ASHBURN, Va. | Five years ago, almost to the day, someone posted a Monday morning message on the bulletin board in the Washington Redskins locker room. It read: "Five in a row or we don't go!"
There were no such signs in the locker room this Monday morning, but the setting was otherwise the same. The Redskins are 5-6 after a loss, feeling they must run the table to make the playoffs.
"That's a true statement right now," said cornerback Carlos Rogers, who remembers that sign as one of seven players remaining from the 2005 team. "If we don't get five in a row, we're just playing for pride and trying to spoil something for somebody else."
There was no rational reason to expect the 2005 version of the Redskins to pull it off. They had lost three straight, didn't have much of an offense and had been shut out in the fourth quarter in four of their previous five games. Coach Joe Gibbs had a late night state-of-the-team discussion with owner Dan Snyder after loss No. 6, an overtime defeat to ex-Washington coach Marty Schottenheimer and the San Diego Chargers.
Yet they did it. Gibbs rededicated himself to the running game, and the Redskins posted double-digit wins over their three NFC East rivals on the way to a 10-6 record and a wild card berth. The franchise hasn't won five in a row since, although they did take four straight in 2007 to sneak into the playoffs at 9-7, another improbable stretch that is credited to a surge of emotion following the death of safety Sean Taylor.
The task is just as formidable in 2010. This year's Redskins aren't good enough to win without catching a lot of breaks. They don't have much of an offense, the defense gives up too many yards, and they have too many injuries.
About the only thing they do have is those stories from '05 and '07.
"It has happened before," Rogers said. "And we've got some of the same players. It doesn't have nothing to do with it now, but we know that we're still capable of doing it. We've just got to do it."
The latest loss was 17-13 on Sunday to the Minnesota Vikings, a team that had fired its coach six days earlier. It was a game where the Redskins were dishing out the breaks to the other team: Santana Moss let a pass bounce off his face mask and become an interception, Donovan McNabb underthrew a wide-open Anthony Armstrong to lose a chance at a sure touchdown, rookie Perry Riley's needless block-in-the-back penalty wiped out a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown by Brandon Banks, and the defense let Brett Favre ice the game by allowing the 41-year-old quarterback's longest run since 2008 — a 10-yard bootleg on third-and-8 late in the fourth quarter.
The offense produced a season-low 216 yards, just 29 on the ground. With Clinton Portis out for the season with an abdominal injury and Ryan Torain sitting out another game with a hamstring injury, the Redskins abandoned the run. Their last 15 offensive plays against the Vikings consisted of 14 passes and a sack.
"We did what we had to do," coach Mike Shanahan said. "Unfortunately, we didn't keep a lot of drives going."
Riley's gaffe made him the untimely goat — the player he blocked wasn't going to catch the speedy Banks — but Shanahan and teammates were quick to show support. The fourth-round draft pick was active for only the third time all season and is one of the young players getting more playing time because of injuries. He left the locker room without talking to the media after Sunday's game, but he later agreed to speak to reporters by telephone and said: "I feel terrible."
"This is a young guy trying to make a play," special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander said. "Special teams are hard to play. The more seasoned you get at it, you don't make those type of mistakes. If he had been out there for the whole year, he probably would have pulled up."
Shanahan has insisted he wasn't in the rebuilding business when he inherited a 4-12 team, but that's what it has become. Nothing the team has done shows it's capable of putting together a long winning streak.
"Why haven't we been able to do that? I don't know," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "It's a combination of a lot of things. A combination of the guys in this locker room not really stepping up to the plate, making plays we need to make. A combination of the teams we're facing. It is frustrating. You would like to put games together, put streaks together, that's kind of how you become a good football team."
Just ask the players who were around in 2005.
Notes: Rogers had an interesting take on the Redskins' 2-4 home record. "Sometimes I think when you're at home, you feel you're away," Rogers said. "You get so bashed at home for any little mistake you did. You come to the sideline, the bench, it's cussing, it's this, it's that and we're just in the first quarter. It's like, 'Are we at home or are we away?' ... If you don't like the team or you don't want to support us through the good or the bad, why come out to the games? We still need that support. We're already down, we're already losing, then to hear some of our fans, it's not helpful. We try to block it out, but it's still not helpful." ... Shanahan said he's not sure who will start at RB next week against the New York Giants. Torain isn't able to run at full speed yet, and neither Keiland Williams nor James Davis was effective Sunday. ... Rogers left Sunday's game with a left hamstring injury, a week after missing a game with an ailing right hamstring. He said the new injury was likely a result of overcompensating for the old one, but the new one isn't as bad. ... S LaRon Landry remains in a walking boot with a left Achilles' tendon injury.