- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2006

PHILADELPHIA — The fans here expect to see playoff-clinching victories, and they like it even better to see them at home. It happened again yesterday at Lincoln Financial Field, but this time, it was the Washington Redskins, not the Philadelphia Eagles, doing the celebrating.

The Redskins reveled in the joy of the moment, ecstatic that they are going to the playoffs for the first time since after the 1999 season after beating the crippled but feisty defending NFC champions 31-20.

Next for the Redskins, who earned a wild-card berth, is a road game against the NFC South champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. The Bucs inflicted the Redskins’ most painful defeat of the season, a 36-35 overtime loss on Nov. 13. But that was the regular season, and the Redskins were headed for a three-game losing streak. Now it’s the playoffs, and they have won five straight.

The Redskins played more like losers than winners in the first half against the Eagles, falling behind 17-7 at one point. But they came back in the second half to avoid what would have been an excruciating defeat, a potential end to the playoff hopes of a team that rebounded from a 5-6 start this season.

“This means a lot to our city,” defensive end Phillip Daniels said. “You saw how many of our fans were at the game. It’s time for this city to be exposed to the playoffs.”

Had the Redskins lost, they would have needed their archrivals, the Dallas Cowboys, to lose to the St. Louis Rams last night. The Cowboys entered the game as a big favorite.

But that scenario never materialized, and now Redskins coach Joe Gibbs has the Redskins back in the postseason. It’s familiar territory for Gibbs, a Hall of Famer who returned to coach the team last season. In his first stint from 1981 through 1992, he led Washington to four Super Bowls, winning three, and a total of eight playoff appearances.

“I feel humbled and really thankful the Lord’s blessed us with a great bunch of guys,” said Gibbs, who received a Gatorade shower after the game. “Any time you get into the playoffs, it’s a huge deal. … I don’t know what to say about it, other than: I’m just thrilled. It’s hard to get into the playoffs.”

In addition to the big win for the team, a couple of Redskins achieved personal milestones. Santana Moss broke Bobby Mitchell’s 1963 record for receiving yards in a season, and Clinton Portis broke Stephen Davis’ 2001 record for rushing yards. The former University of Miami teammates both were handpicked by Gibbs, acquired via big trades. Portis became a Redskin last year; Moss this season.

“Who would have thought?” said Moss, who grew disenchanted with his old team, the New York Jets. “I’m grateful just to get an opportunity.”

The Redskins caught a huge break by playing an Eagles team that except for the green and white uniforms bore no resemblance to the teams that went to the Super Bowl last year and won the last four NFC East titles. Injuries to such key players as quarterback Donovan McNabb and the suspension of malcontent receiver Terrell Owens left the offense in tatters. The defense simply played poorly all season.

Somehow, though, the new Eagles played like the old Eagles for most of the first half. And the Redskins played like the team that once stood 5-6, not the team that has won five straight games.

With nothing to play for except pride and in some cases, their jobs, the Eagles gave the Redskins all they could handle. Even with a fumbled punt leading directly to a Washington touchdown, the Redskins trailed 17-7 in the second quarter and 17-10 at halftime.

Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell, playing with a sprained ligament in his right knee, did not appear to be limping. But his passes lacked accuracy and zip. The big shock was the play of the Redskins defense, the strong suit of the team. Guided by quarterback Mike McMahon, a career backup who has shown little except a propensity to scramble, the Eagles moved the ball. McMahon came into the game with three touchdown passes in 176 attempts. In the first half, he threw two.

Bruce Perry, a running back from the University of Maryland who spent most of the season on the practice squad, gained 44 yards for the Eagles on just nine carries in the first half.

Overall, the Eagles outgained the Redskins 215 yards to 131 before halftime.

The second half was completely different. A perfect pass from Brunell to Moss resulted in a 54-yard completion on the Redskins’ first possession, and that led to a 2-yard Portis run that tied the score at 17. The Eagles took a 20-17 lead midway through the third quarter, but an interception by Lemar Marshall and Portis’ dazzling 22-yard run gave the Redskins a lead they would not give up.

The game summed up this comeback of a Redskins season.

“These guys are so close,” Daniels said. “Everyone supports each other. There was no finger-pointing during the rough times. We’re special.”

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