- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2000

The Washington Redskins are playing with a swagger a confidence with a bite. When a quarterback body-slams a defensive end, it shows that the entire team believes it's invincible.

"We developed that swagger a couple weeks ago when we won two games in a row," receiver Irving Fryar said. "We have the confidence we need to know we can win a tough game."

Beating the Detroit Lions 27-13 on Saturday for their third straight win gives the Redskins increasing confidence entering Saturday's NFC semifinal against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. The 4 and 1/2-points underdog Redskins don't consider themselves long shots to make Super Bowl XXXIV on Jan. 30 after a recent streak that includes an overtime victory at San Francisco, their first win against a team (Miami) with a winning record in two seasons and a victory in their first playoff game since Jan. 1993.

"This is a game of confidence," fullback Larry Centers said. "It's a matter of building it and finding ways to improve even when you think you've gotten as good as you can possibly get."

Said offensive tackle Jon Jansen: "We have a right to be confident. We won the NFC East and we won the wild-card game. We played well. We just need to use the momentum of the last three weeks next week."

Ironically, overconfidence is now one of the Redskins' concerns. Will players still prepare hard against the Bucs, or will they be satisfied with the recent results?

"You can't act like you've arrived," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "That's been the immaturity of our team at times."

Coach Norv Turner said Tampa Bay (11-5) can deflate opponents quickly. The Bucs held eight opponents to 10 points or less and 235 overall, an average of just 14.7 points a game.

"They can embarrass you in a number of ways [like] running the football at you," he said. "They can just grind the ball out. Their defensive front is so fast that if you're not ready to play it can be humbling."

The Redskins especially can't take Bucs rookie quarterback Shaun King lightly. A second-round pick from Tulane who led the Green Wave to a 12-0 record last year, King is 4-1 as a starter with an 82.4 rating and seven touchdowns since replacing quarterback Trent Dilfer in game 12.

"The whole key is we've got to do a great job playing the run and then pressure goes on the quarterback," Turner said. "He's handled what they've done extremely well. He's such a good competitor and was so successful in college that he's a very confident player."

On Saturday, the defense allowed only Ron Rivers' 5-yard touchdown reception with no time remaining. The Lions scored earlier in the fourth quarter on a blocked field goal but otherwise didn't venture into Washington territory until the third quarter. They got inside the red zone just once.

The Redskins (11-6) have allowed more than 21 points defensively only once in the last eight games and just 50 points in the last five home games. However, players say they're not doing anything different than when they surrendered more than 30 points five times in the first nine games.

"We haven't changed plays," defensive end Ndukwe Kalu said. "We practiced just as hard in week one. For some reason, everything's gelling. Maybe it's time."

Said linebacker Greg Jones: "I don't know if we're doing anything different now. Things are happening. We haven't changed our philosophy."

Maybe it's the weekly dinners at local restaurants by defensive and offensive units and increased veteran leadership that have formed the late-season cohesion. When Johnson fought Lions defensive end Robert Porcher to set off a scrum, the entire team became enraged.

"You just see people sticking up for one another," Kalu said. "It bonds us more."

Indeed, Turner has been impressed by the emerging team chemistry.

"Each step of the way through the season we've become more and more of a team," he said. "It's not offense, defense, special teams. This is a team. The guys genuinely care for each other and genuinely enjoy watching each other perform. The offensive guys watch the defense, the defense watches the offense and I think they appreciate what each other's done. That's what it is to be a team."

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