- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 23, 2001

The Washington Redskins have flirted with elimination from the playoffs since an 0-5 start. Today it finally could happen.
Washington (6-7) must beat the Chicago Bears (10-3) or the Redskins' wild-card chances will end with two games remaining should the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-6) also defeat the New Orleans Saints (7-6).
The Redskins' attempt to become the first team to reach the playoffs after an 0-5 start seems to have taxed them. A five-game winning streak re-energized the team before it lost two of three, leaving it on the precipice of elimination. The locker room seemed lifeless following the 20-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Dec. 16 that ended NFC East title chances.
There was little bravado, nary a flicker of energy. Holiday plans seemed more of a concern for players who appeared drained from a long season of "must wins." The Redskins are trying not to think of the necessity of finishing 3-0 against the NFC Central-leading Bears, Saints and Arizona Cardinals or peek at the FedEx Field scoreboard to see what's happening in the concurrent Bucs-Saints game.
"We've been in worse situations," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "It's been an up-and-down season, but to win these last three will make [the playoffs] for us. The only scoreboard I'm worried about is Washington-Chicago."
Said coach Marty Schottenheimer: "We have to deal with one thing the Chicago Bears. I've never sat around and tried to figure out mathematics. I'm an English major. The math part is way above me."
It's simple math, though. One more loss almost certainly means the Redskins will miss the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons since coach Joe Gibbs' retirement, especially if Tampa Bay wins. Schottenheimer downplayed the team's apparent lackluster appearance after losing to the Eagles.
"You can lose your energy when you get caught up in some adversity in a game," he said, "but going into any game I don't think that's an issue."
If anything, the Redskins were edgy. They took shots at the Bears, who have been lucky at times en route to clinching their first playoff appearance since 1994 and best start since 1988. Safety David Terrell traded barbs with Bears receiver David Terrell, saying he drops more balls than he catches. Quarterback Tony Banks said he's seen better middle linebackers than Chicago's Brian Urlacher. The Bears defender took it personally.
"Players who don't play very well talk trash," Urlacher said. "[Banks] must not be having a good year. Stephen Davis is the guy that gets everything going for them."
But even Redskins defensive tackle Kenard Lang, who said the Bears "look like Tarzan and play like Jane" after Washington's 48-22 victory in 1999, downplayed the rematch.
"Luck or no luck, they're 10-3 and in the playoffs. I wish I was in their spot," he said.
Both teams have the same game plan run the ball and stop the other's runner. Washington faces the "A-Train," running back Anthony Thomas, who comes off a 173-yard performance against the Bucs on Dec. 16. The NFC's leading rookie rusher has 865 yards, including 188 vs. the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 21, despite missing two games with a strained hamstring and compensates for a marginal passing game.
"Don't let him get rolling. Control the gaps," Lang said. "If you don't let them know you're there they'll run the field all day."
Fellow rookie Smoot looks forward to playing more run defense than usual.
"Let's make it happen. Somebody has to win the collision," Smoot said. "If he keeps going at least I can roll over and go chase him."
Davis' 1,116 yards has him nearing his team-record 1,405 yards in 1999. Davis missed two practices with a sore knee before returning Friday, but the absence was more precautionary. The Redskins rely heavily on Davis, with his 111 yards vs. the Eagles the first time Washington lost this year when he gained more than 100.
Chicago's third-ranked run defense behind a massive line and Urlacher will be Washington's key challenge along with not watching the scoreboard. After all, it could be a final cutdown.

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