- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 19, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO — Linebacker LaVar Arrington completed a successful return from a nearly season-long knee injury yesterday, playing about two dozen snaps in the Washington Redskins’ 26-16 win over the San Francisco 49ers.

Arrington, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in late September and missed a total of 11 games, flashed moments of his Pro Bowl form and said he emerged without any setbacks.

“It was an experience,” Arrington said. “It was like playing football for the first time. It was really good.”

Of his right knee, which required surgery to repair a torn meniscus and later was revealed to have a bone bruise, he said, “It held up good.”

Washington’s defense didn’t seem to miss Arrington the past three months, maintaining a ranking among the league’s best. Still, teammates said they could sense a difference with their most feared player back in the lineup, even if Arrington wasn’t quite playing with his trademark abandon.

“It took the focus off a lot of us,” linebacker Antonio Pierce said. “Regardless of whether he was 100 percent, we had LaVar back out there. All them eyes were on [No.] 56.”

Assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams had hoped to play Arrington for “20-30” snaps and estimated after the game the goal had been met. Most of Arrington’s snaps came at defensive end in rush packages, but he also managed to get a few snaps in the base defense.

Williams was pleased Arrington returned but emphasized that no single player will make a huge difference on this unit.

“We want as many good players [in the lineup] as we can, and he’s a very good football player,” Williams said. “It was really good to have him out there, especially because we lost a very good player last week in [cornerback] Shawn Springs. It’s a credit to the whole group. We’ve been doing this all year.”

Closing the gap

The Redskins moved a step closer to their oft-stated goal of having the NFL’s No. 1 defense. Washington entered the day having surrendered 60 more yards than the Pittsburgh Steelers. Following both teams’ games, the difference was 36 yards.

With Pittsburgh having eked out a 33-30 win over the New York Giants earlier in the day, the Redskins knew exactly how many yards they could give up to move into first place. The 49ers, however, rallied for 84 yards in the final quarter to ruin Washington’s goal.

“We knew [the stats] the whole fourth quarter,” linebacker Antonio Pierce said. “That’s why we were so upset we gave up all those yards. We’re fighting for a lot of pride and respect.”

1,500 for Portis?

His per-carry average (3.1) wasn’t impressive, but Redskins tailback Clinton Portis still managed to crack the 100-yard barrier and keep alive his drive for a third straight 1,500-yard season.

With 110 hard-earned yards on 35 rushes against the 49ers, Portis now has 1,283 for the season. He’ll need 217 yards over his final two games (against Dallas and Minnesota) to reach 1,500 — a mark he accomplished the last two years in Denver.

“It would be a great accomplishment, but you can’t be focused on it,” Portis said. “We need these wins. If I get it, it will be great.”

Portis had trouble getting going yesterday against San Francisco’s run defense. He had just 39 yards on 17 carries in the first half, and that was before he was stuffed for a 10-yard loss on first-and-goal in the third quarter.

Gibbs never stopped giving Portis the ball, though, and by day’s end, he had reached triple digits for the fifth time this season.

“Anytime you can get 35 runs in a game, it’s going to wear a defense down,” Portis said. “You’re going to find nicks and cracks, and eventually you’re going to come up with some big plays.”

Brown gets a shot

The Redskins activated punt returner Antonio Brown for the first time this season, hoping the speedy receiver might make a case for the future.

Brown, though, was a nonfactor in the victory. He returned three punts for eight yards and signaled for one fair catch.

The Redskins signed Brown after top return man Chad Morton suffered a season-ending knee injury. To date, though, all returns had been handled by James Thrash and Ladell Betts, leaving Brown in street clothes.

Happy return

Jeff Chandler made 14 of 19 field goal tries in his two seasons for San Francisco, but unhappiness with his short kickoffs prompted his release after just two games in 2003. A fourth-round pick in the 2002 draft, Chandler caught on with Carolina for two games earlier this season. Cut after failing to convert either of his field goal attempts, Chandler signed with Washington Wednesday when the team put John Hall on injured reserve.

Chandler earned some revenge yesterday by kicking field goals of 20, 25, 26 and 49 yards. The latter was Washington’s longest since Hall hit from the same distance Nov. 30, 2003, against New Orleans.

“Getting the chance to come back here and kind of prove to them that I could do it, I relish the challenge and that’s what I did today,” Chandler said. “I had a pretty good day. It’s a little more special because it’s tough to do well [in usually windy Monster Park].”

Chandler is Washington’s 13th kicker in the last seven seasons. That list began with Scott Blanton, David Akers and Cary Blanchard (1998) and continued with Brett Conway (1999) before Kris Heppner, Michael Husted, Scott Bentley and Eddie Murray all got their kicks in during 2000. Conway, who had gotten hurt in 2000, returned in 2001. Jose Cortez and James Tuthill followed in 2002 before Hall arrived last year. Ola Kimrin filled in when Hall was injured earlier this season.

Blocked

The Redskins had their first punt blocked in nearly two years, and it cost them a safety. The 49ers’ Keith Lewis overran Todd Franz and blocked Tom Tupa’s punt from the Washington 10 with 2:14 to go in the first half. Tupa saved the Redskins five points by booting the loose ball out of the end zone before a 49er could recover it.

“That was totally on me,” Franz said. “My technique was a little sloppy, and I let the guy get into me and overpower me. You just can’t do that. I feel really bad for Tom.”

Nothing on the line

The Redskins (5-9) and 49ers (2-12) will finish under .500, as they did last year. That hadn’t happened in two straight seasons since 1963 and 1964.

By contrast, Washington and San Francisco combined for eight Super Bowl titles and 15 NFC Championship game appearances in 17 seasons — including 1983 when they faced each other — from 1981 to 1997.

Inactives/injuries

Cornerback Shawn Springs (concussion) was inactive along with receiver Darnerien McCants, offensive linemen Jim Molinaro, Vaughn Parker and Dan Goodspeed and defensive linemen Ryan Boschetti and Cedric Killings. Tim Hasselbeck was the third quarterback.

McCants and Boschetti had started in last week’s 17-14 loss to Philadelphia because of the packages the Redskins used to open the game.

The Redskins reported just two injuries. Safety Sean Taylor suffered a lacerated lip and tight end Chris Cooley strained a calf.

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