- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Ever the wily veterans, Phillip Daniels and Mark Brunell semi-dismissed any playoff talk yesterday, hours after the Washington Redskins completed the season’s first half with a 17-10 win over NFC East rival Philadelphia.

For the first time since 2000, the Redskins have a winning record (5-3) at the halfway point, putting themselves in position to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

Even so, Daniels and Brunell — who have a combined 22-plus years of NFL experience — expressed cautious optimism when asked whether they’re thinking about the postseason.

“I take it one at a time until the point where we’re close,” Daniels said. “You can’t start looking ahead because then you might find yourself losing a game that you didn’t focus on.”

Said Brunell: “We’re not in any position to make proclamations because we’re only halfway through. It could be better, it could be worse. But you are what you are, and we’re a 5-3 football team.”

Others, however, are taking a different approach. An already confident team gained additional momentum from the Redskins’ first win over Philadelphia since 2001 and first at home over the Eagles since 1999.

“We’re not afraid to talk about it,” right tackle Jon Jansen said. “[Sunday’s win] was a hugely important game for us, more so in terms of our record. To be 5-3 instead of back to .500 at 4-4 — that would have been tough for us. Just the feeling of being up and being in the hunt for the division, it’s huge for us.”

Said H-back Chris Cooley: “I’ll be honest — I’ve been thinking about playoffs since the first game of the season. That’s the goal, so you have to think about it.”

Not a lot of people were thinking about the postseason after the ugly 9-7 win over Chicago to begin the regular season. The big topics that day were the quarterback situation and the lack of touchdowns. Both have been resolved; Brunell has enjoyed a first-half rebirth (12 touchdowns, three interceptions), and the Redskins are 18th in scoring, up 13 spots from last year.

The Redskins are tied with Dallas for second place in the NFC East, a game behind the Giants and a game ahead of the Eagles, whose season took another dramatic turn yesterday when receiver Terrell Owens was told to get lost for at least the rest of the season.

Assuming only one team apiece from the NFC North and West makes the playoffs, that leaves four positions for the New York Giants, Carolina and Atlanta (all 6-2); Washington, Dallas and Tampa Bay (all 5-3); and Philadelphia (4-4).

The win Sunday also represented a good rebound from last week’s 36-0 loss to the Giants.

“That was a bitter disappointment for us in New York, and for our guys to bounce back and respond, particularly with our number of injuries, and play physical, it was a big deal for us,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “Both teams had a lot to lose, and there was a lot at stake.”

Divisional play will be key for the Redskins, whose last three games are home against Dallas and the Giants and at Philadelphia.

“Going into the final eight games, if we can control the turnovers, if we can control the penalties and always go out and play physical, we’re going to be sitting pretty good at the end of the year,” Jansen said.

But the Redskins know they’re not sitting pretty right now. They still commit too many turnovers (minus-9 ratio this season) and penalties (seven infractions a game), are allowing too many long touchdowns (five of 30-plus yards in the last five weeks, compared to two all of last season), have lost three straight road games and haven’t won consecutive games since a 3-0 start.

“We have to stay consistent,” Daniels said. “We don’t want to be a team that wins one, loses one, wins one, loses one. We want to stack some wins on top of each other.”

The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Redskins; among the final eight opponents, only Arizona and Oakland have losing records. The Redskins are 4-3 against teams with winning records, so it’s not like they’re Cincinnati, which has beaten seven teams with a combined 17-40 mark.

With the victories has come a belief that the Redskins have what it takes to play past Jan.1, when their regular season ends at Philadelphia. The Redskins were 3-5 at the halfway point last year but were clearly running in place.

“There’s a completely different attitude around here,” Cooley said. “Everybody is excited this week for another big game, and last year we were down and didn’t want to be around here too much.”

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