- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 19, 2009

The most remarkable aspect of the upset pulled by the Washington Redskins on Sunday lies not in the fact that they finally won again, but rather in the surprising players who led them to victory.

The Redskins delivered their best performance in more than a year in a 27-17 win over the AFC West-leading Denver Broncos, a victory that ended a four-game losing streak and provided the organization with desperately needed relief.

And leading the way were players who had received little time - or in some cases none at all - over the course of this season.

It wasn’t six-time Pro Bowl selection Chris Samuels blanking Elvis Dumervil, the NFL sacks leader, for 51 minutes. In Samuels’ place at left tackle was Levi Jones, who didn’t sign with the Redskins until Oct. 20 and hadn’t started a game in a year.

Randy Thomas, a regular since the 2003 season, wasn’t at right guard helping the running game grind out 174 yards, the Redskins’ most in 18 games. Instead, the spot was manned by Chad Rinehart, making just his third NFL start and his first since Week 4.

“There’s a lot of guys that are really hungry, guys that haven’t had the opportunities,” fullback Mike Sellers said. “There was a whole different mindset.”

Rinehart and Jones weren’t alone among secondary players making a big impact.

Fred Davis, playing in place of injured Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley and making only his fourth start, led the Redskins with four catches for 50 yards.

Quinton Ganther, last on the depth chart at running back, finished with more receiving yards than ace wideout Santana Moss. So did reserve back Rock Cartwright and former starting receivers Antwaan Randle El and Malcolm Kelly.

Ladell Betts replaced the injured Clinton Portis at running back and rushed for 114 yards.

And Betts, blocking tight end Todd Yoder and Sellers scored the Redskins’ touchdowns - Sellers on a pass from holder Hunter Smith on a fake field goal.

“Ladell was like, ‘It’s my time to shine,’ ” Sellers said. “He’s playing with a vengeance.”

The Redskins’ offense lost 16 turnovers in the first 7 1/2 games this season but hasn’t committed one since trailing the Falcons 24-3 at halftime - the key to the turnaround, according to coach Jim Zorn.

Center Casey Rabach said the veterans simply “set their jaw” and said “enough is enough.”

Quarterback Jason Campbell called it “a little weird” that the offense has played its best without most of its top players, but he explained it the same way Sellers did.

“A lot of guys getting their opportunities. … This may be the only opportunity that you get, and you have to make the best of it,” Campbell said. “That gives them the energy to go out and play hard and fight.”

Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips, whose 6-3 team hosts the 3-6 Redskins on Sunday, sees a different Washington offense.

“We always say guys gotta step up, and then you find out [about them]. Sometimes a little extra juice… helps,” Phillips said.

A similar juice was felt on defense, though in less dramatic fashion.

Strong safety Reed Doughty, a backup to Chris Horton when the season began, led the Redskins with seven tackles and made a critical fumble recovery.

Cornerback Justin Tryon, an afterthought in September, made more tackles than starters Phillip Daniels, Carlos Rogers and LaRon Landry. So did Fred Smoot, a forgotten man in October after being supplanted by Tryon as the nickel back.

But most of the impact came on offense, which had struggled all season to score.

Is it possible that the Redskins are more effective without longtime standouts Portis, Samuels, Cooley and Thomas?

“The last six quarters, they’ve played much better,” NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger said. “They’re a better team without Portis having to be fed the ball. They were better running the ball when Betts was in there three years ago.”

Is the secondary stronger minus Horton, an All-Rookie choice last season, and Rogers, who was benched Sunday after being beaten badly for a long touchdown in the first quarter?

“If the secondary ever decides that tackling is important, they can be a pretty decent football team,” Baldinger said.

Those questions - and the effectiveness of the backups now taking on major roles - will be severely tested over the next three weeks as the Redskins face some of the conference’s best teams in the Cowboys, the Philadelphia Eagles and the now-unbeaten New Orleans Saints.

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