Running back Clinton Portis took a hard look at the Washington Redskins' big picture yesterday and evaluated it this way: "We need to come out of these last six games at least 5-1 if we want any shot at the playoffs."
Following narrow losses to Tampa Bay and Oakland, the 5-5 Redskins find their playoff hopes on life support. It's a big difference from the optimism that swept Redskin Park after the team beat NFC East defending champion Philadelphia two weeks ago.
"We're sitting here with sad faces," said Portis, who lost two fumbles against the Raiders. "We're 2-5 in our last seven games, and we should have won at least three of them"
Linebacker LaVar Arrington described the Redskins' current state much the same way.
"It's sad to see the same things happen over and over again," he said. "The time for talking is over. Either we're going to turn this thing around or it's going to turn out like it always does. ... We still have the opportunity to make a run at the playoffs. It would be a shame to let this opportunity get away."
The opportunity started to slip away when the Redskins couldn't hold a seven-point lead in Tampa Bay and lost 36-35 to the Bucs on a disputed two-point conversion in the final minutes.
Oakland used a 13-0 second half to hand the Redskins their first home loss. Couple those results with Dallas' three-game winning streak and the Giants' recent 4-1 stretch, and the Redskins' road to the playoffs has turned sharply uphill.
Quarterback Mark Brunell called Sunday's home game against San Diego "a must win for us to keep our hopes alive. Hope is not lost. If we can get some momentum, we can get in."
Ten victories probably will be necessary to collect the NFC East title or one of the two wild-card spots. The Redskins would have to go 5-1 and get some help. Dallas, the Giants, Carolina and Tampa Bay each is 7-3, and Atlanta is 6-4.
Dallas still has two division road games, and the Giants have two West Coast trips and two division road games remaining. The Redskins play host to the Cowboys on Dec. 18 and the Giants on Dec. 24.
Since the Philadelphia win, several issues surfaced that have resulted in the Redskins trailing seven teams in the NFC and two teams in their division in the playoff chase.
Turnovers: The Redskins lost three fumbles against the Raiders, including the first two of the season by Portis. His first led to an Oakland field goal; his second came at the Raiders' 31. "My putting the ball on the ground cost us the game," Portis said.
The Redskins are tied for last in the NFL in turnover ratio (minus-13) and takeaways (eight).
Lack of sacks: The Redskins have one in the last two games and only 15 for the season, which ranks 27th in the NFL. Tackle Cornelius Griffin leads the team with three -- and he's missed nearly all of the last four games.
Injuries: Healthy on offense through the first half of the season, the Redskins lost No. 2 receiver David Patten for the year (knee) and backup James Thrash with a hamstring injury in the first half against Oakland. Patten's absence allowed teams to double-team Santana Moss.
Thrash's injury affects the kickoff return team, which was without Ladell Betts. The current returners are Nehemiah Broughton and Rock Cartwright. Griffin's hip continues to be a concern because he is the anchor of the defensive line and often attracts double-teams, freeing up ends Phillip Daniels and Renaldo Wynn to get a stronger pass rush.
Big plays: The Redskins defense gave up six plays of at least 10 yards in the second half against the Raiders and have sunk from first in the league against the pass entering Game 8 to 14th.
The Redskins' offense went without a touchdown in the Raiders game, and the downfield strikes were negated. They also got away from the running game in the second half despite leading into the fourth quarter. "We abandoned the run [in the second half]," said Portis, a statement coach Joe Gibbs later agreed with.
Finishing power: The Redskins generally have been strong in the first half, outscoring opponents 70-40 in the second quarter. But they have been outscored 118-96 in the second half.
"The thing that drives you nuts is, it seems like we have a great team every week and I feel we should be beating these teams by 2-3 touchdowns," H-back Chris Cooley said. "We just need to finish up by scoring in the third and fourth quarters."
Regardless of the issues, the Redskins still control their fate to at least some degree.
"Obviously, teams have a lead in the division, but I'm just worried and focused on us and the next game," Gibbs said. "We have a lot to play for."
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