- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2005

Garnell Wilds had played in one game as an NFL cornerback. Randy Moss had amassed more yards in his first seven seasons than any receiver in history.

“I’ve watched Randy Moss play for a long time,” said Wilds, a Washington Redskins undrafted rookie out of Virginia Tech. “But I’m not scared of anybody. He talked trash, but that kind of feeds into my aggressive game. I think I held my own.”

Wilds covered Moss at times and spent most of yesterday’s game on the field, helping the Redskins upset the Minnesota Vikings 21-18. Moss caught five passes for 66 yards and a touchdown, a leaping grab over star rookie safety Sean Taylor.

“You guys weren’t doubting me when Garnell was lined up on Randy Moss, were you?” asked assistant head coach/defense Gregg Williams after the game. “Garnell did a tremendous job. If I had enough guts, I would have been playing him a month ago. It’s just one more story on this defense of a free agent who steps up.”

Wilds joined such little-known players as ends Ryan Boschetti, Demetric Evans and Ron Warner, safety Ryan Clark and linebacker Chris Clemons as a contributor to an overachieving defense that finished the season ranked No.1 in the NFC.

The defense performed at that high level despite the absence of end Phillip Daniels, linebackers LaVar Arrington and Michael Barrow and safety Matt Bowen for much of the season. Those four players missed 52 of a possible 64 starts, but the Redskins kept rolling by getting strong play from unexpected quarters.

For example, the Redskins sacked Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper four times yesterday. The sacks were provided by Evans, who resuscitated his career in NFL Europe last spring; linebacker Lemar Marshall, who didn’t start a game in his first two seasons; tackle Cornelius Griffin, who was deemed an underachiever by the New York Giants; and cornerback Shawn Springs, who had just 1 sacks in seven seasons with the Seattle Seahawks but tied with Griffin for the team lead this year.

“Daunte came up to me after the game and said, ‘Y’all are awesome,’” Springs said. “That means a lot. Late in the year, [Green Bay quarterback] Brett Favre said our defense was the best he played.”

Only the Philadelphia Eagles and the Green Bay Packers, both division champions, scored more than 21 points on the defense. And the unit maintained its consistency even though only end Renaldo Wynn and linebackers Marcus Washington and Antonio Pierce started all 16 games.

“Coach Williams did a great job of letting us know that we were 11, not just one,” said veteran cornerback Walt Harris, who started in place of the injured Fred Smoot yesterday. “We don’t play as individuals. We play as a team. When you play as a team, you have a better chance of shutting teams down.”

The Redskins allowed 320 yards to the Vikings, ensuring that the defense would finish the season ranked No.3 in the league behind the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Bills.

“Being No. 1 was a goal that we strived to get,” Harris said. “We didn’t get it, but it gave us incentive. With us not being in the playoffs, we have to feel a little satisfaction from being able to play so well. I really feel something special here. I have no doubt that we can carry this into next year. The more guys play together, we’re only to get better.”

Pierce and Smoot are headed for free agency. The former is confident that he’ll re-sign. The latter doesn’t expect to be back. Marshall is a restricted free agent, giving the Redskins the right to match offers he receives.

But the other eight regulars plus Arrington, Bowen and Daniels and perhaps Barrow will be on hand in 2005, and Clark and other backups will be much more experienced.

Williams, formerly the head coach of the Buffalo Bills, could be courted for any vacancies but said he’s very happy in his role and plans to return. If he does, he will be the first defensive coordinator to return to the Redskins in six years.

“There are [just nine] guys left from my rookie year,” Pierce said. “We don’t need to go through that 15-to-20 man roster movement again. Keep the same guys on defense and the offense has a year together and this will be a fine team.”

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