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Redskins Still Looking for Their Wings

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

“It’s a Wonderful Life,” as Jimmy Stewart reminds us every year at this time, but had Norv Turner never been born, the Redskins might not be so down on their luck.

Once again the Redskins have the look of a first-place team ready to take a plunge out of the playoffs, a Turner trademark, and if there was ever someone in need of an angel or a quarterback with guts, it’s the guy who is about to lose his job.

The Redskins were 7-1 under Turner in 1996 only to miss the playoffs, and 6-4 the following year before falling short.

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No other coach in NFC history dating to at least 1970, according to NFL officials, has been with the same team five years and failed to lead his team into postseason play. Turner, the former Trojan and Ram assistant and now 40-53-1 as Washington’s head coach, could make it six years in a row if the Redskins swoon down the stretch.

The Indianapolis Colts, moving from 3-13 last season to 12-2 and clinching the AFC East title with a 24-21 victory over the Redskins on Sunday in the RCA Dome, demonstrated how quickly success can be achieved with the proper combination of leadership and talent under center.

Quarterback Peyton Manning threw two touchdown passes to propel the Colts to their 10th consecutive win, earning them a first-round bye in the playoffs and home-field advantage for at least one postseason game.

“Well, it’s been a fast turnaround,” said Manning, helping the Colts in his second year to their first division title in a non-strike season since 1977. “Winning the division has definitely come faster than we expected. We knew we’d be a better football team this year, but we didn’t know that we would be this good.”

The Redskins (8-6), while benefiting from losses by Dallas (7-7), Detroit (8-6), Tampa Bay (9-5), Arizona (6-8) and the New York Giants (7-7) on Sunday, will probably still have to win their final two games against San Francisco and Miami to secure a playoff berth. Oh, Clarence. . .

Based on performance against the Colts, they better hope the game does not ride on the erratic arm of quarterback Brad Johnson.

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Down by 11 late in the fourth quarter, the Redskins rallied to score, scored on the two-point conversion, pulled within a field goal and then recovered the onside kick with 1:24 to play.

After a series of stumbles, the Redskins had the ball at their own 47-yard line, fourth and nine with 37 seconds to go. If Manning is standing in the pocket under the pressure felt by Johnson, he waits a little longer and gives a teammate a chance to make a first-down play.

But Johnson reacted to an Indianapolis pass rush like a quarterback unaware it was fourth down with the game on the line and hurriedly pitched the ball out of the field of play.

“The game was ours to control toward the end, but we just didn’t make the plays,” Redskin defensive lineman Dan Wilkinson said. “I felt we were the better team.”

It’s now up to Turner to rally the troops or take his resume to Kinko’s.

“I’m disappointed,” was about all Turner could offer after meeting behind closed doors with Mister Potter, ah, Dan Snyder.

Snyder, the Redskins’ new 35-year-old owner, has already certified himself a tyrant, scolding Turner in an embarrassing 45-minute private meeting immediately after a loss to Dallas earlier this season.

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Two weeks ago he met with five different Redskins in an attempt to fire them up, a task he pays his head coach to perform.

After the loss to the Colts, Snyder beat his team to the locker room, more fuel for the rumors that have Turner moving to Dallas next year as either the team’s offensive coordinator or replacement to a disappointing Chan Gailey.

“We were close to getting it done,” said Johnson, who completed only 16 of 30 passes for 237 yards.

Five years ago a late run at the Colts might have been a moral victory for the Redskins, but Washington has been playoff-starved.

“Sure, there were a lot of positive things out there,” Redskin veteran cornerback Darrell Green said. “But this game brings up a lot of concerns for me. This was a tremendous opportunity and a winnable game and so I’m more disappointed than normal. We have to take advantage of these opportunities.”

There are excuses to be noted. Stephen Davis set a single-season rushing record for the Redskins and ran with ease for 70 yards in 14 carries against the Colts, but then was forced out of the game because of an ankle injury.

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Washington, in part on the strength of Davis’ running, took a 13-10 lead into halftime and maintained it through the third quarter before Indianapolis struck twice for touchdowns.

“We made too many mistakes, and what is this, the 14th game of the season?” Washington wide receiver Albert Connell said.

The Colts, experts for so many years at making mistakes, lost two fumbles and had a pass intercepted, but are now good enough to overcome such problems.

“To come in here after being picked not to do very well at all in our second year and win our division in a tough division feels very good,” said Jim Mora, who has his own playoff demons to tame.

Mora led the Saints to the playoffs four times, but failed to win a postseason game and finally quit in frustration.

“Who knows what lies ahead,” Indianapolis tight end Ken Dilger said. “We get in the playoffs, get on a roll, start scoring some points and you never know. The Super Bowl is wide open.”

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Unfortunately for Washington, that means first doing something it hasn’t done under Turner--get into the playoffs.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

THE PLAYOFF PICTURE

AFC

* WHO’S IN

x-Indianapolis: 12-2

y-Jacksonville: 13-1

Tennessee: 11-3

* CONTENDING FOR REMAINING THREE SPOTS

y-Kansas City: 9-5

Buffalo : 9-5

Miami: 9-5

Seattle: 8-6

Baltimore: 7-7

Oakland: 7-7

NFC

* WHO’S IN

x-St. Louis: 12-2

* CONTENDING FOR REMAINING FIVE SPOTS

y-Tampa Bay: 9-5

y-Washington: 8-6

Detroit: 8-6

Green Bay: 7-6

Minnesota: 7-6

N.Y. Giants: 7-7

Dallas: 7-7

Carolina: 7-7

x-clinched division

y-leads division

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