Redskins defensive assistant Kirk Olivadotti pointed out something the other day that goes a long way toward explaining the Redskins' late-season surge.
Washington was stumbling along at 5-6 before scoring road wins at St. Louis and Arizona and running the table against the NFC East's Cowboys, Giants and Eagles. During that five-game win streak, the team's longest since 2001, the Redskins produced 17 sacks and 17 turnovers.
That's one of the primary reasons the Redskins have prolonged their season and will be facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Saturday at Raymond James Stadium in the Wild Card round of the NFC playoffs.
"That's huge," said assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams, who earlier this week signed a three-year contract extension. "Kirk told me that during this five-game streak, we've had 17 sacks and 17 takeaways. That's the reason, the magic formula, for winning these five in a row.
"When we've taken the ball away, we've provided a short field, and I think our offense is No. 1 in the NFL right now in scoring on short fields. Everybody else is a distant second. Those are the ways you're able to put points on the board, because it's hard with some of the better defenses in the league. We're getting ready to go against the No. 1 defense in the NFL, so we've got to do our part on defense to take that ball away from them."
In the Nov. 13 game at Tampa Bay, won by the Bucs 36-35, the Redskins did not have a sack or an interception. Joe Salave'a recovered a fumble by Cadillac Williams to account for Washington's lone turnover.
The Bucs came up with two sacks (both by defensive end Simeon Rice), two interceptions (Rice, cornerback Juran Bolden) and a fumble recovery (defensive end Dewayne White).
The Redskins were without two of their key defensive players back on Week 10. Safety Sean Taylor missed with an ankle injury and defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin was battling a hip injury.
Those two players will be back for Saturday's playoff game but the status of veteran cornerback Shawn Springs may not be decided until game time. Williams says it will be a "bonus" if Springs can make it back in time to face Chris Simms, Joey Galloway and the Bucs.
On his feelings regarding his unit's performance in the tough setback at Tampa Bay, Williams said: "The two quickest ways to get beat in the NFL are not protecting your quarterback or getting beat over the top in coverage. Well, we got beat over the top three or four times in that ballgame. I still have a sour taste in my mouth about that."
Meanwhile, Taylor seems confident approaching his first taste of NFL playoff football.
He puts it this way: "I'm relaxed. It's definitely a pleasure to be able to go back to work again. There are a lot of teams that don't have this opportunity and a lot of teams sitting home watching these games that are going to be coming on this weekend. We just want to try and continue to be a team playing and not sitting at home watching."
The second-year player faced plenty of key games during his college career at Miami and his first chance at the NFL's post-season tournament takes place in his home state.
Says Taylor: "It's do or die, us or them. Somebody is going to walk off a loser, somebody a winner. We're ready to take this challenge, we're focused and prepared.
"I feel like we're playing good enough to win. Do I think we can get better? Yes, we can get better. But it comes from working hard. This is a whole new season for us and we have to continue to be on the same page."
Taylor believes Simms, the Tampa Bay quarterback, has improved as the season has gone along. That's because Simms has gone up against some solid defenses in recent weeks and has learned to play consistent football in the Bucs' 11-5 campaign.
"He's played against New England and Carolina, teams with good defensive ends, defensive backs and linebackers," Taylor said. "I think he's proven himself. You have to give the man credit. But every week in this league you have to prove yourself over again."
Williams certainly is glad to have Taylor available Saturday. In fact, Williams says Taylor, Phillip Daniels, Marcus Washington and Griffin are playing about as well as any four defenders in the NFL as the postseason approaches.
Now, Williams is hoping that quartet can help his team win the battle of turnovers Saturday afternoon against the Buccaneers.