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Achilles' Heel For Redskins In 2005: AFC

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In the aftermath of their 20-10 loss at Seattle on Saturday in the second round of the NFC playoffs, Redskins players and coaches spoke of the 2005 season as a "stepping stone" and as a "building block."

It's true that better things may be in store for a team that re-gained respect in the NFC East, established a home field edge at FedExField, swept Dallas and Philadelphia and went 10-2 overall versus the NFC.

But if the Redskins want to improve on their 2005 campaign, they'll have to overcome what has become a nagging problem for three years: the AFC portion of their schedule.

Back to back losses at Denver and Kansas City in October and consecutive setbacks to Oakland and San Diego at home in late November left the Redskins at 0-4 versus the AFC.

The last time the Redskins won a game against an AFC East team was back on Sept. 28, 2003. They edged eventual Super Bowl champ New England that day at FedExField 20-17.

Later in 2003, Washington lost at Buffalo (24-7) and at Miami (24-23). The Redskins were winless against the AFC in 2004, losing at Cleveland (17-13), to Baltimore (17-10) and Cincinnati (17-10), and at Pittsburgh (16-7).

The past season's four setbacks to the AFC all came in close games: at Denver (21-19) and Kansas City (28-21) and to Oakland (16-13) and San Diego (23-17 in overtime).

That's 10 straight losses, if you're counting.

Head coach Joe Gibbs and all Redskins players were saying last Saturday afternoon that getting the home field advantage is crucial to advancing in the playoffs. If that's to happen in 2006, the Redskins will have to break their mysterious AFC jinx.

Looking ahead to 2006, the Redskins face AFC South teams Indianapolis, Houston, Jacksonville and Tennessee, with the Jaguars and Titans coming to FedExField.

The Colts won the division at 14-2 before being bounced from the postseason by visiting Pittsburgh 21-18. Jacksonville finished 12-4 before being eliminated in the wild card round at New England 28-3. Tennessee finished 4-12 in 2005, Houston 2-14.

Somewhere, somehow, the Redskins are going to have to figure a way out of their now double-digit AFC skid.

The loss that really hurt the Redskins in 2005 was the Week 11 setback to Oakland at FedExField. That was a game in which Lemar Marshall's 17-yard return with an interception for a touchdown and John Hall's 24- and 45-yard field goals had the Redskins up 13-3 at halftime. But Kerry Collins and Jerry Porter rallied Oakland on behalf of former Redskins head coach Norv Turner.

Washington was 5-5 at that point before going on its remarkable six-game win streak, the one that ended in Seattle last Saturday in the midst of dreary conditions brought on by the 28th straight day of rain in the Pacific Northwest.

Of course, had the Redskins fared better against their AFC opponents, that trip to Seattle may not have been necessary in the first place.

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