- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 14, 2001

Individual Washington Redskins enjoyed good times over the weekend hunting, playing golf and relaxing thanks to an open date after three wins. Now they enter the second half of the season.
For the Redskins to retain hopes of going to the playoffs aspirations created by the three victories that followed an 0-5 start they must play well in their next two games, both against playoff contenders: at Denver (5-4) on Sunday and at Philadelphia (5-3) the following week.
Going 2-0 in the next fortnight puts them firmly in the NFC East race.
Going 1-1, particularly if the win is over the Eagles, keeps hope alive.
Going 0-2 puts them back among the Arizonas and Dallases of the NFL world.
"We'll start with the first one," guard Dave Szott said yesterday with a laugh. "One at a time."
Most teammates responded similarly when asked about the importance of the two games.
"It is [a crucial stretch], but if we don't take care of the first one here, the second one doesn't matter," offensive tackle Jon Jansen said. "So we've got to take care of business now, and then when the second one gets here we'll take care of that."
The Redskins still don't appear fully comfortable with thinking about the playoffs. Their season might have unraveled in Week 6 had linebacker LaVar Arrington not made a key fourth-quarter interception against the Carolina Panthers. An overtime win that day set up more convincing victories over the New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks.
Now Washington is two games behind Philadelphia for first place in the NFC East, with two games left against the Eagles, and 11/2 games behind the Giants for the final wild-card spot. Because the Redskins offense finally has found some potency averaging 387 yards in the three wins vs. 184.6 yards in the five losses there is hope of a strong second half.
But do the Redskins consider themselves a playoff team?
"Anything's possible in the NFL," running back Stephen Davis said. "We've just got to go out and play the way we're capable of playing."
Said Szott: "Let's take 'em one at a time. I think if we play at this level, we can beat anybody. I truly believe that. So we've just got to stay healthy and keep playing at this level."
The other key aspect of this stretch is that the Redskins have yet to win on the road. Four of their opening five losses came on the road, and all three wins came at home.
Coach Marty Schottenheimer made note of the crowd's influence in each victory, particularly the first one. After Arrington's interception the remaining spectators many had departed when the Redskins trailed 14-0 early in the fourth quarter were so noisy that the Panthers committed three false starts.
Now Washington must play in two vocal venues where the opponents' crowds could be just as much of a factor.
"You need to be able to win on the road if you want to accomplish things of value," Schottenheimer said. "They're a formidable opponent there in Denver, but we're an improving football team. We're going to work our tails off this week to try to be competitive."
The open date appears to have come at a good time for the Redskins. In addition to providing Arrington and tight end Stephen Alexander extra time to heal high ankle sprains, it gave the team a sense of a fresh start after salvaging the first half of its season.
"We had a very good practice today," Szott said. "It was very sharp, very crisp. Usually you see a lot of mental errors and stuff. … A week off at this time of year is always a good thing."
Now that must translate into success during this key stretch.
"Denver's a good team, and at their place they're even tougher," Szott said. "So this could be a big step for us to beat a good team on the road. That's our objective."

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