- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 4, 2001

The Washington Redskins already have won five games in a row this season. Now they might have to do it again.
Sunday's unexpected loss to the Dallas Cowboys left Washington (5-6) close to playoff elimination. To win the NFC East the Redskins must make up two games on the Philadelphia Eagles (7-4), and to take the final wild-card spot they must beat out five other teams who currently have as good a record or better.
"The way I see it, our backs are against the wall," offensive tackle Chris Samuels said yesterday. "We've got to win five straight. But we've got to take it one game at a time. We can't look at the five."
Washington's difficult closing stretch begins Sunday at Arizona, which has won three in a row to move into a divisional three-way tie for second place with the Redskins and New York Giants.
Following that are home games against Philadelphia, the Chicago Bears (9-2), at New Orleans (6-5) and Arizona again. The Dallas loss, on the heels of the historic five-game win streak after an 0-5 start, gives the Redskins almost no margin for error in the tough Philadelphia-Chicago-New Orleans stretch.
The Eagles, however, have a stringent run of their own: against San Diego (5-7), at Washington, at San Francisco (9-2), against the Giants and at Tampa Bay (6-5).
With regard to the NFC's final wild card spot, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Atlanta all lead Washington by a game, while Arizona and New York are tied with the Redskins.
The nuances of the playoff race, though, still aren't something coach Marty Schottenheimer wants to discuss. Responding to a question about them he asked rhetorically, "Can you tell me what everybody else is going to do?"
"We've made it a difficult situation, not just [Sunday], but in the first five weeks," Schottenheimer continued after a moment. "Our goal hasn't changed. We're going to prepare for Arizona, try to find a way to win a football game, and take it one week at a time."
Not every Redskin agreed with Samuels' theory that Washington must win out. Quarterback Tony Banks, for example, said the Redskins' playoff chances basically are "still just as good as before the loss."
"Five games left I imagine 9-7 or 10-6 will get one of the teams in this division into the playoffs," Banks said. "We've just got to put ourselves in position where we're that team."
That means the Redskins must stop giving up 200-yard rushing games. Already Washington has yielded three this year, including Dallas' 215-yard effort Sunday. Predictably, the Redskins are 0-3 in those games and 1-10 in such instances since 1997, the last season they gave up three 200-yard rushing games.
Dallas appeared to beat Washington at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, but players' review of tape left them feeling as though they held their ground. Far more concerning were missed assignments and mental errors.
"After watching the film, we were in position to make tackles," defensive end Marco Coleman said. "It was just missed tackles. We played pretty well on the defensive line. We were physical enough to get it done. There were just too many people not where they were supposed to be."
Said running back Stephen Davis: "I felt that I had some good runs in there, and I felt that our offensive line was pushing. But we didn't do it enough."
Mental breakdowns led to both of Dallas' game-breaking offensive plays. On the first, Michael Wiley's 46-yard run after Washington tied the game 7-7 late in the third quarter, the Redskins had just 10 men on the field. On the second, Rocket Ismail's 64-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, Champ Bailey guessed wrong on Ismail's route.
"That's what we've been concentrating on the mental errors, because we didn't get beat physically," defensive end Bruce Smith said.
For that reason the Redskins were back on the practice field for "corrections," a walk-through Schottenheimer waived after each victory. Players got used to not having corrections and they better get used to it again, or else their playoff hopes quickly will vanish.
"It's been awhile [since corrections]," Coleman said with a smile. "We hope we can get back to having those winning Mondays."

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