- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 24, 2005

Not since the 1999 season, the last time the Washington Redskins made the playoffs, has anyone who roots or works for the team had reason to feel this good this late in the year.

After beating their National Football Conference East rival New York Giants 35-20 at loud and raucous FedEx Field yesterday, the Redskins find themselves on the brink of the postseason.

If they win next Sunday in Philadelphia against the depleted Eagles, the Redskins will be in the playoffs for the first time since Norv Turner was the coach, Brad Johnson was the quarterback, and Joe Gibbs was running his NASCAR race team, well into his football retirement. Even if they lose, the Redskins still have a shot, depending on what other teams do.

Gibbs, of course, is back now. In Year 2 of his return to the club after an 11-year absence, the Hall of Fame coach has the Redskins with a 9-6 record and venturing into territory uncharted during the 21st century. The win over the Giants, who earlier in the year inflicted the Redskins’ worst defeat of the season, 36-0, not only was huge in terms of the playoffs, it guaranteed the team’s first winning record since 1999.

“I think as much as anything it’s their character,” Gibbs said of his players. “They keep fighting, and it’s paid off for us.”

The win came with a price, however. Quarterback Mark Brunell — whose personal renaissance this season not coincidentally matches the rise of the Redskins from last year’s 6-10 debacle — suffered a knee injury in the third quarter and was removed in favor of Patrick Ramsey. Ramsey played well in his first meaningful action since he left the opening game against Chicago with a neck injury and thereafter stayed on the bench.

Brunell suffered a sprained ligament in his right knee, and any absence would be a serious blow. Brunell’s story is one of redemption and recovery from an injury-plagued 2004 season, when he lost his starting job to Ramsey. More should be learned about Brunell’s condition today. “Our biggest concern is Mark,” Gibbs said.

The players, meanwhile, were happy to live in the moment and soak up their fourth straight victory.

“Definitely, no doubt about it, this was the biggest game,” defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. “Not only did we keep ourselves in the thick of things, but it’s a division game. It’s in our home place, it’s the Giants. What other way would we want to have it? To get a win the day before Christmas, go home, spend time with our families.”

At 10-5, the Giants still lead the NFC East by a game over the Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys, who also won yesterday. A victory would have wrapped up the division for New York. Now the Redskins can win the division title if they beat Philadelphia and the Giants lose next week to Oakland.

“We definitely didn’t want to see those guys putting on [celebratory] hats and T-shirts in our home field,” said Wynn, who blocked a field goal and was part of a Redskins defense that turned in another stifling effort.

“They can pack up the box,” Wynn said. “Our equipment guy said they sent their T-shirts the day before with ‘NFC East’ or whatever. They can pack up that [stuff] and take it back to New York.”

While the Giants were packing, the Redskins were dispensing holiday cheer. Kicker John Hall was decked out after the game in full Santa Claus regalia, complete with beard. But the main provider, Hall said, was wide receiver Santana Moss, who continued his brilliant season with three touchdown receptions, catches of 17, 59 and 72 yards, the last coming from Ramsey. “Santana Claus,” said Hall, who knows a good quote when he utters one.

Moss, who came to the Redskins via trade from the New York Jets during the offseason for the disgruntled Laveranues Coles, had 160 yards on five catches to run his season total to 1,400. The team record is 1,436 yards set by Bobby Mitchell in 1963, a mark that is surely in jeopardy.

After the game, Moss repeatedly mentioned his “gifts,” which, given the time of the year, made sense. His presence has been a gigantic present to the Redskins’ offense.

“I’m just thrilled to have all this coming to me,” he said.

Moss was the brightest star for the Redskins, but not the only one. The defense limited Tiki Barber, the league’s No. 2 rusher, to 80 yards a week after he shredded the Kansas City Chiefs for 220 yards, the highest total by a National Football League running back in two years. In the easy Giants’ win over the Redskins in October, Barber gained 206 yards.

The Redskins also controlled Giants quarterback Eli Manning and his receivers, although it helped that Plaxico Burress dropped a sure touchdown pass on the game’s first play. On offense, 43-year-old Ray Brown filled in admirably for injured guard Randy Thomas.

“I feel good,” Brown said. “Just like any 40-year-old guy in the rec league.”

Running back Clinton Portis turned in his usual 100-yard effort and added some spice with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Chris Cooley, whose 69 catches this year are tops for a tight end in Redskins history.

On the play, Portis took a handoff and ran right on an apparent sweep, then pulled up and gently lofted the pass to a wide-open Cooley. The play never worked as well in practice.

“I blocked for two seconds, and everyone ran to the ball,” Cooley said. “I knew it was a touchdown.”

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