- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2006

PHILADELPHIA.

Early in the season, the Redskins defense couldn’t buy a turnover — not even with a Redskins Visa card. The unit went four frustrating weeks without forcing one. Fumbles, in particular, always seemed to wind up in the other team’s mitts.

“Sometimes the ball bounces like that,” Marcus Washington philosophized yesterday. “Sometimes a shooter [in basketball] just misses. You’ve got to keep shooting, because eventually it’s going to bounce your way.”

And so Washington and Co. kept shooting, and in the last few weeks the turnovers started coming in torrents — four by the Cardinals, four more by the Cowboys and a six-pack on New Year’s Day by the Eagles. Here’s how it went for the Philadelphia offense in the fourth quarter, when the Redskins came from behind to win 31-20 and nail down their first playoff berth since ‘99: interception, fumble, punt, fumble, interception. Four turnovers in five possessions.

About as improbable, some might say, as five straight wins to end the season.

Or as improbable, others might say, as Joe Gibbs coming back to coach the team in the first place.

But then, this is Year 2 for Gibbs. Something magical always seems to happen in Year 2 for Joe — a Super Bowl championship (1982 season), a Daytona 500 win (‘94, his second year in NASCAR) and now … bringing the franchise back to life once again. The big difference between this year and ‘82, of course, is that in ‘82 the Redskins got to stay home for the postseason; this year they’ll have slug it out on the road — in Tampa for starters, and possibly in Seattle and Chicago after that.

Still, said Washington, “We feel like we’re playing just as good as anybody this time of year.” And darned if the Redskins aren’t. They’re also 10-2 in NFC games, with victories over the top two seeds (the Seahawks and Bears), a narrow — and contested — loss to the third seed (the Bucs) and another win over the fourth seed (the Giants). That spells hope if nothing else.

Leave it to Ray Brown, the 43-year-old right offensive guard, to provide some much-needed perspective. “It looks good on paper, sure,” he says. “But now we’ve got to go out and play these teams. We don’t have a monopoly on desperation whatsoever. Tampa is going to be scratching and clawing for every yard, and so is everybody else.”

Also, most of the Redskins are new to this playoff business — unlike, say, Seattle (three consecutive postseason trips) and Carolina (a Super Bowl appearance two seasons ago). But let’s leave the analysis for another day and focus on yesterday’s histrionics. If you expected victory No.10 to come easily for Your Heroes, then you don’t know the Eagles. Philly wasn’t going to roll over the way the spineless Falcons did in their finale against the Panthers. Even without Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Terrell Owens and a host of others, Andy Reid’s club was going to make the Redskins earn their playoff spot.

And after three quarters, there was some serious pacing going on in Dan Snyder’s box; the Eagles’ no-name offense managed to score 20 points and actually led by a field goal. Worse, Washington’s already depleted secondary had lost Shawn Springs and Ade Jimoh, resulting in former practice squadder Christian Morton lining up at cornerback. Talk about your nightmare scenario.

But the Redskins hadn’t come this far to let it slip away at the last moment. On an afternoon when Mark Brunell could complete only nine of 25 passes, the defense — the foundation of the team — came through one more time. A Lemar Marshall interception led to the go-ahead score, and a fumbled snap, a quarterback change (to Koy Detmer), a sack/fumble (returned for a TD by Sean Taylor) and another interception soon followed. It wasn’t nearly as pretty as the previous two wins, but nobody in the Washington locker room much cared.

“It doesn’t matter how you get the wins, just as long as you have 10 or 11 at the end,” Jon Jansen said. “In the playoffs, everybody’s 0-0. We’re playing a great brand of ball right now. Who wouldn’t want to be on a five-game streak going into the playoffs? It’s going to be a fun week in D.C. Heck, it’s been a fun five weeks.”

Maybe Coach Joe, the incurable optimist, saw this coming, but few others did. It happened, though. It happened because, as Washington put it, “There’s so much fight in this team. We’re just going to keep on coming. We almost got in a fight in Tampa when they were kneeling down [to run out the clock].”

Tampa. Week 10. Bucs 36, Redskins 35. Seems like as good a place as any to begin this postseason journey.

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