- The Washington Times - Monday, December 23, 2002

The Washington Redskins thumped the expansion Houston Texans yesterday in what was certainly one of the least significant of the 256 NFL regular-season games being played this season. And suddenly, the Redskins have quite a bit to play for.
Washington, of course, was eliminated from playoff contention two weeks prior to the 26-10 win before an announced 70,291 at FedEx Field. But in Sunday's finale against the Dallas Cowboys, the Redskins can snap a 10-game losing string to their archrivals, avoid going winless in the NFC East and create some real holiday cheer heading into the offseason.
"This was a great Christmas present," defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. "And next week will be even a bigger Christmas present. That will be like our Super Bowl."
Washington (6-9) entered with apparently nothing to play for other than draft position. The team, riding a three-game losing streak, seemed like it might be susceptible to a group of Texans (4-11) who have 16 former Redskins in their organization, including former Washington general manager Charley Casserly.
Instead, the Redskins got a variety of good signs for 2003 from the two-headed replacement for Stephen Davis powering the club's biggest rushing effort since 1995 to a defense that returns most of its personnel limiting Houston to just 166 yards.
"Sometimes there's more at stake than just playoffs," linebacker LaVar Arrington said. "I think that showed today. Hopefully this is the start of a streak."
Rookie quarterback Patrick Ramsey was erratic but ultimately effective in his first win as an NFL starter, outdueling Texans rookie David Carr, who was sacked three times to break the NFL's single-season mark. Two of those sacks came from defensive end Bruce Smith, who moved within four of Reggie White's all-time mark.
Setting the stage for whatever success Ramsey and the defense enjoyed were running backs Ladell Betts (20 carries, 116 yards, one touchdown) and Kenny Watson (20 carries, 110 yards), who became the team's first twin 100-yard rushers in 17 years.
The Redskins, after spending much of the season trying to pass effectively with coach Steve Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun offense, discovered a much simpler formula for controlling a game.
"We just knocked them off the ball," offensive tackle Chris Samuels said. "And our running backs, they ran to daylight."
The Texans gave up big plays in the run game throughout, and by the fourth quarter, Washington was able to call 10 straight rushes to move from its 26 into range for a short field goal for the final points.
"The running game is how you dictate something," guard Tre Johnson said. "The passing game, you can make a lot of big plays, a lot of spectacular plays. But the bread and butter is the running game. That's the body shot. That's wearing them down."
Washington's defense enjoyed by far its best performance in a solid season (previously, each opponent generated at least 243 yards). But defenders credited the run game with keeping them fresh, thanks to a nearly 14-minute differential in time of possession.
"That's what you always say is the best defense you can have a good offense that can control the clock," Arrington said. "We're at our best when we're feeding off one another."
However, the Redskins' special teams put forth yet another poor performance. Recently signed kicker Jose Cortez missed two field goals, and recently signed punter Craig Jarrett shanked two attempts and had another blocked for a touchdown.
Jarrett's final attempt was the one that was blocked, and Houston trimmed its deficit to 23-10 with 9:34 to play. But Washington's 10-play drive all rushes and Cortez's only made field goal of the day, a 23-yarder, followed.
"Fortunately we didn't have to punt again," said Spurrier, who gave special teams coach Mike Stock a vote of confidence in his news conference. "That scared me there with about nine minutes left, that if we had to punt we could be in trouble."
But Washington held on in a game that featured little drama to go with its scant significance. The Redskins controlled from the start even though the Texans took a 3-0 lead by using a favorable exchange of field position on punts.
Ramsey threw touchdown passes in the first and second quarters, to fullback Rock Cartwright and wide receiver Derrius Thompson, respectively, and the defense went from stingy in the first half (allowing 100 yards) to downright suffocating in the second (66 yards).
Now if only Washington can do the same against that other team from Texas.
"It was a game we should have beat those guys and we did," Spurrier said. "I'm proud of our guys coming to the ballpark ready to play. And we're all going to do our best to come to the ballpark ready to play next week. We all know who's coming in. We all know they kicked our butts [27-20 on Thanksgiving Day]. But we're going to try to worry about how we play and how we prepare and we'll see what happens."

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