LANDOVER, Md. (AP) _ The late Sean Taylor's No. 21 was everywhere, right there in black and white, a symbol as plain as could be.
On coach Joe Gibbs’ baseball cap. On patches sewn onto the players’ uniforms and stickers affixed to their helmets. On gray T-shirts commemorating the Washington Redskins’ wild-card berth that seemed so improbable only a month ago.
And, as the Redskins were quick to note, in the margin of victory Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. That 27-6 win improved Washington to 4-0 since the entire organization traveled to Florida for Pro Bowl safety Taylor’s funeral early this month.
“As soon as we got in the locker room, everybody started yelling out, ‘We won by 21!’ Everybody was screaming that out,” defensive end Phillip Daniels said. “To win by 21 on this day, to get into the playoffs — oh, man, that’s a great feeling.”
After all of the heartache over the loss of a teammate and friend, after all of the nailbiters on the field, all of the second-half slip-ups, all of the demoralizing defeats, the Redskins (9-7) are suddenly heading to the postseason.
They’re doing it on quite a run, filled not only with victories but with relatively easy ones.
The Cowboys were held to a franchise-record-low 1 yard rushing, went 0-for-11 on third-down conversions and were outgained 354-147.
Clinton Portis became the first opponent to run for 100 yards against Dallas this season, gaining 104 on 25 carries, while 36-year-old quarterback Todd Collins continued his personal renaissance by going 22-for-31 for 244 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss.
It all added up to the Redskins’ fourth consecutive victory by at least eight points, the team’s longest such streak since 1984, during Hall of Fame coach Gibbs’ first tenure in town.
“To think, four weeks ago, where we were, and where we are tonight — it was a great experience and a great ride,” said Gibbs, whose team will play at the NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks on Saturday.
“To get in the playoffs was a dream of ours,” Gibbs added, “and four weeks ago, obviously, everybody would have said, ‘You know, it looks next to impossible.’”
Washington was in a similar spot two seasons ago, when it ended the regular season with five straight victories to sneak into the playoffs.
This time, it turned out the Redskins didn’t even need their victory over rival Dallas in the regular-season finale, because the two clubs they were fighting for the final NFC berth, Minnesota and New Orleans, both lost.
Indeed, Gibbs said he didn’t want anyone to know what happened in either of those teams’ games, so as to stay focused on the task at hand.
It helped, surely, that Dallas (13-3) already had clinched home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. Star receiver Terrell Owens (sprained ankle) was among four Cowboys starters who didn’t play at all, and quarterback Tony Romo left with 61/2 minutes to go in the third quarter and Washington already ahead 20-3.
“Do you want to win the game? Darn right you do. Do you want to compete? It’s difficult sometimes,” said Romo, 7-for-16 for 86 yards and an interception. “They played with a lot of emotion and a lot of intensity.”
That was due, in large part, to thinking about Taylor, the 24-year-old who was shot at his home during what police believe was a burglary and died the next day.
His name is written in capital letters on a lighted sign that hangs above one end zone. Shortly before Sunday’s opening kickoff, the Redskins gathered in the other end zone around kick returner Rock Cartwright, who delivered a fiery speech.
“Play for the guy who’s on your jersey — the guy who’s not here, who should be here,” Cartwright said he told teammates. “We know how he played the game. That’s why I think guys came out and played so hard.”
During pregame ceremonies, former Redskins defensive lineman Dexter Manley revived memories of the old days by leading cheers of “We want Dallas!” Coincidentally, those exact words were written by Taylor during training camp on an autographed photo discovered on the Internet by Daniels’ wife. Daniels shared that photo with teammates Saturday.
When Portis, a college teammate of Taylor’s at Miami, scored his second TD on a 1-yard run in the third quarter, he lifted his jersey to reveal a T-shirt he's been wearing dedicated to his pal’s memory.
“We’re never going to forget about him. Any time I get my shine on, any time I do something good, there is always somebody there with me, and that’s Sean T.,” Portis said after the game, when he sported red shoes, a red scarf and a fedora. “I just want to make sure the memory of him stays alive.”