Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Antonio Pierce doesn’t want to hear about the possibility of Brett Favre missing this week’s game against the Washington Redskins with a sprained right hand.

“That don’t matter,” the middle linebacker said as he and his teammates returned to practice after a weekend off. “That guy’s going to play. That’s proven. He’s done it for 13 years. Regardless of what injury he has, he’s going to play.”

As it prepares for its toughest challenge to date — the Green Bay Packers’ dynamic offense — the Redskins defense is going under the assumption Favre will play, sprained hand or not. The veteran quarterback has started 215 consecutive games (including playoffs), and Washington’s defenders have no reason to believe the streak is going to be snapped this week.

The Redskins can’t say the same about linebacker LaVar Arrington, who has missed the last four games after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee five weeks ago. Arrington, who two years ago knocked Favre out of a game with a sprained ankle, had to cut his practice short yesterday after aggravating the injury. The linebacker’s status was questionable to begin with.

The Redskins’ defensive players don’t believe an injured Favre is any less dangerous than a healthy one.



“There’s been some rumors around that something’s hurt on him, but that doesn’t mean much,” linebacker Marcus Washington said. “Brett usually plays his best games when he’s hurt.”

Like he did Sunday. Despite slamming his throwing hand against Dallas defensive tackle La’Roi Glover during the first half at Lambeau Field, Favre remained in the game and had one of his finest performances of the season. He completed 23 of 29 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns and led the Packers to seven straight scoring drives and a 41-20 rout over the Cowboys.

Green Bay’s 480-yard offensive performance propelled the unit to the league’s No. 2 ranking, behind only the Minnesota Vikings. Washington’s defense also ranks second in the NFL, setting the stage for a clash Sunday at FedEx Field.

It’s possible the Redskins’ lofty defensive ranking should carry an asterisk — coach Gregg Williams’ unit has ascended to such standing without having played against a top-notch offense. Of Washington’s first six opponents, four have offenses ranked in the lower third of the NFL (the Buccaneers, Browns, Ravens and Bears). The other two (the Giants and Cowboys) are not considered offensive juggernauts.

That makes Sunday’s game against Green Bay perhaps the first legitimate test of the season for the Redskins defense.

“I think this will be a supreme test for us. It’s going to take all of us playing our absolute best,” coach Joe Gibbs said, adding that “we’ll have to play the game of our life. Green Bay’s awfully good.”

The statuses of defensive end Phillip Daniels (groin) and linebacker Mike Barrow (knee) also remain up in the air, and strong safety Matt Bowen is on injured reserve with a torn ACL.

Of course, the Redskins (2-4) have managed to play staunch defense all season without the services of several key players, so they insist they aren’t fazed by playing the Packers (3-4) without a completely healthy lineup.

“That just means we’ve got a big challenge ahead of us,” cornerback Shawn Springs said. “You’ve got to be happy to have the opportunity to play a team like the Packers because then you get to see where you’re at. They get to test us.”

Washington’s defense has yet to be tested by a standout quarterback. Nobody has confused Kyle Boller or Jonathan Quinn for Brett Favre.

Against those inexperienced quarterbacks, the Redskins were able to key on the run and put pressure on the passer to make plays.

“Not this week,” Washington said. “This week, we’re definitely going to have to mind our P’s and Q’s for both the run and the pass. We’ve got a gutsy guy coming in here.”

For all of Favre’s greatness, the Redskins might be more concerned with containing Packers running back Ahman Green. The NFC’s leading rusher is coming off a 15-carry, 163-yard performance against the Cowboys that included a 90-yard touchdown run.

Opposing defenses used to use all their resources to stop Favre, but now they must contend with one of the NFL’s best running backs as well.

“They’re not a pass-first team anymore,” Pierce said. “They’re a run-first team. They go to Ahman Green, and then when they give Brett Favre a chance, he makes the most of it. That’s a different team. That’s a power running team. They’ve got a great running back, a great offensive line and a great system they’ve been running for a while.”

It all adds up to one supreme test for the Redskins defense.

Said Gibbs: “We know we’ve got our hands full.”

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