Despite struggles, Redskins, Bears consider themselves playoff contenders
By HOWARD FENDRICH, AP Sports Writer
December 5, 2007
LANDOVER, Md. (AP) -- A season removed from the Super Bowl, the Chicago Bears are mastering the art of inconsistency.
Their results so far? They opened this way: loss, win, loss. Then, after a second consecutive loss in Week 4, the Bears have put together this string over the past nine games: win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win, loss.
The Washington Redskins, meanwhile, have been far more consistent of late: loss, loss, loss, loss.
It's a testament to the parity -- or, frankly, the mediocrity -- of the NFC that both of these struggling teams consider themselves part of the playoff race going into their head-to-head meeting Thursday night.
"We need to get this one. We know it's important for them, too. Both teams are going to be tired from Sunday's game, so the team that wants it the most is going to get it," Washington defensive end Phillip Daniels said. "We know our back's against the wall, just like theirs."
At least the Bears and Redskins also seem to appreciate why they haven't been eliminated from contention yet. As Washington center Casey Rabach put it: "Thank God, the rest of the league has kind of been helping us along here."
That's for sure.
Amazingly, even at 5-7, Chicago and Washington are only one game behind the three teams tied for the conference's final playoff berth: Arizona, Detroit and Minnesota.
So that means there's still a chance of playing into January, no matter how slight. And that, in turn, means players on both teams are talking about Thursday's contest as "an elimination game."
"It's all-or-nothing," Redskins fullback Mike Sellers said. "I need vacation money; the playoffs are the extra money you depend on. And I'm trying to get that ring just like everybody else."
Uh, sure Mike.
Tight as the turnaround from Sunday is for this game, Sellers and the rest of the Redskins sounded pleased to be thinking and talking about football. They're coming off as difficult a week as possible, following the shooting death of teammate Sean Taylor during a burglary at his house in Florida.
What would have been a shortened work week anyway became even more so for Washington because the entire organization traveled to Miami for the Pro Bowl safety's funeral Monday, returning to Redskins Park at about 6:30 p.m. that night.
The team let players sleep in Tuesday, then went through an extended walkthrough instead of a full practice. Add in the limited day-before-game work Wednesday, and coach Joe Gibbs couldn't recall going into a contest with less preparation.
"We've gone through some extremely tough times together, this group has, and the last week really has been tough for everybody," Gibbs said. "It was uncharted ground for me, for sure."
He shouldered the blame for Sunday's 17-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills, who scored the go-ahead points on a field goal with 4 seconds left after Gibbs drew a 15-yard penalty for calling consecutive timeouts to freeze the kicker.
"It's just like the players. You hold them accountable," Gibbs said. "You hold yourself accountable, too."
When it comes to figuring out what's wrong with the Bears, many point a finger at quarterback Rex Grossman, who has thrown for four touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. But there have been plenty of other problems, including too many turnovers (28, tied for the most in the conference), too few yards gained on the ground (an NFC-worst 83.8 yards rushing per game), and a defense that's been uncharacteristically uneven.
Add it all up, and that NFC championship seems a distant memory.
"Definitely, we're disappointed where we are at this stage of the season," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "But we're just thankful we can say ... we have a lot of football left to go."
The Redskins were far less successful than the Bears last season, going 5-11, and now could wind up missing the playoffs for the third time in four years since Gibbs came out of retirement.
After an emotionally draining week capped by a disappointing loss Sunday in a game the Redskins led by 11 points and wanted to win in Taylor's honor, players and coaches say their attention is squarely on the Bears.
"You don't know which side of the meter they're going to be on," Chicago defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. "I know they want to win badly for their teammate. They want to win badly because they still want to try to salvage their season, too."
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