by David Elfin

Kedric Golston has been in Washington long enough to have been part of a Redskins team that got hot at crunch time, turning a seemingly desperate situation into a playoff berth. So the seventh-year defensive end knows what’s important this time of year.

“This is huge,” Golston said early this morning after the Redskins went ahead for good in the fourth quarter and held on to edge the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants 17-16 at a raucous FedEx Field. “My goal at the beginning of the season was to still be relevant in December.”

Goal achieved. The Redskins are certainly relevant after beating their NFC East rivals Philadelphia, Dallas and New York in succession for the first time in seven years. At 6-6, Washington is just a game behind New York in the NFC East race and a game behind Seattle in the competition for the NFC’s second and final wild card spot. The Cowboys are also 6-6, but the Redskins own all three major tiebreakers: head-to-head, division record, conference record.

Golston’s goal wasn’t an idle one. He knows how rare being relevant in the final month has been in Washington since 1992, the final season of Hall of Fame Joe Gibbs’ first Redskins tenure. In the 20 years since, this is just the seventh time that Washington has been at least 6-6 with four games to play. And four of those teams were in the midst of nosedives while another was battling back from an 0-5 start.

The exceptions, not coincidentally, came in 1999, when the Redskins last won the NFC East, and in 2005, when they last won in postseason. In 2007, their last playoff season, they were actually 5-7 at this point after losing the first game after the shooting death of star safety Sean Taylor by the same 17-16 score by which they won last night.

“That was totally different because it was bittersweet, almost a whirlwind,” Golston said thinking back to the team attending Taylor’s funeral in Miami en masse and starting its four-game run to the playoffs just three days later. “I know Sean would be proud of us right now.”

Proud wasn’t a word being heard in Landover a month ago today. Coach Mike Shanahan seemingly gave up on the season, talking about evaluating the players for 2013 after an embarrassing home loss to lowly Carolina dropped Washington to 3-6 heading into its bye week.

But whether it’s a renewed sense of urgency, the return of No. 1 receiver Pierre Garcon (16 catches, 204 yards and two touchdowns, including last night’s game-winner) or the magic that seems to be part of wondrous rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III’s life (a teammate recovered one of his fumbles for a touchdown last night for the second time this year), the Redskins have been a different team since.

Redskins 86, (admittedly plummeting) Eagles/Cowboys/Giants 53 is a whole different animal from Redskins 48, Giants/Steelers/Panthers 75. If Washington’s defense had been able to hold on for the final 73 seconds in Week 7 at New York, the Redskins would be the ones leading the NFC East at 7-5 with a sweep of the Giants complete.

Instead, Washington, for all the hard work by the coaches and players that went into the past three critical and emotional triumphs, is still far from Easy Street. As Griffin said after another bravura performance on a huge stage, “our backs are still against the wall.”

AFC North leader Baltimore (9-3) comes to Landover on Sunday angry about losing at home to archrival Pittsburgh but will likely be without both of its star linebackers, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, for the first time during their decade together. After that comes a trip to 4-8 Cleveland and the rematches with Philadelphia and Dallas. The Giants have to visit 11-1 Atlanta and the Ravens while the Cowboys travel to 7-5 Cincinnati and Washington. The Seahawks’ lone game against a winning team is with 8-3-1 San Francisco at home where they’re 5-0.

If the Redskins win out, they’ll be 10-6 and in great shape for postseason, but that would be seven straight victories. They haven’t been that hot since 1996. But then until last night they hadn’t won a Monday home game in 10 tries since October 1997. And they know that if they lose even one of their final four games for a 6-1 closing kick, that might not be good enough to make the playoffs.

“We are what we are,” Golston said. “We’re 6-6. We understand our room for error is done. These last three games mean nothing if we don’t continue to win.”

Across the locker room, receiver Santana Moss, one of just two Redskins who knows what it’s like to win a playoff game with Washington, agreed, but still planned to be happy for a change today.

“Truly, we going to enjoy it because I don’t think we had a three-game winning streak in a while [Weeks 2-5 of 2008],” Moss said. “It feels good, especially to do it against the guys we’ve been doing it against these last three weeks, but take it for what it is and just try to build on it. We still haven’t accomplished what we want to accomplish.”

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


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