HOUSTON — Forget that it’s only late September and, win or lose yesterday, 13 games remained for the Washington Redskins.
In a conference like the NFC and a division like the NFC East, 0-3 means oh no. And late Saturday night at the team hotel, coach Joe Gibbs successfully made his point.
“He said it was time,” longtime lieutenant Joe Bugel said. “The football season is much shorter than a baseball season, and our guys knew it. They got the message from Joe.”
A few hours later, the Redskins showed that they understood with a thorough 31-15 victory over the lowly Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium. The win started the season-saving portion of the Redskins’ schedule and was their first of any kind in six months and 17 days.
“It’s been a long haul for us — six weeks without anything to cheer about,” Gibbs said. “It would have been easy for the players to get down during this period, but I don’t think they did.”
Quarterback Mark Brunell, so ineffective against Minnesota and Dallas, was 24-for-27 for 261 yards and one touchdown, and his 22 consecutive completions to start the game set an NFL record. Running back Clinton Portis returned after a one-game absence to rush for 86 yards and two touchdowns.
The Redskins (1-2) are halfway out of the hole they dug for themselves with stinkeroo losses to Minnesota and Dallas. And though back-slapping and laughter returned to the locker room, there also was the realization that plenty of work remains.
“We’ve fought ourselves out of tough situations before, and by no means are we out of this one,” right tackle Jon Jansen said. “But this is a step in the right direction. Next week we have to take another step.”
That next step will require many of the components the Redskins used against the Texans, who fell to 0-3 with the losses coming by a combined 52 points.
The Redskins’ 495 yards of offense were the most since Gibbs returned in 2004, and they also solved third-down issues on offense (9-for-13) and defense (3-for-7).
“There are a lot of things we can do better, but I’m going to focus on the things we did well,” Gibbs said.
A sampling of the positives:
An accurate, albeit short-range, passing game. Associate head coach-offense Al Saunders tailored the game plan to include things that make Brunell feel comfortable: short drops and quick, high-percentage throws. The result was a 22-for-22 start that broke Rich Gannon’s record of 21 straight for Oakland against Denver in November 2002.
“Hopefully, we can keep this going, and it will launch us into next week,” said Brunell, referring to the matchup against his former team, Jacksonville. “But we understand we have a lot of tough games coming up.”
Plenty of Portis. Limited to 10 carries against Minnesota and on the sideline against Dallas, Portis had touchdown runs of 30 and 1 yards, and his 74-yard reception on a shovel pass helped set up the Redskins’ first touchdown.