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How Close Are the Redskins?

Posted Jan 16, 2012

Given the Redskins' success against NFC finalist New York Giants in 2011, perhaps it’s reasonable to suggest that the Redskins are not far away from playoff contention. Right?


It’s a question many Redskins fan are asking after the NFL Divisional playoffs.

How far away are the Redskins from contending for the playoffs?

Looking at the two conference championship games scheduled for next Sunday, perhaps it’s reasonable to suggest that the Redskins are close.

Consider that the Redskins beat the New York Giants, one of the NFL’s final four, twice in 2011: a convincing 28-14 win in Week 1 at FedExField and a convincing 23-10 win in Week 15 at MetLife Stadium.

The second game was the Giants’ last loss – they have since won four consecutive games including Sunday's 37-20 thrashing of the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.

Recall that in Week 1 the Giants were without Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck due to injuries. Quarterback Eli Manning threw a pass that was batted at the line of scrimmage into the arms of rookie Ryan Kerrigan, who raced 9 yards for a game-changing score.

In Week 15, the Giants were once again without Umenyiora and Tuck was limited due to injuries. The Redskins jumped out to an early lead, forcing Manning and the Giants to play catch-up by throwing the ball.

The result: three interceptions, one each by Oshiomogho Atogwe, DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson.

Washington also hosted the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots last season. The 49ers host the Giants next Sunday in the NFC Championship game and the Patriots host the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game.

The Redskins managed to keep the 49ers game close until late in the first half when Roy Helu was stripped by linebacker Patrick Willis at the 30-yard line. Safety Donte Whitner recovered the fumble.

Next play, quarterback Alex Smith tossed a 30-yard touchdown to rookie fullback Bruce Miller, who beat linebacker Rocky McIntosh on the play. (That could prove to be a turning point in McIntosh’s tenure in Washington; he was replaced by Perry Riley in the starting lineup the following week.)

The 49ers led 13-3 at halftime, bottled up the Redskins’ run game and stifled the passing game by quarterback John Beck en route to a 19-11 win.

The Redskins had their chances against New England as well.

They gashed the Patriots’ porous defense by ground and by air, out-gaining them 463 yards to 431. Helu had 126 yards on 27 carries.

The Redskins fell behind 14-3 in the first quarter but charged back to take a 17-14 lead on some trickery. On a wide receiver option, Brandon Banks threw a 49-yard touchdown to Santana Moss to stun the Patriots.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski proved to be a tough matchup for the Redskins – he logged six catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns and broke numerous tackles as well.

Still, the two clubs were tied at 27-27 until late in the third quarter when quarterback Tom Brady connected with wide receiver Wes Welker on a 24-yard touchdown, giving New England a 34-27 advantage.

Late in the fourth quarter, Rex Grossman led the offense on an impressive drive to the Patriots’ 5-yard line but Moss made two costly gaffes. He was flagged for offensive pass interference, nullifying a touchdown and pushing the offense back. One play later, Grossman’s pass bounced off Moss's hands into the arms of linebacker Jerod Mayo for a game-clinching interception.

So the question remains: given the Redskins’ victories over the Giants and how competitive they were against San Francisco and New England, how far away are they from the postseason?

Redskins fans have dealt with this very question often in recent years.

In 2008, it was the Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship game. The Redskins went 3-0 against those clubs in the regular season that year.

In 2009, the Redskins nearly defeated the eventual Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in an early-December matchup at FedExField. They almost certainly would have won had then-kicker Shaun Suisham not missed a chip-shot field goal in the final minutes that would have secured the game for the Redskins.

And in 2010, they beat the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers 16-13 in a mid-October game at FedExField. They also defeated the Chicago Bears, the other NFC championship game participant, 17-10 at Soldier Field.

The point is this: even though the Redskins have played well against top-tier teams in recent years, it has not translated to success the following season.

Every year is a new season. Every team starts fresh.

Simply put, the Redskins’ two victories over the Giants will not be relevant come next September.

It could be argued that the Giants have better overall talent than the Redskins but could not overcome costly injuries and mistakes when the two clubs played in 2011.

The best way for the Redskins to contend for the playoffs is for Mike Shanahan and company to stay the course: retool the roster, improve the overall talent and continue to give young players more experience.

The Redskins should not look to the past for optimism. They should only look to the future.