- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 7, 2003

When you’re 4-8, all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and have four games left, you’ll take any kind of motivation you can get. For the Washington Redskins, motivation today comes in the form of an equally struggling division rival also stumbling to the finish.

A victory against the New York Giants (4-8) wouldn’t salvage a season that went awry long ago. But it would certainly do wonders for the Redskins’ fragile psyche, if only because division road wins have been so rare in recent years.

“To get to 5-8 and have a division win and to have a win on the road — those are things we haven’t done well,” tackle Jon Jansen said. “All those things combine to make this game a big one for our organization right now.”

Of all the negative numbers associated with Steve Spurrier’s coaching tenure in Washington, perhaps none is as frustrating as the Ball Coach’s 1-8 record against NFC East opponents. That lone victory (a season-ending 20-14 triumph over Dallas last December) came at FedEx Field, making the Redskins 0-5 on the road against division rivals under Spurrier.

They may not get a better chance to end that string of futility than today against the reeling Giants at snowy Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Like Washington, New York had high hopes for this season after a 2-1 start. And as with the Redskins, things have taken a drastic turn for the worse since.

Losers of four straight and seven of their last nine, the Giants are struggling every bit as much as the Redskins. Coach Jim Fassel has little chance of saving his job, and with key starters like cornerbacks Will Allen and Will Peterson and tight end Jeremy Shockey battling injuries, New York would appear to have little left to play for.

The motivation for the Giants, then, is similar to that for the Redskins: Beat a longtime rival, escape last place in the division.

“You want to beat anybody you play, especially your division opponents, because it’s almost for bragging rights and it leads into next season,” defensive end Michael Strahan said. “I think for us, we definitely need to win this game, first of all for ourselves and secondly from a rival standpoint because it’s the Redskins.”

Given the poor play by both teams and the likely poor conditions at Giants Stadium, this game may not be pretty. Most of the snowstorm that swept through the Northeast yesterday is expected to have passed by game time, but there could be some lingering flakes, a sloppy field and plenty of wind with which to contend.

Those are hardly ideal playing conditions, but for Redskins quarterback Tim Hasselbeck, it should feel just like home. Hasselbeck, who will make his second career start in place of injured Patrick Ramsey, spent most of his childhood in Massachusetts and has plenty of experience battling the elements.

“If it was snowing outside, we’d always go outside and throw the football around,” he said. “I don’t know if that makes me any better than somebody else. You know, Brett Favre’s from Mississippi, and he’s one of the best cold-weather quarterbacks there’s ever been. But I’m not intimidated by the cold weather or anything. Would I like it to be like it was in Miami [two weeks ago]? Sure, every quarterback would. But I’m not looking at it and being worried what it’s going to be like if it snows.”

Hasselbeck enters this game with plenty of motivation to perform well. After two solid but unspectacular games, the 25-year-old quarterback is still trying to prove he deserves a permanent spot on an NFL roster.

With the probability of Ramsey being shut down for the season more and more likely, the Redskins should have ample opportunity to evaluate Hasselbeck over the next month.

“He’s only played two games in his life,” Spurrier said. “He’s done pretty doggone well.”

Hasselbeck’s teammates may not be under as much pressure to perform down the stretch, but each has found some form of motivation to keep himself from succumbing to Washington’s lost season.

“We’re going out to win every time out there, whether it’s for the Super Bowl or whether it’s to get to 5-8,” Jansen said. “Obviously, a lot more people would be interested if it were the Super Bowl. But we have a job to do here and we’re going to do it.”

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