Let's be brutally honest, okay?
Let's not be delusional. Let's not be homers.
(Let's not, for example, mention The Bandwagon.)
It looks as if Washington is going to get to the playoffs, because all the teams in the NFC Central are bumping each other off--and the teams in the Redskins' own division, Dallas and the Giants, keep dropping dead in front of them. (The Danny ought to send a case of champagne to Bill Parcells for knocking off Dallas in Dallas on Sunday. The Jets had absolutely nothing to play for, and they won. If Jerry Jones had real hair, he'd have yanked it all out.)
There are all sorts of mathematical permutations here, but the most amazing one of all is the possibility that if the Redskins finish 8-8, they could WIN THE DIVISION!
And they would HOST A PLAYOFF GAME!
Twice in the 1980s the Redskins finished 10-6 and didn't make the playoffs. If they finish 10-6 this season, they will not only make the playoffs, they will be eligible for some of the "Mad Modell Money" that Steve Bisciotti is going to drop from a helicopter to buy the Ravens.
The Redskins can finish 9-7 and make the playoffs by beating San Francisco on Sunday. Even though Stephen Davis probably won't play, the Redskins should beat the 49ers anyway. Everyone else has.
After not making the playoffs for six straight years, there ought to be a greater sense of excitement and accomplishment in the air as the Redskins stand right on the verge.
But I don't sense it. Do you?
What I sense is a wariness that the Redskins will somehow sabotage themselves. Either they will:
a. Lose the last two games and wind up bumped from the playoffs by the Cowboys.
b. Lose to the 49ers--and then even if they beat the Dolphins, one of the crazy conference tiebreakers will put them out of the playoffs.
c. Win both games and get disqualified because the spontaneous celebration of their owner was too wild and lasted too long. (Did you see that TV shot of The Danny in Indianapolis when the Redskins scored that late touchdown? I haven't seen enthusiasm like that for the Redskins in five years. The last guy I saw jump around like that had a boa constrictor in his pants.)
There's a fatalism you can feel in the air. You can see it on the anxious faces. It's born out of many close-but-no-cigar seasons. If this is December, the Redskins must be gagging.
Excuse me for a second, did anyone get the license plate on the guy who kept knocking Andy Heck into Bloomington? That game was 60 minutes of pure hell for Heck. (Or 60 minutes of pure heck, if you're reading this aloud in kindergarten.)
Okay, where were we?
Ah, we were being honest, remember?
The Redskins are not a very good team.
They're a pretty good team. And they came pretty darn close to beating a very good team on Sunday in Indianapolis. If Davis hadn't hurt his ankle, I think the Redskins would've won the game. But they didn't. (By the same token, if my grandmother had a set of wheels, she would have been a bicycle.)
Actually, that was one of the Redskins' best performances of the season. They scored a late touchdown when they needed it, got a two-point conversion and then recovered an onside kick to get in position to tie or win. (What happened on the Redskins' last-chance fourth-down pass is anybody's guess. It sailed so high, it looked as if it was being thrown away. It has become fashionable for columnists to take shots at quarterback Brad Johnson, who has gotten banged around quite a bit lately and isn't as crisp as he was early in the season. But there should be no question he's the best quarterback the Redskins have had in Norv Turner's six seasons, and maybe since Joe Theismann.)
Washington's defense has gotten clearly better lately. Against the Eagles, Giants and Cardinals--recent division games the Redskins HAD to win--the defense allowed a total of 33 points. Against Indianapolis, the highest-scoring team in the AFC, the defense allowed 24. If you could somehow attach this defense to the Redskins' offense of the first seven games, you'd have something special. And of course if I could have attached four smokestacks, a deck and a dance band to my grandmother, she'd have been the Titanic.
Indianapolis has something special. Bill Polian drafted terrific young offensive talents, such as Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James, and hired a wise old coach, Jim Mora. Manning, James and fourth-year wide receiver Marvin Harrison are already blooming stars. Though each of them had a fumble in the first half, James scored two touchdowns, Manning threw for two touchdowns and Harrison caught nine passes for 117 yards. There was one moment when the TV camera caught Manning walking off the field with his helmet on, his jaw set and his shoulders hunched, and it was eerie how much Manning looked like Johnny Unitas. If he'd had on a pair of black high-top shoes I'd have thought he was one of the Colts of Baltimore. In time these Colts might be that good.
The longer this season goes on, the more predictable the Redskins become. They beat teams they're supposed to beat--and lose to the good teams.
They haven't beaten a single team that has a winning record now. They're 0-3, having lost to Buffalo, Detroit and Indianapolis. Of course this puts Washington in elite company--with Jacksonville and St. Louis, who HAVEN'T BEATEN ANY TEAMS WITH WINNING RECORDS either. That's amazing, isn't it, considering Jacksonville is 13-1 and St. Louis is 12-2. Who drew up their schedules, the Marshmallow Man? Think about this: Jacksonville and St. Louis are a combined 0-3 against teams that have winning records right now. If they're the favorites to reach the Super Bowl, then all Washington has to do to become a legitimate contender is lose to Miami.