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Let bygones be bygones

- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005

Sometimes a rookie makes the most sense.

Cornerback Carlos Rogers doesn't care about the Dallas Cowboys' recent mastery of the Washington Redskins, or even about the teams' long-standing rivalry.

"It's a big game, period, because I don't know the last time the Redskins won games back-to-back," Rogers said simply.

For Rogers and many of his teammates, tonight's game at Dallas is merely the second of 16 and a chance to win back-to-back games for the first time since late 2003 and enter the open week with a 2-0 record.

Rogers was a Georgia high school player when the Cowboys' dominance over the Redskins (14 wins in 15 meetings) began in the late 1990s. But it's still noteworthy because the struggles against Dallas mirror the Redskins' woes (3-15) against all NFC East rivals the last three seasons.

To turn around those poor marks, coach Joe Gibbs hopes his bold return to Mark Brunell as starting quarterback produces immediate results.

In its 9-7 win over Chicago in the opener, Washington averaged 4.8 yards a play but failed to score a touchdown. After a full week of practice, Gibbs is banking on the 35-year-old Brunell playing like he did as a Pro Bowler in Jacksonville.

Brunell failed as a Redskins starter last season mostly because he didn't move well and appeared to have a weak throwing arm. Given a second chance by Gibbs last week after Patrick Ramsey strained his neck against the Bears, Brunell was named the starter last Monday. Though Brunell appears healthier this season, there are other factors that suggest he can be more successful than during last season's 3-6 disaster as a starter.

• Receivers who care: Laveranues Coles and Rod Gardner are out. Santana Moss and David Patten are in, giving the Redskins better downfield threats and the ability to turn short passes into long gains.

"Laveranues and Rod didn't want to be here and be a part of what was going on, but now Mark has two guys that want to be here and will do anything to help him," former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann said. "Plus, Mark can anticipate the speed of the receivers better than Patrick can. He'll be able to get the ball out where Santana can run to it."

Last week Moss had four catches for 96 yards and Patten was effective over the middle, catching three passes for 19 yards. Throw in an improved Chris Cooley, and Brunell has more weapons.

"When Mark was playing last year, we weren't as good personnel-wise as we are now," Gibbs said.

• Better help up front: Last season Brunell played without solid right tackle Jon Jansen, who was out with an Achilles tendon injury. Add Casey Rabach to the mix and the line should protect Brunell better.

"Not having been here last year, I would like to say [it will help]," Jansen said. "Hopefully, we have a better understanding of the offense, and that's what will probably benefit Mark this time around." (Brunell was sacked 15 times in nine games last season.)

• A different Portis: For all the talk about changing blocking schemes, the big difference is that Clinton Portis is waiting for a hole to develop instead of trying to bounce his runs outside.

Portis rushed 21 times for 121 yards last week, and Ladell Betts added 41 yards on 12 carries. Portis needs one of his signature games (25-plus carries, 100-plus yards) for the Redskins to win tonight.

"We want to erase last year," he said of two three-point losses to Dallas. "We had them on the ropes each time and didn't find a way to win. We can't let it get down to the final play and leave it in their hands."

For his part, Brunell says the offense is "like night and day. We have different personnel, our system has changed and we've got a lot of talent. Things have come a long way since 12 months ago."

The Redskins will be facing a revamped Cowboys defense that has added youngsters (DeMarcus Ware and Marcus Spears) and veterans (Jason Robinson, Anthony Henry and Aaron Glenn). Henry and Glenn each had an interception last week against San Diego.

"They're very aggressive and talented," Brunell said. "They don't try to trick you. They line up in the 3-4, play their coverages and just try to beat you. Now they have a potent offense and a good passing attack with Drew [Bledsoe]. It's a huge challenge."