Reporting David Elfin
ASHBURN, Va. (CBSDC) — Washington is known for its memorials, museums and cherry blossoms. It’s the home of the United States government including the White House, Capitol and Supreme Court. And as with any metropolis full of politicians and their followers, Washington is big on spin.
So naturally, the Redskins, whose November and December schedule loaded with division games looked so ominous a couple of months ago, are now spinning their final seven weeks as “a great opportunity,” in the words of coach Mike Shanahan.
Sure, the Redskins are just 1-4 since baseball’s regular season ended, meaning they have fewer victories since Oct. 3 than the Nats – who last played on Oct. 12 – and just one more than the winless Wizards and locked-out Capitals over the past six-plus weeks. At 3-6 after three straight defeats, the past two their most one-sided of the year, Washington is tied for the NFL’s fifth-worst record heading into Sunday’s visit from Philadelphia, which has lost five in a row and will likely be without run-pass threat quarterback Michael Vick.
And yet, the Redskins maintain that facing the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants (6-4) once and the 2010 NFC East champion Eagles (3-6) and always-dangerous Dallas (4-5) twice each during their final seven games is a positive because their three division rivals are a combined 13-15.
That’s a far cry from the past five years when the NFC East produced two Super Bowl champions (the 2007 and 2011 Giants), seven teams with at least 10 victories (the 2007 Cowboys and Giants; the 2008 Giants; the 2009 Cowboys and Eagles; and the 2010 Eagles and Giants) and two seasons when all four division members finished at least .500 (2007 and 2008).
“We still have a chance,” said cornerback DeAngelo Hall, spinning in the team spokesman role he enjoys at times. “We still control our own destiny. We’re in a good position, not a great position, not a position we wanted to be in, but [being] 3-6 like we are, we’re in pretty good position.”
Just four days after facing the Eagles, the Redskins take on Dallas on the road on national television before continuing their NFC East stretch 11 days after that on “Monday Night Football” at home against New York. Washington’s only division game so far was a gut-wrenching 27-24 loss at the Giants that began the current slide in Week 7.
“These next couple of games [are] gonna be real interesting,” said defensive end Stephen Bowen, who signed with Washington in 2010 after four seasons in Dallas.
That is if the Thanksgiving game with the Cowboys even really matters. Shanahan has convinced his players to consider each upcoming game similar to a playoff contest because even one more division defeat could be fatal to Washington’s already slim postseason hopes.
“Honestly, this Philly game is the most important,” said defensive end Kedric Golston, one of just six current Redskins to have made the playoffs in Washington. “If we go out there and don’t do our jobs, next week is pretty much [moot]. That’s the way we pretty much have to approach the rest of the season. This week is the only week that matters. Next week doesn’t exist.”
It’s tough to argue with that logic, but it’s also impossible to spin Washington’s 4-9 NFC East record under Shanahan in a positive way. In fact, the Redskins haven’t finished with a winning mark in the division since 2005, which coincidentally is the last time they faced their three NFC East rivals in consecutive weeks. They closed that season by thumping the Cowboys and Giants at home before winning their finale at Philadelphia to clinch their first playoff berth in six years.
Receiver Santana Moss is the only player remaining from that team other than tight end Chris Cooley. But Moss, as his nature, declined to look that far back or at playing three division games in 16 days starting on Sunday to make the Redskins’ situation any brighter.
“You can’t do nothin’ about the division, if you don’t take care of the game in front of you,” Moss said.
No spin there, just the truth. But the fact remains that despite their stumbling start, the Redskins are amazingly still very much alive in the NFC East race if they take care of business in the division from now through Dec. 3.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin