- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The memory still lingers at Redskin Park.

Rookie cornerback Carlos Rogers had the ball in his hands with nothing but 30 yards of grass ahead. The Washington Redskins, already leading 3-0 and with MVP Shaun Alexander out of the game with a concussion, were about to jump on top of the favored Seattle Seahawks by 10 points midway through the second quarter at rainy Qwest Field.

But Rogers dropped the interception. Instead, the host Seahawks drove for a go-ahead touchdown that started a 17-point tear, clamped down on the Redskins’ struggling offense and cruised to a 20-10 divisional playoff victory. Seattle wound up going to the Super Bowl, while Washington fell short of its first NFC Championship game in 14 years.

Nearly two years later, the surging Redskins (9-7) get a chance to make up for that lost opportunity when they visit the NFC West champion Seahawks (10-6) in a wild card game Saturday.

“It would’ve been a different game,” said defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, one of 10 Redskins starters who remain in the lineup from 2005.

Much about this matchup is similar: Super Bowl winning-coaches Joe Gibbs of the Redskins and Mike Holmgren of the Seahawks; big-name backs Clinton Portis and Alexander running behind Pro Bowl tackles Chris Samuels and Walter Jones, respectively; and the Redskins going from nearly being eliminated to facing the favored Seahawks as the NFC’s hottest team. Seattle, 8-0 at home in 2005, is 7-1 there this season.

“There are a lot of comparisons,” Gibbs said. “Certainly playing real [well] late. We got ourselves in a real bind in that season, and then we bounced back and eventually won six in a row. We were in a bind earlier this year and played our way back. There’s no tougher place [to play] than Seattle, extremely tough conditions to play in against a very good football team.”

The conditions haven’t changed — veteran Redskins fullback Mike Sellers said Qwest Field is the loudest stadium in which he has played — and it’s supposed to rain Saturday.

However, the Seahawks aren’t a dominant team anymore. Two years ago, Seattle was 13-3 — one of the losses had come in overtime at Washington — and outscored its foes 452-271. This year’s Seahawks lost to Atlanta, Arizona and Carolina and has a more modest 393-291 margin. Alexander has sunk from 1,880 yards and a then record 27 touchdowns to 716 yards and four scores. In fact, former backup Maurice Morris is now Seattle’s best runner.

In contrast, the Redskins who couldn’t move the ball during the 2005 playoffs — they won a wild-card game at Tampa Bay with a record-low 120 yards — are more well-rounded than they were two years ago. Washington averaged 344 yards and outscored its opponents 105-53 during the four-game winning streak that produced the wild card berth.

After hardly playing for a decade, 36-year-old quarterback Todd Collins has a 106.4 passer rating since replacing the injured Jason Campbell against the Chicago Bears on Dec. 6. In contrast two years ago, Mark Brunell, then a gimpy 35-year-old, posted a mediocre 75.5 rating during the 6-0 tear heading to Seattle, including a dreadful 41.8 in the last two games.

“We’re playing better as a team,” Griffin said. “The offense is doing a great job of moving the ball and scoring points. We’re doing a good job of getting off the field. In all four of these wins, it’s been offense, defense and special teams. We’ve come together.”

Not only that, but all 22 Redskins who started the last three games are healthy. Two years ago, four starters were hurt during the four games preceding the matchup with the Seahawks.

“Two years ago we was all banged-up,” Portis said. “People were worried about guys stepping in. Now you go to the training room, and there might be [only] three or four guys besides the guys who are out. Guys feel fresh and are looking forward to going back out [there]. Now we feel like we’re going with a better team and a team that can win.”

KEY MATCHUP

REDSKINS LT CHRIS SAMUELS vs. SEAHAWKS DE DARRYL TAPP

About Samuels: The veteran this season earned his fifth Pro Bowl nod, performing admirably despite missing all of training camp with a sprained MCL and adjusting to new left guard Pete Kendall. Samuels was called for only four penalties (all false starts) while not missing a snap. Three penalties were declined.

About Tapp: A native of Chesapeake, Va., Tapp is in his second year after starring at Virginia Tech. He has moved into the starting lineup and is third in sacks (seven), second in quarterback hits (19) and tied for fourth in pass breakups (nine). At 6-foot-1, 270 pounds, Tapp isn’t the ideal size for an end, but he uses his quickness well.

Analysis: Crowd noise will be a factor for Samuels. Opponents have a league-high 68 false start penalties at Qwest Field since 2005. In the teams’ playoff game two years ago, the Redskins had two false starts. If Samuels can hear the snap count, he should be able to handle Tapp one-on-one.

Ryan O’Halloran

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