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Redskins Ready for Biggest Game in Years


Duncan

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http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20051027/ap_on_sp_fo_ne/fbn_good_mood_redskins_1

ASHBURN, Va. - The Washington Redskins are enjoying a rare controversy-free week. They've cured the turnover bug, brought LaVar Arrington back from exile, gotten Clinton Portis into the end zone and finally played a game that didn't come down to the last minute.

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On top of all that, they are about to play their biggest game in nearly five years.

"I've never been in a position like this since being with the Redskins," said right tackle Chris Samuels, a first-round draft pick in 2000. "Since I've been here, we really haven't had a really great season yet. This year, though, I think we're handling it well."

Sunday's game against the New York Giants is for first place in the NFC East, with both teams at 4-2. The last time the Redskins were playing a game this significant this late in the season was Dec. 3, 2000, when a 9-7 loss to the Giants dropped Washington to 7-6 and cost coach Norv Turner his job the next day. The Redskins finished 8-8 and haven't had a winning season since.

"This is pretty much for the marbles right here," said defensive end Renaldo Wynn, who has seen the Redskins go 21-33 in his three-plus seasons with the team. "The more you win, each game becomes that much more important. And right now, this is the biggest game."

Throughout the week, Redskins Park has had the feel of a place that's had the weight of the football world taken off its shoulders. The place has been a perpetual soap opera for years, but a 52-17 victory over San Francisco has lifted the spirits.

Yes, the 49ers are a bad team. Beating them is akin to a slumping free-throw shooter moving up to take a layup just to get the feel of making a shot again, but it's a feeling the franchise needed to have following a two-game losing streak and its accompanying foibles.

"It feels good, doesn't it?" Wynn said. "Are the fans not going to buy as many papers?"

If they do buy the papers, they will no longer have to read about the defense's four-game streak without forcing a turnover. Popular linebacker Arrington is no longer in the doghouse — he's still not a starter, but assistant coach Gregg Williams indicated Thursday that Arrington's nine-tackle performance against the 49ers was good enough to earn more playing time.

Portis marked the end to his yearlong drought without a touchdown Thursday by donning a flowing black cape, black Lone Ranger mask, fake gold teeth and clown-style oversized yellow sunglasses perched atop a shaggy black wig when he arrived for his weekly chat with reporters.

"Going to the big city and night lights this week up there in New York City, I heard, so I've got to be prepared," said Portis, who could barely utter a full sentence without cracking up. "I don't know what I'm going to see."

The Redskins have played plenty of high-profile games in recent years because they've had high-profile names, including Steve Spurrier, Marty Schottenheimer, Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders and Joe Gibbs. The spotlight has made the losing even more embarrassing, but there is a growing pride now that the team widely predicted to finish below .500 has emerged as a possible playoff contender.

"I always like to make the critics scratch their heads," said Santana Moss, who leads the NFL in yards receiving.

Even Gibbs, who usually downplays everything he can at every opportunity, has played up the Giants game, albeit cautiously.

"It's great at least to be at 4-2," Gibbs said. "That part is fun. You get to play games that count now. We're entering a tough stretch here. It starts with the Giants."

But when asked if he felt some measure of vindication given the preseason predictions about his team, Gibbs retreated to a more humble line.

"Sports has never been that way for me," he said. "Because with sports, there's always somebody ready to give you a knuckle sandwich when you walk around the corner."

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