Redskins hope momentum carries into the playoffs
By By DAVE GOLDBERG, AP Football Writer
The Washington Redskins enter the weekend’s NFL wild-card playoff round buoyed by the momentum of four straight must-win victories and the emotion of playing for one of their slain stars.
They also have one of the toughest tasks, traveling cross-country on a short week to play a team with plenty of postseason experience. And at a stadium that for the last few seasons has been one of the toughest in the NFL for visitors.
Yet the Redskins go to Seattle on Saturday supremely confident that the emotion from the death of Sean Taylor and the play of quarterback Todd Collins, who went 10 years without a start until this season, will continue to carry them.
Washington was 5-7 and seemingly out of contention when the 36-year-old Collins took over for the injured Jason Campbell against Chicago and carried the Redskins to victory. He made his first start in a decade in a win over the Giants, then directed the team to wins over Minnesota and Dallas to get into the playoffs as the NFC’s sixth and final seed.
The Seahawks (10-6) have far less momentum.
They clinched the weak AFC West on Dec. 9 and lost two of their final three as they rested regulars and prepared more for the postseason than for the games at hand. They had to go cross-country, too — to Atlanta — but they didn’t invest much effort there, losing 44-41 in a meaningless game.
One thing they accomplished was rushing the ball better. The five-game winning streak that put them in position to rest was largely the result of Matt Hasselbeck’s passing. Those last three games were used to try to improve the running game, which finished 20th overall in yards gained.
The Redskins,were doing big things.
How did they gain momentum?
The top seeded teams are resting this weekend: Unbeaten New England and Indianapolis in the AFC; Dallas and Green Bay in the NFC. The Patriots and Cowboys will play the lowest-seeded winners of this week’s games; the Colts and Packers get the higher seeded teams.
In the other wild-card games, Jacksonville is at Pittsburgh on Saturday night; the New York Giants at Tampa Bay in the early game Sunday; and Tennessee at San Diego in the later game.
Jacksonville (11-5) at Pittsburgh (10-6)
The Jaguars have been designated as the AFC’s ‘‘scary’’ team for a while now. Until they rested starters in the final game, they won six of seven and the one loss was 28-25 in Indianapolis, when they put a scare into the Colts but were hurt by two replay reversals.
The Jaguars won 29-22 in Pittsburgh on Dec. 16, another reason why bettors turned them from 1-point underdogs into 2-point favorites entering this game.
Pittsburgh is without Willie Parker, who was leading the NFL in rushing when he broke his leg in St. Louis two weeks ago. QB Ben Roethlisberger has a sore ankle, star safety Troy Polamalu has been hurting all season, and the Steelers are thin at other positions.
No excuse, according to Mike Tomlin.
New York Giants (10-6) at Tampa Bay (9-7)
Like the Washington-Seattle game, this involves one team with momentum and one without it.
The Giants, who could have rested players, instead played them in an effort to keep New England from finishing unbeaten. They lost 38-35 after leading by 12 points in the third quarter and getting three starters hurt: CB Sam Madison, C Shaun O’Hara and LB Kawika Mitchell.
But they think they gained more than they lost and are encouraged by their 7-1 road record this season. The Giants, along with the Seahawks, Colts and Patriots, are the only four teams to make the playoffs three straight seasons, but they are 0-2, as is QB Eli Manning.
One of those losses was in Philadelphia last season, where the winning QB was Jeff Garcia, whom the Giants now face in Tampa. Garcia also beat New York in a memorable 2003 playoff game in San Francisco, rallying the 49ers from a 38-14 deficit to a 39-38 win.
The Bucs rested players in their last two games after clinching the NFC South with two weeks remaining and are portraying themselves as huge underdogs.
Tennessee (10-6) at San Diego (11-5)
The Chargers lost three more games this season than last. But they are favored to win this playoff game, something they didn’t do last season, one of the reasons Marty Schotttenheimer was fired despite a 14-2 regular season.
This is a rematch of a Dec. 9 game in Nashville won 23-17 in overtime by San Diego, which trailed 17-3 in the fourth quarter. There was a lot of chippy stuff in that one, including a personal foul on LaDainian Tomlinson and fines levied by the league against two Titans and one Charger for dirty play.
One question for the Titans is the health of Vince Young, who left Sunday night’s playoff-clinching game in Indianapolis after reinjuring his right quadriceps muscle. Kerry Collins replaced him and led the Titans to three field goals that gave Tennessee a 16-10 win over a team resting almost all its key players.
This would be Young’s first playoff start. Collins has far more postseason experience: 3-3 in six starts, including the 2001 Super Bowl when he was with the Giants.