PHILADELPHIA – Only five weeks ago, the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles both were teams heading nowhere.
The Eagles stayed on that path, but the Redskins took a surprise detour.
Led by Robert Griffin III and fellow rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins — for the last four-plus quarters — the Redskins (8-6) have won five straight games to move into a three-way tie for first place in the NFC East. If Washington wins the last two, the division title returns to the nation's capital for the first time since 1999.
First, the Redskins have to get past Philadelphia (4-10) on Sunday. Despite their record, the Eagles have played better in recent weeks. All they've got left is being a spoiler.
"I'm not really happy the way any of it is turning out," tight end Brent Celek said. "Us being the spoiler, we can do that. They're going to be ready to go when they come in here because they've got playoffs in their minds. We're going to have to be geared up and ready to stop them."
Like the Redskins, the Eagles also were 3-6 entering their meeting at FedEx Field on Nov. 18. They got whipped 31-6 for the sixth of their eight straight losses.
"We'd like to be in the other situation where we're fighting for the division," rookie quarterback Nick Foles said. "The season hasn't gone the way we wanted it to, but we still have the opportunity to play two more games and we just want to go out there and give our best versus Washington and we want to win."
Foles made his first NFL start in that lopsided loss to the Redskins last month. Filling in for an injured Michael Vick, his inexperience showed. But Foles has improved in the past five games, though he took a step backward last week against Cincinnati after an impressive performance in a comeback win over Tampa Bay on Dec. 9.
"He's more comfortable in the overall scheme," coach Andy Reid said. "Some of the biggest challenges for quarterbacks in this offense is making sure that you get your drop right with each route and what's presented to you defensively. So, I think he's more comfortable with that and the more reps he gets, he'll be even better at it. But I'd tell you, from that first go-around, he's just more comfortable in the scheme."
Vick will be back for the first time since he sustained a concussion against Dallas on Nov. 11. But the four-time Pro Bowl quarterback will be No. 3 behind Foles and backup Trent Edwards.
At least Vick can get a close-up view of RG3, who is even more dynamic than he was in his prime. Vick may be the greatest running QB of all-time, but Griffin's spectacular all-around play surpasses him already.
Of all the multidimensional quarterbacks that have played in the league, Griffin might possess the most skills. His combination of incredible speed and precision passing is quite unique. He has 2,902 yards passing, 18 touchdowns and only four interceptions. His passer rating of 104.2 trails only Aaron Rodgers (104.7).
Griffin sat out last week's win at Cleveland after spraining his right knee late in the fourth quarter of an overtime victory over Baltimore the previous game. He practiced this week and is expected to return against Philadelphia.
"We came back from the bye with one mission and that's the mission we're still on," Griffin said. "We control our own destiny. We did what we were supposed to do. We won and that's what we have to continue to do. Guys can't get happy now. We still have one game and another game after that."
The Redskins haven't reached the playoffs since 2007. Their last playoff win was in 2005. A victory over the Eagles could set up a winner-take-all game next Sunday against Dallas (8-6). Coach Mike Shanahan will have to make sure his team doesn't look too far ahead and gets upset in Philadelphia.
"Anytime you have your backs against the wall, each game is very important and you have to concentrate on that game and you can't worry about other games," Shanahan said. "You have to make sure everybody gives their best shot and you find a way to win and that's what we've been doing. And as you do win, you gain more confidence."
Shanahan's counterpart on the opposite sideline could be coaching his last home game. Reid is unlikely to return to Philadelphia for his 15th season next year. The Eagles are missing the playoffs for the second straight year after coming in with huge expectations.
Reid guided the Eagles to nine playoff appearances, five NFC title games and one Super Bowl. But he failed to win the franchise's first championship since 1960 and the team has regressed significantly the past two seasons.
Fans have long wanted Reid gone and soon may get their wish. However, the talk in Philadelphia this week was about showing Reid some appreciation.
The same fans who chanted "Fire Andy!" at the Linc this year just may give the big guy a standing ovation on his way out.
"I really haven't thought about that," Reid said. "I'd like to tell you a different answer to that, but I haven't really gone there."
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