LANDOVER, Md. | When the Washington Redskins beat the Philadelphia Eagles, the winner's locker room reverberated with laughter and celebration. Donovan McNabb received the game ball from coach Mike Shanahan, and players demanded a victory speech from the quarterback.
When the Green Bay Packers beat the Detroit Lions, the victors were in no mood to frolic.
"We always pray when we come back in," Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said, "and usually there is some excitement. You would have thought we lost."
Such is the state of these two teams as they prepare to meet Sunday. The Redskins are psyched to be 2-2, while the Packers are a bit miffed at how they've arrived at 3-1.
"Different expectations," Washington linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "There were a playoff team last year, and we weren't. We're pumped to be 2-2 coming off a great win. It's just all perception. We're still growing as a team; they're supposed to be in the Super Bowl this year. I'm pretty sure they think they should be blowing teams out."
Cue Donald Driver, who expressed that very sentiment about the Packers' way-too-close 28-26 victory over the winless Lions.
"We knew we should've blown that team out the window," Driver said. "I think that's what hurt us when we came in and why there wasn't all the laughing, jumping up, joking, screaming. If Detroit would've beat us, they would've run on the field like nuts. But you know you're a better team than the way you played, and when you do that, you get frustrated and want to figure out why you made the game closer than it had to be."
So if this isn't the week that the Packers get their championship act in gear, the Redskins could be sitting nicely with an unexpected winning record five weeks into the season. They're 2-0 in the NFC and have already won half as many games as they won all last season, making Shanahan sound not so pie-in-the-sky when he discusses playoff permutations.
"If you win your division, you're guaranteed a home playoff game," the coach said this week. "What better way to start the postseason that with a game in your backyard?"
Clinton Portis is out for at least a month with a groin injury, leaving Redskins with recent practice squad promotee Ryan Torain as their starting running back, but Washington's injury concerns are nowhere close to those accumulating in Green Bay.
Rookie safety Morgan Burnett is out for the season with a torn ACL, and he was only starting because Atari Bigby was hurt. Safety Nick Collins is hampered by a nagging knee problem. Linebackers Nick Barnett (wrist) and Brandon Chillar (shoulder) are also ailing. Veteran tackles Chad Clifton (knees) and Mark Tauscher (shoulder) aren't 100 percent healthy, although the offensive line has allowed only five sacks. Running back Ryan Grant suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 1, and the Packers' running game has dipped to 22nd in the NFL rankings.
Still, Aaron Rodgers is playing well enough — a 96.3 quarterback rating — and gets to face a Redskins defense ranked 31st out of 32 teams in yards allowed. Rodgers ruffled a few feathers this week when he suggested that he didn't agree with the team's approach against the Lions. He wanted to use more multiple-receiver shotgun formations in the second half, when the offense was being held scoreless. Rodgers was quickly chastened by McCarthy, who uttered the tried-and-true coach's mantra: "Coaches coach, and the players play."
The Packers defense is tied for the league lead in sacks with 16 — led by Clay Matthews with seven — but its been vulnerable to quarterback scrambles, not the best weakness to have when facing the mobile McNabb.
"I've had some run-ins with him before in the past," defensive end Cullen Jenkins said. "Sometimes where I got him down and sometimes where I wasn't able. I know firsthand how tough he is to go down. You just have to come at him and be under control and try to be really smart."
The Redskins have kept fans on tenterhooks all season. Three of their four games literally came down to the final snap. They would have lost to the Eagles last week if Philadelphia's Jason Avant had held on to a pass that hit him in both hands in the end zone as time expired. Washington could easily be 3-1 — or 0-4.
"We've been ahead in all those games, and you'd like to finish them a little bit earlier," Shanahan said. "Fortunately we won two, and unfortunately we lost one."
At least they celebrated the ones that they won.