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Originally published Tuesday, January 1, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Redskins making a run for it

Everything means more for Washington now. Even the scoreboard. Washington beat Dallas by 21 points on Sunday, the margin of victory matching...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

Washington @ Seattle, 1:30 p.m., Ch. 5

ASHBURN, Va. — Everything means more for Washington now.

Even the scoreboard.

Washington beat Dallas by 21 points on Sunday, the margin of victory matching the number worn by safety Sean Taylor, who was slain in November.

Ultimately, Washington's playoff berth didn't depend upon a victory. The Saints and Vikings both lost, meaning Washington would have backed into the playoffs even with a loss.

Just don't say Washington's win was meaningless. Not to a city that celebrated a second NFL playoff berth in three seasons by setting an attendance record. Not for a team that attended the funeral of Taylor on the first Monday of December and then went out three days later to start a four-game winning streak in which it played its way to a playoff berth that even its coach didn't think was realistic.

"I will say this," coach Joe Gibbs said. "I would have never dreamed four weeks ago that we would be in this position, that it would have been possible."

Washington was 5-7 after 12 games. It had lost four consecutive games despite holding a halftime lead in three of those defeats.

Four weeks later, the coach with three Super Bowl rings showed up to prepare for another playoff game. But this was new ground, even for a man serving his second term as Washington's head coach.

"That's as exciting a run as I've been a part of," Gibbs said.

This is a guy who coached Washington into four Super Bowls in his first go-round as head coach, won three of them, and came back in 2004 with the intention of bringing the franchise back to a level of respectability.

A second playoff berth of his second coaching run is a start, but even more telling was Clinton Portis' response to a question about the emotions of earning a playoff berth — he immediately turned his eyes toward the future. He saw the playoffs as a starting point, not the promised land.

"Our season continues," said Portis, who rushed for 100 yards for the second time in three games. "We've got to find a way to go to Seattle and come back with a win. That will be the emotions. To be able to go there and win in a tough environment."

This is the second time in three seasons Washington staged a manic scramble to earn a wild-card berth. The team won its last five regular-season games in 2005 to reach the playoffs as a wild-card team, winning on the road in Tampa Bay and then coming to Seattle for a divisional playoff game it lost 20-10.

This time, Washington beat two playoff teams in its last three regular-season games to finish off an improbable run to the playoffs that began Dec. 6 against Chicago. Washington lost its quarterback in the first half of that game, when Jason Campbell suffered a dislocated knee cap. The score was tied at 0, and Washington turned to 36-year-old Todd Collins. The team hasn't looked back.

"For us to be able to do that, it's a tribute to our players and the attitude we've had," Gibbs said.

But now is not the time to take a bow, said one Washington wide receiver who knows a little something about postseason success against the Hawks.

"We have to look at it as the beginning and not take too many pats on the back," said receiver Antwaan Randle El, who played for the Steelers in the Super Bowl two years ago. "We've got to move on."

Washington appeared sunk four weeks ago, and now it has the longest winning streak in the NFC, each one of those victories adding more meaning to an already emotional season.

"There's a chemistry there," Gibbs said. "A togetherness and a certain feeling for each other on the team that's hard to get. I think this team has that.

"In my years being a head coach, it's probably been four to five teams in all those years that really grabbed that."

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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