- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 4, 2004

It appears the Washington Redskins are ready for the regular season after all.

Any fears coach Joe Gibbs might have had about his team’s less than inspiring showing through much of the preseason were quickly and emphatically put to rest during the Redskins’ 27-0 domination of the Atlanta Falcons in last night’s exhibition finale for both clubs.

If only the NFL recognized the outcome of the game in the standings.

“I wish it counted, but it doesn’t,” Gibbs said. “Now it starts for real. From here on out, we know it’s going to be hard-fought every single week.”

The Redskins are sure to encounter more of a challenge next Sunday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to town for the season opener. Whether Washington (3-2) progressed enough over the last five weeks remains to be seen.

“I don’t think you really know,” Gibbs said. “You just do the best you can to try to get everybody ready. But until the bullets start flying, you’re never sure.”

There were no doubts about the Redskins’ performance last night. With precision and emotion rarely seen in its previous four games, Washington put the game out of reach before many of the 72,892 traffic-fighting fans at FedEx Field even had reached their seats.

The Falcons (2-2) never knew what hit them. The Redskins scored on their first three offensive drives of the game, twice wrested the ball away from shell-shocked Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick and took a 24-0 lead in less than 12 minutes.

The game’s remaining 48 minutes were a mere formality, with both sets of coaches evaluating their second- and third-stringers in preparation for this weekend’s final roster cuts.

Gibbs needed to see only one offensive series out of his skill position stars before giving them the rest of the night off. Quarterback Mark Brunell completed four of six passes for 51 yards, Clinton Portis ran just once for 1 yard and Laveranues Coles caught one pass for 19 yards during Washington’s 78-yard scoring drive. Ladell Betts, firming up his position as the No.2 tailback behind Portis, scampered into the end zone from 5 yards out for the first of his two touchdowns.

Betts’ gutty performance did not escape the coaching staff, which admitted it had little material with which to judge the third-year back given his lengthy recovery from a hamstring injury. Betts, though, might have solidified his place on the roster simply by suiting up last week in St. Louis despite not being 100 percent healthy.

“That took guts,” Gibbs said. “That was big for him. I appreciated him going out there and sucking it up last week and this week. Having him healthy certainly helps us back there.”

Plagued by a variety of injuries last season, Betts (who finished with 27 yards on nine carries) said he realized his time might have been running out.

“I knew it was important for them and important for me to get back out there,” he said. “I had to get through that mental block, as far as testing the hamstring. [Playing last week] was a tough thing. But I think it gave me confidence going into this week, knowing that it held up.”

The Redskins’ defense provided plenty of offense on its own, harassing Vick into two turnovers with a vicious pass rush.

Assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams threw everything at Vick, who had seen only limited action in the preseason. On the Falcons’ first play from scrimmage, Williams blitzed both of his cornerbacks. Shawn Springs got to the quarterback first, forcing him to toss a weak pass right into the arms of safety Matt Bowen.

A few minutes later, with the Redskins up 17-0, Williams unleashed LaVar Arrington on the unsuspecting Vick. The Pro Bowl linebacker, making his first appearance in two weeks, stormed untouched through the middle of the line and forced Vick to fumble. Fellow linebacker Antonio Pierce scooped it up and ran 23 yards for another touchdown.

“He’s one of the hardest quarterbacks in the league to get to, and tonight we got to him,” Pierce said. “This is Gregg Williams. He’s not going to hold back on anybody, regardless of who it is. He’s going to be aggressive and come after you.”

First-year Atlanta coach Jim Mora took no more chances, yanking Vick from the game after just five snaps to avoid further injury or humiliation.

Said Redskins defensive end Renaldo Wynn: “Even I was like, ‘Get the guy out of there before you get him killed.’”

Though the game was essentially over after one quarter, with the Redskins outgaining the Falcons 121-5, the two teams fulfilled their obligations and played out the string.

Running back Sultan McCullough might have been the biggest beneficiary of the garbage time. The second-year back, who is battling with Betts, Rock Cartwright and John Simon (both inactive) for two roster spots, made his case with 75 yards on 23 rushing attempts.

McCullough, like several other players on the roster bubble, must now wait through a long weekend before learning his fate.

“I hate that part of it,” Gibbs said. “But we have to go in there and make the best decisions we can.”


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