- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 14, 2003

It has been 12 years since the Washington Redskins opened an NFL season with a 2-0 record. And considering that the last team to do it (Joe Gibbs’ 1991 squad) went on to win the Super Bowl, there were more than a few players roaming around Redskin Park last week with lofty visions.

Ten days removed from their season-opening 16-13 win over the New York Jets, the Redskins’ good vibes remain. They’ll linger even longer if Washington can defeat the Michael Vick-less Atlanta Falcons today.

“That would mean a lot,” cornerback Fred Smoot said. “It would mean we’d start out better than we ever have since I’ve been here. And, if we start out 2-0, then we’ve got a chance to go 3-0.”

The Redskins, of course, have had plenty of opportunities to open 2-0 the last decade-plus. Five times since ‘91, Washington won its season opener only to falter the following week, including last year (when an encouraging 31-23 victory over Arizona was quickly trumped by a humbling 37-7 loss to Philadelphia).



Players insist things have changed in the last 12 months.

“We won our home opener last year, and if people have good memories, I was really upset even though we won the game,” linebacker LaVar Arrington said. “That was kind of a foreshadowing of things to come. But I feel really good about this team.”

If ever the stars seemed aligned for a strong start, this seems to be it. Before the season began, the Redskins’ opening stretch (five of six games against playoff teams from a year ago) appeared daunting.

But that was before Jets quarterback Chad Pennington broke his wrist, Vick broke his leg and the New England Patriots (the opponent in two weeks) stumbled with a lifeless 31-0 loss to Buffalo.

Could Washington have asked for more encouraging breaks?

“Hey, every Super Bowl team needs breaks,” Smoot said. “That’s when you know it’s your year, when you get plays that you usually wouldn’t get. You know it as a team, when you start getting those breaks.”

They did catch a huge break when Vick went down, but they still must face a Falcons team that made the playoffs a year ago, came into this season as a dark horse Super Bowl pick and with backup quarterback Doug Johnson at the helm pulled off a convincing 27-13 win at Dallas last Sunday.

Washington coach Steve Spurrier doesn’t believe his team has any reason to be overconfident going into this game, citing Atlanta’s status as a 3-point favorite.

“Let me tell you something: Those bookies who make the odds, they aren’t too far off most of the time,” Spurrier said. “We’re underdogs, so how could we be overconfident? Atlanta went to the playoffs last year. They won when Vick didn’t play last year. Doug Johnson led them to victory over the New York Giants, who beat us twice. Now, how can we be anywhere close to being overconfident?

“This is going to be a very difficult game — we know that. If we’re going to beat these guys, we’ve got to really play well.”

If the Redskins win, it would seem a good omen for making the postseason for the first time in four years. And history would be on their side. From 1990 to 2001, 66 of the 96 teams (68.8 percent) that began 2-0 went on to make the playoffs.

Surprisingly, though, of the eight teams that started 2-0 last year, only Oakland made the postseason. It is perhaps a sign of the parity that reigns in the NFL these days and a sign that, as the Redskins have learned in the past, much can change from week to week.

“Every game stands on its own merit,” Spurrier said. “You can play well one week and then lousy the next — we all know that. As coaches and players, we’re trying to play better than we did last week. We’re trying to improve, and we’ve got a lot of room for improvement.”

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