ASHBURN, Va. (AP) -Washington Redskins receiver Antwaan Randle El knows what it's like to cruise into the playoffs as a division champion. He also knows what it's like to win four straight at the end of the regular season to snag the final postseason berth.
Guess which year he won his Super Bowl ring.
It was the underdog year, of course, when the Pittsburgh Steelers of two seasons ago became the first team to win three playoffs games on the road before capturing the NFL title. The year before, the Steelers were a 15-1 team that lost its edge in January and fell in the AFC championship game.
That's why Randle El thinks momentum ought to count for something in Saturday's first-round game against the Seattle Seahawks. And, for sure, no one has entered this year's playoffs with more momentum than the Redskins.
``It's hard to just show up, you know what I mean?'' Randle El said. ``It's hard to start playing extremely well in the playoffs, and that's why I'm glad we've been playing well leading up to it and having to win out. That's one of the biggest things. The other thing is not letting up now.''
The Seahawks have known for a while they were likely going to win the NFC West, and they haven't played a team that finished with a winning record since Week 5. The Redskins are battle-tested as can be - every opponent on their schedule except Miami and the New York Jets finished 7-9 or better - and their four-game, season-ending winning streak included road victories against the New York Giants and Minnesota.
``I wouldn't want to play us right now,'' defensive end Phillip Daniels said. ``To be honest with you, I wouldn't. Because of the things we've done. We've played solid defense, the offense has played great, special teams. We're hitting on all cylinders right now.''
Daniels would not have dared utter those sentiments when the Redskins traveled to Seattle for a playoff game two years ago. That was a one-dimensional Washington team that set an NFL record by gaining only 120 yards in a playoff victory at Tampa Bay the week before. An aging Mark Brunell was the quarterback then; now it's a revitalized Todd Collins. The Seahawks won 20-10, throttling the Redskins for three quarters before a late, modest rally.
``We're a lot better team than that one,'' veteran cornerback Shawn Springs said. ``We were really struggling on offense in 2005.''
Once again, the defense has been outstanding down this season's homestretch, especially considering the loss of Sean Taylor and the season-ending injuries to Carlos Rogers and Rocky McIntosh. Last week's win over Dallas was proof of how both the young and the old are contributing: Springs had his fourth interception in four games, while undrafted first-year player Chris Wilson had two sacks.
Over the past four games, the Redskins have led the league in rushing defense (71.8 yards per game), including the measly 1 yard gained on the ground by the Cowboys. As a result, teams are throwing more to try to beat Springs and Fred Smoot in the man-to-man, but it's not working.
An NFL-high 172 passes were attempted against the Redskins defense over those four games, but only 50 percent were completed. The defense held quarterbacks to an NFC-low 5.1 yards per attempt.
``I can only speak for myself - there were some uncharted waters,'' said second-year safety Reed Doughty, who struggled in his first game after Taylor suffered a knee injury and stayed in the lineup after Taylor's death. ``I'm sure they were wondering how I'd respond. I'm glad that I've kind of come around and been able to help the team.''
Coaches and players differ widely on the importance of momentum. In the Redskins' locker room on Wednesday, it was easy to find a player who believed in it standing near one who said it didn't matter. All agreed that Washington is not a typical sixth seed content with merely making the playoffs - the team is playing too well and with too much purpose, having dedicated the season to Taylor's memory.
``We're not happy just to be here,'' linebacker London Fletcher said. ``We feel like we can do some damage.''
One would think coach Joe Gibbs would have the ultimate read on his team, but the Hall of Fame coach said he's not very good at figuring such things out. He said one of the Redskins' best performances this season came after he thought the players weren't ``mentally with it'' in the locker room before the game.
Gibbs did say that the trauma of dealing with Taylor's death has made this team different, and that the must-win attitude adopted when the record was 5-7 has only reinforced the notion of that intangible called Big Mo.
``We've actually been in that environment for four weeks, so hopefully that plays in our favor,'' Gibbs said. ``I'm hoping that carries over.''
Notes: As he has done throughout the winning streak, Gibbs has his players walk through the game plan on the field instead of holding a regular Wednesday practice. ... WR James Thrash, a top special teams players, remained in a walking boot with a sprained ankle. Gibbs said he was concerned over Thrash's availability for Saturday. ... Collins was chosen as the NFC's offensive player of the month for December.

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