- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2000

Like the rest of us, Marco Coleman couldn't wait to see the Redskins' first-string defense in action yesterday. The boss had spent millions to bring in Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith and Mark Carrier, but the unit hadn't been on the field all that much in the preseason. Was it a Steel Curtain, a Lace Curtain or something in between?
"I was definitely looking forward to playing four quarters together," Coleman said. "I wanted to see if we could last and fortunately we did. Everybody was in pretty good shape. But we still have a lot of room to improve. I'm looking forward to that as well."
That pretty well sums up the Redskins as a whole after their 20-17 victory over Carolina. For all their offseason hype, they're still a work in progress. They showed flashes against the Panthers six sacks by the defense and contributions by everybody from Stephen Davis to Zeron Flemister on offense but, make no mistake, they easily could have lost this game.
How easily? Well, if Carolina's Steve Beuerlein had simply thrown the ball away on a second-and-goal play from the Washington 2 just before halftime instead of taking a senseless sack (which led to a personal foul penalty against fullback William Floyd) the Panthers might have scored another touchdown. They also might have scored after a long kickoff return early in the fourth quarter by Michael Bates, but they never got the chance because it was called back.
Still, to my thinking, it was the perfect opener for the Redskins. There were plenty of things to feel good about and enough things to feel bad about (e.g. the kickoff coverage, which Norv Turner described as "horrible") to keep them humble. You don't want them getting too full of themselves in September, especially when the important games aren't until January.
Here's what you had to like about the Redskins' performance most of all: They gutted out a tough win over a credible opponent on a day when they were missing two starting offensive linemen (Tre Johnson and Cory Raymer). The Carolina defense made it hard for Brad Johnson by playing off his receivers and forcing him to accept little gains instead of large ones, but the offense persevered and racked up 396 yards.
"It was a great test," said Carrier. "We had to fight to win. Hey, it's not going to be easy this year."
And the Redskins had better get used to it.
If everybody defenses the Redskins the way the Panthers did, there aren't going to be nearly as many fireworks around here this year. Johnson threw only one pass to a wide receiver that gained more than 16 yards a 22-yarder to Irving Fryar late in the third quarter.
"They ran only one blitz all day early in the game," he said, sounding disappointed. "Last year we killed 'em with deep balls, and they didn't give us that."
Fortunately for the Redskins, they have a lot of weapons on offense as Carolina was reminded on the opening drive. Johnson came out and hit his first seven passes to six different receivers. The third one went to Flemister, the rookie free agent, which shows the Redskins aren't afraid to throw to anybody. As Norv Turner put it, "We have a bunch of players who have a chance to be 'the guy.' You don't have to be 'the guy' every week."
Davis was dynamite once he got rolling in the second half. On the go-ahead touchdown drive, he all but carried the Redskins on his back. But it was the defensive line that really got your attention, especially Coleman and Bruce Smith. Seriously, the Redskins haven't rushed the passer like this since the Last Days of Joe Gibbs. Beuerlein's stats 17 of 26 for 183 yards, with a touchdown and no interceptions were semi-miraculous, given the amount of time he spent on his back.
"I think they will be very happy with how that [defensive line] group will perform if they stay healthy," the Carolina QB said.
Ah, yes, staying healthy. The Redskins had a little scare along those lines in the second half. After sacking Beuerlein and forcing a fumble, Smith came up grabbing his left knee. It didn't look good at first; he couldn't put any weight on it at all. But a minute or so later he was walking gingerly on the sideline, and before long he was wheeling around Panthers offensive tackle Clarence Jones again.
Jones, poor fellow, was totally overmatched. The only reason he didn't have a holding penalty was that he couldn't get close enough to Smith to grab him. He did false-start a couple of hundred times, though which No. 78 understood completely.
"When you're going up against a guy who's renowned for getting around the corner," Smith said, "you're trying to do everything you possibly can to cheat and get out there. I think on a few occasions he was moving [before the snap]."
Football games are like plane landings any one you can walk away from is a good one. Yesterday's win over Carolina might not have been artistic in every way, but it sure beat the 41-35 loss to Dallas last year or the 31-24 loss to the Giants the year before. It was a nice start.
But only that.

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