- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2004

The issue floated just beneath the surface of reporters’ questions in recent days at Redskin Park. Every now and then it surfaced, like a blemish, in the course of conversation.

The key word? “Winnable.” As in, the Washington Redskins finally have a game that’s winnable.

No offense was meant, of course. But no one this side of sanity gave the Redskins a snowball’s chance at Philadelphia or Pittsburgh the past two weeks. Both those teams are 10-1 and perhaps headed for a Super Bowl showdown. The games marked the first double-digit point spreads against coach Joe Gibbs in his illustrious career.

Today, however, the Redskins (3-8) play the sliding New York Giants (5-6), at home no less, and can begin trying to scrape together some dignity for the offseason and some momentum for 2005.

In short, it’s a winnable game. Though true, the sentiment was met with predictable terseness among the Redskins.

“That’s for you guys to talk about,” nose tackle Brandon Noble said. “I think they’re all winnable. I never go out on the field thinking, ‘Just because some yahoo in Vegas says I’m supposed to lose, why even play?’”

Still, everything Washington did the past two weeks had to be viewed realistically. The Redskins’ playoff hopes were, as expected, pretty much stamped out. But the club hung with Philadelphia until the early fourth quarter and battled Pittsburgh pretty much the whole afternoon.

Those relatively good showings might be one reason signs of life remain around Redskin Park. The mood is still upbeat, tension virtually nonexistent. The sense at Ashburn headquarters, where things grew decidedly ugly in recent seasons, defies outside perception.

“I don’t think people give us much of a chance,” defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin said. “They’re always talking about how awful we are. But people in this locker room, in this organization, we believe we can win. … We’re not getting ready for Christmas. We’re going to keep playing every game.”

The Giants’ four straight losses and promotion of rookie quarterback Eli Manning seemingly boost Washington’s chances. In two starts, Manning has thrown four interceptions, taken six sacks and completed less than 40 percent. Last weekend against the Eagles, his rating was just 16.9.

The primary offensive weapon for New York is running back Tiki Barber, who is on pace for more than 1,600 yards. But his only bad game of the year (42 rushing yards, a 2.3-yard average) came in the first meeting with Washington, which has managed to maintain the NFL’s No.2 defense despite the team’s generally rough ride.

The defense, in fact, put the Redskins in position to win the Sept.19 meeting. But the offense, guided first by Mark Brunell and then by Patrick Ramsey, committed seven turnovers. Ramsey nearly led a comeback after Brunell was injured but threw three interceptions in less than a half of play.

“We definitely think we have a pretty good shot against these guys,” linebacker Marcus Washington said. “We’re not going to do much different. Just hold onto the football.”

The Redskins hope they finally crack the 20-point barrier en route to a much-needed win. The club ranks 32nd in the NFL in scoring, and its 12.5-point clip actually is in line to be the worst since the franchise moved to Washington in 1937.

“I think it’s going to happen this week, actually,” left tackle Chris Samuels said. “We’re well-prepared. Guys are hungry to do it. … We had a great week of practice. We’ve got a great game plan. Hopefully, we can just go out there and get it done.”

If that is to happen, the Redskins probably must lean on running back Clinton Portis, who got just six carries for 17 yards in last week’s loss at Pittsburgh. Despite some erratic play, Portis has been Washington’s top offensive weapon, and the Giants’ run defense ranks just 25th. Gibbs, for his part, said Portis will get more carries.

But Ramsey also has come a long way since the first meeting, when he played with the reckless abandon that defined his first two NFL seasons under coach Steve Spurrier. Eleven weeks later, he has adjusted to the ball-control mentality of Gibbs’ scheme.

“I just didn’t go out and run our offense,” Ramsey said of the first Giants game. “I was trying to take every big shot we had on the play called. It caught up with me.”

In starting the past two games, Ramsey threw for just 300 total yards, demonstrating he still has a lot of progress to make. But, once again, any analysis must take into account the competition and the games’ locations. Today, with the opponent crumbling and the confines friendlier, Ramsey could lead the Redskins to their first win since Nov.7.

Just don’t expect him or anyone else on Washington to talk in those terms.

“It’s a big game for us, more because of where we are than who we’re playing,” Ramsey said. “We need a win now. We need to get things going and have something to build on. This is certainly a game where hopefully we can get things started.”

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