No joke - Redskins are thinking playoffs

With 4 straight wins, team is moving up in NFC East

November 20, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - Washington Redskins reserve linebacker Eddie Mason made the astute, if not obvious, observation yesterday that, after 10 weeks, the divisional races in the NFL are still up for grabs.

Within the subtext of Mason's statements was the notion that the Redskins (4-5) are in the midst of one of those races, a concept that would have gotten anyone who dared to utter it laughed out of any room five weeks ago.

"Now, it's like we actually have a legitimate shot," Mason said. "The team that really works hard on this last stretch and really puts in the time and commitment to what needs to be done on and off the field will wind up being in there. If anybody wants to go and get that ring this year, I would say it's an open shot."

Remarkably, after Sunday's gritty 17-10 comeback win over the Denver Broncos, the Redskins - yes, those same Redskins who started the season with a five-game losing streak that stamped them as a national laughingstock - can move within one game of first place in the NFC East with a win over Philadelphia this Sunday.

Indeed, the victory over the Broncos, coming on the road, in inclement weather and without starting quarterback Tony Banks for the second half, was just what coach Marty Schottenheimer has come to expect from the Redskins.

"It speaks to the character of this football team, which I've talked about from the beginning. This is a group of quality people, quality individuals," Schottenheimer said. "They are fast understanding, and more importantly, applying the principals of what we're trying to do. The credit should go to them."

The Redskins, who spotted the Broncos 10 points in the second quarter, held them scoreless the rest of the way and put together their best defensive effort of the season, holding Denver to 186 yards.

Granted, the swirling winds and alternating rain and snow patterns may have served as an extra defender, but the Washington defense not only kept Denver quarterback Brian Griese in check (11-for-31, 114 yards), but it also limited the vaunted Broncos running game to 88 yards, with no individual rusher getting more than 31.

"They can still run the football, but we went in with the primary objective to stop the run or else it would be a long day," Schottenheimer said.

Offensively, the Redskins capitalized on good field position, (with an average drive starting on their 41-yard line) and overcame three fumbles.

Stephen Davis rushed for 84 yards, and backup quarterback Kent Graham, who joined the team eight weeks ago when Jeff George was cut, was efficient subbing for Banks, who left the game late in the first half with a concussion.

Graham, who took only three snaps with the offense in practice last week, was 12-for-18 for 123 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner, a 3-yard pass to tight end Zeron Flemister with 2:48 to go in the game.

"It was remarkable. That's probably as good a word for it as any other," Schottenheimer said of the effort by Graham, who has been a starter for Pittsburgh, Arizona and the New York Giants. "He's really a student of the game, so that helped."

Banks, who Schottenheimer said suffered a form of whiplash when he was hit by Broncos defender Leon Lett, made the flight home with the team from Denver and was undergoing precautionary tests yesterday.

Schottenheimer said he was "reasonably encouraged" that Banks did not suffer long-term damage, but said he would wait until later in the week before deciding if the former Raven could play Sunday.

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