- The Washington Times - Monday, December 19, 2005

For the first time since they last won the NFC East in 1999, the Washington Redskins control their postseason fate.

Sunday’s 35-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys and losses by the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons gave even famously worried coach Joe Gibbs a little room to relax. The victory, he conceded, put the 8-6 Redskins “in a real good position” heading into Saturday’s showdown with the NFC East-leading New York Giants (10-4).

“We’re in the driver’s seat right now,” center Casey Rabach said. “If we take care of our business, good things will come. That’s the way you always want it. You never want to be the team on the outside looking in hoping.”

The Redskins don’t have to hope. They will qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 1999 if they win their final two games. They even could win the division if they win those two games and the Giants lose their final game to the Raiders in Oakland.

Washington, in fact, could clinch a playoff berth this weekend with a victory and some help: The Redskins are in if they beat the Giants on Saturday, the Cowboys and Falcons lose the same day and the Minnesota Vikings lose to the Ravens on Sunday night in Baltimore.

“No doubt we’ll be watching on Sunday,” defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. “Just like I’m sure guys were glued in [to Atlanta’s loss to the Chicago Bears] when we got home last night. But we’ve got to take care of business first.”

Yesterday, though, some Redskins still were reveling in the team-record rout of their archrivals.

“It was like a playoff game,” said Wynn, who played in three such contests with the Jacksonville Jaguars before coming to Washington in 2002. “It’s been a long time.”

A playoff spot looked almost impossible Nov. 27 after the Redskins had blown second-half leads and lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Raiders and the San Diego Chargers to fall to 5-6. But they’re 3-0 since.

“We had three excruciating losses in a row, and they responded,” Gibbs said of his players. “That’s a tribute to [our] leadership and character. There are any number of times where this team could have said we’re out of it and get discouraged, but they didn’t.”

Running back Rock Cartwright is pleased the Redskins won’t finish below .500 for the first time in his four years with the team.

“It’s a nice feeling to have eight wins, but we’re trying to get to 10,” Cartwright said. “Maybe it’s time for the Redskins to finally get a break.”

The Redskins hold the tiebreaker over the Cowboys, Falcons and Vikings and division leaders Bears, Panthers and Giants. They would lose a tiebreaker only to the Bucs.

“Last year we were playing for pride,” defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin said. “This year we’re playing for a playoff spot. So it’s a big difference. It’s a great opportunity for this organization.”

Other players were more circumspect.

“It’s too early,” defensive end Phillip Daniels said. “We control our destiny, but we don’t want to look at any playoff stuff right now. The main thing is to win out, and we’ll be there.”

Cornerback Shawn Springs, a Springbrook High School graduate and the son of former Cowboys running back Ron Springs, knows better than any Redskins player how much a victory over Dallas means in Washington.

“Everybody likes you when you beat the Cowboys,” Springs said a day after the Redskins completed their first sweep of their archrivals in a decade. “I had like 25 messages after the game.”

Like Rabach, Griffin, Daniels and Springs, Mark Brunell has been to the playoffs with previous teams. So the 35-year-old quarterback was focused yesterday, less than 24 hours after the rout of Dallas.

“We’re short a day this week,” Brunell said. “It’s very important that we switch gears. Today’s the day where you have to do that and start thinking about the Giants. They’ve got a day on us, an extra day of preparation. Every day counts. Last night was the night to enjoy yesterday’s victory. Today’s a new week.”

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