- The Washington Times - Monday, December 31, 2012

Barry Cofield stood near one corner of the victorious Washington Redskins‘ locker room shortly after midnight Monday morning and served a few helpings of perspective.

He won the Super Bowl six seasons ago as a member of the New York Giants, so he simultaneously embraced the euphoria of the Redskins‘ first NFC East division championship in 13 seasons and respected distance that remains between them and their ultimate goal.

“Last place in the division last year to first is a testament to the organization, the way they’ve built this team,” said Cofield, Washington’s nose tackle. “Everyone has been consistent and really focused. I’m really proud of the group, and as long as we stay on this track, as long as we come in and prepare every day, play like our back is against the wall, play like we’re the underdogs, we can compete with anybody.”

The Redskins, as it turns out, are underdogs. The Seattle Seahawks on Monday opened as 2½-point favorites for their wild card-round game at FedEx Field on Sunday at 4:30 p.m.

They’re the two hottest teams in the NFC. Washington won seven straight to complete one of the greatest turnarounds in NFL history and win the division crown at 10-6. Seattle has won five in a row but fell short of San Francisco in the NFC West race at 11-5.

As the final 24 hours of 2012 elapsed, the Redskins went from celebrating their primary goal of winning the division to ensuring their incredible run doesn’t stop there.

That began inside a postgame locker room that was more subdued than you might expect after a 28-18 victory over the rival Dallas Cowboys.

Some players, coaches and front office members wore black Division Champions hats, but that was the only noticeable difference between Sunday night’s win and any other. The volume of chatter was normal.

The most emotional player was one who didn’t play against Dallas. Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, out for the season since Week 2 with a pectoral tear, shouted to no one in particular about the championship and how Washington was 4-12 during his rookie year in 2009.

The measured reaction stemmed partly from how the Redskins‘ goals are greater than the division title, but it also resulted from raised expectations. Players expected to beat Dallas. And after seven consecutive victories, they anticipate winning every game.

“I think that’s what separates teams,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “Teams that play with a lot of confidence, you get used to winning. You expect to win. It’s a mindset.”

By the time Shanahan met with reporters Monday afternoon, he had reviewed Washington’s win but hadn’t begun analyzing film of the Seahawks.

“We tried to celebrate a little bit,” he said.

That quarterback Robert Griffin III ran for 63 yards on six carries despite his mildly sprained right knee intensified his positivity.

“I was a little disappointed yesterday because he only averaged 10.5 yards per carry,” Shanahan deadpanned before smiling. “I was hoping he was going to average a little bit more.”

Griffin was satisfied he was able to run the zone-read option well enough to keep Dallas’ defense off balance. He scored on one of the runs from 10 yards.

He called it the greatest win of his life.

“It’s safe to say I’m the happiest guy in the room,” he said.

Minutes later, though, Griffin shifted his focus to the Redskins‘ next obstacle.

“We want to go all the way, but it starts with Seattle,” he said. “That’s all we got on our mind.”

Part of that preparation means separating themselves from the grind of the regular season and considering the playoffs a four-game season that ends at the Super Bowl, Shanahan said.

The one-game-at-a-time cliche the Redskins have hammered for seven weeks still applies, and that should help sustain their focus.

“Now all the records are thrown out and we’re starting over,” cornerback Josh Wilson said. “We’re just going in here and concentrating on Seattle, moving past last night’s victory because every game from now on gets us to more and more important stuff.”

Cofield owns a ring that validates that progression.

“You can’t approach it any differently,” he said. “You know the intensity level’s going to step up, and you’re going to feel it in the air when you get out there on next Sunday. But it’s just business as usual. When we get in there on Wednesday, our coaches will have a great plan for us and we’ve got to execute.”