WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- A year ago, the Washington Redskins were 11-0 and cruising toward the Super Bowl.
They're now 6-5 and trying to figure out how to score a touchdown.
Only one thing hasn't changed. The Redskins have virtually the same low-key attitude they had a year ago. Win or lose, the Redskins locker room is the dullest place in the NFL.
They didn't gloat when they won, and they're not doing any bad-mouthing now that they're losing.
The Redskins leave the mutinies and controversies to other teams. They have the quiet confidence of a team that has survived adversity in the past and expects to survive it again.
That's the attitude they'll take into RFK Stadium today, when they play the Phoenix Cardinals in a game they must win if they're to keep their hopes of making the playoffs alive.
The tone is set by coach Joe Gibbs, who has learned to cope with the ups and downs.
"The only thing that I guess is good as you get a little older [he turned 52 on Wednesday] is that you have these experiences behind you and you can kind of look back and say, 'I know in the past we've [almost] come out of every single one of them,' " Gibbs said. "Sometimes, they're bitter and hard, and in 1988 [a 7-9 season] we didn't get out of it, but even that year seemed to make us a better football team, make us better coaches. You have the confidence of knowing that in the past we've come out of these dips and there's been some great things on the other side."
Gibbs also likes the attitude of his players.
"There's nobody that I think is happy. Everybody feels awful," he said. "If I sensed everybody was fat and happy, I'd be yelling. I don't sense any of that. Our players have great character, and they're mad because we're not doing well."
Maybe it comes from listening to Gibbs, who usually repeats the same speeches in public that he gives to the players in private, but the Redskins are looking at these tough times as an opportunity.
Cornerback Darrell Green, who expects to start for the first time since he broke his forearm in Week 2, echoes those sentiments.
"The opportunity we have before us [is a chance] to get greater gifts in pressing through this than there is the negative in not doing it. It's kind of almost set that, '[We're] not going to win any more games,' so the opportunity is greater than it's been in a long time," he said.
BTC Green said he could have sat out the season with his broken forearm, but he was eager to come back.
"It's kind of like the captain goes down with the ship. If we're going down, I want to be a part of going down. There's no victory in saying, 'At least, I didn't play.' I'm not the savior or anything, but I'm just doing what I do," Green said.
The question now is whether the Redskins are still good enough to do it. They'll get Green and Jim Lachey back today, but they'll still have their offensive line du jour because they won't know whether Mark Schlereth and Ed Simmons can play. Tight end Don Warren went on the injured reserve list yesterday, and defensive tackle Eric Williams and cornerback A. J. Johnson are out.
That's why this game will be a good gauge of where the Redskins are. The past two weeks they weren't healthy enough to beat a pair of playoff-bound teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and the New Orleans Saints, on the road.
The Phoenix Cardinals at home coming off a Monday night game are a different story. The Redskins are 19-2 in Sunday games coming off Monday night games under Gibbs. Even though they blew the first game in Phoenix, 27-24, they haven't lost to the Cardinals at home since 1978 and have won 14 of the past 16 and 29 of the past 35 against the Cardinals.
The Cardinals even have their own injury problems. Their two best pass rushers, Ken Harvey and Freddie Joe Nunn, are injured. So is their starting quarterback, Chris Chandler, and their running back, Johnny Johnson, is coming off a groin injury.
The Redskins also have more at stake. The 3-8 Cardinals are playing for pride. The Redskins are still alive in the playoff battle.
"I was talking to [assistant coaches] Rod [Dowhower] and Jim [Hanifan] and they said, 'Hey, Joe, we've been in a lot of places where right now it was all over. We were dead.' It's fun knowing you're still in it. Who knows, as long as there's hope, there's a place in there for a miracle," Gibbs said.
If the Redskins are going to pull off a miracle finish, they have to start with a victory today.
NOTES: To make room for Lachey and TE James Jenkins, who were brought back from injured reserve yesterday, the Redskins shelved Warren (shoulder) and released OL Tom Myslinski. They now have 12 players on IR, and none can come back before the playoffs unless they clear waivers because the Redskins have used their five free regular-season moves.
Site: RFK Stadium, Washington.
Time: 1 p.m.
TV: Channels 11, 9
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTEM (570 AM)
Line: Redskins by 9 1/2
Last week: The Redskins lost to the New Orleans Saints, 20-3, and the Cardinals lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 16-10.
Last meeting: The Redskins were cruising toward a 24-6 victory in the fourth quarter earlier this year when Robert Massey twice picked off Mark Rypien passes and ran them back for touchdowns to spark the Cardinals to a 27-24 victory.
The series: The Redskins leads the series that dates to 1932 when the Redskins were in Boston and the Cardinals in Chicago by a 60-34-2 margin. The Redskins have won 14 of the last 16 and 29 of the last 35 and 13 straight at RFK Stadium.
On the sidelines: Joe Gibbs, in his 12th season, is 136-62. For the third straight week, he tries to pass Hank Stram and take sole possession of 10th place on the all-time winning list. Former Gibbs assistant Joe Bugel is 12-31 in his third season as the Cardinals coach and 1-4 against the Redskins.
What the Redskins have to do to win: Get the running game going. In the last four games, Earnest Byner has rushed for 32, 47, 21 and 29 yards and Ricky Ervins for 29, 17, 17 and six yards. It's not surprising the Redskins have lost three of those games. When the opposing defenses can stuff the running game, they can then tee off on Rypien, who needs time to throw to be effective.
What the Cardinals have to do to win: Since quarterback Chris Chandler won't start because of a rib cartilage injury and running back Johnny Johnson is coming back from a groin injury, the Cardinals don't figure to have a big day against the Redskins' defense. That's why the Cardinals' defense not only needs to stifle the Redskins' offense that's scored just two touchdowns in the last 23 quarters, but it needs to come up with a couple of big turnovers the way Massey did in the first game if the Cards are to pull off another upset.
Injury report: Redskins: CB A. J. Johnson (knee), DT Eric Williams (abdomen) are out; TE Don Warren (shoulder) is doubtful; T Joe Jacoby (back), T Ed Simmons (knee) are questionable; TE Terry Orr (knee), G Mark Schlereth (knee), DE Fred Stokes (knee) are probable. Cardinals: C Ed Cunningham (arm) is doubtful; C Bill Lewis (shoulder-hamstring), QB Chris Chandler (ribs), DT Eric Swann (shoulder), DE-DT Mike Jones (knee) are questionable; RB Johnny Johnson (groin) is probable.
Outlook: This is the last stop for the Redskins. If they can't beat their favorite punching bag -- the Cardinals -- at home, they can forget about this season and start thinking about next year. Mathematically, they'd be alive if they lost, but realistically, they've got to win if they hope to salvage something out of this season.