Marty's Month: December

The Redskins need a strong finish. Which is exactly what Marty Schottenheimer's teams are known for. So if the Redskins can do what Schottenheimer's teams usually do, they'll have more than a good chance at reaching the postseason.

Schottenheimer's teams, including when he took over Cleveland midway through the 1984 season, were a combined 35-20 in December before this season. The Redskins are 1-1 this month.

''He's preached all year that we have to play well in December,'' Redskins receiver Michael Westbrook said. ''He stressed and preached that even when it wasn't even close to December.''

Only twice in his first 15 Decembers did his teams post a losing record--in his first season when the Browns went 1-2 en route to a 5-11 record and in 1996 when the Chiefs went 0-3, falling to 9-7.

They'll need success this December as Sunday's 20-10 win over Arizona left Washington (6-6) tied with Atlanta in the Wild Card race. But both trail New Orleans (7-5) and Tampa Bay (7-5) for the final extra berth.

The good news for Washington: both the Saints and Bucs have tough finishing schedules. Tampa plays three of their final four at home, but the Bucs face Philadelphia, New Orleans and Baltimore. The road game: at Chicago. New Orleans also plays St. Louis, San Francisco and hosts Washington.

Atlanta plays the hardest finish with road games at Indianapolis, Miami and St. Louis. The Falcons also host Buffalo.

Chicago (9-3) and San Francisco (9-3) have comfortable leads for two of the three Wild Card spots.

But if Schottenheimer's past is an indicator the Redskins should finish strong. They certainly showed resolve against the Cardinals, winning despite committing 13 penalties. Big plays secured the win.

John Keim covers the Redskins for The Journal Newspapers and is a correspondent for Pro Football Weekly. ''Because this is an older team,'' Westbrook said. ''In the past we were always one of the youngest teams and we couldn't overcome obstacles. It's fun knowing you have the ability to overcome obstacles because of the veteran leadership. The vets know what they have to do.'' Schottenheimer said one reason his record is good in this month is, when other teams sometimes focus more on their opponent, he maintains his attention inward, concentrating more on his players. Now it's December again. And the Redskins, at least they hope, are playing well again. ''It's exciting to come from so far away,'' Redskins LaVar Arrington said. ''We could easily be 0-12, like another club. It just depends on how you react. We've reacted well and we've come a long ways.''

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