- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Washington Redskins are going to the playoffs. As unbelievable as that possibility seemed two months ago, they punched their ticket Sunday night by beating the Dallas Cowboys 28-18 to win the NFC East.

The Redskins will host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. in the first NFL playoff game at FedEx Field since January 2000. It’s Washington’s first division title since that 1999 season.

When the clock struck all zeros, the celebration erupted, emotions pent up from years of losing. The Redskins reached the playoffs in Mike Shanahan’s third year as coach and quarterback Robert Griffin III’s rookie season. Had they lost this game, they would have missed the playoffs despite a lengthy winning streak.

Griffin, clearly less than 100 percent on his right knee, may have been limited, but running back Alfred Morris shouldered the load in the Redskins‘ seventh straight victory. On the night he set the single-season franchise record for rushing yards, Morris finished with 200 on 33 carries and three touchdowns.

But the credit for this victory also belongs on the defensive end. Cornerback Richard Crawford had an interception and a crucial pass breakup, while blitzes made it a difficult night for Dallas quarterback Tony Romo.

Meanwhile, Griffin managed the game and remained enough of a threat to keep Dallas’ defense on edge.

Romo and the Cowboys made things interesting late, cutting the Redskins‘ lead to 21-18 with a short drive and two-point conversion. Even after Washington’s drive stalled, linebacker Rob Jackson intercepted Romo with three minutes left.

The scenes of jubilation on the Redskins‘ sideline and from many of the 82,845 fans in the stands were beyond imagination eight weeks ago.

After the injury-depleted Redskins fell to 3-6 on Nov. 4 by losing at home to the one-win Carolina Panthers, Shanahan spoke of evaluating players to see who “is going to be on your football team for years to come.”

In his next breath that day, though, Shanahan noted how the Redskins were not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

As it turns out, that served as the prologue for one of the greatest turnarounds in NFL history.

Washington became the fifth team ever to qualify for the playoffs after starting the season 3-6. It took each of seven consecutive victories to get there.

Their reward was the NFC East division title, the franchise’s first since the 1999 season. Even Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs, who returned to the team in 2004 and oversaw two playoff berths, did not win the division in his second tenure.

Sunday night, then, validated Shanahan’s rebuilding project.

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