- The Washington Times - Monday, October 22, 2001

The Washington Redskins were dead. Their game but undermanned defense had just allowed Tshimanga Biakabutuka to run up its gut three straight times for 34 yards and a touchdown. Their quarterback, Tony Banks, had just thrown three straight incomplete passes, and fans at FedEx Field were calling for rookie third-stringer Sage Rosenfels.
Washington trailed 14-0 with less than 11 minutes to play and appeared destined to become the NFL's only 0-6 team. But then LaVar Arrington stepped up, the way first-round draft choices with $30 million contracts are supposed to do. Even if he had spent most of the first half in the darkened locker room trying to gather his wits from an apparent concussion suffered on the first defensive series.
Panthers rookie quarterback Chris Weinke threw a seemingly safe pass to Chris Hetherington in the right flat, but the fullback couldn't handle the ball. It caromed into the hands of Arrington, who took off toward the end zone 67 yards away.
"I'm thinking, 'I'm going to get a big hit,'" said Arrington, sitting shirtless in his locker with his uniform pants stained with grass, blood and dirt. "Then [Hetherington] tipped it and I was like, 'Oh my God. He dropped the ball.' Then I'm saying to myself, 'Don't drop it.' I got under it and caught the ball and the rest was history. I wasn't going to let anybody catch me from behind."
Arrington didn't, and the momentum had clearly shifted. Rod Gardner's 85-yard touchdown catch less than three minutes later tied the score, and Brett Conway gave Washington its first victory under coach Marty Schottenheimer, 17-14, with a 23-yard field goal 1:52 into overtime.
"After LaVar's big play, we all came back to life," Redskins fullback Bryan Johnson said.
Arrington, the second pick overall in the 2000 draft, is becoming a major playmaker. His jarring hit ended Troy Aikman's Hall of Fame career last December. He followed his career-high 12 tackles two weeks ago against the Giants with nine more last Monday at Dallas, including a devastating takedown of Cowboys Hall of Fame lock Emmitt Smith. But yesterday didn't figure to be the day that Arrington would be a momentum-changer. Not after he was knocked woozy by a knee to the head and missed most of the first half.
"I think I had a concussion," Arrington said. "I came in and laid in here in the dark for a couple of minutes and got the cobwebs out of my head. But I wasn't knocked out. I knew where I was. It just hurt real bad. I felt well enough to come back out and give it a try. The doctors had to clear me, but I wasn't going to let them not let me back in the game. Either you can go or you can't. Like [Hall of Fame linebacker] Sam Huff always says, 'We're linebackers and we have to play with pain.' I'm just playing my heart out. I hope that's enough because I can't play any harder than what I am."
The Washington defense, already minus Pro Bowl ends Bruce Smith and Marco Coleman, flashy linebacker Shawn Barber and standout rookie cornerback Fred Smoot, was holding its own without Arrington. But middle linebacker Kevin Mitchell said he was still happy when the ex-Penn State star returned late in the first half. Despite missing so much time, Arrington was still credited with six tackles, one fewer than team leader Darrell Green.
"I know I have to step into a leadership role and I have," Arrington said. "People may doubt the things that you say. But they have no choice but to believe what you do."
Arrington made believers out of everyone at FedEx Field yesterday.

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