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Game of the week

NY Giants (10-4) at Washington (8-6)

The message was posted in the Washington locker room after the team had lost three straight and six of eight. I remember because I made fun of it.

"Five in a row or we don't go."

Three down. How does that sound?

I'm still not ready to declare that the Redskins will make the playoffs. Lose Saturday to the New York Giants, a team that already has blistered them 36-0, and Washington is likely to be sitting on the sidelines again. But the 'Skins have more fight in them than many of us outside of the Beltway thought.

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Coach Joe Gibbs said his team "played the game of our life" in its win over the Cowboys five days ago. That's a far cry from what he had to say after his team's game against the Giants in late October.

Wellington Mara, the longtime owner of the Giants, died a few days before the game, and his players responded with an inspired effort. Washington's offense managed 34 yards in the first half and 125 total in a game Gibbs called "a coach's nightmare."

Clinton Portis rushed for 9 yards in that first meeting. All he needed was 197 more to equal Tiki Barber's output for New York.

Portis hasn't rushed for 200 yards since his days in Denver. But in recent weeks, the 'Skins have finally come to realize it's better to emphasize their running back than ignore him. Portis has averaged 112.6 yards on the ground in the last six games and gone over 100 yards in the last three.

"I mean, it's OK," said Portis, who has scored four of his eight touchdowns in the last six games. "But considering I could have about six or seven (100-yard games in a row), it ain't that exciting."

Washington ran the ball 46 percent of the time in its first 10 games. That has jumped to 60 percent in the last four. The 'Skins are lining up and pounding Portis on third-and-short rather than going to the shotgun like they did early in the season.

"It's our bread and butter," Portis said, "and we're finally using it."

Giants linebacker Nick Greisen said Washington appears to have much more confidence than it did seven weeks ago when the teams met. Duh. You get beat, 36-0, and see how much of a swagger you have.

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It's now clear that game was an aberration. Washington's other five losses have come by a total of 19 points. The 'Skins are 3-1 in the NFC East after going 3-15 in the division the previous three years.

"We're getting there, we're building something," quarterback Mark Brunell said. "You're starting to see signs of a Redskins team that is going to be good this year and in years to come."

Now, if they can just make good on that sign posted in the locker room with five games to go.

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(c) 2005, The Dallas Morning News.

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