- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 9, 2005

Just like a video game, the Washington Redskins’ challenge has increased with each opponent this season.

Chicago had a strong defense. Dallas had the mental edge of its decade-long domination of Washington and coach Bill Parcells’ mastery of Redskins rival Joe Gibbs. Seattle, a playoff team last season, had the NFL’s top third-down defense and terrific running back Shaun Alexander.

The Redskins surprisingly have surmounted all those obstacles — albeit by a mere six points — en route to a 3-0 record and the NFC East lead. However, today’s task in the mile-high altitude of Denver figures to be even tougher for the Redskins, who were just 6-10 last season and whose only road wins were against three fellow lightweights.

A 10-win team the last two seasons, the Broncos are 67-19 at home in their 11 seasons under coach Mike Shanahan. Gibbs had his players practice with a crowd noise tape blaring all week to try to get them used to what they will face at Invesco Field at Mile High. After a shocking opening loss at Miami, Denver (3-1) outscored San Diego, Kansas City and Jacksonville 70-34. The Chargers, Chiefs and Jaguars are a combined 6-3 with a plus-73 points differential against their other foes.

“They’ve pretty much hammered the last three teams they’ve played,” Gibbs said of the Broncos. “Kansas City went there and got manhandled, and we have a lot of respect for K.C. We’re big underdogs, and we’ll have to overcome all of that.”

Overcoming is what this Redskins season has been all about so far, whether it was the injury-induced quarterback switch from Patrick Ramsey to Mark Brunell against the Bears, the late 13-0 deficit at Dallas or the two long touchdown drives by the Seahawks last week against the usually stingy defense that forced overtime.

“We made some mistakes that we don’t usually make,” right end Phillip Daniels said. “We lined up wrong on that fourth-and-1. They were little things that can be fixed. The main thing is we got the win and gave ourselves the chance to fix them. Mistakes are going to happen. It’s how you respond after the mistakes. I’m not really worried. I’ll know we’ll respond in this next game.”

Running back Clinton Portis is looking forward to the response from the crowd in his return to Denver, where he starred in 2002-03 before being traded to Washington in March 2004.

“I enjoyed my time in Denver,” said Portis, who’s averaging 88 yards a game and 4.2 a carry but is anxious for his first touchdown of the season. “It’s going to be exciting having the opportunity to [go] back out there. I never really had a farewell. It just came out of the blue. What the fans think, whether they appreciated me or not, we’ll find out on Sunday.”

The game will also be a reunion for Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, who was traded by the Redskins for Portis (and a second-round draft pick) after both had contract disputes with their old teams.

Bailey, who is expected to return today after missing the first game of his seven-year career last week because of a tender left hamstring, joined Portis, Gibbs and Shanahan in saying the trade paid off for both sides.

In this case, the cliche is true. Washington’s defense plugged in ex-Seahawks cornerback Shawn Springs for Bailey and improved. As for the Broncos, their ground game churns out yards every season, whether they are gained by Portis or the less heralded Mike Anderson.

Led by Anderson — coming off his first 100-yard game in four seasons — Denver’s third-ranked rushing attack meets Washington’s fifth-ranked run defense, which last allowed a 100-yard runner eight games ago, in what well could be today’s decisive battle.

“Something has to give,” Redskins safety Ryan Clark said. “Stopping the run is our first goal in any game. We’ll go out there and just try to hit them in the mouth. A lot of people try to make football [seem] hard. It’s not very hard. You just run as fast as you can into the other guy. Whoever gets up first, that’s who wins.”

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