HERNDON VA. 2... — HERNDON, Va. -- When the Buffalo Bills came into RFK Stadium for the season finale last year with a 13-2 record, they had clinched a division title and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
That's why they treated it like an exhibition game, playing Frank Reich, who was then starting for Jim Kelly, only the first half in a 29-14 loss to the Washington Redskins.
If the Redskins win their next four games, they'll face a similar situation: They'll have home-field advantage clinched in the playoffs going into their final game.
In the wake of the New Orleans Saints' loss to the San Diego Chargers Sunday, they have a two-game lead over the Saints and Chicago Bears in the battle for home-field advantage in the NFC title game.
That's why they'll have everything wrapped up if they're 15-0 going into the finale at the Philadelphia Eagles. They could clinch it earlier if the Saints and Bears lose again.
They would then have nothing left at stake in the regular season except the bid for the perfect season.
Since coach Joe Gibbs keeps saying the perfect season is not the focus, would he go for it if he clinches everything else in the regular season?
Despite the Redskins' 11-0 start, Gibbs tried to dodge the question yesterday.
"You conjure about 12,000 things that could happen," he said.
But he then admitted that he wouldn't rest any of his players. He'd go for the perfect season.
"My philosophy would be I'd play them all the way. That's what I do. Every game. No matter what," he said.
Since Gibbs even likes to win exhibition games, that's not surprising. He also wouldn't like to lose to the Eagles under any circumstances.
But what Gibbs wanted to talk about yesterday was Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys. A victory would clinch the division title for the Redskins for the first time since 1987.
Trying to stop the talk about a perfect season, he said: "You're in your long-range mode today. Bring your barrel in about 10,000 meters. Let's get into the Dallas Cowboys syndrome."
Since the Redskins haven't swept the Cowboys in a non-strike year since 1984, it's easy for Gibbs to focus on them. The Redskins even were the Cowboys' lone victim in Jimmy Johnson's 1-15 first season in 1989.
But the Redskins are still thinking about the perfect season. Mark Rypien, who leads the NFC in quarterback rating (100.1), admits that could wind up being a motivational tool for the Redskins.
"The thing that keeps us going this week is clinching the division title. From that point on, there's nothing but home-field advantage and the perfect season," he said. "Before it was kind of like we'll take them one at a time. Now it's kind of like as we get looking forward to that home-field advantage, maybe it's down to one thing and in week 13 or 14, that [could be the] the only thing you have to look it."
Gibbs said he wants the team to be confident, but not overconfident.
"You want the feeling that you can beat anybody, but at the same time a realization that anybody can beat us. That's what you keep striving for," he said.
It's difficult for the Redskins to get overconfident because Gibbs is never satisfied. You might have thought the Redskins' 41-14 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers was a rout, but Gibbs made it sound as if they just got by.
"On defense, we weren't very sharp and were kind of sloppy. We just didn't play well. We had a lot of mental errors that could have cost us," Gibbs said.
On offense, he said the passing game produced big plays, but added, "Our running has been down for two weeks in a row, which concerns us."
A lot of coaches would trade concerns with Gibbs, but that's why he's never confident.