- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 25, 2004

The odds for the Washington Redskins aren’t good.

They have lost eight straight games to the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium. Redskins coach Joe Gibbs has lost seven straight to his Cowboys counterpart, Bill Parcells. The Redskins haven’t won three times in four games in 15 months.

But a Redskins team that has designs on making history — they are attempting to become the first team to reach the playoffs with a 7-9 record — isn’t worried about the past.

The Redskins (5-9) believe they’re on a roll and that the Cowboys (5-9) will be more of a traffic cone than a roadblock.

“This doesn’t feel like a 5-9 team,” cornerback Fred Smoot said in the noisy locker room after Friday’s practice at Redskin Park. “It feels like we’re getting ready to go to the playoffs. There’s a lot of energy.”

Victories by the Redskins over the plummeting New York Giants and the NFL’s worst team, the San Francisco 49ers, didn’t prove much more than did a close loss to the NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles two weeks ago.

The Cowboys, who played the Eagles just as tough last Sunday, beat the Redskins 21-18 in Washington in Week 3 — Dallas’ 13th victory in 14 games in what used to be America’s rivalry.

And yet unlike the Cowboys, who have lost five of their past seven games, the Redskins believe they are en route to a bright future — a feeling that hasn’t been common in recent seasons.

“Moreso than the playoff picture, we want to build something,” said quarterback Patrick Ramsey, who completed 70 percent of his passes for 639 yards, four touchdowns and one interception the past three weeks. “For that reason, this is a big game. There’s a real sense of confidence in what we’re doing and where we’re going.”

Still, the Redskins are motivated by their shot at the playoffs — a chance that will be enhanced if the Atlanta Falcons beat the New Orleans Saints and the Cincinnati Bengals beat the New York Giants in the early games today — and by the snubbing of their NFC-leading defense, which had only linebacker Marcus Washington chosen for the Pro Bowl.

And for a second straight week, that defense will know the number of yards to which it needs to limit its opponent in order to catch the Pittsburgh Steelers, who play the Baltimore Ravens early today, as the NFL’s most unyielding.

“A lot of us have a chip on our shoulders,” said Smoot, who along with cornerback Shawn Springs, defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin and linebacker Antonio Pierce was dissed by Pro Bowl voters. “And as a group, we’re going to try grab that No. 1 position.”

One thing that no longer is in doubt is the future of Ramsey.

Gibbs announced Monday that Ramsey will start next season.

“Patrick is smart,” Gibbs said. “He’s tough. “[His] first two starts, we didn’t make many plays. The last three weeks, Patrick has made plays. Our receivers and Patrick have stepped up.”

The improvement in the Redskins’ passing game and the Cowboys’ struggles in the secondary should allow running back Clinton Portis room to run. Portis needs 217 yards to become the first back in NFL history to gain 1,500 in each of his first three seasons.

“The defense has played great all year, and now the offense has picked it up tremendously,” offensive tackle Chris Samuels said. “A lot of teams would be tanking it at this point, ready to go home, but the last three or four games we’ve played with all sorts of energy. And we still have a chance to get into the playoffs, so we’re definitely fired up.”

The Redskins also are fired up to beat the Cowboys, who have dominated the rivalry since Gibbs retired after the 1992 season. Pro Bowl pick Washington declared the training room closed Wednesday, a signal that ailments had to be pushed aside in order to beat Dallas.

“It’s hard to have a rivalry when one team’s winning all the games,” Gibbs said. “It’s important for us to win in the division.”

Indeed, Washington, a respectable 14-15 outside of the NFC East the last three years, has been done in by its 3-14 division record.

Not that the ever-confident Smoot is fazed by those facts.

“The Cowboys barely beat us the first time, and we didn’t play Redskin football,” he said. “This time will be different. We can put this thing about not being able to beat the Cowboys to rest and make it the rivalry that it’s supposed to be.

“It’s been kind of lopsided these last couple of years. We’re trying to get it back where it was.”

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