- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 9, 2001

Welcome to the first of many "must-win" games, in which victory only means the next one is even more important to the Washington Redskins.
The Redskins visit the Arizona Cardinals today with both 5-6 teams needing to win to maintain their playoff hopes. Otherwise, even Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer grimaced when evaluating the chances of making the postseason at 9-7, provided Washington could win its final four games.
"Like probably 20 other teams in the league right now, [we need to] find a way to win one more game and then have a chance to have another important game to play," he said.
Cliched, but true. The Redskins blew any playoff buffer they might have gained from a five-game winning streak when they lost to the Dallas Cowboys 20-14 last week. Now Washington faces the daunting task of winning in a desert that traditionally has been more like quicksand for them and then meeting NFC East -leader Philadelphia (7-4), NFC Central-leader Chicago (9-2) and wild-card contender New Orleans (6-5) in successive weeks before Arizona again Jan. 6 in a game postponed Sept. 16.
"Maybe 5-6 and 6-5 doesn't seem like a big difference, but it's huge," quarterback Tony Banks said. "I imagine 9-7 or 10-6 will get one of these teams in the [NFC East] into the playoffs. We just have to be that team."
It's amazing the Redskins can still think of making the playoffs. No team has reached the postseason after an 0-5 start. Then again, none ever won its next five games. Last week's mediocre effort against the Cowboys makes the Redskins wonder which direction they'll go in next.
"It's always hard to predict," Schottenheimer said. "I've been in weeks where everything was absolutely perfect and we didn't play well and weeks when things didn't go particularly well and they played their tails off."
Cornerback Darrell Green enters the final month of his 19-year career conceding that this has been one of the stranger seasons. However, Green sees the Dallas loss as a chance to refocus.
"This is huge," said Green, who rarely emphasizes one game. "This whole season has been a very roller coaster year. There's been a lot of negatives in this season, but negatives are what you take to energize and get the positives.
"I would add all the things that hurt us and use it as motivation. We have to take the fact we lost five, won five, lost the biggest game of the year against Dallas and out all of that have energy and motivation."
Momentum can be fleeting. Arizona coach Dave McGinnis knows the Cardinals' three-game winning streak offers no real edge.
"It gives you confidence, but it doesn't guarantee you anything," he said.
The Redskins' offensive collapse against Dallas was reminiscent of the 0-5 start. The running game was abandoned, and the passing attack was sporadic.
Now the offense is splintered. Running back Stephen Davis wants the ball more than his 17 carries against Dallas. Quarterback Tony Banks wants to throw more than 20 passes for just the third time in nine starts. Receivers Michael Westbrook and Rod Gardner have become more decoys than downfield targets.
Ultimately, the offense works behind Davis, who needs 105 yards to become the first Redskin to top 1,000 in three straight seasons. Even McGinnis wasn't confused when preparing his defensive game plan.
"I know they're going to come in here and try to run the football," he said.
Davis' 17 carries were his fewest since the 0-5 start. Nine came on the first touchdown drive, with a 10th touch a 29-yard reception. Only Banks' 9-yard pass to Eric Metcalf and Banks' 1-yard touchdown run weren't handled by Davis. However, he carried only eight other times in the close game.
"It was a fantasy come true getting the ball," Davis said of the drive. "But how many drives did we have?"
Normally, the Redskins are a run-first offense that makes even Banks compete for the ball.
"Right now we're so good at running the football I have to take my chances when I can get them," he said.
Gardner has only 11 receptions in his last five games but is eager to test a Cardinals secondary he considered beatable.
"What we've seen from watching film is that they're average corners," he said. "They can be beat on any route. There's opportunities out there for big plays."

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