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Inexperienced Redskins Set To Prove They’re Ready For First Playoff Experience

By ZAC BOYER

zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

ASHBURN – A veteran of eight playoff games and three playoff victories, Santana Moss is one of few Washington Redskins with significant experience playing in the postseason. Curious as to what those games – five with the New York Jets, three in Washington – were like, Leonard Hankerson leaned over earlier in the week and asked his fellow receiver.

Moss

“You think that Dallas game was a high-intensity playoff game?” Moss told Hankerson. “Wait ‘til Sunday. It’s going to be totally different.”

The Redskins will make their first postseason appearance in five years Sunday afternoon when, after a seven-game winning streak to end the regular season, the NFC East champions will host Seattle in an NFC wild card playoff game at FedEx Field.

It will be the first playoff game at the stadium since 1999, the last time the Redskins won the division.

None of the current Redskins players were on the team that year, when they defeated Detroit in the wild card round but lost in the divisional round at Tampa Bay.

In fact, only seven players still remain from the team that made the playoffs after the 2007 season, and only 19 players – roughly a third of the roster – have any experience in playing in the postseason at all.

“I think the way we’re approaching this game is just the same way we approached the last seven,” said quarterback Robert Griffin III, a rookie. “It is a playoff game, but that’s the way we approached those other games as well. We’ll be ready. I think all the guys in the locker room know what’s at stake. You just have to go out there and play like you have nothing to lose.”

Like Hankerson and Moss, Madieu Williams and Cedric Griffin each spent some time reminiscing about the playoffs earlier in the week. The two defensive backs were teammates in Minnesota in 2009 when the Vikings lost to New Orleans in overtime in the NFC championship game.

“I think the biggest thing is that, in talking to him, we zoned in on the details and just needed to be sharp – mentally sharp,” said Williams, the Redskins’ starting free safety and a veteran of five playoff games during his nine-year career, including two last year in San Francisco. “They’re going to do some things that we haven’t seen before, but for the most part, it’s going to be up to us to execute whatever defenses are calling.”

The Seahawks, who narrowly missed out on winning the NFC West, are making their second playoff appearance in three years and their seventh over the past decade, including a loss to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL after the 2005 season.

But like the Redskins, Seattle, which won its last five games, has significantly turned over its roster in the past three years under head coach Pete Carroll. Nineteen players have postseason experience, with only two remaining from that Super Bowl team.

“Because I got there as a rookie, I didn’t realize how big a deal it is,” said linebacker Bryan Kehl, who made the playoffs with the New York Giants in 2008. “I didn’t realize that most teams don’t make the playoffs. I didn’t realize that a lot of guys go a whole career and never make the playoffs, so I definitely didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have at the time.”

Four players – nose tackle Barry Cofield, linebacker London Fletcher, receiver Pierre Garçon and quarterback Rex Grossman – have played in the Super Bowl, with all but Grossman winning the game.

Fletcher, for years the team’s defensive leader, won the Super Bowl with St. Louis after the 1999 season – his second in the league. After expecting to be a playoff mainstay early in his career, Fletcher has endured several seasons of losing and only returned to the playoffs with the Redskins after the 2005 and 2007 seasons.

“[I’m] definitely appreciating this a lot more when you think about this group, this team, what we were able to accomplish being 3-6 at one point in the season, winning seven straight ballgames to win the division and put ourselves in a place where we’re in the playoffs,” Fletcher said. “I can say I’m enjoying this a lot more, and I’m more appreciative of it because I realize how difficult it is to make the playoffs now.”

Even Mike Shanahan, who won the Super Bowl as Denver’s head coach following the 1997 and 1998 seasons, is making his first postseason appearance in seven years.

What matters to him, though, is not his team’s playoff inexperience, but what it can do now that it’s there. At least one Super Bowl team in six of the last seven years played a wild card game.

“I think it’s always good to have guys that are experienced, guys that have been there,” Shanahan said. “But it surely doesn’t dictate which teams are going to win. I just think you have to be playing your best football once you get to the playoffs and if you are, you’ve got a chance.”

And if there’s one thing Hankerson gleaned from Moss, it’s that the Redskins are ready.

“Why wouldn’t we be?” Hankerson said. “It’s another game: Do what we’ve been doing, score how we’ve been scoring, the defense will get stops and we’ll go out there with everybody on the same page. I don’t think we can be beaten.”

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