Reporting David Elfin
Remember December 2007? After a last-second loss to Buffalo in the first game after star safety Sean Taylor was shot to death, the Redskins rallied behind red-hot backup quarterback Todd Collins and reeled off consecutive victories over Chicago, the New York Giants, Minnesota and Dallas to make the playoffs for just the third time in 15 years.
During the ensuing four seasons, Washington has only matched those four December victories, going 2-8 under former coach Jim Zorn and now 2-7 under current boss Mike Shanahan heading into Sunday’s (yes it’s actually in January) finale at Philadelphia.
“That was a special circumstance where we rallied around (the loss) of one of our teammates,” special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander said of the galvanizing jolt the 2007 Redskins received after attending Taylor’s funeral in Miami en masse. “We shouldn’t need something like that to help us get to the playoffs.”
After losing their December opener to fall to 4-8, the 2011 Redskins had little hope of reaching postseason, but Alexander said that shouldn’t affect their performance.
“You always want to go out there and put your best foot forward no matter where you’re at,” he explained. “If you go out there and show bad, you’re messing yourself up for the following year as far as being here or being with any other team. You have to go out there as a professional, like you have the playoffs on the line.”
Or as defensive co-captain London Fletcher put it, “Playoff teams, they win in December. Maybe (our) guys lose a little bit of focus when it gets late in the year. To get to where we want to be, we have to win in December.”
Indeed, of Washington’s 16 playoff teams since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, only three didn’t have winning Decembers. The Redskins had clinched the NFC East in 1972 before losing their last two games and they had a wild card spot sealed before splitting their final pair. Only in 1992 did they drop a game with postseason on the line and still qualify when a rival also lost.
Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs was 46-18 in December/January during his two tenures coaching the Redskins. They’ve nearly equaled those defeats in the four years since he retired for good, going 4-15.
Offensive co-captain Santana Moss said where the Redskins are in the standings shouldn’t matter on game day.
“I just try to finish up strong, no matter the situation,” said Moss, second on the active roster in seniority with seven seasons in Washington. “We played into the postseason two years when I’ve been here so I know it can be done.”
Just not by the Redskins except when they rode running back Clinton Portis to a 5-0 finish after a 5-7 start in 2005 and that win it for Sean run two years later.
If the Redskins lose to the Eagles, they’ll complete the fifth 1-4 finish of safety Reed Doughty’s six seasons in Washington.
“I think some of it’s a landslide effect,” Doughty said. “When you’ve got a losing record, you’re out of the playoffs and it’s late December, you gotta find out who really wants to play.”
And if coming up short means they really don’t want to play, the majority of the Redskins must not care enough.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.