NFL playoff motto: Just win, maybe

December 21, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

PHILADELPHIA -- OK, let's see if we can get this straight. The Redskins still will qualify for the playoffs on a wild-card pass if a) they beat the Raiders next week, and b) the square root of their winning percentage in conference games, divided by two, is larger than 10 percent of the passing yardage the Packers amassed against their common opponents.

No, that's not right.

Let's try again. The Redskins still will make the playoffs if a) they do not play to a tie in which more than 46 or fewer than 55 points are scored, b) the Packers' total of interconference wins does not exceed the number of women in Clinton's Cabinet, and c) Jack Kent Cooke wears an ascot Saturday and says, "Gawd, it's a bloody chilly day, lads."

Darn it. Wrong again.

You know, maybe we better stick to the sure stuff. As these words are being written after the Eagles' 17-13 win over the Redskins, it has been announced that the Redskins could lose to the Raiders and still make the playoffs, but also win and not make the playoffs. In other words, the only folks capable of figuring this out are runny-nose Rotisserie League pinheads desperate for off-season numbers to crunch. So how about we just wait and let someone explain it to us next weekend, huh? OK. Good.

Meanwhile, we'll concentrate on what we do know. Like, that you can commit hara-kiri and still make the playoffs in the same season. That was the upshot of yesterday's last-second, goal-line stand that preserved the Eagles' win.

The Redskins will spend this week in the NFL's if-then hell, but the Eagles are in. Yes, the same Eagles who have deep-fried themselves a dozen times this season, becoming not so much a football team as a mouthy, divided, 45-man walking apocalypse.

"Woulda been a better story if we'd lost, huh?" Reggie White said as he pulled on his tie. "The stuff woulda been flying then, huh?"

You figured it was about to happen when the Redskins got one last chance in the last three minutes and drove right down the field. On the road, needing a win to make the playoffs, they'd won this kind of game just this way many times before. And the Eagles, well, they're big talkers who have lost almost every big game they've every played. When the Redskins reached the Eagles' 20 with 35 seconds left, you figured this was a show you'd seen before.

But then, the Redskins had given the terrified Eagles fans reason to think this day might actually be different. Remember, these aren't the Redskins of legend. They've scored some 20 fewer touchdowns than last year's model. Their quarterback has become an expert at throwing ground balls. They need the other team to fumble in the end zone in the last three minutes.

The Redskins, not the Eagles, were the bunglers yesterday: a fumbled punt, two interceptions, several drive-killing penalties. But then Mark Rypien was throwing completions in the last three minutes and the offense was chewing up yards and the Vet was silent.

"It reminded me of the days of Roger Staubach," the Redskins' Darrell Green said.

This time they reached the Eagles' 5 with time for one play, but White pressured Rypien and the quarterback had to rush a throw to his third option, Gary Clark. The Eagles' Eric Allen knocked it away.

"A good play," Clark said, "because it was a perfect pass."

The incompletion set off an understandably major celebration. To the Redskins, who have Super Bowl-winning memories, it was just a big game. To the Eagles, it was sporting desperation.

This is probably the last chance for this collection of players to make a mark. The players don't believe owner Norman Braman is committed to winning after watching him let free-agent tight end Keith Jackson get away. White and Keith Byars will be free agents after this season, Seth Joyner and Clyde Simmons after next season. (Labor agreement willing.) They have said they want to play for a winner.

Of course, Braman has his gripes, too. Picked by many to make the Super Bowl this year, his team has struggled to make the playoffs while gargling on a succession of public squabbles. The circumstances have gotten old, and, given another disappointing ending to a season, it probably would be time to shake the blanket.

A Redskins win would have set in motion such a shuffling, but then the Eagles and the Redskins traded reputations for a day on the last play, and the Redskins were the ones left computing their many playoff permutations. The Eagles?

"It's easy, man," Seth Joyner said. "We're in."

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