- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 24, 2005

Make no mistake about it. The Redskins are back. They could still wind up missing the playoffs if they slip up a week from today in Philadelphia, but any team that pounds Dallas and the New York Giants in critical December games is for real.

Washington survived Mark Brunell throwing an interception for a touchdown that put New York ahead and the loss of Brunell to a sprained knee, which forced former starter Patrick Ramsey into meaningful action for the first time in 15 weeks.

The Monday Morning Quarterback, who was expecting the usually play-out-the-string stuff during the holidays back when the Redskins were 5-6 after three straight November losses, is trying to get used to the boys in burgundy and gold mattering again when it matters. So before he tips the Hanukkah candles into the egg nog by mistake, here’s his take on the 35-20 victory over the Giants.

Q: Am I dreaming? Did Santa leave a playoff berth under my tree?

A: You don’t have to pinch yourself. The Redskins are looking as good as Scarlett Johansson, but they’re not in the playoffs quite yet. They still have to sweep the Eagles for the first time in 17 seasons or hope Minnesota loses one of its last two and Dallas loses to tanking St. Louis.

Q: But they’re going to the dance, right?

A: It sure looks that way. And they have beaten the Seahawks, Bears and Giants and came oh-so-close to beating the Buccaneers. Which means if the Redskins get in, they have a shot at making some noise.

Q: How did the Redskins turn it around so completely against a team that wasted them 36-0 at Giants Stadium?

A: A better run defense with a healthy Cornelius Griffin and Joe Salave’a clogging the middle, coach Joe Gibbs’ willingness to stick with the run through some rocky early results and big plays by Santana Moss.

Q: How hurt is Brunell?

A: He was limping badly after the game on his sprained right knee. Offensive tackle Chris Samuels has played with that injury, but he spends most of his day in the trenches. It probably will be harder for Brunell to play with it. He will be re-evaluated, probably as soon as today, but my guess is Patrick Ramsey starts against the Eagles.

Q: How special is Moss?

A: He’s a difference-maker, something the Redskins haven’t had at wide receiver in more than a decade. The long touchdown catches yesterday weren’t as spectacular as the bombs that stunned Dallas and jump-started the season in Week 2, but they were awesome athletic plays. Moss’s nine touchdown catches are more than the entire team had last season, and his 1,400 yards are just 36 shy of Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell’s team record.

Q: Speaking of team records, Clinton Portis is about to set the Redskins’ record for rushing yards. Is he better than John Riggins, Larry Brown and Stephen Davis?

A: I don’t think Portis is quite in that class in terms of being the linchpin of a top offense, but he has been a reliable weapon during the four-game winning streak with 461 yards, four rushing touchdowns and the halfback toss for a score to Chris Cooley yesterday.

Q: So is Portis like Brian Mitchell, a player the Redskins can use as an emergency quarterback?

A: C.P. is 2-for-2 on those tosses the last two years, but he’s no B-Mitch, who was a college QB.

Q: How about Cooley? I heard he set a Redskins record, too.

A: Yes, for most catches by a tight end/H-back with 69. Cooley topped the mark of the late Jerry Smith, an unfairly forgotten player with great hands. Like Mitchell, Smith’s record came in a 14-game season, but there’s no arguing that Cooley, whom the Redskins traded up to take in the third round in the 2004 draft, is a real find.

Q: On the other end of the age spectrum, how did Ray Brown hold up?

A: Big Ray did just fine, especially for a guy who’s 43. Brown’s not a Pro Bowl-level blocker like the injured Randy Thomas, but he pulled successfully a couple of times.

Q: My man, LaVar Arrington, came back. How did he do?

A: LaVar was second on the defense with six tackles and was solid but not the spectacular player he was back before he was initially hurt in September 2004.

Q: The only guy waiting as long for the playoffs as LaVar is Chris Samuels. How did he and Jon Jansen stone Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan?

A: Power beat speed. It just seemed that Samuels and Jansen, like the entire Redskins team, wanted it more than the Giants did.

Q: So when can I start my playoff celebration?

A: If the Redskins win, you can party like it’s 1999. If they lose, you might have to keep an eye on the Vikings’ game against the Bears and sweat out the Cowboys’ Sunday night game with the Rams.

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