- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

HOUSTON — Mark Brunell misfired only three times in 27 pass attempts, Clinton Portis returned and scored two touchdowns and, after another slow start, the defense did what it should do against a team like the Texans: force the issue.

The Washington Redskins saved their season yesterday at Reliant Stadium with a 31-15 win over the lowly Texans. And you heard it here first: This was one of two games the Monday Morning Quarterback thought were locks for the Redskins this season. No. 2 comes against Tennessee in three weeks.

But don’t get too fired up.

These were the Texans, who are only slightly better than the 49ers team the Redskins thumped 52-17 last season. At least Houston fans can’t directly blame old friend Charley Casserly anymore; he’s living in D.C. and hanging out on “The NFL Today” set instead of watching the Texans’ defense get torched.

But for the Redskins, a win is a win is a win.

Q: Start printing the playoff tickets. The Redskins are headed in the right direction, correct?

A: We’ll find out Sunday at FedEx Field. If they can find a way to beat Jacksonville, they will be 2-2 heading to Giants Stadium, their House of Horrors since Gibbs Version 2.0 started in 2004.

Every game for the Redskins is a must win until they reach the .500 mark. A loss to the 2-1 Jaguars (who lost at Indianapolis yesterday) would put the Redskins’ season back in the toilet.

Q: You have been one of Brunell’s main bashers since Week 1 of 2004, so you have to acknowledge that the old man with the old arm and the old legs looked pretty darn good, right?

A: OK, I’ll admit he executed the game plan, which called for short passes. It didn’t require much pass protection or much accuracy.

The game plan Redskins fans saw against Houston is one that ignores the deep ball. Brunell is loathe to throw to receivers who have defenders within, say, 14 yards. So the dink-and-dunk game suits him best. But it’s unlikely it will work for three or four consecutive weeks.

Q: So, what you’re saying is Brunell will be in big trouble when he faces a good defense and must throw longer than 17 yards downfield?

A: Yep, that’s my story, and I’ll stick to it until No.8 proves otherwise. He was 24-for-27 for 261 yards, but other than a 74-yard shovel pass to Portis, Brunell’s longest completion was 25 yards.

Q: Speaking of Portis, he came back and looked sharp. Does he make that big a difference to the offense?

A: Absolutely. Portis is the linchpin for this offense. When he runs well, the pass opens up. When he runs well, the offense stays on the field. When he runs well, the entire team gets fired up.

Portis rushed for 86 yards on 16 carries, a solid foundation for him to build on. Expect him to be used 22 to 27 times against a stingy Jacksonville defense.

Q: I’m done giving the offense pats on the back. After all, it was Houston. What about the defense? What’s up with them giving up scoring drives on the first possession for three straight weeks?

A: Minnesota scored a touchdown, Dallas kicked a field goal and Houston scored a touchdown.

The first two weeks, it took a quarter for the Redskins’ defense to wake up. The good news about yesterday is that it took only a series.

Houston followed its 66-yard touchdown drive by going punt, punt, punt, halftime, punt, fumble on its next six possessions. The Texans’ final touchdown came in garbage time.

Q: But at least Mike Rumph and Kenny Wright held up relatively well. Rumph drew a penalty early, but Wright intercepted a pass. Does it seem like they’re getting used to life without Shawn Springs?

A: They better hope Springs comes back for the Giants game in two weeks. The Redskins’ secondary is being held together by equal parts rubber cement and bailing wire without Springs, who isn’t expected to play next week. Imagine if the Redskins faced a team with three or four solid receivers. Ouch!

Q: The Redskins are supposed to be disciplined under Gibbs, yet they drew 12 more penalties yesterday for 126 yards. How big a concern should that be?

A: A moderate concern. On two different plays, the Redskins were called for two penalties, letting Houston take its choice. A couple of solid returns by Rock Cartwright were brought back because of flags, and the offense continues to put itself in a hole with penalties.

Q: OK, do the Redskins get back to .500 next week by beating Jacksonville?

A: Time for a cop-out. I’m not ready to say yes or no yet. I don’t think the Jaguars are as good as they showed against Pittsburgh because it appears the Steelers have problems — they’re 1-2.

The key will be getting pressure on Byron Leftwich. A second key will be Portis. Before the season, I had the game marked down as a Redskins win.

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