- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Washington Redskins have an offense that’s finally clicking and nothing to lose in tonight’s rematch with the streaking Philadelphia Eagles.

Only three weeks ago, Washington lost at Philadelphia 28-6 in a game that turned on yet another Redskins offensive failure. Now, a week after cracking the 20-point barrier for the first time all season, Washington gets another chance to measure itself against the NFC’s premier team.

Although the playoffs remain mathematically possible for the Redskins (4-8), even coach Joe Gibbs conceded the subject isn’t worth discussing. Of more immediate consequence is the organizational boost that would come from a win over Philadelphia.

With an eye toward one day inhabiting the high-rent district of the Eagles (11-1), just the fourth team in NFL history with five straight 11-win seasons, Washington wants to make a statement in tonight’s nationally televised contest at FedEx Field.

“If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” defensive end Renaldo Wynn said this week. “Gibbs said something that made a lot of sense: ‘Where they are is where we want to be.’ Win the division, home-field advantage — why not start now? Even for the future — why not start this week?”

Washington hung fairly close to the Eagles in the Nov.21 meeting at Lincoln Financial Field. In quarterback Patrick Ramsey’s first start, the Redskins trailed 14-6 early in the fourth quarter and had first-and-goal at the Eagles’ 10. But three penalties, two dropped passes and a missed 48-yard field goal gave the ball back harmlessly, and Philadelphia surged for a big win.

There is little doubt the seeming hopelessness of Washington’s offense that day contributed to the fourth-quarter cratering. Until last week it seemed as though the Redskins — the 32nd-ranked team in scoring — would never play with the rhythmic consistency that was widely predicted in Gibbs’ NFL return.

But perception changed in last weekend’s 31-7 win over the New York Giants. Ramsey completed 19 of 22 passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions — perfectly filling the model of efficiency Gibbs seeks — and Clinton Portis rushed 31 times for 148 yards. The powerful performance created hope that these last four games might be different.

“We finally clicked last week,” right tackle Ray Brown said. “The real [question] is, can we do it two weeks in a row? … We’ve got to try to do that against a much better football team. Hopefully, we can have the same results.”

Crowd noise plagued the Redskins in the first meeting. Washington committed 12 penalties, including a delay of game and five false starts. Last weekend at FedEx Field, the Redskins’ only delay penalty came in punt formation, and there were no false starts.

Ramsey, meanwhile, believes a good week of practice gives the offense a chance to maintain its momentum.

“I do,” he said. “Again, it surrounds our effectiveness running the ball. We’ve had a good week, so we’re looking forward to it. Having played them once makes you feel better about it, too.”

Of course, even a big day by Washington’s offense might not ensure victory. The Eagles have averaged 437.5 yards since suffering their only defeat Nov.7 at Pittsburgh, and last week their offense was virtually unstoppable in a 47-17 pasting of the Green Bay Packers.

Quarterback Donovan McNabb threw for 464 yards and five touchdowns against the Packers, the type of performance that would boost his consideration for the NFL Most Valuable Player award if the Indianapolis Colts’ Peyton Manning wasn’t enjoying one of the finest seasons in league history.

But the Redskins’ defense has a bit of a grudge to settle, believing the Eagles ran up the score and got cocky in the final minutes of the first meeting. And, the unit is playing with tremendous confidence. The Redskins’ defense ranks second in the league and is coming off back-to-back superior performances against the Steelers and Giants. Trailing No.1 Pittsburgh by just 3.6 yards per game, the defense thinks it can finish the season with the top ranking.

“That’s what we’re shooting for,” linebacker Antonio Pierce said. “Philly’s another team in our way that’s trying to stop us from being the No.1 defense. That’s how we look at it.”

Sane, objective minds give the Redskins little chance today, not with the team having endured such an uneven autumn. And the Eagles are determined to finish the Super Bowl chase, in which they fell just short the past three seasons.

Still, the Redskins, perhaps buoyed by the idea of getting a shot at one of the NFL’s top teams, are eager to see whether they’ve really made as much progress over the past few weeks as they think.

“I don’t know what the point spread is,” Pierce said. “It would probably be a big upset to everybody else, but not to us.”

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