In addition to preparing for Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Joe Gibbs spent part of his Christmas evening glued to the television set, watching the Baltimore Ravens upset the Minnesota Vikings 30-23. The Ravens, a team struggling through a 6-9 season, played more aggressive and physical, knocking the Vikings out of the playoffs.
For Gibbs, the playoff implications of Sunday's Redskins-Eagles game are reminiscent of the Ravens-Viking game. Washington, at 9-6, remains in the hunt for a playoff berth. The Eagles, at 6-9 following a Super Bowl season in 2004, are looking to finish the season strong.
Philadelphia has suffered through a season full of injuries, with quarterback Donovan McNabb, running back Brian Westbrook, left tackle Tra Thomas and cornerback Lito Sheppard all on injured reserve. The Eagles have also dealt with the well-publicized Terrell Owens distraction most of the season.
In a Week 9 game at FedExField, the Redskins topped the Eagles 17-10 in a hard-hitting affair that is representative of the series.
Along with instituting a game plan against Philadelphia this Sunday, Gibbs will also be instructing his players how to approach playing the Eagles. Gibbs has emphasized all season long that football is often a game of mental preparation.
For the Redskins, a win Sunday--New Year's Day--would mean everything.
"The thing that we're going to have to tell the team, which I think they'll understand, is the way teams up here play, particularly when they're in a situation that Philly is in," Gibbs said. "We have great respect for Philly and I think I know how they're going to play."
Added Gibbs: "That group up there has a great deal of pride and I think they'll play to the last snap. They'll play an aggressive brand of football."
Gibbs, now in his 14th season as Redskins head coach, may be recalling the 1988 season. That year, Gibbs followed up a win in Super Bowl XXVI with a 7-9 record. In the 1988 season finale, the Redskins were left to play for pride and battled the Super Bowl-bound Cincinnati Bengals down to the wire, ultimately losing in overtime 20-17.
This Sunday, the Redskins can secure a playoff berth--the franchise's first since 1999--if they can beat the struggling Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Redskins have not won in Philadelphia since 2001.
"It has become obvious that the only way we are going to make the playoffs is to beat Philly," Gibbs said. "There is not a single person [at Redskins Park] who believes we can get in any other way. All of our focus goes on this game. That is going to be our challenge."