One of the major factors in the Washington Redskins' strong finish last season was the defense's sudden knack for making big plays. The Redskins, who had forced just eight turnovers during a 5-5 start, took the ball away 20 times during the 5-1 stretch drive that earned them a playoff spot.
It's too soon to say history is repeating, but after forcing just five turnovers during this year's 3-6 start, Washington's defense recorded two takeaways in each of the past two games, a 20-17 loss at Tampa Bay and a 17-13 victory over Carolina.
While there certainly are other reasons that determine games, it's probably not coincidental the top four teams in takeaways (Chicago, Baltimore, Dallas and St. Louis) have a 30-14 record while the bottom four (Washington, New Orleans, Houston and Tampa Bay) are 17-27.
"It turned around at a good time for us last year, and we're hoping for the same thing this year," said Redskins linebacker Marcus Washington, who started the turnaround by falling on a bobbled snap at Tampa Bay. "You don't know when that ball is going to bounce out, and it bounces so funny sometimes."
Washington said the defense hasn't changed anything to force more turnovers. But left end Phillip Daniels credited assistant head coach Gregg Williams' decision to regularly commit four pash rushers instead of three for putting more pressure on Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme, who threw two interceptions.
Gibbs: No one talked
Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs doesn't believe one of his players complained anonymously to ESPN.com about the defensive coaches.
"I don't think one did," Gibbs said sharply. "If someone puts something out there and puts names on it, then I'll talk about it. If someone wants to quote somebody, then I'll deal with it. I think I have a good feel for our team, the way our team feels. When you lose, you have to understand that a lot of things are going to be said."
Novak in trouble?
Gibbs didn't rule out auditioning kickers today after Nick Novak missed a 37-yard field goal try against the Panthers and averaged reaching just the 13-yard line on his four kickoffs.
Novak is just 5-for-10 on field goal attempts. He beat out Todd Peterson and Jose Cortez and Tyler Jones, who was in camp with Washington this summer, in a tryout Oct. 10 after John Hall injured his groin. Hall was put on injured reserve the next day.
Mike Vanderjagt, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, was cut by Dallas yesterday.
Troy Vincent, who ceded the starting strong safety spot to Vernon Fox after straining a hamstring during the loss to the Buccaneers, plans to try to practice tomorrow after missing all of last week. The hamstring injury is the second this year for Vincent, 35. Receivers Santana Moss, who had his worst day as a Redskin with just 12 yards on three catches along with a drop, and David Patten, who missed a seventh straight game, also have ailing hamstrings.
"It's much, much better," Vincent said. "I try to test it a little bit every day. During training camp [with Buffalo], that was really the first time in my career I had a hamstring injury and I tried pushing through it, being what I call dumb tough. Now I understand that when you pull it, and it's a severe pull, you have to get off it."
Khary Campbell, Washington's top tackler on special teams, injured his right hamstring covering the kickoff after Chris Cooley's game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Redskins are concerned Campbell might miss time, at least in practice this week, as could offensive tackle Jon Jansen with a lingering calf strain.
Daniels, who played with a sprained wrist and sprained ankle, said he made it through the Carolina game without any further wear and tear. Daniels, who sat out practice Wednesday and Thursday with his ankle in a walking boot, wasn't wearing it yesterday and expects to be on the field for some work tomorrow.