The Washington Redskins said their goodbyes yesterday. But before they did, they got a chance to relish a season that once was thought dead but instead resulted in a trip into the National Football League's final eight.
"We're probably still a little disappointed [we didn't make the Super Bowl], and we will be for a little bit of time, but we've come a long way from where we were a year ago to where we are now," quarterback Mark Brunell said.
At the final team meeting, coach Joe Gibbs told his players to be proud but not satisfied with the season, which ended with Saturday's 20-10 divisional playoff defeat at top-seeded Seattle.
"We have great chemistry, great character," Gibbs said. "Our goals would be to keep everybody -- the coaching staff, the players -- together and hopefully improve next year. We all feel like we've got something going here."
Nearly three-quarters through the season, it didn't look as if Washington even would make the playoffs. The Redskins sat at 5-6 and on the verge of elimination after a three-game losing streak. But they put together five straight victories to end the regular season, then beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a wild-card game.
With 11 victories, as many as the previous two years combined, the Redskins learned how to win again. Washington beat Seattle, Chicago, the New York Giants -- all playoff teams -- and swept archrival Dallas for the first time since 1995.
"In past years, guys were racing out the door trying to get out of here," defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. "Now it's almost a shock that the season is over. We really believed we could take this thing all the way."
That's not something any Redskins player could have said in recent years.
"When you haven't won in so long, you almost question, 'Can you win?' " Wynn said. "Now we know we can do it. Teams aren't going to look at the Redskins as an easy win [next season]. We're not going to sneak up on anyone. We've got to continue to carry on what we've built here."
Receiver David Patten, who won three Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots, said how the Redskins handle this moderate success will be critical.
"This offseason is going to tell us what type of team we are," Patten said. "We're going to see who's really upset about the shortcomings this year."
Most of those shortcomings were on offense, which improved from 2004's somnolent state but still managed only 20 points combined at Tampa Bay and Seattle in the playoffs.
Gibbs hinted yesterday that he might accommodate a possible trade request by former starting quarterback Patrick Ramsey, who doesn't want to spend another year as Brunell's backup. He also spent some time praising rookie Jason Campbell, perhaps an indication that the Redskins would be comfortable with him as the backup.
"Patrick and I had a good talk," Gibbs said. "The season's just over with, and he hasn't had much chance to sit and think about anything, and I hadn't either. We agreed to continue to talk over these next few weeks."
Still, the offseason should be the Redskins' quietest since owner Dan Snyder bought the franchise in 1999. Only two starters, strong safety Ryan Clark and tight end Robert Royal, are eligible to be free agents in March.
Like Clark and Royal, linebacker LaVar Arrington said he wants to remain, but the team's biggest star from 2001 to 2003 is too expensive to retain at $12million -- especially in light of his lessened role and the heightened tension between him and Snyder. Arrington declined to comment. Gibbs said it was too soon to be discussing the situation.
"I really wish LaVar would come back and be a part of this, but you don't know what's going on with that situation," defensive end Phillip Daniels said.
If Arrington is released, the Redskins likely would pursue a veteran to compete with speedy backup Chris Clemons for his spot. And despite its lack of room under the expected $95million salary cap, Washington needs to sign a legitimate No.2 receiver to keep double coverage away from Santana Moss on the other side.
"If we keep our core players, I like our chances," linebacker Lemar Marshall said. "The way we played, the way we bounced back this year, I can see us doing something real big next year."
In fact, some Redskins can't wait for next year.
"I kid with the guys that the new season should start next week and I'll be ready to go," safety Pierson Prioleau said. "I'll be tired, but emotionally and mentally, I'm ready to go."