- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2000

Did you think the Redskins' goose was cooked yesterday when Tre Johnson was helped off the field in the first quarter?

I did. With Keith Sims already hobbling at left guard and Mark Fischer trying gamely to fill in for Cory Raymer at center, I figured there was a good chance the Tampa Bay defense would sweep over the Redskins like a tidal wave. After all, the Bucs are hard enough to beat when all your offensive linemen are operational. When two are out and another is playing hurt, well, I would recommend prayer.

Yup, it could have been an extremely long day for Stephen Davis and an extremely painful one for Brad Johnson. But amazingly, it wasn't. Amazingly, the Redskins nosed past the Bucs in overtime 20-17 to move back into first place in the NFC East. And the perseverance of the offensive line was one of the stories behind the story.

Consider: In the first quarter, when the offense was in upheaval because of the unexpected loss of its Pro Bowl right guard, the Redskins gained a grand total of 15 yards minus-2 passing. Brad Johnson was sacked at the end of their second series (the play on which Tre sprained his knee) and was sacked again at the end of their third series (resulting in a fumble that led to a first Tampa Bay touchdown). Even more depressing, Warren Sapp, the Bucs' all-world defensive tackle, hadn't even gotten in the game yet. He was benched for a quarter for some violation of team rules.

Norv Turner, at this point, was ready to rip off his headset. "We had some chances early in the game," he said, "some things we thought we could get, and we didn't block very well."

Sims, too, was wondering if the Redskins had missed a major opportunity. "We should have taken advantage of [Sapp] being out of there," he said. "We should have scored a touchdown or two."

It was suck-it-up time for the Washington offensive line. The Bucs were ahead 7-0, and there were no more guards or centers left on the bench. Jay Leeuwenburg had come in for Tre Johnson, and if he went down, heck, Russ Grimm might have had to suit up.

"I was out there limping [with an Achilles' tendon injury]," Sims said. "Jay was out there limping [after one of the Bucs rolled up on him]. But, hey, we had nobody else. We couldn't go out of the game. The Stretcher Rule was in effect."

And what exactly is the Stretcher Rule?

"The only way you're coming off the field is on a stretcher."

Things settled down for the offense in the second quarter. The Redskins drove to the Tampa Bay 26, but a penalty and a botched shotgun snap pushed them out of field goal range. A short time later, though, they did something that happens only once or twice a year to the Bucs they went 85 yards in just four plays to tie the score.

The TD came on a 50-yard run by Davis, a play that almost wasn't called. A couple of plays earlier, you see, Leeuwenburg had gotten banged up, and "the coaches weren't sure if I could pull out [and lead the blocking for Stephen]," he said. "Fortunately, I was able to." And when he did, a huge hole magically opened on the right side. Davis did the rest with the help of some downfield interference by Albert Connell.

"Obviously," Leeuwenburg said, "the right call at the right time."

Who knows? Had the Redskins not had to do without Tre Johnson against Carolina (when he was suspended), they might not have responded as well to his absence yesterday. That playing time at right guard in the season opener probably made all the difference for Leeuwenburg and the offense. Brad Johnson was sacked only once in the last three-plus quarters against the Bucs, and Davis finished with a season-high 135 yards in 25 carries.

"That's why we signed him," Sims said of Leeuwenberg. "He's the consummate pro." To which Jon Jansen added, "We really don't lose a whole lot when he's in there."

That statement could be put to the test in the next few games. Tre Johnson left FedEx Field on crutches, and Turner said, "I don't know how long he'll be out. I don't think it's a serious thing. It might be a couple of weeks."

By the time Tre comes back, Sims might be ready to take his place on the inactive list. He was really feeling his Achilles' yesterday more than he has all season, he said. But until then he'll soldier on, because the Redskins simply don't have any reinforcements. For the offensive line, the Stretcher Rule is in effect.

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