- The Washington Times - Friday, December 23, 2005

Last week, the Washington Redskins were out to keep their playoff hopes alive and to prove to the Dallas Cowboys that their dramatic Week 2 victory at Texas Stadium was no fluke.

With those missions emphatically accomplished, the Redskins have even bigger goals for today’s visit by the NFC East-leading New York Giants: avenge the worst loss of coach Joe Gibbs’ Hall of Fame career — a 36-0 defeat on Oct. 30 at Giants Stadium — and in doing so, do their part to clinch their first playoff berth since 1999.

If the Redskins (8-6) beat the Giants (10-4) while the Cowboys lose at Carolina, Atlanta loses at Tampa Bay and Minnesota loses at Baltimore tomorrow night, Washington will be playoff-bound.

However, beating the Giants, winners of three straight games and six of eight, won’t be easy even if they’re without ailing top linebackers Antonio Pierce and Carlos Emmons. New York’s defense, led by Pro Bowl ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora (24 combined sacks), allowed more than 17 points just twice during the 6-2 tear while its offense, led by running back Tiki Barber and tight end Jeremy Shockey, both Hawaii-bound, has scored fewer than 17 points just once all season.

“They completely dominated us the first go-round,” Gibbs said. “They’re playing excellent football right now. What concerns me was that it was a big game for us then. We really couldn’t do anything about it. It’s a big game now. The question is, ‘Can we do something about it?’ ”

With their passing game limited by the lack of a legitimate No. 2 wideout and their secondary banged-up, if the Redskins are going to answer Gibbs’ question in the affirmative, they’ll do so on the ground.

During their three-game winning streak that has turned a gasping 5-6 bunch into an 8-6 playoff aspirant, the Redskins — led by running back Clinton Portis — have averaged 179 yards on 38 carries while holding opponents to an average of 73 yards on 20 carries.

Portis could well find fewer holes today with 43-year-old Ray Brown replacing injured right guard Randy Thomas. However, the run defense was bolstered against Dallas by finally having tackles Cornelius Griffin and Joe Salave’a both healthy for the first time in two months.

“Our defense has been good all year, but offensively, the biggest difference is that we’re running the ball,” quarterback Mark Brunell said. “That makes everything a lot easier. But it’s going to have to be one of our best days for us to have a chance against this team.”

The Giants had their best day in nearly five seasons the last time, but Barber, who ran for 206 yards that afternoon, doesn’t expect a repeat.

“It was just one of those days where everything clicked,” he said. “[That means] ‘bupkis’ to this one.”

While Gibbs, knowing that his team followed a 52-17 rout of San Francisco with the embarrassing rout by the Giants, was concerned about overconfidence from pummeling the Cowboys just six days ago, assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams had the perfect antidote.

“Any time any of them feel good about themselves, you just throw on the last Giants film,” Williams said.

New York hasn’t beaten a winning team on the road.

Washington is 5-2 at home. Gibbs is 35-13 in December compared to Giants coach Tom Coughlin’s more modest 22-20 mark.

But today’s game might be decided on emotion.

“Football is not just X’s and O’s, as much as we would like to think that it is,” Barber said. “We had an emotional inspiration because of [the death of beloved owner Wellington Mara five days before the first game]. We knew we had to beat the Redskins on our home field.”

The Redskins don’t have quite so heartfelt a rallying point today, but as Brown said: “We want to get them back. It’s definitely a meaningful game. We’re not going to get ambushed. We know [they’re] coming down here to nail down the NFC East championship.”

While Washington could still sneak into the playoffs next Sunday with the right combination of results, winning today would make for a merry Christmas instead of a depressing day after the game.

“Christmas dinner and the Christmas presents will taste and feel like [garbage] if we don’t find a way to win this game,” defensive line coach Greg Blache said. “Are we up to the task? We’ll find out Saturday.”

Note — Kicker John Hall, suffering from an intestinal virus, was released from the hospital and should be ready for action today.

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