Washington Redskins (3-0) at Denver Broncos (3-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: FOX, Sam Rosen, Bill Maas
SERIES: Tied 5-5 including Redskins' 42-10 victory in Super Bowl XXII. Home team lost last meetings in 2001 and 1998 with Denver edging Washington 38-31 in 1995 with WR Rod Smith outleaping Darrell Green for his first career TD catch on a Hail Mary from John Elway. Biggest game was the Super Bowl in which Redskins recovered from 10-0 deficit to score 35 points in the second quarter behind MVP Doug Williams' 4 TDs and record-setting performances from RB Timmy Smith and WR Ricky Sanders.
2005 RANKINGS: Redskins: offense 14th (6th rush, 21st pass); defense 5th (5th rush, 16th pass). Broncos: offense 19th (3rd rush, 25th pass); defense 6th (4th rush, 18th pass)
PREDICTION: Broncos 17-10
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Redskins' three victories have come by a total of six points, so their margin for error is extremely small in a tough road environment. RB Clinton Portis has averaged just 3.9 yards per carry since he was traded by Washington before the 2004 season, but he remains the focal point of the Redskins' offense. Denver is hoping CB Champ Bailey (hamstring) can return as Washington will attempt a few big plays to WR Santana Moss every game. Washington is allowing just 83.3 rushing yards per game, but the Broncos still want to use their ground game to set up the play-action pass. If Denver gets an early lead at home, the Redskins' methodical offense will have a tough time mounting a comeback.
Redskins: Seek first 4-0 start since 1991, when Joe Gibbs' team started 11-0 and went on to win the Super Bowl. ... WR Santana Moss' 10 third-down receptions is tied for the most in the NFL.
Broncos: Are 16-4 (.800) at home against NFC teams under coach Mike Shanahan. ... QB Jake Plummer has 27 TDs and 13 INTs in 16 home games as a Bronco.
--SS Pierson Prioleau practiced for a second straight day after missing two weeks with a strained hamstring suffered on the opening drive in Dallas on Sept. 19. Prioleau's absence from last week's game with Seattle was his first in nearly four years. Whether he regains the starting job on Sunday in Denver or Ryan Clark or Matt Bowen line up next to Sean Taylor is the kind of dilemma that assistant head coach Gregg Williams loves.
--K John Hall, who pulled a quadriceps on his last kickoff in the Sept. 11 opener against Chicago, has kicked some field goals but no kickoffs in practice since. With coach Joe Gibbs saying that Hall - who missed eight games with four different leg injuries in 2004 - won't return to action until he has proved that he's 100 percent, undrafted rookie Nick Novak will fill in for a third straight game.
--LCB Walt Harris hasn't practiced since straining his left calf on Sept. 22. If he can't go today (and it's supposed to rain fairly heavily), first-round draft choice Carlos Rogers will almost certainly make his second straight start on Sunday. Before last week, Harris hadn't missed a game since Indianapolis' 2002 finale.
--MLB Lemar Marshall was cut by Denver following training camp in 2001 before latching on late that season with Washington. Marshall, who started 14 games at WLB last year in place of the injured LaVar Arrington, is tied for the team lead with 27 tackles and a sack.
--P Derrick Frost, signed on Sept. 27, will punt in altitude for the first time in his 18-game NFL career in Denver. Frost was with Cleveland last year. The Browns didn't play the Broncos.
--CB Champ Bailey practiced again on Thursday. He will test his injured hamstring at full speed on Friday, but it appears he has a good chance at playing against Washington.
--CB Roc Alexander was out of practice once again with a hamstring injury on Thursday and he probably will not play this week. Alexander missed last week's game with the same injury.
--CB Karl Paymah will probably be active this week if Roc Alexander can't play. Paymah, a rookie, was active for the first time last week and played in Denver's nickel defense.
--LB Patrick Chukwurah practiced on Thursday and he might return to the lineup this week. He's a valuable backup but his real value to Denver is as a pass-rushing end in the nickel defense.
--QB Jake Plummer said he looks at his new role holding for kicker Jason Elam as a challenge. He has put in extra time before practice to hone his skills. Plummer hasn't held for field goals regularly since college.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Running back Clinton Portis returns to Denver on Sunday for the first time since the big March 2004 trade for Champ Bailey and a second-round draft pick, but the "flyest guy on the planet" isn't bringing his gaudiest bling - the "championship belt" he made famous while a Broncos standout in 2002 and 2003.
"I loved it as the champ, but I can't still be the champ two years later," Portis said. "I had to give the championship belt up."
But after a disappointing first year in Washington, Portis is happy as a Redskin, especially with the team a surprising 3-0 and atop the NFC East after last year's 6-10 last-place finish.
"Everybody just believes," said Portis, who's averaging 88 yards a game and 4.2 a carry. "When you get everyone to believe and on the same page then guys have fun. Last year was horrible. We weren't having fun. People didn't believe. Everyone was questioning this and that. Offensively, we're finding our rhythm. Once we get that established in these next few weeks, we're going to be a team to contend with."
Of course, Portis loved his time in Denver, too.
"I enjoyed my time in Denver," said the 24-year-old University of Miami product. "I think that's one of the best systems that you can possibly play in. 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. Just to see what the fans think, whether they appreciated me or not, we'll find out on Sunday."
And Portis, who left the Broncos in the wake of a reported demand to have his contract redone, not only doesn't hold a grudge against Denver coach Mike Shanahan, he said the trade helped him mature.
"People are afraid of change," Portis said. "People have a comfort zone. Having this change come upon me has made me grow up and appreciate things more. It made me become a better man, made me become a leader. My plan is to always be a leader on the field. Off the field, I was always in my own world. Not having the Shannon Sharpe, the Eddie McCaffrey or the Rod Smith (in Washington), it thrust me into that role. I'm enjoying it."
One year after throwing for a team record 4,089 yards, Denver Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer is on pace to barely crack 3,000 yards this season.
The Broncos haven't been passing deep much this season and have yet to hit on a deep pass. Their longest pass this year is 26 yards. Every other team in the NFL has completed a pass longer than that.
The Broncos aren't concerned about the lack of deep balls because they are 3-1 and in first place in the AFC West.
"So what if we throw the ball 5 yards?" receiver Rod Smith said. "We ain't got to throw the ball deep to win the game and it's about winning the game."
Ashley Lelie is the player whose numbers are way down this season. He averaged 20.1 yards per catch last year, which led the NFL, and he's averaging only 10.6 yards per catch this season. The Broncos have tried going deep to Lelie during games but haven't connected, and they say they aren't worried about Lelie making some big plays.
Being a little more conservative on offense has helped Plummer avoid throwing interceptions. He has only three through four games after throwing 20 last year.
The Broncos aren't getting played much differently defensively this season. They said that they are just running the ball well, so they see no need to pass deep.
"You got to do what you got to do to win and if it's running the ball for 200 and throwing it for 110, that's fine," Broncos offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said. "One day you may have to throw it for 300 and rush for 100."
Voice your opinion on our Broncos Hardcore Message Board