- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 30, 2005

Renaldo Wynn has been to the postseason three times in his career, all with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Since he came to the Washington Redskins in 2002, he hasn’t played in a meaningful game this late in a season.

That changes today, of course, when the Redskins visit the New York Giants. After three consecutive losing seasons and six without a playoff berth, the Redskins head to the Meadowlands tied for the NFC East lead at 4-2 with the Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles — a half-game ahead of the Dallas Cowboys.

“This is the biggest game we’ve played since I’ve been here,” Wynn said. “I got spoiled a little early in my career. You always think that you’re going to get right back to the playoffs. The older you get, there’s more of an appreciation that these are very important games.”

And Wynn didn’t realize how critical the games against the Giants, Cowboys and Eagles have been to the Redskins. During their previous 35 seasons in the NFC East, they had a winning record against those rivals 11 times and made the playoffs in all but one of those years (1996). The flip side of that statistic is that the Redskins reached the postseason only once (1990) with a losing record against those three division foes.

“[You] were battle-tested in six really tough games,” said Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, who coached in the division from 1981 to 1992 and returned in 2004. “In order to come out of there, you have to be able to play on the road and play physical. You have to be a pretty studly group. If you can do it, it really enhances your chances in the playoffs because you’ve gone through a really tough deal.”

With all four of its teams owning winning records, the NFC East is the NFL’s top division as the season approaches its midpoint.

“To have an important game early in the season like this is pretty big,” said Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell, the NFC’s leading passer. “The [divisional] games that you play in September and October are the ones that really count when you get to December and you’re in the hunt. Hopefully, we’ll be there.”

History says they will be. Eight of Gibbs’ first 13 Redskins teams were at least 4-2 after six games, and all eight of those made the playoffs.

The Redskins are in this position thanks mostly to Brunell’s renaissance at age 35 and the play of Santana Moss, who is leading the NFL with 743 receiving yards after being acquired from the New York Jets in March for wideout Laveranues Coles. Brunell has thrown three touchdowns in consecutive games for the first time in his career and thrown 119 consecutive passes without an interception. Moss has 10 catches of at least 30 yards, topping Washington’s total for all of 2004.

“Mark’s playing at a very, very high level,” said Giants coach Tom Coughlin, whom Brunell helped lead to two AFC Championship games during their eight seasons with the Jaguars. “[Santana] has 38 catches and is averaging almost 20 yards a catch. That’s a pretty big lift.”

The Giants, a 6-10 team like the Redskins a season ago, have gotten their own lift from the improvement of second-year quarterback Eli Manning and the addition of free agent receiver Plaxico Burress, who’s questionable because of an aching shoulder.

While the Redskins’ confidence is soaring in the wake of their 52-17 rout of San Francisco last week, the Giants have the momentum from their stirring comeback from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Denver 24-23 and the desire to win today for beloved owner Wellington Mara, who died Tuesday at 89.

“It’s a very emotional time,” Coughlin said before he and the team attended Friday’s funeral.

Wynn said: “I know the Giants will be inspired, but it’s just as important for us. It’s going to be a great battle.”

The Redskins’ second-ranked offense are expected to get the better of a Giants defense that has allowed the second-most yards despite an NFC-best 19 takeaways. But the battle should be decided on special teams and in the matchup of New York’s offense, which leads the league in scoring, and Washington’s defense, which allows the NFC’s third-fewest points.

“We’ve given up some big plays in the past [three] games, so that scares us because they’re a big-play team,” Gibbs said. “We’re going to a tough place to play. Both teams have a lot at stake.

“People generally feel that we’re the underdogs. Rightly so.”’

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