- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2000


The aura of invincibility built by the Washington Redskins' $100 million payroll and fueled byfans, media, and the sensory overload of FedEx Field washed away in a span of 15 seconds. Left was a clear display of the myriad obstacles between here and the Super Bowl.
The revealing quarter-minute involved a 92-yard kickoff return by the Carolina Panthers' Michael Bates that tied yesterday's opener midway through the first quarter. It was a sobering strike after the calm and efficient Redskins marched 79 yards for an opening touchdown.
Washington ultimately managed a 20-17 victory, holding off the injury-wracked Panthers before 80,257, the largest home crowd in team history.
But Wall Street might say the Redskins missed their "whisper number" as they needed a late surge from running back Stephen Davis, two big calls from the officials, a missed field goal by the opposition and a messy recovery of an onside kick.
Not that winning in such fashion is necessarily a bad thing.
"This is a good way for us to win this football game," Redskins fullback Larry Centers said. "We have to realize that a lot of positive things have been written about our football team. It's going to be a dogfight each and every week."
The Redskins actually trailed Carolina for the entire second quarter and much of the third, but Davis stepped up. Davis, who accumulated just 38 rushing yards in the game's first 41:38, propelled the touchdown drive that put Washington up 17-10, gaining 37 yards on five carries and 15 more on two catches.
Davis finished with 133 yards and a touchdown on 23 rushes and 37 yards on four receptions, demonstrating why the Redskins signed him a day earlier to a nine-year, $90 million contract.
"Stephen's outstanding," coach Norv Turner said. "He's so physical, he's fast, he's obviously in great shape to handle the heat, and handle the carries. He makes us go. When Stephen's going, everything else has a chance to work."
Davis' performance was paired with a zero-turnover effort by Washington's offense and an often dominating show by the defense, which this offseason added three Pro Bowl starters and four assistant coaches.
Carolina's offense, the league's sixth best in 1999, finished with just 236 yards, 12 first downs (including two by penalty) and 18 percent efficiency on third down.
Panthers quarterback Steve Beuerlein was sacked six times, the key one coming from Bruce Smith, the future Hall of Fame end signed this offseason. Beuerlein lost a fumble on the play, which ended the first drive of the second half, changed the game's momentum and set up the Redskins' field goal that tied the score 10-10.
"That play kind of got us going," Redskins free safety Mark Carrier said. "We weren't playing at that high intensity that we normally need. We settled down after that and relaxed a little more."
Smith's two sacks gave him 173 for his career, which trails only the 192* of Carolina's Reggie White. White, who spent 1999 in retirement, is one of several high-profile additions for the Panthers, along with defensive end Chuck Smith, defensive tackle Eric Swann and safety Eugene Robinson.
Carolina's pickups, more so than Washington's, came with age and injury questions. Perhaps answering those queries, Carolina's defense finished sack-less and appeared to wear down even though the Redskins had two substitute starters on their offensive line (Mark Fischer for injured center Cory Raymer and Jay Leeuwenburg for suspended guard Tre Johnson).
"Yeah, we wore them down," Davis said. "Our offensive line did a great job."
The first big call against Carolina came late in the first half, when fullback William Floyd incurred a personal foul for scuffling with rookie linebacker LaVar Arrington. The penalty, combined with a 5-yard sack on the play, turned Carolina's second-and-goal at the 2 into a second-and-goal at the 22. Moments later Richie Cunningham missed a 27-yard field goal.
The second big call came early in the fourth quarter, when Bates broke another huge return. But fullback Chris Hetherington was called for a block in the back on his second effort against linebacker Eddie Mason, moving Carolina, then down 17-10, from the Washington 3 back to its own 17. The Panthers went three-and-out, and Washington needed just 37 yards for a field goal on its next drive.
Carolina still managed to drive 65 yards for a touchdown with 1:52 remaining. A missed tackle by strong safety Sam Shade allowed tight end Wesley Walls to stroll into the end zone for a 20-yard score. But Redskins receiver Irving Fryar fell on the onside kick after batting it behind himself and Davis ran out the clock with two more rushes for 41 yards.
Afterward, Redskins players admitted being interested in just how well their hyped team would play. And the opening drive, on which quarterback Brad Johnson completed all seven of his passes to six different receivers, filled the swollen expectations. But no Redskin claimed to want an aura of invincibility at game's end.
"Anytime you win, you come away with a smile on your face," said Johnson, who finished 25 of 36 for 234 yards. "Expectations were high; expectations are still high. But we accomplished our goal… . A win in this league is all-important."

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