- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 21, 2000

ST. LOUIS Make no mistake: This Redskins team was built to beat to the Rams. Why else would YDan Snyder shell out millions for Deion Sanders when he already had Champ Bailey and Darrell Green? (Answer: Because you need three cover corners to keep up with the Rams receivers.) Why else would he sign Bruce Smith and then find a way to squeeze Marco Coleman under the salary cap, too? (Answer: Because if you don't get pressure on the Rams quarterback, he's going to kill you.) Ray Rhodes, Mark Carrier both were brought in with one thing in mind: beating the Rams, beating the Rams, beating the Rams.

You think the Redskins accumulated all this defensive talent because they were worried about the Bucs? It was all about the Rams, folks. It was all about keeping Mike Martz's supersonic offense under control. The Redskins knew back in the spring that the road to the Super Bowl would probably run through St. Louis again, even though a bunch of people were picking Tampa Bay, Washington, even Detroit.

Last night the Redskins got to see if all their offseason machinations were the right machinations. They got to see how Sanders, Bailey and Green matched up against Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Az-Zahir Hakim. They got to see if Shawn Barber could cover Marshall Faulk out of the backfield. They got to see if Smith could get around Orlando Pace enough times to disrupt the rhythm of the Rams' passing game.

Snyder and Norv Turner had to like the answers they received especially the one on the scoreboard: Washington 33, defending champion St. Louis 20. The Redskins flirted with disaster, spotting the Rams a 10-0 lead, but they kept their composure, stuck with their game plan and fought their way to victory. Given the circumstances, it had to be the best big-game performance in the Turner Era.

The most important number on the stat sheet, of course, was 20 the number of points the Rams scored. That's the key to beating St. Louis, keeping the score within reason, because its defense doesn't exactly remind you of the '70s Steelers. In fact, the only touchdown the Rams managed in the first 39 minutes was set up by an interception return deep into Washington territory. Other than that, the Redskins held them to a couple of field goals. Pretty impressive.

Faulk, coming off recent knee surgery, made some plays but was hardly dominating. Holt caught a 64-yard pass against Sanders late in the first half but wasted the effort by fumbling. Bruce tried to take advantage of Green on a number of occasions but mostly came up empty. And old friend Trent Green was forced to make quick decisions often on the move because the Redskins rushed him so hard.

The Washington offense, meanwhile, was using everything at its disposal including James Thrash on a couple of end-arounds and little-used Mike Sellers on a pair of pass plays. With two weeks to prepare, the Redskins were able to cook up a lot of little goodies for the Rams. There was no sense in holding anything back, not with the team in such desperate straits. After two losses in a row to drop to 6-4, the Redskins badly needed a win to rekindle their division-title hopes.

How determined were they? Well, after going ahead 25-20 late in the third quarter, they attempted an onside kick and, miraculously, recovered it. I say "miraculously" because, frankly, I can't remember the last time they pulled off a stunt like that. It certainly quieted the crowd, though and put three more points on the board for Washington.

That brings up the other battle the Redskins won: the special teams battle. There was great concern about Washington's coverage units coming into the game especially with St. Louis having such dangerous returners in Hakim and Tony Horne. But neither did any irreparable damage, and a Horne fumble led to a crucial Redskins field goal that increased their lead from 28-20 (one score) to 31-20 (two scores) early in the fourth quarter.

Would the result have been different if Kurt Warner had been the Rams quarterback? Hard to say. Green played awfully well for the most part and probably did a better job of ducking sacks than the less mobile Warner would have. The only major mistake he made was getting picked off in the end zone by Champ Bailey in the late going, when St. Louis had a chance to reduce the deficit to 31-28.

Who knows? We might get to see Warner vs. the Redskins in the playoffs. And it might be right back here in the Trans World Dome. In the rematch, though, the situation could be reversed; the Rams might have two weeks to prepare (thanks to a first-round bye) and the Redskins might have one.

Should it come about, however, the Redskins won't have any doubts about their ability to beat the Rams. That's what they were built for, and that's what they did last night with surprising ease.

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