Playoff talk isn't taboo among the Washington Redskins, even with half of the season still to play.
"I started thinking playoffs the first game of the season, I'll be honest," H-back Chris Cooley said Monday. "That's the goal, you've got to think about it. We're for sure talking about what we've got to do in our division to get there, what it takes to get there. I don't think we're afraid to mention it. That's what we want to do."
Such words haven't been much more than idle chatter for a long time in Washington, but the Redskins can now confidently consider themselves in the postseason hunt. The first eight games have included embarrassment, controversy and more than a few lucky breaks, but it's hard to put much of a damper on a 5-3 record--especially with a team that won only six games last season.
"It's a new era. Guys have that taste in their mouths. Guys are starting to believe," defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. "It's an electricity, from top to bottom."
Oh, how fickle the NFL is. Two weeks ago, the Redskins were overjoyed after a 52-17 victory over San Francisco. Last week, they were reeling from a 36-0 humiliation against the New York Giants. On Sunday, they broke a seven-game losing streak to Philadelphia, winning 17-10 to move within one game of the first-place Giants in the NFC East.
"We just haven't let the little things bother us--even the big things," right tackle Jon Jansen said. "We've had guys get hurt; we've had guys step in and play. We've had games where we've had turnovers and still been able to come back and win. We had a really tough loss in New York and we were able to bounce back."
The Redskins are also catching some breaks. They beat Seattle in September only because a late field goal hit the upright. They were thoroughly outplayed in Dallas in Week 2 before pulling out a victory on two improbable long passes.
And Sunday against the Eagles? Pull up a chair, the list is long.
The Redskins had three replay challenges decided in their favor, including a catch by Clinton Portis in which he was judged to have his elbows inbounds.
When James Thrash muffed a punt, teammate Pierson Prioleau was there to recover.
When Chris Cooley fumbled inside the 10-yard line, massive guard Derrick Dockery appeared out of nowhere to fall on the ball. Portis scored the winning touchdown on the next play.
"I feel like we're starting to get some breaks," Jansen said. "Sometimes the ball bounces a certain way, but we need to create our own breaks, and Doc is great example of that. He was hustling downfield. Had he not been, that would have been Philly's ball and it would have been a whole different game."
The biggest break of all was that this was the week in which Terrell Owens so distracted the Eagles by running his mouth he got suspended. In recent years, the Redskins always seemed to be the team that had some head-shaking story swirling about them, but coach Joe Gibbs has done a good job of keeping the potential fires--LaVar Arrington's benching, Sean Taylor's upcoming trial, offseason contract issues and free agency missteps--from overwhelming the team's focus.
"If we had any players that were trying to get all the attention and trying to be the focus, we wouldn't stand for it," quarterback Mark Brunell said.
Even Arrington's soap opera appears headed toward a happy ending. He says he now understands the coaches' point of view over his playing time, and they rewarded him Sunday by making him a team captain and playing him with the starters the entire game. He tied for the team lead with six tackles.
So what's in store for the second half? The schedule gets easier. Washington is catching Tampa Bay at the right time this week--the Bucs have lost three of four and are struggling at quarterback--then there's a home game against Oakland (3-5) the following week and a road trip to Arizona (2-6) in early December.
The final three games are against NFC East rivals, with two at home. Division play has been part of the Redskins' downfall over the last decade, but now they've beaten Philadelphia and Dallas in the same season for the first time since 1997.
"A loss (Sunday) would have meant your back was against the wall and you're pretty much fighting week to week just to survive,'' Gibbs said. "To wind up 5-3, this puts you in a much better position...It gives you the feeling that you're fighting for it rather than trying to come off the floor."