- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Washington Redskins were 6-2 when November began. A third playoff spot in four years seemed a sure thing.

However, consecutive home losses to Pittsburgh and Dallas in which Washington scored just 16 points have removed much of the luster from rookie coach Jim Zorn and raised the specter of past Redskins collapses under former coach Norv Turner.

“A great start and a bad finish,” said fullback Mike Sellers, one of four veterans of the 2000 team which started 6-2 but finished 8-8.

“It got ugly in the end,” offensive tackle Chris Samuels said.

But neither Sellers nor Samuels expects a repeat of that or the 1996 nosedive from 7-1 to 9-7 this season.

“We lost two in a row, but I’m not nervous,” Samuels said. “I know the character of this team. We’ve got a lot of heart. We gotta man-up, as simple as that.”

To that end, the offensive players held a meeting Wednesday morning to discuss a turnaround. Tackle Jon Jansen, whose 10 straight seasons in Washington make him the team’s longest-tenured player, talked to some of his younger teammates about the parallels between 2000 and 2008. And November, he pointed out, is tougher than December because the end of the season is still so far away.

“We have a lot of savvy vets on this team that are going to take ownership,” Sellers said. “What’s been happening is gonnna change because we’re not going to accept it. You’re always concerned when you start so well and now you’re 6-4.”

Especially since the only recent victories have been hard-fought ones over visiting Cleveland and at winless Detroit. Those followed a home loss to then-winless St. Louis. Washington hasn’t played well since winning at Dallas and Philadelphia in Weeks 4 and 5.

But Zorn doesn’t see a snowball effect that needs to be halted Sunday at the 2-8 Seattle Seahawks.

“I do not believe that we’re waning,” Zorn said. “[But] we have to improve. You can’t tread water in this league for very long. You gotta be swimming. And we’re not swimming yet.”

That November isn’t going swimmingly shouldn’t come as a surprise. Dating to 2004, when 15 of this season’s players and seven of the coaches already had joined the franchise, the Redskins are 5-14 in the penultimate month.

Only terrific Decembers produced playoff teams in 2005 and 2007. Last season, Washington reeled off four straight wins to close the season, and in 2005 the team won five straight.

“We’ve let these other teams take our house,” defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin said. “We’re still in a position to control our own destiny, maybe not win the division, but to go to the playoffs. In this league, if you don’t win in November and December, you’re not going anywhere. I’m not worried about the Giants. I’m worried about the Redskins.”

At 9-1 sitting atop the NFC East, the New York Giants don’t look catchable. That leaves the Redskins as part of the NFC’s wild card picture, in which they trail Tampa Bay (7-3) and are tied with Dallas and Atlanta for the last playoff spot at 6-4. That leaves them just a half-game ahead of Philadelphia (5-4-1) and a game ahead of Chicago, Minnesota and New Orleans (all 5-5).

“[Winning] four out of six may not get us a wild card spot,” center Casey Rabach said. “You’ve got to keep an eye on the big picture, but you can’t get past where you’re at each week. We’ve gotta start in Seattle.”

Quarterback Jason Campbell, Zorn’s alter ego on the field, sounded like his coach off it.

“It’s not time to panic,” he said. “The season’s like a roller coaster; it’s up and down. It’s like riding a wave. Right now we’re on the low part of that wave. We need to hit the right part at the right time of the year. You got to stay positive.

“We may hit another four-game win streak. Who knows? And the next thing you know, you’re 10-4.”

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