- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

Already, just one week into the season, the Redskins are a Joe Gibbs team. Sometimes it can take months, even years, for a new coach to Install His System, to get His Kind of Players, to get Everybody on the Same Page, but Gibbs had his club looking like the Redskins of old in their very first game.

What, they didn’t score enough for you in yesterday’s 16-10 victory over the Bucs? Fret not, folks, the offense will come around soon enough. Coach Joe didn’t get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame by kicking field goals.

What I was zeroed in on, though, wasn’t the Redskins’ point total, it was all the little things that made Gibbs so successful the first time around, the trademark things. That’s what I was monitoring. Did the Redskins play with passion? Did they run the football? Did they protect the quarterback? Did they avoid penalties and mental mess-ups? Did they hang together when the going got tough?

The answer in every case is a resounding yes.

It’s been ages since the Redskins have flown around the field for 60 full minutes the way they did against Tampa Bay. Gregg Williams’ defense, especially, just swarmed, played like a bunch of guys who were worried that they might get cut the next day. Matt Bowen, Antonio Pierce, Marcus Washington, Fred Smoot — the whole group, really — put a hammerlock on the Bucs offense and just wouldn’t let go. How many yards did Jon Gruden’s X-ing and O-ing produce, 169? It seemed like half that. It seemed like 69, not 169.

“In the past, we showed up hoping to win,” was how Smoot put it. “Now we show up feeling we deserve to win. We feel we work harder than any team in the NFL.”

That’s Gibbs’ influence as much as anyone’s. Winning, to him, has much more to do with perspiration than inspiration — and clearly the players are buying into it. The Redskins may not win the Super Bowl this season, but they’re sure as heck not going to underachieve — as they have so often in recent years. They’re going to give you effort, always, even if it sometimes doesn’t result in victory.

You also have to be encouraged by the work of the offensive line. Not only did it clear the way for Clinton Portis to rush for 148 yards, it also kept Mark Brunell upright from beginning to end. That’s right, the Gang That Couldn’t Block Straight a year ago didn’t allow a single sack — this, after giving up six against the Bucs last October, four to Simeon Rice alone.

Late in the game, the O-line gave the FedEx crowd of better than 90,000 That Old Hog Feeling, helping the Redskins kill all but 16 seconds of the final five minutes with a modified Riggo Drill — Portis left, Portis right, Portis up the middle. And don’t think one thing (the Redskins’ 166 rushing yards), didn’t impact on the other (the Bucs’ inability to get to their sweaty hands on Brunell).

“Running the ball,” Chris Samuels said, “definitely takes it out of a defense. It frustrates them and wears them down.”

(Still, I’m not sure the Redskins’ new running back — a modestly proportioned 5-11, 205 — is going to be able to withstand 30 carries a week. If No.26 continues to get the ball that often, he’ll be Clinton “Riga” Mortis by the end of the season.)

As pleasing as anything, though, was the Redskins’ renewed discipline — their three measly penalties for 23 yards, their single turnover (and that one on a freak play that saw Brunell trip coming away from center and then misconnect on a handoff). How many times the past few years have they simply self-destructed in such circumstances, fallen victim to their own goofs and gaffes? It was their persona in the post-Gibbs era, and it crippled every attempt to rebuild the franchise. If an opponent could just hang around long enough, the Redskins would find away to lose.

But yesterday, after Brunell’s fumble led to a game-tying touchdown by the Bucs, the Redskins, wonder of wonders, found a way to win. Early in the fourth quarter, Jermaine Haley broke free up the middle and planted his helmet in Brad Johnson’s chest, and Pierce picked off the resulting wobbly pass to give Washington the ball at the Tampa Bay 39. That was all it took. John Hall booted his third field goal, the defense kept the Bucs bottled up in their own end the rest of the way and Joe Bugel’s Dirtbags ran out the clock.

“I feel like I coached a whole season already,” an elated Gibbs said afterward. “It’s a long, hard-fought deal.”

It is, indeed. The NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint. But Gibbs, it would seem, has his team ahead of schedule. Already, it’s beginning to resemble its coach, take on his personality, display the characteristics of a winner. And the rest of the league, you can be sure, has taken notice. They’re not the same old Redskins — and boy, is that a relief.

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