- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2000

The first drive may show whether the Washington Redskins will beat the Tennessee Titans tonight at FedEx Field.

The Titans (6-1) haven't allowed even a first down this season during opponents' first drives. That's seven three-and-outs. The Redskins (6-2) have scored on three opening drives this season and 10 of the last 24 games. Fans could know if it's the Redskins' night before their seats are warm.

"Most coaches talk about starting fast those first drives being the difference in close games. We put an emphasis on those," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "We're quick and fast."

Washington led 7-0 after opening possessions against Carolina, Dallas and Jacksonville and are 5-1 when scoring first. That's usually a good sign for the Redskins, who are 29-19-1 when leading first during coach Norv Turner's seven seasons compared to 19-36 when trailing early.

The Redskins spend a hefty part of the offensive preparation that begins each Tuesday on the start of the game. The opening 15 plays are scripted on a sheet Turner carries on the sideline. Besides contingencies for third-and-short situations, the Redskins often follow the plan.

"So many things dictate whether you score," Turner said. "You'd like to keep the ball eight to nine plays so you can mix in a number of formations to get an idea of how the other team's plan to defend you is. If you can get points, that helps, but what you do throughout the game comes from the first 10 to 12 plays."

However, an early lead for the Redskins against the Titans could mean the game plan suddenly crystallizes run Stephen Davis. With 802 yards and eight touchdowns, Davis continues his two-season run as a dominator.

"If we get the lead we're going to pound it down your throat," quarterback Brad Johnson said. "That's what Stephen's built for. He has the quickness to break the 1-on-1 tackles with the secondary, but he's a workhorse you can give it to 20 to 25 times a game."

Having a plan doesn't always help Johnson gain insight into how the game will develop, though.

"I have no clue how the games are going to be played after the first quarter," he said. "I take it a drive at a time. The first drive everyone is jumpy. It's usually loud. It's tough to get a feel for how a game will go because everyone is so jumpy. The third quarter you feel more relaxed and into the flow of the game."

The Redskins are certainly hoping to feel more relaxed than their last Monday night appearance, when they became the butt of Dennis Miller's jokes. Dallas upset Washington 27-21 on Sept. 11 to drop the Redskins to 1-2. Washington has won five straight since and wants to regain its reputation as a Super Bowl contender against defending AFC champion Tennessee.

"The way we played the last Monday night was not indicative of the way we could perform," cornerback Deion Sanders said. "We played less than our talent level should suggest. This Monday night we have some wonderful things in store."

Said receiver Irving Fryar: "There's something for both of us to prove, and what better stage than 'Monday Night Football'?"

But Johnson doesn't see the need to prove anything. After all, hasn't Washington just marched through the New York Giants, Philadelphia and Jacksonville and beaten Tampa Bay and Baltimore at home? That's four playoff contenders plus a dangerous Jacksonville team.

"You can't get caught up in the perception that the world's watching," Johnson said. "I think we play the toughest schedule in football, and it's not going to get any easier in the next few weeks."

The Redskins certainly won't let anyone drift off in the wee hours. The stadium announcer may be muted when Tennessee breaks its huddle after the NFL warned Washington a fourth violation of the noise policy would cost a draft pick, but fans are free to disrupt the Titans.

"Our fans know it's third down, and they're going to be loud," Turner said. "If they're concerned about the band playing a beat or two too long or the announcer saying "Third down," I think our fans can pick up the slack on their own."

Said Fisher: "We know it's going to be loud. We have a plan to communicate the snap count with the crowd noise. You really don't pay attention to those things. If it's loud, it's loud."

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