- The Washington Times - Monday, November 20, 2000

This was supposed to be a preview of the NFC Championship game. Instead, the Washington Redskins are hoping their playoff dreams aren't another prime time failure.

The Redskins visit the St. Louis Rams tonight at the Trans World Dome in their third Monday night game this season, a contest at one time expected to be a showdown to determine which team gained a first-round bye in the playoffs.

The Redskins (6-4) now must win not only to stay near NFC West leader St. Louis (8-2) but also to remain close to NFC East front-runners Philadelphia (8-4) and New York Giants (7-4). The Redskins face those two teams over the next two weeks.

Prime time hasn't been kind to the Redskins, who lost to both Dallas and Tennessee by 27-21 scores on Monday nights.

"I don't know if it's a Monday night revenge, but I don't think ABC will want us back if we don't get one win," defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield said.

Indeed, players are upset that they've looked bad before national audiences this season. League-wide reputations are made in those games because other players are watching on Mondays and Pro Bowl ballots are often influenced by big games.

"I'm ready to prove to the world that we're one of the best teams in the NFL," offensive tackle Chris Samuels said.

The Redskins also are smarting from consecutive losses. Washington, which was idle on Nov. 12, hasn't won since it took its fifth straight victory on Oct. 22 against Jacksonville. Players haven't lost confidence yet, but one more loss could resurrect the early season chaos that followed a 1-2 start.

Unfortunately for the Redskins, they face a Super Bowl champion that is unexpectedly getting running back Marshall Faulk back just two weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery. The Rams are averaging 39.2 points with former Redskins quarterback Trent Green substituting for injured Kurt Warner.

"Trent will take a shot," Stubblefield said. "Trent isn't going to crack under pressure. He hasn't had many starts, but he never looks like he's mixed up or confused about anything."

There's nothing tricky about the Rams offense. The four- and five-wide sets have helped produce four receivers with more than 40 catches. This isn't a football team, but a relay track squad that swoops down the field.

"In certain parts of the game it's going to be [a track meet]," coach Norv Turner said. "We have to be able to match their speed and intensity. How do you stop this group? You don't. You try to limit the big plays, make them kick field goals and create some turnovers."

Said linebacker Shawn Barber: "If it's going to be a track meet, let it be one. We have [cornerbacks] Darrell Green, Deion Sanders and Champ Bailey."

The Redskins counter with the No. 2 overall defense and No. 1 secondary. With Green and Barber returning from injuries, the nickel defense matches up well with the Rams' passing game.

"This is probably the best matchup since I've been here," said Rams coach Mike Martz, who was the Redskins' quarterbacks coach in 1997 and '98. "The Redskins play great pass defense. They can pressure the quarterback with that front four without bringing a linebacker or a secondary player as a blitzer."

The Redskins want to control the ball with running back Stephen Davis, who could carry 30 times. However, that only works if the Rams don't jump to a quick lead. If the Redskins have to pass regularly, they must also overcome what is perhaps the NFL's loudest crowd. Washington already has played Detroit at the noisy Silverdome, but St. Louis rivals only Minnesota and Kansas City as near-deafening venues.

"It's pretty much four quarters of not being able to hear and talk, but I love playing in domes," quarterback Jeff George said. "Anytime you go into a place that has that much energy, it gets you fired up."

And that's what George said the Redskins have missed lately: emotion. The NFL's oldest roster is sometimes too serious in its approach.

"We haven't been having fun lately," George said. "If something big happens, jump around, pat a guy on the butt, high-five, do something. That stuff is contagious and if we play with a lot of emotion it rubs off."

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