All the Redskins can do now is try to make lemonade out of their lemon of a season. There will be no playoffs and possibly even no Pro Bowling, but they can still squeeze some satisfaction out of playing the spoiler these last few games, of ruining or altering someone else's January plans.
Like they did yesterday, knocking off the Saints 16-10 at the Superdome and quite possibly costing them the second seed -- and a first-round bye -- in the NFC postseason scramble. Yes, New Orleans was able to celebrate a division title, thanks to a Carolina defeat, but "the way we won it," Drew Brees said, "I think we're all disappointed."
That, as much as anything, is what the Snydermen can do in the games that remain: They can share some of their disappointment, some of their pain, with their opponents. They can take some of the joy out of the New Orleans locker room -- and perhaps, in the final week, cancel the hated Giants' playoff reservation.
"You can get a lot of satisfaction out of this," Phillip Daniels agreed. "It will feel good going into next season to have won games like this."
Obviously, it's not a position a club prefers to be in. After all, no matter what surprises you spring on playoff-bound teams, Santana Moss said, there's no escaping the fact that "you're not going anywhere."
But if you are in that situation, you might as well embrace it. Or to put it another way, you can play as if you have nothing to win, or you can play as if you have nothing to lose. Which one a club chooses speaks volumes about it.
"You know they're waiting to put on their T-shirts and hats [for winning the NFC South]," Troy Vincent said. "Your job is to keep it from happening this week. The Saints have had a great season and deserve what they've gotten, but we were the best team for these three hours."
They were, indeed. From noon to 3, Central Time, they thoroughly outplayed the hottest team in the conference and, just as unexpectedly, short-circuited an offense that had been overrunning the opposition. Best of all, they stared down Brees and Co. in the last minute, quashing a New Orleans drive that reached the Washington 15. That's right, for the first time in what seems like ages, they finished what they started.
"For us to go out and play like that ...," Joe Gibbs said. "I think [we] played as hard as [we] can play, and I've never been prouder."
Ladell Betts continues to leave large footprints in the ashes of a lost season. He topped 100 yards for the fourth straight game yesterday -- and likely will go over 1,000 on Christmas Eve in St. Louis. Even more symbolic of the Redskins' effort, though, was the play of right offensive tackle Todd Wade, subbing for gimpy Jon Jansen.
Wade, an experienced hand signed just before the season opener, hadn't seen much action in the first 14 weeks -- and frankly, "It's been killing me," he said. "I've been hungry to play all year. I was glad to get back in there. It's been too long."
Against the Saints, Wade played like a man with a craving -- the whole club did. When the offensive line wasn't creating crevices for Betts, it was giving young Jason Campbell time not just to throw but to throw deep. The defense, meanwhile, swarmed Reggie Bush (12 touches from scrimmage, 33 yards), bugged Brees repeatedly and clung to New Orleans' able receivers from beginning to end.
"It felt like the defense of a year ago," Daniels said. "Who knows what happened to us this year? I just want to keep going like this the next two weeks."
The other thing this game showed -- other than that the Redskins still have a pulse -- is that the NFC's Super Bowl contenders aren't all that super. While the Saints were losing at home to the 5-9 Redskins, the Bears, also at home, were being taken to overtime by the 3-11 Bucs. This followed a disturbing Thursday night that saw the Seahawks, in position to wrap up the NFC West crown, lose at home to the 49ers. And let's not forget, the Cowboys, the NFC East leaders, lost big at home to New Orleans last week.
How bad is the NFC? The Jets, hoping to stay alive in the AFC playoff race, went to Minnesota yesterday and essentially ended the Vikings' postseason dreams, 26-13. And the Steelers, all but out of it, went to Carolina and rendered the Panthers irrelevant, 37-3.
This is the conference the Redskins play in, the conference in which they're not good enough to make the playoffs. It has to leave a bitter taste in their mouths, one that even some tangy lemonade (e.g. Washington 16, New Orleans 10) can't chase away.