- The Washington Times - Monday, December 24, 2007

MINNEAPOLIS.

Why shouldn’t the Redskins be in the playoffs? After what’s happened the past two weeks, haven’t they proved themselves to be as deserving as any of the other wild card contenders/pretenders?

Last night, for the second consecutive game, they went into a hostile stadium and slapped around team that, with a victory, could have locked up a postseason berth. Their unsuspecting victims this time were the Minnesota Vikings, winners of five straight and one of the league’s hottest teams. The Vikes, down 22-0 at the half en route to a 32-21 whupping, never knew what hit them.

The Sunday before, the Snydermen crunched the Giants 22-10, the same Giants who are now tied with the 10-5 Seahawks for the third-best record in the NFC. Joe Gibbs‘ Gang may not pose any threat to the Patriots, but they’re playing playoff-quality ball — at a time when they need to be playing playoff-quality ball. You can’t ask for any more than that.

“We’ve been through so much this year,” Gibbs said. “We had four brutal last-second losses [in a row] that would have taken the life out of most teams. I don’t think you can put into words how I feel about it.”

And so it all comes down to Sunday’s game against the Cowboys at FedEx Field. If the Redskins win — and Dallas, having clinched the home-field advantage in the conference, may well aid their cause by mailing it in — their season goes on. Even if the Redskins lose, of course, they could still sneak into the playoffs, but let’s not talk about it. The various scenarios make me dizzy.

Instead, let’s talk about Todd Collins, who continues to amaze in his role as Washington’s savior-quarterback. He was a revelation coming off the bench for injured Jason Campbell against the Bears, he did a nice job in the windswept chill of Giants Stadium, and last night he sliced and diced the Minnesota defense to the tune of 22 completions in 29 attempts for 254 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions.

Why don’t I come right out and say it: Collins is playing the way Redskins fans wish Mark Brunell had down the stretch two years ago, the last time the team made the playoffs. If No. 8 had performed at the level No. 15 has, the Redskins probably would have been in the NFC Championship game, if not the Super Bowl.

What a story this guy is. It has been so long since Collins was a starter in the league that opponents have been hard-pressed to find tape of him to study. (And the tape they did dig up, I suspect, is in black-and-white.) But he clearly has Al Saunders’ offense down cold — unlike the apprentice Campbell and the largely ineffective Brunell. The zip on his passes may remind some of Tim Wakefield, the Red Sox’s knuckleballer, but the ball usually gets there and never seems to be thrown into a crowd.

At any rate, in the Chicago game and again last night at the Metrodome, the offense functioned with a smoothness and certainty it has rarely exhibited in Gibbs‘ second term. And even though Collins isn’t the nimblest of quarterbacks and looks like he’d be easy to sack, he hasn’t taken many losses because he makes quick decisions or dumps the ball off to whomever’s available.

Collins isn’t just a dinker and dunker, though, as so many QBs are when they get to be his age (36). His 33-yard pass to Chris Cooley for the first Washington touchdown, a rollout to the right and throwback to the left, was a beauty, straight and true. So was the 32-yard jump ball he laid up for Santana Moss in the end zone that gave the Redskins a 16-0 cushion. Here and there, Collins has been able to get the ball downfield — and in the process, keep defenses honest — which is all you really need in Saunders’ system. Trent Green, remember, had no Elway Arm in Kansas City.

It’s almost as if opponents don’t believe this Nondescript Career Backup can beat them. The Giants ganged up on Clinton Portis and placed most of the burden on Collins, and the Vikings tried the same tack — in both instances to little avail. Obviously, Collins has learned a few things standing on the sideline all these years, and he’s finally getting an opportunity to put them into practice.

“I’ve been in the same offense for close to seven years,” he said. “I just feel a lot more confident now as far as understanding what the plan is and how to get it done.”

As a result, he has the Redskins, a club that appeared to be in its last throes after dropping to 5-7, on the threshold of the playoffs. As surprise endings go, this one’s worthy of M. Night Shyamalan.

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