- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 19, 2004

It was a regular-season opener. The Washington Redskins pushed around an opponent expected to contend for the playoffs. The defense dominated. Excitement flowed as Redskins players began dreaming of a postseason berth.

Sound like Sunday’s victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

Try last season’s Week 1 battering of the New York Jets.

For the second year in a row, the Redskins are off to an impressive start. In 2003, they limited the Jets to 158 yards — Washington’s best performance in a decade — en route to a 16-13 win. Last Sunday’s numbers were similar — 169 yards in a 16-10 victory — but were only a good start according to players who took a valuable lesson from 2003’s collapse to 5-11.

“You learn how to be humble and keep going,” cornerback Fred Smoot said. “One win won’t get you the season. We’ve just got to play every game like we played [against the Bucs].”

Don’t look for any overconfidence today as the Redskins face the New York Giants at the Meadowlands. Although New York has lost nine in a row dating to last season and players already are at odds with tough-love new coach Tom Coughlin, the Redskins aren’t taking their opponent lightly.

“The most dangerous dog is a wounded dog,” said tight end Walter Rasby.

Washington is in no position to get cocky. Beside losing 10 of last year’s final 12 games, the Redskins have been dismal in recent NFC East play. Under Steve Spurrier in 2002 and 2003, they won just two of 12 divisional games, including just one of four against the Giants.

That’s a stark contrast to coach Joe Gibbs’ first stint as Redskins coach. From 1981 to 1992, Gibbs won 62 percent of his NFC East games (59-36). Only in his first season, did he finish below .500 in divisional play. If the Redskins are to have any chance at duplicating such success in Gibbs’ second tenure, they must start beating the Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.

“It’s something that we need to work on, and it’s been brought to our attention,” defensive tackle Brandon Noble said. “The way that you get to the playoffs is you win the NFC East. This week we have to play a Giants team that is a lot better than people give them credit for.”

Boosting concern about a Giants uprising are the offensive numbers New York posted last week in what nonetheless was considered an ugly loss. A 170-yard rushing effort, thanks in part to a late 72-yard touchdown sprint by running back Tiki Barber, propelled 413 yards of total offense. Only seven other NFL clubs moved the ball more in Week1.

New York’s starting quarterback today once again will be veteran Kurt Warner, who was removed in the final minutes at Philadelphia to give Eli Manning, the draft’s No.1 overall pick, some garbage time snaps.

The NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1999 and 2001, Warner no longer inspires league-wide respect at 33. These days some wonder whether he simply can stay upright against a pressure defense like the Redskins’. But the skeptics do not include Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington, who notes Warner’s career rating of 97.2, history’s best among quarterbacks with 1,500 or more pass attempts.

“I don’t think Kurt’s washed up yet,” Arrington said. “That’s what a lot of people try to imply. … Kurt Warner is one of the most prolific passers in this sport — ever. The numbers say it. You can’t forget that. You don’t get those numbers being a fly-by-[night] guy. Anything you get in this league, you have to earn it.”

It remains unclear precisely how much pressure assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams will bring today. A week ago, the defense dismantled the Bucs by blitzing on just more than 70 percent of the snaps. Such a figure seems unlikely at Giants Stadium; in fact, there is some speculation Williams could swing radically in the other direction.

In any case, the Redskins know New York is unlikely to mimic Tampa Bay’s mistakes.

“It’s not going to be as easy as it was this past week, when we had some errors where guys flat didn’t have anybody blocking them,” Williams said. “That very rarely happens in this league.”

From Warner to a defense with suspect talent and injuries to a potential rift between players and Coughlin — who recently fined three players for not being early enough for a meeting — New York clearly has problems. But the Redskins, determined not to let another solid start slip away, aren’t paying any attention.

“I don’t know what’s going on in New York, nor do I really care,” Arrington said. “I don’t apply it to our situation. … I don’t have time to focus on whether they like their coach or not, or whether their coach likes them. We have a focus and a goal as Washington Redskins.”

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