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A confidence builder

- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2006

NEW ORLEANS.

Call it more than a sophomore slump. Call it a sinkhole.

Week after week, opposing quarterbacks picked on Carlos Rogers and came away smiling. If the Redskins cornerback wasn't chasing receivers who beat him deep, he was allowing a cushion wide enough to hold the Redskins' marching band on underneath routes.

Rogers, playing as a rookie, dropped a sure interception that would have been returned for a touchdown in the Redskins' playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks last season. Ever since, he has displayed a touch worthy of Roberto "Hands of Stone" Duran.

Rogers, however, did not cry "no mas," as Duran did in his loss to Prince Georges County's own Sugar Ray Leonard in the Superdome in 1980.

Facing a Saints offense that led the NFL in passing and total yards, Rogers instead made two huge plays that helped the Redskins to a 16-10 upset of the NFC South champions.

The Saints, trailing 13-10 with 10:36 remaining, wormed their way out of a third-and-19 hole at their own 6-yard line on a pass from quarterback Drew Brees to wideout Marques Colston.

On the next play, Rogers stepped in front of receiver Devery Henderson and -- after bobbling the ball -- intercepted his first pass of the season.

"It felt really good. Everyone has been asking me about [the lack of interceptions]," said Rogers, who was mobbed by his teammates after the play. "I was just sitting back, and I turned around, and he threw the ball to me. Catching it was the biggest thing."

Defensive end Phillip Daniels, who entered yesterday's game with more interceptions than Rogers, was thrilled that No. 22 finally corralled No. 1.

"I feel great for Carlos because he's taken a lot of heat this year," Daniels said. "That's his sophomore jinx, but he should be better for it down the road."

Assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams teased Rogers about bobbling the ball before finally hauling it in for good.

"I guess Carlos wants three interceptions on that one because it took him three times to catch it," Williams said. "That was a difference-making play."

The Redskins took that turnover and turned it into a field goal, leaving the Saints down six points with 4:09 remaining. On their next possession, the Saints converted a fourth-and-5 and a third-and-10 in reaching the Washington 19.

The Saints gained only 3 yards on their next three plays, forcing them to go for it on fourth-and-7 with 53 seconds remaining.

Brees fired a pass to receiver Terrance Copper in the end zone, but Rogers knocked the ball away to preserve the victory for the Redskins.

"When you're challenging and making them earn every single catch and play, you just kind of hope we're going to make one ourselves, and we did," Williams said.

Quarterback Jason Campbell then took a knee, and the Redskins had just their third win in the past 10 games.

"I kind of got my body around [Copper to prevent the catch]," Rogers said. "It's a confidence-booster. But I'm always confident no matter what anybody says or writes."

Coach Joe Gibbs, however, believed Rogers needed a game just like that.

"We need Carlos to play like that," Gibbs said. "I think now he's starting to get in the groove and be one of the corners that you put out there and leave out there. Hopefully, it's a confidence thing for him. It should be."

Safety Troy Vincent wasn't surprised by the big plays made by his proteges, Rogers and Sean Taylor, the young safety who set the tone with several jarring hits early in the game.

"Today we just made plays," said Vincent, a 35-year-old former Pro Bowl cornerback. "The balls bounced our way. We've been preparing properly, but we've been preparing the same way the last month. There was nothing miraculous, nothing magical about what we did. We were just the better team for three hours.

"Everyone in the world didn't give us a chance and rightfully so. We were a 4-9 team, and they were a 9-4 team."

Being 5-9 instead of 4-10 doesn't mean much, but it surely felt nice for Rogers and his teammates on the plane home last night.