- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 28, 1999

What do you suppose Ricky Ervins is doing right now? How about Ethan Horton? Tony Woods, Tyronne Stowe, Martin Bayless these are some of the players who started for Norv Turner in his first season in Washington. That '94 team won three games; this year's team has won nine plus the NFC East title. What a long, strange trip it has been.
Especially when you consider the Redskins have been on the brink of the playoffs for four years now. They were right there in '96 with a 9-7 record but lost a tiebreaker to the Vikings. They were right there again in '97 with an 8-7-1 record but needed help from the Jets on the final day and didn't get it. Why did they finally break through this season instead of those other seasons? What is it about this year's club that made the difference?
After all, the '96 Redskins were a pretty good team. Five players made the Pro Bowl Terry Allen and Gus Frerotte on offense, Ken Harvey and Darrell Green on defense and Matt Turk on special teams. The '99 Redskins have only three Pro Bowlers so far Brad Johnson, Stephen Davis and Tre Johnson though a couple of others may sneak on the NFC squad as alternates. As for the '97 Redskins, they held nine teams to 17 or fewer points and allowed 289 points total. The '99 Redskins have held two teams to 17 or fewer points and could well allow 389 points.
But the '99 Redskins are in the playoffs, and the '96 and '97 Redskins missed out. If I had to come up with, oh, a half-dozen reasons why, I would list these:
* The ability of this year's team to win close games. The '96 and '97 clubs were terrible in games decided by three points or less a combined 1-8. (People forget that the '96 Redskins could easily easily have finished 12-4. But they let too many games get away.) The '99 Redskins are 2-1 in games decided by three points or less. Every little bit helps.
* The ability of this year's team to come from behind. The Redskins were down big against Carolina (21-0) and San Francisco (20-10 in the fourth quarter) and rallied to win. They were also down 14-3 against Dallas and should have won. "This team has heart," Turner said after the division-clinching victory over the 49ers on Sunday night. "Sometimes you play as hard as you can and it does not come up the way you want."
Still, I'm not sure if the Redskins are 9-6 this season because they have more heart than they did in '96 and '97 or because of the next reason.
* They don't panic when they're behind because they know they can come back on anybody. The Redskins have one of the top three offenses in the league this year. They're capable of scoring 50 points one week and 48 another. When you're blessed with that kind of firepower, it makes everybody on the club think: We're never out of a game. The '96 and '97 Redskins didn't have that mindset.
* Tre Johnson, their best offensive lineman, has started every game. He missed a dozen starts in '96 and '97 and played hurt in a number of other games. When Tre is out there moving bodies around, all is right with the Redskins' world.
* Brad Johnson is better than Gus Frerotte. Stephen Davis is better than Terry Allen. Michael Westbrook, Albert Connell, Stephen Alexander and Larry Centers are vastly superior as a receiving group to Henry Ellard, Jamie Asher, Brian Mitchell and, when healthy, the Younger Westbrook.
* Turner is a better coach now. Not so much in the X's and O's department but in how he handles the ups and downs. He doesn't let losses linger as much and I think the team is mentally healthier as a result.
And yet you look at this club and you wonder: How does it do it? The Redskins yielded 250 rushing yards against the Niners. Midway through the fourth quarter, they had scored just 13 points which would have been their lowest total of the season if it had held up. (This, against a club that had allowed 40 points five times.
But the Redskins won. They found a way to win. Or maybe the way found them. (The fumble by 49ers rookie Terry Jackson with 1:38 left when San Francisco was within winning field goal range was rather helpful.)
The defense is shaky, the special teams are an accident waiting to happen and they're still prone to what Dana Stubblefield calls "sluggish" starts but the Redskins are going to the playoffs. They're going in style, too, as the champions of their division. They're the best team Turner has turned out, no question, but they aren't light-years better than the '96 and '97 aggregations. They just have that little something extra, that missing ingredient his previous clubs didn't have.
Character? Luck? Karma? More talent? It could be any or all those things. Or it could be something as simple as this:
They were due. Were they ever due.

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