- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2001

Words like confidence, success, progress, belief and, yes, even playoffs dominated conversations yesterday at Redskin Park, a stunning turnaround from nine days earlier, when the Washington Redskins were 0-5.
The Redskins finally are starting to believe in themselves and coach Marty Schottenheimer's system after two straight wins, a fourth-quarter rally over the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 21 and Sunday's solid 35-21 beating of the New York Giants.
"Right now it's an attitude of confidence," offensive tackle Chris Samuels said. "We've got two in a row, and we're still climbing right now. I think we're on our way to the top, and I think the team thinks that."
Next up are the Seattle Seahawks (3-3), who lost 24-20 to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. That game is followed by an open week, which the Redskins will spend resting and doing early preparation for a Nov. 18 game at Denver.
Despite the 0-5 start that called coach Marty Schottenheimer's job status into question, Washington heads into Sunday's winnable game just 11/2 games behind the Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) for first place in the NFC East. A third straight win would cement the feeling that the Redskins could end up playing for something meaningful this year.
"[A record of] 2-5 isn't something to be real proud of, but the way we've gotten there, I think we're happy about that," quarterback Tony Banks said. "[And] when you look at a close NFC and the possibility in the second half to separate yourself from some teams, that's something to look at down the road."
Growing within players is a belief that their teammates will accomplish their jobs. For most of the season the defense has been a bit above average, the kicking game about average and the offense downright bad. And in a given game the defense or special teams could falter.
But the offense finally spent a half making big plays Sunday rolling up 270 yards in the second half and new punt returner Eric Metcalf had an 89-yard touchdown on the first punt he fielded as a Redskin.
The offensive turnaround has been the key. In Weeks 1-5, the unit averaged just 184.6 yards, at the time more than 70 yards less than second-to-last Dallas, and 6.4 points en route to the lowest scoring total since the NFL schedule expanded to 16 games.
In other words, the offense wasn't giving the team a chance to win. Now the unit (which still ranks last) is enjoying a bit of confidence.
"We knew we were getting better," wide receiver Michael Westbrook said. "Nobody wanted to believe us because nobody could see the progress. It was a good job by the coaches because they kept telling us. They were showing us all the good stuff [on film]. They said, 'Do it this way.' They preached that."
Adding to the feeling has been an influx of creativity into the play-calling, which was frustratingly basic and conservative in early weeks. Westbrook and rookie Rod Gardner have caught 76- and 85-yard touchdown passes, respectively, in the past two games, and on Sunday receiver Kevin Lockett threw a 31-yard scoring pass to Derrius Thompson.
Schottenheimer appears to have adjusted the play-calling somewhat to the talents of Banks, who was named the starter in Week 3 after Jeff George was cut. There have been more deep attempts and, on Sunday, more schemes to get Banks into space, where his athleticism allows him to make plays.
"The thing that's happening, more than anything, is our quarterback is becoming more and more comfortable with what we're doing [and] we are becoming more and more aware of what he does well," Schottenheimer said. "It's all part of the process of trying to make sure we're doing the things our players do best."
The Redskins offense will face a formidable challenge in the Seahawks, who rank ninth in total defense and fourth against the run. But Washington believes it is up to the task, finally having escaped the misery of its 0-5 start.
"We're excited," offensive tackle Jon Jansen said. "We're on a roll. And we're hoping to get another one before we get into that bye week."
Rookie cornerback Fred Smoot expects to play against Seattle after missing the past two games with an injured leg. He had his knee drained late last week and has experienced no swelling since. Tight end Stephen Alexander probably will miss a third straight game with a high ankle sprain. …
It is "quite possible" veteran linebacker Robert Jones will make a second straight start on the weak side ahead of rookie Antonio Pierce, Schottenheimer said. … Defensive end Bruce Smith was excused yesterday for personal reasons.

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