The Washington Redskins seem to turn things upside down.
For most teams, the toughest task is surviving in the playoffs.
The Redskins have proved they know how to do that. For them, the tough part is getting there in the first place.
"I just think it's hard for any team to beat us once we get into the playoffs," wide receiver Gary Clark said Saturday after the Redskins qualified for the first time in three years by beating the New England Patriots, 25-10, in a rainstorm at Foxboro Stadium.
"Getting in the playoffs seems to unify this team. It seems to bring the players even closer together," Clark said.
Going into this season, the Redskins were barely above .500 under coach Joe Gibbs in making the playoffs. They had made it five times and missed it four times.
pTC But in the five seasons they got in, they lost their first playoff game only once -- to the Chicago Bears in 1984.
In the other four seasons, they won at least two playoff games each time as they made it to the Super Bowl three times and the National Football Conference title game in 1986. They're 11-3 in the playoffs under Gibbs.
The Redskins still have 12 starters and 18 players left from the 45-man squad that suited up in Super Bowl XXII and crushed the Denver Broncos, 42-10.
"We bring leadership to it, and we have the enthusiasm of the young players who are making it for the first time," Clark said.
Clark also said he felt the team had the right attitude, a quality that was missing when the team went 7-9 as a defending champion in 1988 and started out 5-6 last year. By contrast, in their last 19 games over the past two years, they're 14-5.
Remembering that nightmarish 1988 season, Clark said: "Everybody was gunning for us and there were some distractions. A lot of people were up contract-wise and a lot of people didn't get what they wanted and different things happened. We just didn't seem to get ourselves together."
After winning the Super Bowl, the Redskins gave linebacker Wilber Marshall a five-year, $6 million contract to lure him as a free agent from the Chicago Bears. Marshall is now a leader of the defense, but back in 1988 the contract caused a lot of resentment among the veterans who'd won for the team and didn't think they were sharing in the rewards.
Clark even thinks the Redskins are now a better team than they were when they won the Super Bowl in 1987.
"We didn't have the talent that we have now, but had more heart and the right attitude," he said. "I think now that we've got the right attitude and also [will] bring the heart into play, it's going to be hard to beat us. We never quit."
The competition may be tougher, too, than it was in 1987 when a lot of teams were distracted by the strike. This year, it's likely the Redskins would have to beat the Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants to make the Super Bowl.
They're 1-4 against those teams this season and 8-1 against the other teams they've played.
Clark, though, welcomes the challenge.
"You always want to play the best and leave no doubt," he said. "We'd like to see how we play against them again when it really counts in the playoffs."
Clark also said they won't look past the final two regular-season games against the Indianapolis Colts and the Buffalo Bills because they want to play host to the wild-card game.
One thing the Redskins have going for them for the first time since 1986 is a 1,000-yard runner in their backfield. Earnest Byner boosted his season total to 1,031 yards with a 149-yard effort against the Patriots. He said the offensive linemen now want him to have a shot at breaking John Riggins' team record of 1,347 set in 1983.
Byner had a talk with coach Joe Gibbs before the Miami game and told him: "I just want to have the load put on me. I want to be the guy to make things happen for this football team."
Since that chat, Byner has gained 427 yards the past three games.
Gibbs said, "I think he's a good leader for this team because he's a tough, physical player and he's real smart."
Byner also said he's a "new person" since he "dedicated myself to the Lord" during the season. Byner, who said he was baptized the night before the Miami game in Darrell Green's Jacuzzi, said of his dedication, "He's given me the opportunity to have a free mind and a free spirit and go out and play the type of ball I'm capable of."
NOTES: The players have the day off today, but wide receiver Ricky Sanders will be in Houston for a court appearance on the felony charges he faces for allegedly running over a parking lot attendant on May 1. Sanders' attorney, Wendell Odom, expects the trial to be postponed until next month or February.