Redskins reheat season with Vikings TV dinner Get 2nd shot, thanks to expanded format


MINNEAPOLIS -- The home team has changed quarterbacks three times in the past five weeks, has scored more than 17 points only twice in the past seven games, and doesn't have a wide receiver who has caught a pass in a month.

The visiting team has lost its last two games and four of the last seven, has 11 players on the injury list and has the lowest rated quarterback in the NFC.

Welcome to today's playoff game between the Washington Redskins and the Minnesota Vikings -- a testament to the NFL's never-ending quest for more television money.

As recently as 1989, this game would not have been played. The Vikings would have had a first-round bye as the NFC Central champion and the Redskins would have been sitting home with the sixth-best record in the conference.

That all changed in 1990 when the NFL signed a four-year, $3.6 billion TV deal. In exchange for the cash, the league added a sixth team to the playoffs in each conference and matched that club up in the first round against the division champion with the worst record.

The result is today's Vikings-Redskins matchup on ABC.

Local fans who remember playoff match ups featuring Hall of Famers Fran Tarkenton and Roger Staubach are not too impressed with the duel between Mark Rypien and Sean Salisbury.

There were still 5,000 unsold tickets Wednesday, 72 hours before kickoff. That's usually when the local TV blackout is imposed, but the NFL extended the deadline to Thursday. When the Vikings still fell 500 tickets short of selling out, a local corporation (General Mills) guaranteed to buy them if they weren't sold and the TV blackout was lifted.

If the first two years of the expanded playoff format is any barometer, it doesn't really matter which team wins. The four first-round winners each of the past two years lost on the road the next week to the four teams that had byes. If the Redskins win, they go to San Francisco. If the Vikings win, they go to Dallas.

Don't tell this to the Redskins or Vikings, though.

"Anybody's record is irrelevant," Vikings coach Dennis Green said. "Everybody has a clean slate and a chance to go all the way."

Even though there may not be much at stake, it should be an entertaining, run-oriented, low-scoring game. Both teams have tough defenses and questionable offenses, so it shapes up as a game similar to Redskins' 15-13 win over Minnesota on Oct. 25.

The two quarterbacks, Rypien and Salisbury, are both under pressure, and they feel empathy for each other. They're old friends who were rivals in the Pac-10 -- Rypien at Washington State and Salisbury at USC -- and they roomed together at the scouting combine when they came out of college.

"The Redskins are lucky to have Mark Rypien," Salisbury told reporters covering the Redskins. "He's one of the top three, four or five quarterbacks in the NFL."

Even Rypien smiled at that. "That's a friend sticking up for a friend," he said.

It won't be a surprise if the defenses -- not the quarterbacks -- dominate the game.

Even though cornerback Darrell Green aggravated his heel injury last week and may not play (cornerback Martin Mayhew will be activated from injured reserve) and their best pass rusher, Charles Mann, is playing with a knee injury, they have a mix-and-match defensive philosophy under assistant coach Richie Petitbon. Ten different players have combined for 23 interceptions and 13 players have contributed to the

team's 40 sacks.

The Redskins also need another good game from Wilber Marshall, their lone Pro Bowl player. He had seven tackles, a sack and a forced fumble against the Vikings. Marshall sometimes crosses the line -- he was fined $5,000 this week for a questionable shot at quarterback Troy Aikman in the Dallas game -- but he's the key to the defense.

If the Redskins have another edge, it's coach Joe Gibbs, who has a 15-4 playoff record. Gibbs has been mending the wounded psyche of his battered team the past week. The Redskins didn't have the look of a playoff team last week in a 21-20 loss to the Los Angeles Raiders. Rypien overthrew Gary Clark when he was wide open in the end zone, and the defense let Vince Evans beat it with a late drive.

The Redskins still sneaked in the back door of the expanded playoff format when Minnesota beat Green Bay, but even the players had to wonder if they deserved the berth.

Instead of lashing out at the players, Gibbs tried to boost their confidence. He didn't show them the Raiders videotapes, and he reminded them they don't have to apologize for being in the playoffs. A return to the Metrodome is symbolic, too. They won the last Super Bowl there.

"I love the idea we're in," Gibbs said. "They set the rules when the season started, we played them. We played in the NFC East, played one of the toughest schedules in football and we played some of the teams that are in there.

"We sat at home before at 10-6 [1985 and 1989] so we're just excited about being in it and we want to take our shot. Our team has overcome a lot this year."

By the end of the week, the players were in an upbeat mood.

Offensive tackle Jim Lachey, who didn't play in the first game against the Vikings and will take on Chris Doleman in a key matchup, likes the fact the Redskins have so much playoff experience.

vTC "The one thing the Redskins know how to do is win," Lachey said. "It's a feeling no matter what happens, we'll get the job done."

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