Thanks to a 17-10 victory over Philadelphia, their first over the defending NFC champion Eagles in eight meetings, the Redskins are in the playoff race at midseason for the first time since 2000, when they turned a 6-2 start into an 8-8 finish that cost coaches Norv Turner and Terry Robiskie their jobs.
The second-biggest crowd (90,298) in FedEx Field's nine seasons enjoyed the end of a negative streak against an NFC East rival for the second time this year - the Redskins won at Dallas for the first time in 10 years on Sept. 19. The win came a week after Washington was blasted 36-0 by its other division rival, the New York Giants.
The Redskins, who had lost three of their previous four games, have the edge on the second wild-card spot, thanks to their victory over the Cowboys, with whom they're tied, one game behind the Giants.
"Maybe we'll look back at this game as perhaps a defining moment," said quarterback Mark Brunell, who rebounded from a down day at Giants Stadium to complete 21 of 29 passes for 244 yards. "Hopefully, we can build some momentum off this one. To be 5-3 halfway through is good for any football team, so we're pleased."
Thanks to largely to the miraculous resurrection of the 35-year-old Brunell (12 touchdowns and three interceptions after getting benched last November) and the acquisition of top-flight receiver Santana Moss (49 catches, 856 yards, five touchdowns), who have jump-started the offense from 30th last year to 11th, the Redskins are thinking playoffs, a destination they haven't reached since 1999.
Washington's confidence is buoyed by its 4-1 record against fellow NFC contenders Philadelphia, Dallas, Chicago, Seattle and the Giants. Sunday comes a similar test at Tampa Bay.
Pro Bowl linebacker Marcus Washington said despite the high from finally beating the Eagles, the Redskins won't be as cocky as they were going to New York after crushing San Francisco 52-17 the previous week.
"The Giants game definitely knocked us off our high horse," Washington said. "You definitely learn more from a loss than you do from winning. You break it down more. We didn't like the taste that left in our mouths and we don't want to go back to that so we'll approach every game ready to play our best."
The Redskins know that they're far from perfect. They have a minus-9 turnover margin, average seven penalties per game and have allowed five touchdowns of at least 30 yards in the last five weeks, compared to two all of last season.
But for a change, Redskin Park is an upbeat place at midseason.
"There's a completely different attitude around here," tight end Chris Cooley said. "Everybody is excited this week for another big game, and last year we were down and didn't want to be around here too much."
--LDT Cornelius Griffin didn't practice because of the hip flexor injury he re-aggravated on the first play of the 36-0 loss to the Giants on Oct. 30. Griffin hasn't been on the field and likely won't play again on Sunday. He has missed consecutive games just once before during his six seasons.
--RDT Joe Salave'a didn't practice because of the plantar fasciitis in his right foot that he first hurt on Oct. 16 at Kansas City. Salave'a has missed most practices since but hasn't missed a game. This week should be no different.
--FS Sean Taylor didn't practice for a second straight day because of the sprained ankle that he also rested last Thursday. Taylor started three days later and is expected to do so again against Tampa Bay.
--RDE Phillip Daniels returned after sitting out on Wednesday because of the sprained ankle he suffered against the Giants. Daniels sat out last Wednesday and Thursday before returning Friday and starting on Sunday. He should start again against the Bucs.
--QB Mark Brunell returned from the minor calf strain that kept him out on Wednesday and also last Friday. Brunell started two days later and is expected to do so again this Sunday.