- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2006

PHILADELPHIA — One month ago, the Washington Redskins dreamed of the playoffs. With a 5-6 record, they expressed confidence in winning their last five games, but really, who believed them? The schedule included three road games and matchups against three NFC East opponents.

And these were the Redskins — a franchise whose recent history was marked by high expectations that produced minimal results.

But these are the new Redskins, a team that has developed an uncanny knack to make plays in the fourth quarter. Exhibit No.5 came last night at Lincoln Financial Field when Lemar Marshall, Clinton Portis and Sean Taylor rallied the Redskins past Philadelphia 31-20 and into the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season.

The Redskins (10-6) are the sixth seed in the NFC and will make a return trip to Tampa Bay to face the Buccaneers (11-5) Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

Trailing 20-17 entering the fourth quarter, Portis scored on a 22-yard run that was set up by a Marshall interception to take the lead. A 39-yard fumble return touchdown by Taylor sealed the game with 2:16 left.

“At halftime, we talked about going out and trying to find a way to win or we were going to be cleaning out our lockers [this morning],” Portis said. “I wasn’t ready to clean out my locker and I don’t think any of the guys were, either.”

Taylor’s fumble recovery was one of six turnovers forced by Washington. The Redskins swept the Eagles for the first time since 1988 and finished 5-1 in their division.

“It was a great experience tonight — I’m thrilled we came out on the right end of it,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “Anytime you get into the playoffs, it’s a huge deal.”

In November, the Bucs defeated the Redskins 36-35 and the teams combined for 729 yards of offense. Tampa is also the site of the Redskins’ last playoff game — a 14-13 defeat in January 2000.

“We’ve got more work to do,” said right tackle Jon Jansen, one of four current Redskins to play in that game. “The excitement is fun and it will last for a little while, but we’ve got some goals that are still out there.”

The first half against the Eagles (6-10) was anything but fun for the Redskins, who were outgained 215-131 and outscored 17-10. The Redskins — inept on offense and playing tight on defense — seemed to be in big trouble.

The Redskins’ only touchdown — a 4-yard Mark Brunell pass to Mike Sellers — was set up by Philadelphia punt returner Dexter Wynn’s fumble at the 37-yard line. Two Mike McMahon-to-Reggie Brown touchdown passes (33 and 8 yards) made it 17-7, and a 25-yard John Hall field goal cut the lead to seven.

“We knew we needed to get going,” defensive end Phillip Daniels said. “We knew that wasn’t us in the first half. We came out slow, and they got the best of it.”

The Redskins’ offense started the second half strong. Brunell threw 54 yards to Santana Moss and Portis scored a 2-yard touchdown two plays later to tie the game.

Philadelphia responded with a seven-play drive capped by a 35-yard David Akers field goal.

But as they have done for two seasons under Gibbs, the Redskins relied on their defense. With 12:29 left, Marshall deflected a McMahon pass, caught it and returned it 4 yards to the 22.

“I was in zone coverage and just watching his eyes,” Marshall said of his team-leading fourth interception. “He threw it low enough for me to tip it. We knew we had to shorten up the field for the offense because they’ve done a great job of scoring off those opportunities.”

Portis put the Redskins ahead for good on the next play, a 22-yard run in which he bounced outside and got a key block downfield from Moss.

Portis (27 carries, 112 yards) posted his fifth consecutive 100-yard game and his 1,516 rushing yards broke Stephen Davis’ 4-year-old record of 1,432. Moss (four catches, 83 yards) joined his buddy in the record books — his 1,483 receiving yards broke Bobby Mitchell’s record from 1963.

Even after Portis’ score, work remained. On the ensuing drive, the Eagles drove to the Redskins 36 before McMahon fumbled the exchange and Joe Salave’a recovered.

Two possessions later, Daniels rushed new quarterback Koy Detmer from the blind side, forcing a fumble that squirted every which way before Taylor scooped it up en route to his first NFL touchdown.

During their five-game winning streak, the Redskins have forced 17 turnovers.

“The ball started bouncing our way in the second half and when you have ball hawks like Sean Taylor and Marcus Washington, they’re going to knock it loose and recover it eventually,” said safety Ryan Clark, who intercepted Detmer for the final takeaway.

While the running game is clicking, the Redskins — before Saturday — must resolve issues at cornerback (Shawn Springs missed the second half with a groin injury). And Brunell looks like he needs more time to rest his right knee (9-for-25 for 141 yards).

But those issues will be addressed this week. Last night was an opportunity for Gibbs to celebrate a ninth postseason trip. He has a 16-5 playoff record and three Super Bowl titles on his Hall of Fame coaching resume.

“We don’t have many players that have been to the playoffs and we know we’ll have a tough road,” he said. “We know it’s going to be stacked against us, but at least we have the opportunity and the chance.”

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