- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 19, 2004


The Redskins are nowhere near as bad as the 49ers, and they needed to make that abundantly clear yesterday. No playing to the level of the competition — or, perish the thought, actually losing.

They’re building for next year now, and it’s important they come out of these last few games feeling good about themselves … or at least less suicidal. It also would be nice to show the world that the near miss against the Eagles was no aberration, that they really are Getting There.

The world has seen a lot of the Redskins this season, probably too much. They’ve had a Monday night game, two Sunday nighters, yesterday’s Saturday date and a bunch of other 4 o’clock starts — all because of the hoopla surrounding Joe Gibbs’ return to the sideline. (What, you thought it was because of their 12-20 record the last two years?)

The Redskins have been perhaps the most visible not so good team in NFL history, and their myriad problems, principally on offense, have been there for all to see.

But now TV viewers are starting to see something else: A club that’s slowly moving up in the NFC pecking order, a club that’s no longer one of the dregs of the NFC. In the last four weeks, the Redskins have played the Steelers close, blown out the Giants, pushed the Eagles to the limit and, yesterday at Monster Park, clocked the Niners 26-16. That’s a month of good, solid football — which is rarer in the NFL than you might think. It’s certainly been rare for the Redskins in recent seasons.

The win over woeful San Francisco was accomplished by the usual means — a heavy dose of Gregg Williams’ defense and just enough of Gibbs’ stuck-in-second-gear offense to generate the necessary points. (And had Shawn Springs not been scratched with acute cobwebs after suffering a concussion last week, the margin likely would have been greater.)

But that’s just bookkeeping. What was noteworthy about the game — from the Washington standpoint, at least — was this:

The Redskins’ best run was by a defender, linebacker Antonio Pierce, who returned an interception 78 yards for a touchdown late in the first half to break things open.

The Redskins’ best catch also was by a defender, end Ron Warner, who dropped into coverage, picked off a wobbly Ken Dorsey pass and rumbled/stumbled/bumbled 39 yards to set up a field goal.

And the Redskins’ best block was by a defender, too, linebacker Chris Clemons, who waylaid Dorsey to help clear the way for Pierce on his INT/TD.

With a defense like that, who needs an offense?

“If you look at the stat sheet,” Fred Smoot said, “you’ll see that [the tackles, sacks, interceptions, etc., are] all spread out. There’s no one dominant guy. That’s what makes this group special, man. Somebody goes down, somebody else steps in.”

True enough, though I’m not sure anyone expected the 6-foot-3, 270-pound Warner to pick up the slack for the 6-0, 200-pound Springs — Warner least of all. “My first pick since high school,” he said with a mixture of pride and disbelief.

It couldn’t have come at a better time either because while Patrick Ramsey and Co. were able to move the ball on the Niners, they had all kinds of trouble near the goal line. A first-and-goal at the San Francisco 3 produced only a 25-yard field goal. A second-and-goal at the San Francisco 3 led to just a 21-yard field goal. And the Redskins’ longest drive of the day, a 78-yarder that reached the San Francisco 2, yielded merely a 25-yard field goal.

This against a 2-12 team with nothing to play for — except the first pick in the draft.

“Not to rain on our parade,” said Ramsey, “but we’ve got to stick the ball in the end zone when we get down there. We’re playing some of the better teams in the league [these next two weeks], and it’s something we’ve got to focus on and get done.”

Actually, there’s no parade to rain on. It has been a season of struggle for the Redskins offense, from first to last, and that doesn’t figure to change in the last two games against the Cowboys and Vikings. But there are some hopeful signs for the future, “things we can count on,” as Gibbs said. Like Clinton Portis’ willingness to run until his tongue hangs out. Like Ramsey’s growing ability to avoid the Big Mistake — and to convert third downs by fitting the ball into tight places. Like Laveranues Coles’ heart.

At the end of last season, it was all coming apart for the Redskins. They were in the process of losing 11 of their final 13 games. Indeed, they were the kind of like the 49ers are now. But things are starting to come together for them, albeit slowly. And if these next two games are anything like the last four, it won’t be nearly so cold a winter.

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