Monday, October 18, 2004

CHICAGO — Sean Taylor kept insisting the big plays would come in due time. He finally made good on his promise yesterday.

The rookie safety recorded his first career sack and his first career interception, both plays coming in crucial situations to help lead the Washington Redskins to a 13-10 victory over the Chicago Bears.

“That was a lot of relief for me,” said Taylor, who dazzled in the preseason with three interceptions and two forced fumbles but had remained relatively quiet through the first five weeks of the regular season.

There was nothing quiet about his performance yesterday. With the Bears trailing 10-7 and facing a critical third-and-2 at the Washington 43, Taylor came blitzing around the right end and hammered quarterback Jonathan Quinn for his first career sack.

“If I’m coming, I’m going to try to make the best play I can,” he said. “As soon as I saw the quarterback go, I tried to get him down and get the ball out.”

Taylor’s first professional interception put the final stamp on the Redskins’ win. With Chicago in a desperate situation — fourth-and-15 and the clock ticking — Taylor stepped in front of receiver Bobby Wade, picked off the ball and sprinted 45 yards before he finally was corralled at the Bears 15.

“When I got the ball, all I could think was, ‘Just don’t drop it.’” he said.

The interception was sweet redemption for Taylor, who had come close to making big plays the last five weeks but had yet to pull one off.

“There’s been balls right there I just couldn’t get to,” he said. “To finally get one in my hands and one that really counts, it feels good. And especially to be the exclamation point for us to get a victory, I’ll take it any day.”

Betts breaks through

Overshadowed by Clinton Portis’ big day was a solid performance by backup tailback Ladell Betts, who ran six times for 30 yards and picked up two key first downs.

Betts, the subject of criticism last week after failing to block Ed Reed on the Baltimore safety’s game-changing sack-fumble-touchdown, redeemed himself. With the Redskins backed up at their 3 and facing third-and-9 in the second quarter, Betts burst around the left edge for a 10-yard gain. Later, he came through with an 8-yard run on third-and-4 to extend a Washington drive.

“That’s my job,” he said. “When they call my number, my job is to keep the drive going. And I was able to do that with the guys blocking in front of me.”

Trans-Atlantic kicker

It’s doubtful any player ever has come farther to make his NFL debut than Redskins kicker Ola Kimrin.

The 32-year-old Swede was waived by the Redskins at the end of preseason and signed to the practice squad after regular kicker John Hall tweaked a hamstring in the opener. But when Hall was able to kick in Week 2, Kimrin was let go.

Kimrin stayed with friends in Boston, and he finally figured on Wednesday that he wouldn’t get another shot at the NFL until next summer. So, he flew home to Malmo, Sweden.

However, the next day Hall strained his groin in practice. A call went out to Kimrin, who had arrived home just 30 minutes earlier.

After less than 10 hours at home, Kimrin began a second 10-hour trans-Atlantic journey through Denmark and France to return to the United States.

Yesterday, he kicked field goals of 41 and 26 yards at windy Soldier Field to help the Redskins end a four-game losing streak and earn a game ball.

Kimrin’s claim to fame before yesterday was the 65-yard field goal he kicked for the Denver Broncos in the 2002 preseason, 2 yards beyond the NFL regular-season record.

Kimrin, who kicked at Texas-El Paso and spent three springs in NFL Europe, went to camp with the Dallas Cowboys last season. He was 4-for-4 on field goals this summer for the Redskins, including the game-winner that beat the Broncos on national television.

“I know when John’s back it’s his job, which it should be. But I hoped I showed somebody something,” Kimrin said. “Soldier Field isn’t the easiest place to kick.”

Smoot perseveres

Cornerback Fred Smoot extended his reputation for toughness by playing despite a stinger in his left shoulder and a mild separation of his right shoulder.

At least three times Smoot left the field in obvious pain, the last after he upended wide receiver Bobby Wade — making the tackle with his right shoulder — for a loss on third-and-11 with just more than five minutes left.

“I had to do it,” Smoot said of tackling Wade. “I was in a lot of pain. But once I’m between the [lines], you kind of forget about the pain. You just focus on what you’ve got to do.”

The performance was reminiscent of Smoot’s effort in a loss at Dallas last season, when he played despite a fractured sternum that caused him so much pain he vomited on the sideline. Smoot doesn’t get much recognition around the league, but he clearly has made an impression on teammates and coaches.

“Fred is one of the toughest little people I’ve ever seen,” defensive tackle Brandon Noble said. “A lot of DBs might not have sucked it up like that. I’ve got a lot of respect for Fred and the way he plays football.”

The Redskins apparently suffered no other significant injuries. Left tackle Chris Samuels played with a sprained ankle — which he revealed kept him out of practice two days last week. Running back Clinton Portis suffered a neck injury. However, everyone now has the bye week to recover.

“I need to go to the country this off-week and let my momma heal me,” Smoot said.

Griffin shines

Defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin enjoyed another huge day: two sacks, a team-high eight tackles and a pass defensed.

Griffin, whose seven-year, $30.8million contract raised eyebrows earlier this year, might be the team’s defensive MVP. His 46 tackles through six games (a figure that could go up after coaches review yesterday’s game tape) puts him on pace to shatter his career-high of 68 tackles in a season.

“Grif’s a phenomenal football player,” defensive line coach Greg Blache said. “It’s going to be hard for us to keep him a secret much longer. Around the league, Grif’s name’s going to start popping up on peoples’ lips, because he plays the game well. He works at it. He’s a great athlete. He’s a great professional.”

A number of Griffin’s plays came in the fourth quarter. On the Bears drive that started with 5:13 left, Griffin set up Sean Taylor’s third-down sack by stuffing running back Thomas Jones on first down. And on Chicago’s final possession, Griffin recorded consecutive sacks.

In typical Griffin fashion, though, he wouldn’t take credit for a big day.

“It’s never about me,” Griffin said. “I thought the defense played great. … We bent a little bit but didn’t break. I took it upon myself to stop them.”

Noble effort

Brandon Noble started at nose tackle yesterday and played the whole game for the first time since he blew out his knee last summer, an injury that forced him to miss all of last season.

Noble started in place of Joe Salave’a, who was sidelined by a calf injury. Noble was credited with a lone tackle and a pass defensed, but he was still happy to play a role in holding the Bears to 160 yards and a field goal.

“It really felt good to be a part in helping the team get a win we really needed,” said Noble, a starter for Dallas in 2001 and 2002. “When you’re not out on the field for a while and you get back in there, things happen really fast. So seeing the things the way I used to, slowing the game down again is big for me. I haven’t seen this much work in a long time, and now I get a week off to see how my body reacts to it.”


Most of Washington’s inactives were injured players: kicker John Hall (groin), safety Andre Lott (hamstring), linebacker Mike Barrow (knee), linebacker LaVar Arrington (knee), tackle Kenyatta Jones (ankle) and defensive end Phillip Daniels. In addition, wide receiver Darnerien McCants was inactive.

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