- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 30, 2006

One of the two teams that takes the field tonight at FedEx Field should be very desperate to win. But it’s not the one you might think — the one with possible playoff implications on the line.

No, the New York Giants don’t have as much as stake as the Washington Redskins do tonight.

The Giants (7-8) could make the playoffs whether they win or lose, based on a number of scenarios that are too complicated to explain right now. Obviously, if they win, the playoffs are pretty much a lock.

All a win would do, though, is delay the end of their season by a week — so why bother. Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi is retiring. Coach Tom Coughlin has lost the team and likely will lose his job as well. Unless New York goes on a remarkable playoff run, the Giants face major changes next season.

In Washington though, there is no talk of change. Joe Gibbs isn’t going anywhere, and if we take him at his word, two of his chief lieutenants — Gregg Williams and Al Saunders — aren’t departing, either.

That’s why it is more important for the Redskins (5-10) to — if not win — at least lose tonight with a strong effort. A loss could turn the fan base that Gibbs often refers to as super-smart against the franchise icon. A dismal performance could set the stage for the ugliest scene ever witnessed at the stadium.

All the ingredients are there.

It’s a Saturday night game, which gives those so inclined an entire day to prime the alcohol pump before the team even takes the field. And because of the long weekend, there’s no worry about working the next day or even the day after that.

There probably will be a fairly large contingent of Giants fans in the stadium, as a number of Redskins fans will have likely sold their seats instead of making the pilgrimage to FedEx for what they believe to be a meaningless game. The mixture of on-edge Giants fans and depressed Redskins fans could be a volatile one.

That ugliness and a season filled with frustration could spill over into the locker room. Safety Adam Archuleta perhaps gave a preview this week when he finally talked to the media and chastised Redskins coaches for not communicating with him. Other rumblings included Philip Daniels and others grousing about Gibbs’ year-round training demands.

Despite all of the frustrations of the past few years, the team has — for the most part — managed to avoid an embarrassing, season-ending home loss. In 2000 — when Norv Turner was fired with three games left in the season and Terry Robiskie took over — the Redskins won 20-3 at home against Arizona after losing six of their previous seven games.

In 2002 — Steve Spurrier’s first year — the Redskins finished with a disappointing 7-9 record but won their final game at home against Dallas 20-14.

And in Gibbs’ first season back in 2004, Washington won its final home game against Minnesota 21-18 to finish 6-10.

The only blemish in that trend in the last six seasons came in Spurrier’s final game of 2003, a 31-7 loss to the Eagles. The fans were so angry that they booed during a halftime ceremony honoring Bruce Smith.

After the game, tackle Jon Jansen said, “I’m just glad the nightmare is over now. I don’t really have a whole lot of good things to say. I need to go away and think about things.”

That ended a 5-11 season — the same record the Redskins are facing if they lose tonight.

A win won’t make the record much better, but it could at least ease the pain of a season-long headache.

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