- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 22, 2004

MIAMI — Enough was enough. The Washington Redskins had muddled and fuddled their way through two preseason games with few positives for coach Joe Gibbs to hang his hat on.

So last night Gibbs went back to the basics. He called for running play after running play. When the Redskins wanted to pass, he called for high-percentage throws to his backs and tight ends. And he turned his defense loose to wreak havoc on a Miami Dolphins team in shambles.

The end result? Gibbs’ new-look, smashmouth Redskins produced their best performance to date, a 17-0 pounding of the Dolphins that left the Hall of Fame coach thoroughly satisfied for the first time all summer.

“I was proud of our guys from the standpoint that we were much more solid and didn’t turn the ball over,” Gibbs said. “And our defense continues to play well. I think that’s a good sign. I felt like it was a solid effort for us.”

Or, as left tackle Chris Samuels put it more succinctly, “We got out there and we laid it to them.”

After uninspiring showings the last two weeks, the Redskins desperately needed to see some encouraging signs last night. They saw plenty of them on a hot and sticky night at Pro Player Stadium, from the memorable Miami homecomings for both Sean Taylor and Clinton Portis to an effective game under center by Mark Brunell.

No single individual performance, however, was more impressive than the collective effort, particularly during a dominating first half by the starters.

Washington’s first-teamers manhandled the Dolphins’ starting unit, at least what was left of it in the wake of Ricky Williams’ sudden retirement, David Boston’s season-ending knee injury and Adewale Ogunleye’s now-completed trade to Chicago. Those among the announced crowd of 72,112 who found their way to the stadium showered the home team with boos all night long, an inauspicious precursor to a season that already appears to be on the brink.

“They had a lot of players out, and we kind of knew that,” Gibbs said. “So [the final score] is probably misleading.”

The Redskins took full advantage of Miami’s sorry state, grabbing control of the game from the opening kickoff.

Having spent the last two weeks dodging questions about his quarterbacks’ shaky play, Gibbs practically took his signal-callers out of the equation altogether. He called for 10 rushes on Washington’s first 11 plays, including seven straight handoffs to Portis on the game’s initial drive.

Washington’s $50million tailback, a non-factor in previous games, picked up 37 yards on those seven straight carries, including a 22-yard scamper behind pulling guards Randy Thomas and Derrick Dockery. Portis, a former University of Miami star, capped his only offensive series of the game by diving into the end zone from 1 yard out for the first touchdown.

“Coach Gibbs thinks I’m a machine,” an exasperated Portis said. “I’m going to have to talk to him about that. The running game happened to be going, but seven carries in a row? You get pretty tired.”

Though his starting tailback departed early, Gibbs had no intentions of shelving the ground game. He continued to run a ball-control offense, with the quarterbacks handing off 14 times to Rock Cartwright for 33 yards and a touchdown, 12 times to John Simon for 43 yards and 16 times to Sultan McCullough for 56 yards.

By the end of the night, the Redskins had rushed for 181 yards on 54 carries. They attempted only 17 passes, with the completions netting 120 yards.

The constant handoffs made it an easy night for Brunell, though the veteran quarterback did make the most of his limited opportunities to throw the ball. Brunell completed seven of nine for 79 yards, further solidifying his standing as the probable winner of his starting quarterback battle with Patrick Ramsey.

“It was big tonight,” Brunell said. “We needed to get that running game going. We got a little bit of heat the last couple of weeks from [reporters]. So to get that back on track was good for this football team.”

Ramsey entered in the waning moments of the second quarter and completed three of eight for 41 yards, though he’s likely to see more extensive action when he starts next week at St. Louis.

If the Redskins’ offense satisfied the palate with a bread-and-butter approach, the defense scorched the tongue like a bowl of five-alarm chili. Assistant head coach Gregg Williams used a healthy dose of blitzes and other pressure-creating methods to rattle the Dolphins.

Taylor, in his first appearance with the starting defense, was front and center. The rookie safety was credited with three tackles on the opening series, including a vicious hit on wide receiver Chris Chambers that resulted in Taylor’s first forced and recovered fumble. Linebacker Marcus Washington also put himself in the middle of the action, sacking quarterback A.J. Feeley on Miami’s second offensive series.

The Redskins’ final defensive numbers were stellar: 98 net yards surrendered, 25 on the ground. The first-string defense has yet to surrender a touchdown in three preseason games, a fact that is all the more impressive if you believe Williams’ claim that he still hasn’t revealed his full-fledged scheme.

“Coach Williams is an aggressive coach, so of course we’re going to do a little blitzing,” Washington said. “But we haven’t even hit the tip of the iceberg. We have a lot more we’re holding onto.”

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