- The Washington Times - Friday, December 29, 2006

For Joe Gibbs, tonight’s Washington Redskins season finale against the New York Giants is about potential records by Ladell Betts and Rock Cartwright, getting Jason Campbell a third win and Rocky McIntosh another 70 snaps of experience.

Gibbs calls the game “a big deal” for the Redskins and not because an 11th loss will give him his worst season as a head coach.

“We want to win, period,” Gibbs said. “The last five weeks, I think we’ve played extremely hard and sometimes, we’ve played as well as we want to play. New York has something to play for. We don’t. But it’s a division rivalry and it’s a big deal for us.”

The game is crucial for the Giants (7-8), who need a win to keep their postseason hopes alive. The Redskins (5-10) were in the Giants’ position last year, needing to win at Philadelphia to clinch a playoff berth. New York needs a win tonight and a little bit of help to stay alive.

Gibbs hopes the Redskins turn in a better effort than Philadelphia did last year. The Eagles committed six turnovers in a 31-20 Redskins victory.

“We want to finish the right way,” Gibbs said. “It will be something where we’re again playing a pride game and there are guys making statements down the stretch. There are a lot of stories taking place, ones that I’m certainly pleased about.”

Here are five questions that will be answered tonight:

Will the Redskins set a record for fewest takeaways?

Probably.

The Redskins have 12 takeaways through 15 games and need three to tie the mark for futility in a 16-game season set in 2004 by Green Bay and St. Louis.

“It blows my mind how we’ve ended up in that situation,” Gibbs said. “We’ve started two of the last three games by getting a hand on a ball [but haven’t capitalized]. It has all of us baffled and it frustrates you because it’s such a big part of the game.”

The Redskins have scored only 16 points off turnovers this season. No player has more than one interception.

“We’ve had tremendous opportunities,” assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. “Last year, we won all of our close games down the stretch because we were able to help and do some things in the takeaway categories and shorten the field or score on defense.”

This year, the Redskins are 1-4 in games decided by three or fewer points.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning has 18 interceptions in 496 pass attempts, so the best case scenario for the Redskins would be to get one special teams takeaway, one fumble recovery and one interception.

“Records are made to be broken, but we don’t want this record,” defensive end Phillip Daniels said. “I think guys think about it and where we’re ranked because it does tell you where you are in the season.”

Will Betts and Cartwright set records?

Probably.

If Betts can run for at least 100 yards for a sixth consecutive game, he would break a team record he shares with Clinton Portis (2005) and Rob Goode (1951).

Even though he didn’t become the full-time starter until the season’s 10th game, Betts enters the final weekend ranked 16th in the league in rushing yards (1,062). During the five-game streak, he has averaged 27.2 carries and 135.6 yards.

“He’s been a real [factor] for our offense and that’s set everything else up for what we’re doing offensively,” Campbell said.

The Giants have allowed 100-plus yards rushing in six of the last seven games, including 236 to New Orleans last week.

Cart-wright, the Redskins’ kick returner, needs 73 yards to break Brian Mitchell’s single-season record of 1,478 in 1994.

Will Brandon Lloyd catch his first touchdown pass?

Doubtful.

Lloyd, despite starting 12 games and playing in every game, has 23 catches for 365 yards. He has zero touchdowns, zero 100-yard games, zero five-catch games and two catches longer than 40 yards.

This season, 197 players have at least one receiving touchdown. Only Minnesota’s Troy Williamson (37 catches) and San Diego’s Eric Parker (43) and Keenan McCardell (33 catches) have more catches without a TD.

Lloyd’s playing time has dwindled recently and he didn’t have a ball thrown his way at St. Louis.

“We have real playmakers there and we would love to get ball to them down the field, particularly when we’re rushing it so well,” Gibbs said. “If we can rush the football, we should be able to get our shots downfield, but we’re not getting as many.”

Will the effort level remain high?

Definitely.

Since Gibbs called out his team publicly and privately following the loss at Tampa Bay in mid-November, the Redskins have played more physical football, highlighted by a win in New Orleans where they dominated both lines of scrimmage.

Even though Washington has gone 2-3 and fallen out of playoff contention since Gibbs’ speech, they’re playing his style.

“It shows their character,” Gibbs said. “Any of us here, when you’re going to work and don’t have anything on the line, you may put yourself into coast mode.”

Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce was with the Redskins in 2004 when they finished 3-2 to post a 6-10 record.

“Minnesota came in 8-7 and needed to beat us to get into the playoffs,” Pierce said. “And we beat them [21-18]. He wanted us to go in there and physically beat up on that team. I know that’s how they’re going to approach us this time. If we do get into the playoffs and beat them, he’s going to try and put us in there as battered and bruised as we can be.”

Will anybody outside FedEx Field be watching?

Depends.

In the metro area, yes; outside the metro area, not likely.

The game is on NFL Network, but in the metro area, it will be simulcast on Channel 5.

But for other areas of the region, the game will be available for only those with digital cable and dish owners. Virginia Tech’s football team — the top sports team in the Commonwealth — also plays in the Chick-fil-A Bowl tonight against Georgia starting at 8 p.m.

The best thing the Redskins can hope for is that enough of their fans show up to drown out the Giants contingent.

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