- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 17, 2002

Although it's not an elimination game, the Washington Redskins better beat the New York Giants today or their postseason chances will be longer than a Beltway backup.
"Got to win point blank. Must win," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "The Giants are the same as us. They know they must win. Whoever loses this one has to run it the rest of the year."
Said quarterback Shane Matthews: "If we want any chance of making the playoffs we have to win."
The New York Giants (5-4) aren't much better off than the Redskins (4-5) when it comes to chasing the Atlanta Falcons (5-3-1) for the last wild card slot. The teams meet again Dec.8, so there's no immediate tiebreaker benefit, but the loser will be essentially out of the playoff chase.
"Season for us, season for them," Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said.
The Redskins' fate probably will be determined before the Giants rematch because Washington faces the surging St. Louis (4-5) Rams on Nov.24 and the Dallas Cowboys (3-6) on Nov.28. The Redskins have lost all five Thanksgiving games at Texas Stadium and their last nine games to the Cowboys. Some Redskins conceded that the daunting stretch could make December meaningless if the team doesn't win at least two of the next three games.
"We try to stay upbeat, try to stay positive, try to keep on keeping on," coach Steve Spurrier said. "All we can ask is everybody to do the best they can."
A victory at Giants Stadium historically has meant a playoff berth for the Redskins. Washington is a respectable 9-12 in New York since 1980, with five victories leading to NFC East titles. The Redskins haven't finished worse than 8-8 since 1980 after winning in the Meadowlands.
This time their prospects seem as dreary as the expected weather. However, heavy rains and wind could benefit Washington. Poor weather could limit the beleaguered passing game and force the Redskins to rely on Pro Bowl running back Stephen Davis, who returns after missing two games with a sprained knee.
Matthews and Spurrier denied that bad weather would limit the passing game, but Giants Stadium is notorious for harassing crosswinds that often force teams to rely on the run.
Spurrier seems ready to run once more after his team threw 51 passes in last Sunday's 26-7 loss to Jacksonville. Washington ran more than it passed in the three games previous to Jacksonville as Spurrier retooled the Fun'n'Gun after three quarterback changes.
The coach conceded calling a poor offensive game against the Jaguars. He displayed little confidence in his receivers when he said newcomer Willie Jackson would gain significant time because "we're not hitting a whole lot of passes to a whole lot of people anyway."
Davis said his knee is only "90 percent" ready, so backups Kenny Watson and Ladell Betts could get some snaps. Each filled in respectably during Davis' absence, with Watson gaining 110 yards in a 26-21 victory over Indianapolis on Oct.27. Davis gained 107 yards on 28 carries in the Redskins' 35-21 win over the Giants last season but just 39 yards on 12 carries in the 23-9 loss.
The Giants' run defense is only 24th overall while New York is fifth against the pass, so the Redskins may not be eager to test the secondary. However, Washington figures to use Jackson in the three-wide sets along with Rod Gardner and Derrius Thompson. Spurrier also debated whether to include Darnerien McCants for the fifth receiver or Justin Skaggs, who was promoted from the practice squad on Tuesday following the release of Jacquez Green.
The Redskins also will watch special teams closely for possible personnel moves. With the departure of Green, cornerback Champ Bailey will return punts, but he has only one fair catch this year and let two drop against Jacksonville.
Punter Bryan Barker also needs a good effort if he hopes to stay a Redskin. He had a 12-yarder against Jacksonville that set up a key early Jaguars touchdown. The team worked out five punters last week and could replace Barker if he has another poor game.


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