- The Washington Times - Monday, January 16, 2006

Good enough to reach the second round of the NFL playoffs but not good enough to rank among the league’s elite teams. On the right track but still in need of upgrades at key positions.

That’s where the Washington Redskins find themselves this morning, two days after their season ended with a 20-10 loss to the Seahawks in Seattle in an NFC Divisional playoff game.

Clearly, the Redskins can consider their 11-7 season a success — especially since they were picked by many to finish last in the NFC East.

“We certainly accomplished a lot this year,” coach Joe Gibbs said late Saturday. “We were 6-10 last year, and the facts speak for themselves this year. We got a lot of good things done.”

Gibbs and his players, not surprisingly, will stress the many positives: four more regular-season wins than last season, the team’s first winning record and playoff appearance since 1999, a 10-2 record against the NFC and 5-1 mark against the NFC East, three- and five-game winning streaks, record-breaking seasons from receiver Santana Moss and running back Clinton Portis and another top-10 performance by the defense.

Still, the Redskins closed the season with several major issues to resolve.

Quarterback Mark Brunell posted a dismal 57.3 passer rating (18-for-37 for 130 yards) in the first seven quarters of the playoffs. Moss made 84 of the 132 catches by Redskins wide receivers. The return teams rarely flipped the field in the Redskins’ favor. The team lacks depth at defensive tackle, cornerback, receiver and offensive line.

Safety Sean Taylor faces felony assault charges in Florida on March 20. The Redskins also must decide whether to keep linebacker LaVar Arrington and former starting and current backup quarterback Patrick Ramsey. This might not be an extraordinarily busy offseason for the Redskins, but it will be an important one.

The Redskins were off yesterday and begin exit interviews with position coaches today.

Only two starters, tight end Robert Royal and safety Ryan Clark, are unrestricted free agents. If the Redskins want to re-sign those players and be active in free agency, they first must trim salary. The club has an estimated $113 million committed to 2006 salaries, and the cap is projected to be between $92 million and $95 million.

“You never know what’s going to happen, but our goal is to keep everything together,” Gibbs said. “We have a lot to do trying to get ready for next year and continuing to add to our team and continuing to build something. I know we have the right kind of character and right kind of players to build around.”

Defensive end Phillip Daniels said the to-do list is significantly shorter this offseason than in previous years.

“Way shorter,” he said. “We’ve come so far in the last two years, and I think we’ve got the right guys in here. A couple additions here and there and we’ll be fine. They’ll do the right things in the offseason, keeping the guys that we need and bringing in guys that we need.”

The Redskins’ defense did its part this season: The unit ranked ninth in yards allowed and points allowed, and it finally began to get takeaways in big bunches late in the season.

“Defensively, not many upgrades,” Daniels said. “I don’t think we need much.”

If the Redskins decide $2.75 million is too much to give to veteran Walt Harris, they would need to sign a No. 3 cornerback to play behind Shawn Springs and Carlos Rogers.

The offense improved from 30th (274.8 a game) to 11th (330.6) in yards and from 31st (15 points a game) to 13th (22.4) in scoring. But the Redskins scored only two offensive touchdowns in two playoff games, Portis was held to a combined 94 yards rushing against Tampa Bay and Seattle and, excluding the fourth quarter of the Seahawks game, Brunell had a 76.1 passer rating since the start of Week 13.

Brunell likely will remain the starter next season. The bigger question is whether Jason Campbell or Ramsey will be the backup.

“We’re done now, so I’m going to lean toward the positive and not think about what strides we need to make but strides we’ve made,” Brunell said. “I think we have great talent and guys with great character, work ethic, attitude — all the things that we want. It would be my hope that we could keep this group intact, which is difficult to do these days. If we can, then I expect some good things next year.”

Good things certainly will be expected from Moss and Portis, who set team records with 1,483 receiving yards and 1,513 rushing yards, respectively.

But improvement must be seen from the other receivers, who were unable to complement Moss’ 84 catches and H-back Chris Cooley’s 71 receptions. And Portis still had games in which his short runs clearly outnumbered his game-changing ones.

Portis, following Gibbs’ lead — like many others in the Qwest Field visitor’s locker room Saturday — took the bright-side view.

“Look at the positives,” he said. “We were 5-6, and everyone wrote us off. The guys constantly fought, and the defense would pick us up and carry us when we did struggle. But this can’t overshadow our year. We came a long way.”

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