Washington in prime spot for playoffs



Just four weeks removed from considering another January spent on their sofas, the Washington Redskins find themselves in the driver's seat for the sixth and final NFC playoff berth.

Sunday's 35-7 rout of the Dallas Cowboys and losses suffered by Dallas, the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons vaulted the Redskins (8-6) three spots to sixth in the conference standings.

Washington has posted three consecutive victories since the loss of six of eight games put the team at 5-6, and now the Redskins have an outside shot at grabbing their first NFC East title since 1991 - the last season the franchise won the Super Bowl.

It's a bewildering reversal, but for coach Joe Gibbs, an opportunity to move on to the postseason is why he returned to the Redskins after a 12-year hiatus.

"Certainly it's a lot to play for and now we've got to take advantage of it," he said yesterday at Redskins Park in Ashburn, Va. "It's fun to be playing a game like this."

Washington, Dallas, Minnesota and Atlanta all have the same record, but the Redskins own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Cowboys after completing their first sweep of Dallas since 1995, and they have a better conference record (8-2) than the Vikings (7-4) and Falcons (5-5).

If the Redskins beat the NFC East-leading New York Giants (10-4) at home on Saturday, and if Minnesota, Atlanta and Dallas all lose this weekend, Washington will secure at least a wild-card berth.

If the Redskins win their last two games, they will qualify for the playoffs regardless of the other teams' results. If that happens, they also could win the NFC East if the Giants were to also lose their regular-season finale against the Oakland Raiders.

In that scenario, the Giants and Redskins would have 10-6 records, but Washington would win the East based on a better divisional record (5-1 vs. 4-2).

The Giants routed the Redskins, 36-0, in their first meeting Oct. 30.

R. Brown to get start

With right guard Randy Thomas sidelined for the rest of the season with a broken fibula in his right leg, 43-year-old Ray Brown will start at the position Saturday.

Brown, who started 14 games last season, said he wasn't surprised by the news after Thomas suffered the injury in the fourth quarter of Sunday's win.

"If you're a backup, you have to be ready to go in whenever," Brown said. "I have some familiarity having played guard. I probably have more of a comfort level [there] than at tackle."

Gibbs said he thought wide receiver James Thrash would return from a pulled hamstring that has sidelined him for the past three games.

Gibbs: Win with class

Toward the end of Sunday's game, Willie Nelson's "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys" was piped over the public-address system at FedEx Field, but Gibbs signaled to the booth to stop the music.

"I just think that we always want to win the right way, and when you lose, you want to lose the right way," Gibbs said yesterday. "That's pretty much all I have to say about that."


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