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Redskins Facing a Steep Climb to Make Playoffs

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Can they do it? Can the Redskins provide another December to Remember?

This is it. The time of the season when playoff teams stake their claim, make their move, forge their fates.

The Redskins have done it before, and from circumstances similar to their middling mark of 5-6 with five games left to play.

"We don't have much margin for error, if any," linebacker London Fletcher said Monday, the 17-13 loss at home to the Minnesota Vikings still raw and fresh in his mind. "It's a tough race in the NFC this year. There's a lot of teams ahead of us. I think we have to run the table."

No one will forget 2007, when the Redskins won four consecutive games in December, ratcheted their record up to 9-7 and earned their last playoff berth. Driven by the raw emotion that followed the shooting death of safety Sean Taylor, the Redskins put a four-game losing streak behind them and rallied behind backup quarterback Todd Collins.

The 2007 run drew upon memories of 2005. The Redskins were 5-6 after three consecutive losses by a combined 10 points. The drive for five succeeded. Three times in those final five weeks the Redskins defeated NFC East opponents to clinch a playoff berth.

History is fun and it's always heartening to look back and see that the "impossible" can be achieved. Getting to the playoffs, though, also depends on the number of teams that must be overtaken and here the Redskins face a steep climb.

"We've got to make a playoff run to get to the playoffs," cornerback Phillip Buchanon said.

No one predicted a repeat of Decembers past. Six defeats might already have written this team's epitaph.

"I feel like we're at that point where it's too many," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "Too many things need to happen for us to actually get in there and make the playoffs. It's definitely a longshot."

That's grim. True, but grim.

On the plus side? No worries about contenders in the NFC West. The entire division stinks like an old cheese and the teams tied for the lead there, the Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams, sport identical records to the Redskins'. No wild card team will come from the west.

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Now, the worries.

The NFC East is led by the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, both 7-4. The Redskins play the Giants Sunday and again to end the season. Here they can make up some ground. The Giants and Eagles also play again, though it's hard to know now which one will need to lose to best help the Redskins.

The Giants play three of their last four on the road. The Eagles, beaten badly by the Chicago Bears, play the Houston Texans Thursday night. How will they respond in a short week? Thereafter, three of their last four are NFC East games, two against the Dallas Cowboys. As much as Redskins fans hate the Cowboys, this might be the time to root for them.

The NFC South creates the biggest obstacles on the path to the wild card. The Atlanta Falcons, at 9-2, own the NFC's best record. Behind them are the New Orleans Saints, the defending Super Bowl champions, at 8-3. The surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 7-4 and the Redskins' next home opponent. Again, here's a game where the Redskins can help themselves and hurt a direct competitor, except the Redskins are 2-4 at home.

The Chicago Bears occupy the top spot in the NFC North at 8-3, with the Green Bay Packers at 7-4. The Redskins beat both of them and would hold a head-to-head tiebreaker. As always, that supposes lots of dominoes falling for them.

"We've got to win. We've got to win the games we play and the other guys have to lose. There's no real secret formula we can concoct other than that," Hall said.

Beating the Giants would be a step (a Giant step?) but only one step.

"The main thing we have to focus on is the next game," Fletcher said. "We can only play one game on Sunday. You can't get caught up in five games. We can only play them one at a time. Let's focus on this next game, put all our focus and energy into the Giants and see what happens."

The Redskins can only hope for assistance while they try to straighten out their own problems and take a methodical approach to the weeks ahead. They may well need to win five in a row, but have won back to back only once this season and haven't assembled a winning streak longer than four since the early part of 2008.

One at a time. Week by week. Starting Sunday.

A December to Remember? Or just another month out in the cold?


Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for Redskins.com and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at Redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.

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