Sunday, November 18, 2001

The Washington Redskins are refreshed. They’re on a roll. But are they for real?
Washington (3-5) plays the Denver Broncos (5-4) today at Invesco Field at Mile High in a matchup that should tell whether its three-game winning streak was a hallucination or harbinger of playoff hopes.
Although the Broncos are merely another of the NFL’s many near-.500 teams, winning in Denver would turn Washington into more than a conqueror of marginal teams. It would make the Redskins a contender when they face NFC East leader Philadelphia on Nov. 25.
“It’s not a statement to the country, but really to ourselves, that we can get on a [long] winning streak,” defensive tackle Kenard Lang said.
Said running back Stephen Davis: “The Denver game is the tone-setter for the next eight weeks. We have to do what we’ve been doing for the last three [games].”
It’s possible to demean Washington’s recent success during its longest homestand in 14 years. Carolina (1-8) essentially blew the game. The New York Giants (5-4) made costly errors while mired in a three-game skid. Seattle (4-4) looked horrid. None of the three is expected to make the playoffs.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” defensive end Marco Coleman said. “We still have a losing record. We’re still climbing uphill. We’re far from reaching the top of the hill. We’re working on carrying that flag and sticking it in. That flag is heavy, though.”
Meanwhile, the Broncos remain a serious playoff contender despite injuries. Denver is 4-1 in its first season at Invesco Field, so Washington exiting victorious would provide credibility.
“We have to show we can do it on someone else’s field,” Darrell Green said. “I don’t know if it gets any wilder than Denver, Kansas City, Oakland.”
Coach Marty Schottenheimer never gives a particular game any special significance.
“This is not a make-or-break football game in my mind,” Schottenheimer said. “The minute you start saying, ‘This is a make-or-break game,’ what happens if you don’t win it? You’re broke. I don’t buy into that.”
Certainly, Washington must beat Philadelphia to have any real chance of winning the mediocre NFC East, but defeating Denver would be a big confidence builder. The timing is right. The Redskins are 5-0 after bye weeks that included ending an 0-7 start in 1998 and beating the Rams last season for coach Norv Turner’s last victory before he was fired.
After facing Chargers assistant Turner in San Diego, Washington now opposes former defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes, who has the same role in Denver. Rhodes, bitter over Turner’s dismissal, demanded his release in January with one year left on his contract. He told associates he wants the Broncos to score 50 points on Washington. However, the Redskins reject the idea that his inside knowledge could hurt them.
“Ray’s coaching against an offense that has a different quarterback, different tight ends, different people on the offensive line and a different style of offense,” Coleman said. “This isn’t a Norv Turner offense. All the ideas he had about the offense last year [he can forget], because it’s completely different. If they’re going to beat us, they’re going to have to play extremely hard. It’s not that we’ll show up and they’ll walk through us. We’re coming to play.”
Nor will the Redskins worry about the thin air when playing at 5,200 feet above sea level. Leave it to someone else to suck wind, they said.
“It doesn’t matter where we play, I’ll always be gasping for air,” center Cory Raymer said.
After all, if the Redskins don’t choke against the Broncos, the playoffs remain possible. Otherwise, the first meeting with Philadelphia next Sunday will become Washington’s last-gasp attempt to make playing in December meaningful.

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