Redskins set for December romance with playoffs

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Photo - Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Quarterback Robert Griffin III threw eight touchdown passes in a five-day span as the Redskins beat the Eagles and Cowboys to get back into the NFC playoff picture.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images Quarterback Robert Griffin III threw eight touchdown passes in a five-day span as the Redskins beat the Eagles and Cowboys to get back into the NFC playoff picture.
Sports,NFL,Redskins,John Keim

ASHBURN -- The turnovers changed games and their outlook. So did the rookie quarterback.

Thanks to the above, the Redskins can enter December in an unusual position: on the edge of the playoffs. They still aren't at .500. They still have three teams ahead of them for a wild-card berth and trail New York by two games. So they have plenty of work remaining. But they also will enter December with a realistic shot at the postseason for the first time since 2008, when they were 7-5 but finished 8-8.

However, a two-game winning streak and losses by the three teams ahead of them in the wild-card race, leaving them a game behind each, have energized their playoff push. They have to beat New York on Monday not only to get to .500 but to have any shot at an NFC East title. A loss, with 9-2 Baltimore on deck, could be crushing.

"Our team is well aware of where we stand," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said.

"I don't think I've played a meaningful December game in a long time," said Redskins linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, who has been with the team since 2006.

Seattle, Tampa Bay and Minnesota all are 6-5; the Seahawks currently hold the sixth and final playoff spot. The Redskins beat the Vikings and Buccaneers. The Seahawks' starting cornerbacks, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, both face four-game suspensions for illegal drug use. Seattle has three home games remaining (Arizona, San Francisco and St. Louis), but it is 1-5 on the road with games left at Chicago and Buffalo.

Tampa Bay isn't in a bad spot. The Bucs have three tough road games remaining: Denver, New Orleans and Atlanta. But the Falcons game is the season finale, and 10-1 Atlanta might be resting starters at this point. Tampa Bay also has home games vs. Philadelphia and St. Louis.

Minnesota has the toughest road as its final five opponents are a combined 36-18-1. The Vikings play at Green Bay, St. Louis and Houston and host the Bears and Packers.

The Redskins' turnover differential has played a crucial role in the two-game streak. During their three-game skid they were minus-2; they're plus-5 over the past two games. The defense caused six turnovers in that span, with the offense turning those into 24 points in the two games combined.

Meanwhile, the offense has turned the ball over only 10 times all season. Griffin's four interceptions are a primary reason for the offense's success. The other four full-time rookie starting quarterbacks -- Seattle's Russell Wilson, Indianapolis' Andrew Luck, Cleveland's Brandon Weeden and Miami's Ryan Tannehill -- have thrown a combined 46 interceptions. Griffin has thrown 16 touchdown passes, topped only by Wilson. The point: Griffin's ability to take care of the ball hasn't stunted the offense and has kept the turnover differential strongly in their favor.

Griffin also has thrown eight touchdown passes in the past two games.

"When he came back from the bye week, he said our backs are against the wall and I'll be playing my best football," Shanahan said. "That's what leaders do. That's what captains do. When you have people that prepare, people that have the mindset to do something special, then you have a chance to have that happen."

jkeim@washingtonexaminer.com

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