The Washington Redskins faced their arch-rivals the Dallas Cowboys, in their final regular season game of 2007. Washington needed a win to guarantee themselves a spot in the playoffs, and played with the heart of a desperate, hungry team. On the strength of two Clinton Portis touchdowns, a Todd Collins-to-Santana Moss 42-yard major, and two Shaun Suisham field goals, the Redskins pounded the Cowboys 27-6 to earn the final Wild Card slot.
The Cowboys had little to play for on Sunday, as they had already clinched the NFC's first seed; and yet, Dallas played most of their starters into the third quarter. Despite the risk of injuries, the Cowboys opted to keep guys like Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Marion Barber and Julius Jones in the game to give them a shot at some individual marks, and the team a shot at a franchise best fourteenth victory of the season.
Barber started the game just nineteen yards shy of 1000 on the season, but he would finish 25 short thanks to an inspired Redskin defense. In more than a half of action, Jones finished with seven yards rushing and Barber finished with -6 yards rushing; the resulting one total rushing yard was the Cowboys worst run total ever.
Witten came in needing just 6 catches to reach the ever-elusive 100 receptions for a tight end, and just 8 receptions to break Tony Gonzalez' record 102 receptions. He finished with two (96 for the season).
Playing the big guns didn't help, or matter - the Redskins were already up 20-3 when coach Wade Phillips decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and pulled most of his first-stringers. Ultimately, the mighty Cowboys still fell to the surging Redskins, and were denied the record-breaking fourteenth win.
With the victory, Washington closed out the season with four tough victories - an amazing accomplishment considering that they had lost four in a row previous to that, and had fallen to a record of 5-7. Add to the equation, the tragic and senseless death of Sean Taylor, and it's a testament to the Redskins' character, that they didn't quit on the season a month ago.
"We went through a rough stretch where we faced some tough losses," Suisham said, "Obviously Sean's death has been difficult for us to deal with as a friend and teammate. With the help of our owner Dan Snyder and our coaching staff, I feel we have been able to transition from mourning, to playing with passion to honor Sean."
Washington have not lost a game since they attended the funeral of their beloved friend - and Taylor's spirit is very much a driving force in the Redskins' resurgence.
"There is no doubt in my mind that Sean has been with us, and it was definitely felt in the locker room before and after the game Sunday," the Canadian kicker offered, "Sean is close to our hearts and in our thoughts, and Coach Gibbs recognized that. After all, we did win by 21 points."
Another major driving force in the team's unity and perseverance is Joe Gibbs. Despite a mountain of criticism and adversity, Gibbs has held the Redskins together like perhaps only he could. A team rife with injuries and distractions has actually stepped up their game, not given up. The drain on the Hall-Of-Fame coach has to be massive, and yet, he keeps his head held high and inspires all with his humility and his humanity.
When you combine an ever-unassuming coach, with an ever-unassuming player, the result is often an exemplary team player - like Suisham.
With Sunday's two-for-two day at Fed Ex, Suisham capped off one of the best seasons ever for a Redskin kicker. His 29-for-35 field goal total in 2007 is the second highest completion percentage in Redskin history (82.9%), behind only Mark Moseley's near perfect 20-for-21 season (1982).
On top of the completion mark, the Canadian had countless tough condition long kicks, and two walk-off overtime game winners, in this, his first ever complete NFL season. So what was the highlight of this epic season for Shaun?
"At home, playing against the Cowboys with the playoffs on the line - to come out of the game with a win, headed to the playoffs is the best feeling I have ever had in my football career."
The consummate team player never thinks of individual achievement - not even in the light of great personal success.
It's that kind of selflessness that has propelled this Redskin team past a multitude of obstacles, and into the playoffs.