- The Washington Times - Monday, October 24, 2005

Think Joe Gibbs might have overreacted a bit to the media’s — or was it the oddsmakers? — dismissing of the 49ers? The Redskins could have spotted San Francisco, well, 49 points yesterday and still had a shot at winning, especially if the fourth quarter hadn’t been turned over to the scrubs.

It’s been a long time since Your Heroes have manhandled somebody the way they manhandled the Niners. In recent years, the Redskins have tended to be on the receiving end of such floggings, so there was a certain catharsis to this 52-17 vivisection/victory. It was if the Washington offense, in airing it out, was also airing out FedEx Field, chasing away a decade of foul smells.

You don’t want to read too much into a mismatch like this one, though, and Mike Sellers assuredly didn’t. The Redskins’ H-back had a career game — two receptions, both for touchdowns, the second a 19-yarder that was “probably the longest catch since I’ve been in the league. I was kinda tired, kinda winded [afterward],” he joked. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back on special teams.”

But Sellers wasn’t overly celebratory, wasn’t ready to organize any team cruises on the Potomac or anything like that. In fact, he had a warning for all you Redskins fans out there: “Don’t put me on your fantasy league team, please don’t, because I would disappoint you.”

The Redskins have been waiting to exhale ever since Gibbs arrived in his chariot 21 months ago. Almost every one of their games has been so breathlessly close — a touchdown this way, a field goal that way — basically because the offense never broke loose, never put anybody away.

But in the last six weeks, beginning with the miracle finish in Dallas, the unit has shown real improvement — particularly in the previously putrid passing game. The only thing slowing the Redskins down has been turnovers. And against the 49ers they eliminated those, so …

“It’s a big confidence booster for us,” Chris Samuels said. “It shows what we’re capable of doing. When we play the way we did today, we can beat anybody.”

We’ll have to see about that. But the Redskins did score 21 more points than they had scored in any game since Coach Joe returned. And they did it by availing themselves of all their weapons — not just Mark Brunell, Clinton Portis, Santana Moss and Chris Cooley, but also Sellers, Ladell Betts (92 yards rushing) and David Patten (grabs of 32 and 24 yards).

“The more you can spread it around, the more effective you’re going to be,” said Brunell.

After all, opponents aren’t going to let Moss run amok much longer. And that will create opportunities for other people — Portis (running) and Patten (receiving), principally. If they make plays, the offense will have other days like yesterday. Maybe not days when it scores 52 points, but certainly days when the fourth quarter isn’t such a white-knuckle affair.

“Every week,” Portis said, “Coach says, ‘It doesn’t have to come down to the last play of the game.’ And we’re like, ‘We’re tired of it coming down to the last minute of every game.’ But today was the first time it actually happened that we got ahead [and kept lengthening their lead].”

Yesterday’s game was over in about 10 plays. The 49ers went three-and-out on their first possession, the Redskins scored six snaps later — Brunell flipping the first of his three TD passes to a lonely Sellers in the left flat — and that was pretty much it. By the fourth quarter, No.8 and No.26 were on the sideline resting up for the Giants while Patrick Ramsey and Rock Cartwright assumed the physical risk.

There aren’t many Sundays like that in the NFL, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Redskins. They needed a pick-me-up after a pair of self-inflicted losses at Denver and Kansas City. They’re moving into the meat of their schedule now — at New York, home against Philadelphia, at Tampa Bay — and it’s important that they don’t have any self-esteem issues.

After his post-game session with the media, Gibbs hung around the room for a while and watched some of the Eagles-Chargers game on the TV. It’s been ages since the Redskins have had much reason to watch scoreboards. Heck, they haven’t finished within arm’s length of Philly since 1999. But this season, it appears, they might be participants in the NFC East race instead of just spectators. They certainly showed yesterday, 52 times over, that they no longer belong to the ranks of the rank.

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