PHILADELPHIA It's happening so fast for the Redskins. They've hovered around .500 for lo these many years - sometimes a little above, sometimes a little below, sometimes making the playoffs, sometimes not - and now suddenly they're a Team To Be Feared, a bona fide Super Bowl contender in the NFL's most punishing division.
There's no other way to describe them after the last two weeks, after they went to Dallas and hit the Cowboys over the head, then went to Philadelphia on Sunday and did likewise to the Eagles in a 23-17 victory. But it's not just the winning on the road against quality opponents - it's the way the Redskins are winning. In both games, they ran the ball with authority, had a big edge in time of possession, came back from an early deficit, didn't make mistakes and slammed the door shut in the final minutes by killing the clock. Not to get anyone too excited, but this is how championship teams conduct themselves.
Let the record show that in the Redskins' biggest game of the season to date, the one that makes all things possible - the division title, the conference championship, the works - they had zero turnovers against Philly, gave up one sack and committed just three penalties for 24 yards. So if you're wondering how this team got to be so good, so fast, a big part of the answer is: because they're doing almost nothing to beat themselves. Football smarts, discipline, focus - call it what you want. They Redskins have it.
They also have a 4-1 record, good for a tie for second in the NFC East, and four straight wins. They haven't had a streak like that in the first half of a season since 2000, when they won five in a row under Norv Turner. But it's been a lot longer than that since they won back-to-back games like the last two, games that basically put the Redskins back on the NFL map.
Watching them come of age against the Eagles, it was hard not to think back on another early season game in Philadelphia: the 1982 opener at Veterans Stadium. There were no great expectations for that Redskins club either. Joe Gibbs was in just his second year as coach, and his roster was ridden with Total Unknowns. But the Redskins came from behind that day to beat Philly in overtime and, well, you know the rest. A few months later, they were hoisting their first Lombardi Trophy.
Are the current Redskins in the process of catching lightning in a bottle like Gibbs' Redskins did? We'll have to see. There is, after all, much football to be played. But they certainly seem capable of great things, especially with their young quarterback, Jason Campbell, making such progress.
Never was this more evident than Sunday, when Campbell basically had to operate the offense with one hand tied behind his back. The Eagles decided to take away his favorite target, Santana Moss, by rolling up the corner and playing a safety over the top when he was lined up outside, doubling him when he was lined up inside or blitzing so hard and so fast that "[Jason] didn't have time to get the ball to him," Jim Zorn said. "Defense can do this, pound their fist and say, 'You will not do this.' I found it very frustrating."
If a 55-year-old coach can find it frustrating, imagine what it does to a 26-year-old QB. As Campbell put it, "Their defense is so quick, brings so much pressure, you almost have to have eight eyes to see everybody." And Moss, generously listed at 5-10, isn't exactly the easiest guy to find.
So Santana, who was No. 2 in the league in receiving yards at the start of the day, wound up with a grand total of no catches. Not a one. And yet the Redskins were able to move the ball - consistently - and keep it out of the clutches of Donovan McNabb and Co. It might have been Campbell's most impressive performance yet, even though his numbers (16-for-29 for 176 yards with no touchdowns) might look ordinary.
Another receiver, feeling unloved, might have caused a fuss, but Moss simply embraced his Inner Downfield Blocker and helped clear a path for Clinton Portis, who rushed for 145 yards against the league's top-rated run defense. Indeed, said Portis, Santana was coming up to him on the sideline and chirping excitedly, "Man, I'm blocking like you out there."
Unselfish displays like Moss' contribute mightily to the positive vibe that envelops the Redskins. And Zorn helps, too, with his unpredictable play calling, which amuses his players and keeps them loose in tense situations - like fourth-and-a-long-1 at the Philadelphia 38 with 2:53 left.
The Book says you're supposed to punt in such a circumstance. Zorn, however, begs to differ. Zorn turns to his running back and says, "What should we call, Clinton?" Portis tells him, then picks up 3 yards on a draw to sew up the game.
"You don't know what we're going to do," Portis said. "[On] third-and-25, he might come at you with a run. [On] third-and-inches, we might come at you with a deep ball."
This much we do know, though: The Redskins are officially For Real.