- The Washington Times - Monday, October 16, 2000

For years the Redskins haven't been able to win the close games, haven't been able to beat teams with winning records. Even last season, when they made the playoffs for the first time since '92, they had only one victory over a club that finished above .500 in the final week against Miami, which sat out a bunch of starters.

All that has changed this year dramatically. Just look at the last four games. The Redskins have defeated a 3-0 Giants team, a 3-1 Bucs team, a 3-2 Eagles team and a 5-1 Ravens team. Three of those clubs probably will qualify for the postseason. Now check out the final scores of those games: 16-6, 20-17 (in overtime), 17-14 and, yesterday, 10-3.

Suddenly, the Redskins are a team that finds a way to win or lets the other guys find a way to lose. Either way, it's a huge turnaround one Norv Turner has been waiting seven seasons for. We're not just talking about a hot streak here, a nice little run. This is who the Redskins are now: a very tough club to beat.

Of course, they don't have much of a choice. Their schedule is loaded with playoff caliber teams. If they're going to make the playoffs themselves, they have to beat some of them.

"We're going up against some real competition," Mark Carrier said. "When the season is over and we look back [on these past four weeks], it's going to be pretty nice to think about. We've felt all along that we could play with anybody, but you have to go out and do it every week. We've been doing it."

Previous Turner teams didn't do it. Last year's, particularly. Last year's team would reel off four wins in a row and then lay a 38-20 egg in Dallas. Or it would blow out Chicago 48-22 and follow that up with a lifeless 34-17 home loss to Buffalo. It was absolutely maddening when it wasn't being depressing, that is.

But this year's Redskins have found something a spine perhaps. When the opponent has the ball at the Washington 1 late in the first half, as was the case yesterday, it doesn't score a walk-in, where's-the-defense touchdown. It has a pass picked off in the end zone by reserve linebacker Kevin Mitchell unquestionably the biggest play of the game. It was the kind of play that, in the good old days, might have been made by Kurt Gouveia or Monte Coleman. I mean, how long has it been since a Redskins linebacker intercepted a pass in the end zone?

"A few years ago, before we brought in some of these older guys, this team would have been iffy in a game like this," Dana Stubblefield said. "But [after the last four weeks] we can say we've been through it. We've been in close games fighting the fans, fighting the refs, fighting the other team and we've won. It's only going to help us down the road."

No matter what happens to the Redskins this season, this much has been established: They can take a punch. As Dan Wilkinson said, "We've had guys hurt game after game and today we had Darrell Green [suffer a strained calf muscle]." But the defense managed to get by without its nickel back and spiritual leader. First-year player David Terrell stepped in and did an adequate job in Darrell's stead.

Of course, the Ravens ain't the St. Louis Rams, offensively speaking. Yesterday was the third straight game in which they had failed to score a touchdown. And when you see their quarterback, you understand why. Tony Banks has trouble completing flat passes, never mind throws into congested areas of the end zone. On the play where Green pulled up with his calf injury, Banks had Jermaine Lewis wide open down the right sideline. He proceeded to heave the ball out of bounds.

So, yes, you can make the argument that the Redskins defense hasn't been very challenged in recent weeks. Banks is a joke, Donovan McNabb and Shaun King are still infants and Kerry Collins had a horrendous night. But that's missing the point. The point is that the Redskins are shutting down teams they're supposed to shut down. In the playoffs last season, when they should have shut down King and the near-impotent Bucs, they didn't.

Watching the defense in action, it's hard not to think of George Allen's Over the Hill Gang. Instead of Verlon Biggs at right end, you've got Bruce Smith. Instead of Ron McDole on the other side, you've got Marco Coleman. Instead of Pat Fischer and Richie Petitbon in the secondary, you've got Green, Carrier and Deion Sanders. The biggest difference is that the current defense has some youth and speed in the persons of Champ Bailey, Shawn Barber and LaVar Arrington. It's an interesting mix a potentially lethal mix, if the last four games are any indication.

Most encouraging of all, these Redskins don't seem easily satisfied or maybe the word is self-satisfied. After yesterday's win, Brad Johnson said, "If you had told me before the season that we'd be 5-2 at this point, I would have been very happy. But I'd still like to be better."

Carrier, meanwhile, talked about "some [defensive] calls I made that I shouldn't have made, calls that hurt us fortunately not seriously. Everyone wants to play that perfect game."

Sometime this season, the Redskins even might do it. Norv's blood pressure would certainly appreciate it.

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