- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2002

SEATTLE The Washington Redskins reached the midpoint of their season on a decided upswing yesterday, going up early and holding on for victory over an opponent of questionable caliber for the second week in a row.
The Redskins employed a capable rushing attack despite the absence of star running back Stephen Davis, two early touchdown passes, a bend-but-don't-break defensive performance and a rare solid effort from their special teams to outlast the Seattle Seahawks 14-3 before 64,325 at Seahawks Stadium.
The second consecutive win improved Washington (4-4) to .500 at the season's halfway mark and left it in fairly good position to make a run at the playoffs. Although the Redskins still trail division-leading Philadelphia (6-2) by two games, they are tied with the New York Giants for second place and trail Atlanta (5-3) by just a game for the final NFC wild-card spot.
"We needed this win," offensive tackle Chris Samuels said. "At one point, our backs were against the wall. Last game we got that victory and kind of fought out of that a little bit. This game is another confidence-booster. We've got to continue to string them together."
After beating the fading Seahawks (2-6), Washington has two games left in a three-game stretch on the road against winnable opponents. The Redskins next play at Jacksonville (3-5) and at the Giants (4-4).
"You've got to set goals, and our goal is the playoffs," linebacker Jessie Armstead said. "But we've got to take it game by game now, because we've got a three-game road trip. That's probably the heart of our schedule right now."
Yesterday's victory was similar to the previous week's in that the Redskins went up early and played well enough (but not great) in getting the win. A week earlier they led Indianapolis 23-7 at halftime before eking out a 26-21 victory; yesterday they reached the 14-3 final score with 12:34 left in the second quarter.
Washington had 141 yards at that point but gained just 118 for the rest of the game. However, the Redskins' defense yielded just three points despite seven Seahawks drives to the 40-yard line or closer (including four to the 21 or closer), and their special teams emerged from a season of spotty play to down two punts inside the 5 and help Washington to a narrow advantage in field position.
Coach Steve Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun offense continued its transition from a pass-first scheme as he called more runs than passes for the third straight game. Playing a crucial role in the unit's adequacy was running back Kenny Watson, an undrafted rookie out of Penn State in 2001 who rushed for 110 yards on 23 carries in his first NFL start.
"Kenny is a good, tough running back," Spurrier said. "He runs forward, breaks tackles, takes care of the ball well catches the ball well coming out of the backfield. He's really come into his own this year. He got an opportunity and made a lot of it today."
Davis did not play with a sprained knee, causing him to miss an opportunity against the NFL's worst run defense. He hopes the ailment is cured by next weekend, and Washington probably will need him if quarterback Shane Matthews repeats yesterday's 10-for-27 eyesore.
But Davis wasn't missed much on Washington's first three drives, when the club surged to the 14-3 lead and recorded those 141 yards of offense. Watson picked up 40 yards on his first three rushes, the third (a 23-yarder through a gaping hole up the middle) setting up Matthews' 11-yard touchdown pass to Darnerien McCants with 7:34 left in the first quarter.
The Seahawks responded with a 14-play, 84-yard drive (aided by a 15-yard taunting penalty by Redskins linebacker Jeremiah Trotter) for a field goal. But the Redskins struck back by going 60 yards in just six plays, scoring on a wide receiver screen when safety Curtis Fuller dove at the feet of Rod Gardner.
Seattle gained 151 yards in the first half en route to 324 for the game (65 more than Washington's total), but their first-half total was 2 yards too few. The Seahawks elected to go for a fourth-and-goal at the 2 with 17 seconds left before intermission, but defensive end Bruce Smith recorded the first of two sacks of Matt Hasselbeck.
Smith's second sack then ended the first drive of the second half, causing Hasselbeck to fumble on third-and-10 from Washington's 21. As the Redskins' offense sputtered, the Seahawks later advanced to Washington's 36, 39 and 15 on their three remaining possessions of consequence, but came up empty each time.
It wasn't the most complete effort by the Redskins' defense, which entered the game eighth in the NFL after serious struggles in the opening weeks. But it ultimately was the most effective, and it was a big reason Washington is building toward the playoffs without overpowering anyone.
"We're going to continue to jell," Smith said. "They did run up some yardage on us, which we weren't happy about. But we were able to hold them to three points, and that's one of the important factors anytime you're playing."

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