Gameday: Vikings vs. Redskins

Good riddance to yet another season, which started the same way as the previous five: with high hopes. It also ends the same way: with massive disappointment, even with Joe Gibbs in charge. Just goes to show you that organizations win, not one guy.

The Redskins can end on a mini high note by upsetting Minnesota today. The Vikings are fighting for the playoffs, but choked in a similar situation at Arizona last year.

It remains to be seen how Washington approaches this game. The Redskins seemed less focused this week than in previous weeks, realizing that their hopes of finishing with real momentum were dashed last week in Dallas. Checkout time began. For them to win, they'll have to do a few things they haven't done much of all year: score a lot of points, quit making penalties and play well on special teams. All the things a Joe Gibbs team once did.

On the spot: Washington's offense. With all the injuries defensively, the Redskins can't afford another conservative game plan. Look for them to be more aggressive throwing downfield, trying for big plays. It could result in big negative plays, too. But they really have no choice. They can't approach this like they're going to hold the Vikings to less than 20 points. Not with players such as Garnell Wilds seeing lots of action against this high-powered attack.

Do something: Rod Gardner. Perhaps one reason Gardner didn't want it known about his car being stolen is because it would reveal that he'd been out late Wednesday night partying -- again. At midnight, he'd just ARRIVED at another club. You want to live like that? Fine, then produce. He doesn't, save for one or two teaser games a season.

Big change?: With Ladell Betts in the game instead of Clinton Portis, will the Redskins' running game look any different? Maybe not. Though Betts is not as explosive as Portis, his running style is more suited for this offense. He runs with more power and is better able to break a tackle or two along the line. Portis is not a pile mover and that has hurt this offense. He's a home run hitter with a bag full of singles this season. Though it's not all his fault by any means -- this line stinks -- it makes you wonder about the wisdom of shelling out so much money for one player. Think they would have had five wins without Portis. I do. And if the Redskins struggle offensively, it won't be because of Betts. Considering Minnesota ranks 29th against the run, it might not matter who's in the backfield.

Big chance: For corners Walt Harris and Garnell Wilds. One reason, it seems, that the Redskins signed Harris was they had an eye on 2005 when Fred Smoot might not be here. Harris gets a chance to show if that's wise thinking or not -- we're guessing it isn't. But I'll say this: if Harris shows he can stop a slant pass the coaches will be happy. They were a bit steamed with Smoot for failing to stop those passes against Dallas, especially after it happened once. And Wilds gets a chance because of all the injuries. This is a tough debut.

Expanded role: For safety Sean Taylor. Look for him to perhaps be more in man coverage today because of the depleted secondary. It's just another luxury of having such a unique talent in the backfield. He can cover in the slot, but beware: the Vikings will test him on double moves, hoping he's overly aggressive -- as he was on the last play against Dallas. That's the knock on Taylor.

Watch out for: Obviously, Minnesota's offense has many weapons. And it's tough to stop Randy Moss. But the receiver who can hurt them just as much is Nate Burleson. He has 64 catches, averages 15 yards a grab and has scored nine touchdowns. He's not Moss, but he's darn good. In the five games Moss missed, Burleson caught 29 passes, four for touchdowns.

Prediction: Minnesota has too much firepower as the Redskins end with a thud, 27-17, very much slowing all this talk about how ''close they are.'' Every team in the NFL, except for San Francisco, can claim they're just as ''close.''


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