- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2000

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. One reason Norv Turner is a quarterback's best friend is because he knows how to cover his man's back. Just when things were looking bleak for Brad Johnson just when fans were wondering if he had a tired arm and were calling for him to be replaced by Jeff George Turner took the heat off his QB with a few well-drawn X's and O's.

There were plenty of reasons the Redskins beat the Giants, 16-6, last night, but none were bigger than the three passes Johnson threw to James Thrash, Irving Fryar and Albert Connell in the second quarter. The first went for 46 yards, the next for 23 and a touchdown and the last for 48. Just like that, Washington had a confidence-boosting 10-0 cushion, and the way the defense was playing it didn't even need that many points.

Once upon a time, nobody would have blinked an eye if the Redskins passing attack had reeled off gains of 46, 23 and 48 yards, one right after the other. At the beginning of last season, it seemed like they did that every week; Connell and Michael Westbrook practically took turns terrorizing secondaries. But the rest of the league eventually wised up, started giving the Washington receivers more room, and the big plays became a lot less frequent.

Then Westbrook tore up his knee this year in the Detroit game, and the Redskins lost their top downfield threat. At times against the Lions and Cowboys, even a modest 10-yard completion appeared beyond them. Everything was dink and dunk. You asked yourself: Is this team going to be able to score points with Irving Fryar, Thrash and Andre Reed as its second, third and fourth wideouts?

But last night Norv found a way to get people open. More than anything, he found a pigeon to take advantage of Giants cornerback Dave Thomas. It was Thomas who was victimized on the 46-yarder to Thrash, who was in the vicinity (with Jason Sehorn) on the 48-yarder to Connell and who bit on the pump fake that resulted in a 21-yard TD pass to newcomer Andre Reed in the third quarter. The other Dave Thomas, the Wendy's guy, probably could have covered the Redskins better than he did.

"We saw in their game against Chicago that, in that particular defense, Thomas was going to be singled up against Thrash," offensive assistant Terry Robiskie said. "We thought they would be comfortable with that matchup because James is somewhat of an unknown. And we liked it, too, because we know James can run [fast]."

Obviously, Norv saw some things on the game films he could exploit not just Thomas' vulnerability, but the tendency of the Giants secondary to be overaggressive near the goal line. Fryar's score, after all, also came on a pump fake (strong safety Sam Garnes falling for it). It isn't often you see the same trick work twice in the NFL, but that's the kind of night it was for the Redskins and the Giants.

"We've had receivers open [on pump fakes] a couple of times this year and either haven't protected [the quarterback] well enough or haven't made the throw," Norv said. "Tonight we did both."

This was a game the Snydermen had to have. A 1-3 record with Tampa Bay coming to town would have put them in desperate straits indeed. Who knows what course the season would have taken at that point? "Everybody realized what it meant if we lost this game," Keith Sims said. "I wouldn't say there was a lot of tension [around Redskin Park]. I would call it seriousness."

Tense, serious, however you want to characterize the Redskins' state of mind, they responded with a complete game moving the ball well against a good Giants defense and completely shutting down Kerry Collins and Co. Collins looked dazed and confused for most of the evening.

But where was this effort the first three weeks? Why did the Redskins need to flirt with catastrophe before they began playing up to their payroll? Have they figured it out now? Have they figured out the level they have to perform at to win week in and week out? Or are will they continue to need occasional refresher courses? We shall see.

It's clear the defense is going to have to carry them. The offense has yet to score more than 21 points and the opposition isn't going to get any easier. The Bucs, Titans and Ravens have three of the best defenses in the NFL. Also, I'd be surprised if pump fakes work very well in the future. Fryar and Reed will probably have to get open on their own from now on.

Fortunately for the Redskins, the defense looks up to the job. It kept the Giants off the scoreboard until the last three minutes of the game this, after holding the Lions and Panthers to a single touchdown, total. Make no mistake, the Redskins can play some defense serious playoff defense. And if LaVar Arrington, who got his first start last night, can add to the pass rush, the unit should only get stronger.

The happiest development of all is that Brad Johnson should feel a little more secure this week. The first deep ball he threw to Connell with Giants linebacker Jessie Armstead bearing down on him was a beauty, a Pro Bowl throw. On the Washington sideline, Turner must have been smiling. He talked all week about how a single play a single, well-executed play can change everything for a quarterback and an offense. The Redskins had several well-executed plays last night. It could be a beginning.

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