Redskins ready to make most of playoff berth

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Sports,NFL,Redskins,Brian McNally

Veterans are stressing idea of seizing moment

ASHBURN -- The Redskins are a young team on the rise and will have many more chances like this one with a rookie quarterback and a rookie running back leading the way.

That's the conventional wisdom, anyway. But the NFL doesn't always work like that. The Redskins have won seven games in a row, earned their first NFC East title since 1999 and are in the playoffs for the first time since 2007 as they prepare to face the Seattle Seahawks in an NFC wild-card game at FedEx Field on Sunday. But a return appearance in 2013 is no guarantee, lending an added sense of urgency to the contest. Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, 22, and running back Alfred Morris, 24, have many more chances to reach this level again. Someone like veteran linebacker London Fletcher does not. And he knows it.

"You kind of take things for granted, especially at that time in your career," Fletcher said. "You don't realize how tough it is to get to the playoffs and also to win it."

Fletcher won a Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams in just his second year in the NFL. He went again as a fourth-year player. He has played in one postseason game since then -- with the Redskins when they lost at Seattle 35-14 in a wild-card game on Jan. 5, 2008.

"You never know when you're going to get another chance," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "We got a nice, young team, but I've seen crazier things happen."

Hall was a rookie with the Atlanta Falcons in 2004. His team went 11-5 and rode the wave of publicity surrounding star quarterback Michael Vick to a spot in the NFC title game. The future seemed limitless. Instead, it all crashed down upon them. The Falcons went 8-8 in 2005 and 7-9 the following season. The 2007 campaign was ruined before it started thanks to Vick's guilty plea on federal dogfighting charges and a subsequent suspension by the NFL. Four years after coming within a game of the Super Bowl, Vick and Hall, who was traded to Oakland after the 2007 season, both were gone. So were most of their teammates.

Hall and Fletcher have warned their younger teammates about the fleeting nature of the sport. That inexperience works against them in such ways. But experience can be overrated, too, some players say. More important is how a team is actually playing at the end of a season. And with those seven wins in a row and a defense that has found its legs and is likely getting reinforcements -- such as defensive back Cedric Griffin (suspension) -- that bodes well for Washington.

It matters less that few of its veterans have performed on the postseason stage. Players such as Fletcher, wide receiver Santana Moss, defensive end Chris Wilson, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, defensive lineman Kedric Golston and safety Reed Doughty all played in that 2007 playoff game against the Seahawks. None has come close to the postseason since.

"Obviously there are teams that are constantly there, and they always have a chance," said tight end Chris Cooley, the other Redskins player still left from that playoff loss in Seattle. "But look at the Giants last year, Green Bay the year before. Both were slow starters, and they came together at the end of the year. That resembles this team, and it gives us a chance."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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