pal, Juwan Howard? It's galling to see Webber beat the Wizards. It's aggravating to think Rasheed Wallace may well be playing for an NBA champion in Portland. These guys were clucks here. And just by leaving they seem to have gotten better and matured. (I read Abe Pollin said he planned to stay put as owner of the Wizards "10 or 15 years at least." How many more players will Our Wiz get rid of who'll come back and haunt them in that time?)

This is all of a piece. Bobby Ross was a fine coach at Maryland. He's been a better coach away from here; he's my coach of the year in the NFL. It stings that Washington lost to Ross on Sunday. Who's Ross's defensive coordinator? It's Larry Peccatiello, who was an assistant under Gibbs for so long. He was swept out of Washington with Richie Petitbon. Now here he is designing a defense that pounded the Redskins on Sunday.

It's interesting that the three oldest head coaches in the NFL--Jim Mora, 64; Ross, 63, and Dick Vermeil, 63--are having fabulous seasons. Maybe when you're older and you've been around as long as them, you've coached enough teams to know how to push one into getting better.

Norv Turner is not yet 50. This is his first job as a head coach in the NFL. He came here with such promise and such high hopes. It hasn't panned out. It's widely believed he has to make the playoffs to keep his job. Arizona would seem to be a must win. We are at that stage of the game where you have to play the cards you hold in your hand.

Join Tony Kornheiser online at 2 p.m. Friday at www.washingtonpost.com for "The Tony and Mike Show."