The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

With their backs against the wall, playoff-hopeful Redskins are in a familiar spot

For Ryan Kerrigan and the Redskins, it’s one game at a time. (Mark Tenally/Associated Press)
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The Redskins just might have the rest of the NFC teams battling for a playoff spot right where they want them — looking down at Washington in the conference standings. The Redskins enter Thursday’s game at Dallas in 11th place in the NFC’s postseason pecking order at 5-6. With no chance of winning the division, the Redskins’ only path to the playoffs is via one of the two wild-card berths. While Washington almost certainly has to win its remaining five games and get some help for that to happen, the Redskins have been in this predicament before. They’ve made a habit of December playoff pushes — and 10-loss seasons — this century.

The past four years Washington made the playoffs since 2005, the team won at least four consecutive games to end the regular season. The Redskins were 5-6 entering Week 13 in each of those years (2005, 2007, 2012 and 2015). The past three times the Redskins entered Week 13 with a winning record — something they’ve done only three times since 2000, including last season — they missed the playoffs.

The Redskins’ playoff hopes hinge on these 17 events

The Redskins’ schedule sets up favorably for a fifth improbable playoff run in the past 13 years. Their remaining opponents have a combined record of 20-35, which is worse than the combined record of the opponents they faced during their winning streaks to close the 2005, 2007, 2012 and 2015 seasons. On the other hand, the Redskins need a lot more help in the form of the teams ahead of them in the playoff race losing than they did when they won the NFC East in 2015.

“We’ve got to keep winning,” safety D.J. Swearinger said after Washington’s 20-10 win over the Giants on Thanksgiving. “This last stretch, these last five games, we’ve got to be on point. Every game is a playoff game from here on out if we want to make a run. So we’ve just got to stay the course.”

Here’s a closer look at the season-ending winning streaks that led to the Redskins’ past four playoff appearances. Can they make a fifth such run over the next five weeks?

In Week 13, the Redskins missed a golden opportunity to take control of a weak NFC East, falling to 5-7 with a loss to the Cowboys on “Monday Night Football.” The setback dropped Washington into a three-way tie with the Eagles and Giants for the division lead, but the Redskins rebounded to close the season with four consecutive wins. Washington clinched its first NFC East title since 2012 with a 38-24 win at Philadelphia the day after Christmas.

Season low point: 5-7
Finished: 9-7, won NFC East
Record of opponents during 4-0 streak: 21-33

The Redskins’ 17-16 win over the Giants in Week 13 was their third of seven consecutive wins to end the regular season in Robert Griffin III’s rookie year. A 21-13 loss to the one-win Panthers at FedEx Field in Week 9 dropped Washington to 3-6 and gave Coach Mike Shanahan a lot to think about before the bye week.

“When you lose a game like that, now you’re playing to see who, obviously, is going to be on your football team for years to come,” Shanahan said. “Now we get a chance to evaluate players and see where we’re at. Obviously we’re not out of it statistically. But now we find out what type of character we’ve got and how guys keep on fighting through the rest of the season.”

“Being 3-6 really [stinks] because right now we’re on the outside looking in,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “. . . I’m not thinking about next year. That’s an offseason thing for me. But you know it’s hard when you see yourself in that type of position and your head coach is saying those types of things. It’s disappointing.”

Shanahan later clarified that he wasn’t giving up on the season and acknowledged he didn’t give “the perfect quote.” The Redskins were perfect over the next two months and clinched the division in Week 17 with a 28-18 win over the Cowboys at home.

Season low point: 3-6
Finished: 10-6, won NFC East
Record of opponents during 7-0 streak: 41-43

Already on the outside looking in at the playoff picture, the Redskins fell to 5-7 with a loss to the Bills at home in their first game following the murder of Sean Taylor. At that point, three teams were tied at 6-6 for the NFC’s second wild card, and four teams in addition to the Redskins were in the mix at 5-7. Todd Collins replaced injured starter Jason Campbell at quarterback in the second quarter of the Redskins’ next game, a win over the Bears, and led Washington to wins over the Giants, Vikings and Cowboys over the final three weeks to clinch a playoff spot.

Season low point: 5-7
Finished: 9-7, wild card
Record of opponents during 4-0 streak: 35-19

“For me personally, this is about as tough a stretch as I have been through,” Coach Joe Gibbs said after the Redskins dropped to 5-6 following an overtime loss to the Chargers at FedEx Field in Week 12. Washington’s 3-0 start to the season was a distant memory, and with seven NFC teams 7-4 or better, including the Cowboys and Giants, the team’s playoff hopes were fleeting.

“It comes down to not something I’ll say, [but] something that comes from them,” Gibbs said later. “We’ve had three tough weeks. It’s going to be interesting to see how we bounce back from that. It’s an emotional thing. We put a lot into it.”

The Redskins bounced back with five straight wins, including wins over NFC East foes in three consecutive weeks for the first time since 1992. Taylor returned a fumble for a touchdown to help seal the Redskins’ playoff-clinching win at Philadelphia in Week 17.

Low point: 5-6
Finished: 10-6, wild card
Record of opponents during 5-0 streak: 33-32

More on the Redskins:

Redskins’ defensive backs have swagger. Now they’re striving for consistency.

Kirk Cousins: FedEx Field ‘probably doesn’t look like a professional NFL field should’

For Ryan Kerrigan, NBC’s postgame turkey is a dream come true

Depleted Redskins still eyeing a playoff run after beating Giants

For Redskins, victory’s perfume helps a stinker smell sweet