- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 13, 2005

Linebacker LaVar Arrington has yet to reach the playoffs in his six NFL seasons. Cornerback Shawn Springs has played in two postseason games, both losses, in his nine seasons.

So both are especially eager to help the Washington Redskins end their five-season playoff drought. Eager enough to do a little looking ahead in violation of the hoary “one game at a time” cliche.

“Shawn and I were talking about how we have a five-game season right now and then a three-game playoff,” Arrington said as the Redskins (5-3) prepared for today’s date at Tampa Bay (5-3). “If we can do well in these five games, then we can get rolling downhill going back into our division. This is a very critical game because it’s an NFC game and they have the same record as us. This has a whole lot of playoff implications.”

Indeed, the contest with the Buccaneers, reeling from an embarrassing loss to lowly San Francisco and a blowout by visiting Carolina, is the most critical of the next five-game stretch.

Oakland (Nov. 20) and San Diego (Nov.27) are AFC teams, St. Louis (Dec.4) is a game behind Washington, Dallas and Tampa Bay, and Arizona (Dec.11) isn’t a contender. And as Arrington said, the Redskins’ final three games are the NFC East rematches with the Cowboys, New York Giants and Philadelphia.

“When you come to the teams that are in the same conference … you want to have something over them if we end up with the same record,” Redskins receiver Santana Moss said.

Indeed, the Redskins already own tiebreakers against division leaders Chicago and Seattle as well as the Cowboys and Eagles. The only team that has that edge on Washington is the Giants, thanks to a 36-0 rout two weeks ago that shocked the Redskins, who were coming off a 52-17 rout over San Francisco.

“The Giants game knocked us off our high horse,” Redskins linebacker Marcus Washington said. “You definitely learn more from a loss than from a win because you pay more attention and break it down more. We didn’t like the taste that was left in our mouths and we don’t want to go back to that. Hopefully, that won’t happen again.”

Even though top tackle Cornelius Griffin (hip) and standout safety Sean Taylor (ankle) will be missing from Washington’s fine defense, avoiding a repeat of the performance against the Giants is mostly in the hands of the offense. With the inexperienced Chris Simms starting for injured quarterback Brian Griese, the Bucs don’t score much — their offense hasn’t topped 20 points since Week1 — but their star-studded defense is, as has often been true, the NFL’s best.

“They are as fast and aggressive as ever,” said Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell, the key, along with Moss, to Washington’s offensive resurgence this year. “They have a great scheme. They have been together for a long time. They have some stars in Derrick [Brooks], Ronde [Barber] and Simeon [Rice]. You look for the big plays against them. There aren’t a lot [11 of 30 yards or more]. It’s probably the best [defense] we’ll see all year so we’re going to have to be very sharp.”

Being sharp means avoiding the 10 turnovers that plagued them in their losses to Denver, Kansas City and the Giants.

“We’ve been turning the ball over on the road and it’s been killing us,” running back Clinton Portis said.

Washington (minus-9), San Diego (minus-3) and Tampa Bay (minus-1) are the only teams with winning records and negative turnover ratios.

“[We] shouldn’t be 5-3,” Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said. “We’re defying the odds.”

Since the Bucs’ defense has allowed just nine touchdowns, reaching the end zone often also will defy the odds. But Washington’s 11th-ranked attack is more potent than any Tampa Bay has faced.

“We’re going to have to get takeaways, get sack-fumbles,” said end Rice, who beat the Redskins for four sacks in a Bucs’ victory in 2003 but who was shut out by Washington left tackle Chris Samuels in the 2004 opening loss. “We have to create a craze on defense to have a chance of winning games. You can put it all on the defense. We understand our strength — we’re going to always play to our strength.”

The winner of that strong matchup should win the game.

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