- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 25, 2012

Robert Griffin III spent Saturday afternoon on the sideline at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. He wore a green Baylor long-sleeved t-shirt and cheered his former teammates in their overtime victory over Texas Tech, which secured the Bears’ qualification for a bowl game.

Because of Griffin’s four-touchdown performance in that stadium on Thanksgiving, his current team has a chance at the postseason, too.

Five weeks remain in the NFL’s regular season, so a wide range of postseason scenarios are possible. For the Washington Redskins even to be in contention, though, is a major accomplishment considering how low they were on Nov. 4 after dropping to 3-6 with a home loss to woeful Carolina.

“It was big for the mindset of everybody,” Griffin said Thursday.

The Redskins (5-6) were idle Sunday on the last day of their post-Thanksgiving holiday. They did not get the help they sought in the NFC East race. The New York Giants walloped Green Bay, 38-10, to increase their lead over the Redskins to two games ahead of next Monday night’s showdown at FedEx Field.

But four NFC wild card contenders lost Sunday, leaving Washington only one game out of a tie for the conference’s sixth and final playoff berth.

The Redskins‘ victories over Philadelphia and Dallas last week thrust them back into the NFC playoff race. After losing to one-win Carolina before their bye week, they realized they had no margin for error during the remaining seven games.

So far, they have responded with in an intense collective focus and two wins over divisional opponents.

“You’ve got to go out and win each week,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “I think the mindset has been there, and there’s been a good sense of urgency that everybody has got to play their best game, everybody has got to do what they’re capable of doing.”

Sunday’s Giants game was the most important to the Redskins‘ playoff chances because their clearest path to the postseason is by winning the division.

If the Giants had lost, next Monday’s game would have been for first place. Instead, the Redskins must beat New York, and they need help from New York’s opponents in the final quarter of the season.

Still, next Monday’s game is the Redskins‘ biggest regular-season contest since they had to beat Dallas in the 2007 finale to make the playoffs.

“When you take care of your business, you put yourself in those situations,” receiver Santana Moss said. “Coming out of the bye, who would have known we would be where we are right now but us? We just kept striving and kept pushing, knowing that at the end of the day, it’s going to all fall into our hands for us to take it — and that’s what we are going to do.”

A division title remains Washington’s greatest hope of qualifying for the postseason because of the simplicity involved in catching New York, but the door to the NFC’s second wild card is cracked much wider than it was 24 hours ago.

Seattle, which entered Sunday as the NFC’s sixth and final playoff seed, lost. So did Tampa Bay and Minnesota. All three of those teams fell to 6-5, only one game ahead of Washington in the conference standings.

And the Redskins hold tiebreakers over Tampa Bay and Minnesota by virtue of head-to-head victories. They also hold the tiebreaker with Seattle by virtue of their superior record against NFC opponents.

Washington’s outlook improved even more during the late afternoon. New Orleans, which entered Sunday having won five of its last six, lost to San Francisco to drop into a tie with Washington at 5-6.

The Redskins moved ahead of New Orleans in the conference standings by virtue of their head-to-head victory over the Saints in Week 1.

All of that means the Redskins have a chance. Despite major injury problems and missed opportunities during the first half of the season, they could make the playoffs if they keep winning.

That begins with Monday’s game against New York. The Redskins have rallied using a one-game-at-a-time approach, and even though their course from ashes to the postseason is coming into focus, they are determined not to stray from the mindset that got them here.

“Our guys have stepped up the last couple weeks,” Shanahan said. “Our backs were against the wall. Hopefully, we continue to do that. I think we have the focus to go week by week and try to play our best game because it will take that type of effort to beat the Giants.

“I like our football team, where we’re at and how hard players are working. It’s not a finished product, by no means, but we’re on the right track.”