- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2005

The calendar has turned from summer and September to October and autumn since the Washington Redskins last played. The hype of the season-opener, the subsequent quarterback change and the Week2 matchup with Dallas on “Monday Night Football” are history.

Today’s home game with Seattle, the first 2004 playoff foe, should be less about emotion and more about execution. And with road games at Denver (66-19 at home under coach Mike Shanahan) and Kansas City (22-12 at home under coach Dick Vermeil) the next two weeks, beating Seattle would provide a cushion to offset potential losses ahead for Washington, which hasn’t reached postseason since 1999.

“We feel good about the direction [in which] we’re headed,” said Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell.

A win also would be a terrific harbinger for the Redskins, who haven’t been 3-0 since they last won the Super Bowl after the 1991 season. They also started 3-0 under coach Joe Gibbs in 1982 en route to their first Super Bowl title and in 1986 when they lost the NFC Championship game.

To start 3-0, Washington’s stingy defense will have to control a Seattle offense featuring Shaun Alexander, whom assistant head coach Gregg Williams called the best back the Redskins have faced during the last two seasons. The sputtering Redskins offense will have to commit fewer penalties and turnovers and protect Brunell better while trying to recapture the magic of the stunning comeback against the Cowboys.

Two big plays don’t make a season, but can they launch the Redskins to a different level? That’s the big question after Brunell’s two long touchdowns to speedy new No.1 receiver Santana Moss that turned yet another defeat in Dallas into a thrilling 14-13 victory Sept.19 in Washington’s last game.

“We know now that we have the ability go deep and make big plays,” said Brunell, whose three completions of at least 40 yards during the final 23 minutes equalled his total of 2004. “Not being able to get those big plays has been a big thing around here for a while. [But] aside from a couple of series, it was pretty sloppy. There’s a lot of work to be done, but our confidence is high.”

After managing just three field goals in the opening 9-7 victory against Chicago, Washington had only 174 yards, nine first downs and no points when it took over at its 24 with just 5:58 left in Dallas. Less than 2 minutes later, the Redskins had added 156 more yards, three more first downs and most importantly, 14 more points.

But just as running back Clinton Portis dashed 64 yards to the end zone the first time he touched the ball with the Redskins in the 2004 opener and didn’t have a run longer than 22 yards in his subsequent 342 carries, the Brunell-to-Moss bombs might never be repeated.

“We were very fortunate to get those two coverages,” Brunell said. “The safeties were sitting a little tight and we got behind them. If they’re in a different coverage, we don’t get those. Maybe we won’t see that coverage as much anymore.”

Receiver David Patten agrees: “We have to sustain drives [the Redskins didn’t run a play in the red zone in Dallas and didn’t score a touchdown on their first 17 legitimate series this season]. Let’s face it, you’re not going to win too many games like that.”

No, you’re not, but the threat of the long ball should open things up for Portis and the ground game.

“It always helps to complete long balls because [opponents] can’t play eight men [in the box],” tight end Robert Royal said. “Hopefully that will take some pressure off us in the run game, and we’ll be able to click on all cylinders.”

That efficiency remains very much in doubt. Portis had a fine opener (121 yards on 21 carries) but was bottled up in Dallas (52 yards on 17 carries). Brunell was sacked five times, running Washington’s season total to eight. For all his big plays, Moss has just nine catches and no teammate has more than six.

For all their defensive prowess last season, the Redskins still finished 6-10. They know they need more offense to win. And while the Seahawks’ revamped defense is playing well, it doesn’t have as many proven performers as the Bears or Cowboys.

“All the way across the board, this is going to be a big deal for us,” said Gibbs, who’s 5-2 since a 3-8 start in his return to the Redskins. “This is the first team that we play that was a playoff team last year. You can kind of see it in them. They have a lot of confidence. We’re going to have our hands full.”

But will the Seahawks?

Note — With cornerback Walt Harris (calf) and safety Pierson Prioleau (hamstring) unlikely to play, the Redskins promoted corner Dmitri Patterson, a rookie from Tuskegee, from the practice squad and cut linebacker Zak Keasey, an undrafted rookie from Princeton who had been their feel-good story of 2005. Patterson will wear No.34.

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