- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Four weeks into the NFL season, the Washington Redskins are beginning to learn a thing or two about themselves.

They’ve learned they have an uncanny knack for pulling out close victories, having opened the year 3-1 with all four games decided by three points or less.

They’ve learned they are capable of winning in a variety of ways, whether on the ground in Week 1 against the Jets, through the air in Week 2 against the Falcons or with a ball-hawking defense that forced four turnovers in Sunday’s 20-17 victory over the Patriots.

More than anything, the Redskins have learned they are capable of posting their best start in four years without yet having played what anyone would consider a complete game.



“We don’t want to get satisfied with what we’ve done,” cornerback Champ Bailey said yesterday. “We’ve got to get better. There were times throughout these last four games where we could have done a lot better than we did. We’re fortunate to have come out at 3-1.”

Indeed, the Redskins realize they were the beneficiaries of some significant breaks during what at first figured to be a brutal opening stretch to the season. They beat a Jets team without quarterback Chad Pennington; they beat a Falcons squad without quarterback Michael Vick; and on Sunday they hung on to defeat a Patriots club missing nine starters because of injury.

Clearly, the stars have been aligned for Washington to this point. Not that the Redskins are apologizing for their good fortune.

“Anytime you’re 3-1, I don’t care if you played all Cincinnati Bengals teams,” cornerback Fred Smoot said. “We’re winning now, and we just want to keep it going.”

The next three weeks should prove to be far more challenging than the last four weeks, because the Redskins are about to hit the real meat of their schedule. They play at division rival Philadelphia this Sunday, return home to face Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay next week, then go back on the road to meet a much-improved Buffalo team Oct.19.

This three-week stretch of games could make or break Washington’s season. Win two of three, and the Redskins enter their bye week an impressive 5-2. Even one victory leaves them at 4-3 and in the thick of the playoff hunt.

But lose all three games, dropping to 3-4, and Washington’s promising start will have all but gone to waste.

“I think our real identity will be proved as we start playing more of these games, starting with Philadelphia,” safety Matt Bowen said. “We’re going to find out what kind of team we really are.”

Four games into the season, the Redskins still are trying to find themselves. They’ve shown their ability to both rally from large deficits and blow big leads. They’ve shown they can rely on second-year quarterback Patrick Ramsey’s strong arm or turn the game over to their running-back-by-committee. And they’ve shown they can play with discipline and win the season turnover battle (6 to 5), yet they jump offsides with more frequency than a Pop Warner team.

“We think we can play better,” coach Steve Spurrier said. “We’ve got to believe that. We’ve had four close ones and have been fortunate to win three of four. I don’t know if that will always hold true. … Certainly I think there’s a lot of room for improvement.”

If nothing else, the Redskins would like to put together a full, 60-minute effort for the first time this season. They have played extremely well in spurts during their first four games, which was enough to emerge with a 3-1 record.

They know that Jekyll-and-Hyde routine won’t work against the Eagles, Bucs or Bills.

“We have to have a complete game,” defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. “We’re playing a lot of tough teams here, and it’s not going to get any easier.”

Three weeks from now, once they’ve made it through this imposing stretch of games, the Redskins should have a better grasp of their place in the league.

For now, they’re grateful simply to be in a position where the next three weeks carry so much significance.

“We certainly don’t think we’re champions of anything yet,” Spurrier said. “But at least we have some confidence that we can compete with anyone. And if we play extremely well, we’ve got a chance to beat all these guys.”

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