Lasting Impact?

Laveranues Coles' touchdown-saving strip of Seattle's Damien Robinson last Sunday is the kind of play that can turn a dismal season into a good one.

Trailing 14-3 at the time, the Redskins were dead if Robinson had scored. Actually, death probably would have been preferable to the scorn that would have been heaped on the team, on Steve Spurrier, and on the organization had the game become a Seahawk rout.

As it was, after that play, the Redskins outscored Seattle 24-6. Did they gain some momentum from that play, the kind that they apparently picked up after Lavar Arrington's interception return for a touchdown against Carolina in 2001? Arrington's play clearly was pivotal in turning an 0-5 record into a 5-5 mark, the first such turnaround in NFL history.

Even if Coles' play doesn't leave a lasting mark on the Skins, it appears to have left one on the Seahawks. According to the Seattle Post-Intellingencer, the Seahawks were still talking about it on Wednesday, far past the 24 hours an NFL team should take to get past a particular play. The writer quoted several Seattle players who were on the field when the play happened. Here's some of Clare Farnsworth's article:

Middle linebacker Randall Godfrey, who was leading Robinson to the end zone and started to celebrate the apparent score just as Coles popped the ball loose: "That was the turning point in the game. I was disappointed, and I was embarrassed because I started high-stepping into the end zone. I didn't know what had happened until I heard the crowd. Then it was like, 'This can't be good.' I never saw the ball. That changed their whole season, right there. That was a big-time play."

Godfrey was indisputably right in saying that it was a big-time play by Coles, but it remains to be seen if it will change the whole season. For that to happen, the Redskins must keep it going.

What happened in the games following Arrington's play two seasons ago? A week later, the Redskins jumped out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead en route to a 35-21 win over the New York Giants at FedEx Field. The next game was also at home as the Skins beat the Seahawks 27-14. They followed that up with impressive road wins in Denver and Philadelphia.

Washington will need an impressive road win right off the bat this week if Coles' play is going to prove to be a springboard to success. The Panthers lead the NFC South by three games and are 4-1 at home this year. Stephen Davis, who was a major part of the five-game recovery in '01, now wears a Carolina uniform, providing a huge challenge to Washington's mediocre rush defense.

It's been said that the fact that the Seahawks didn't blitz Patrick Ramsey very much has more to do with the Skins' win than the forced fumble by Coles. That point has a lot of merit, but if Carolina chooses to "dance with who brung ‘em" as Seattle did, the Panthers won't blitz much either.

Panther right defensive end Mike Rucker has half of Carolina's 22 sacks. That will place a large part of the burden of keeping Ramsey upright on left tackle Chris Samuels. On the other side, Jon Jansen will have his hands full with left end Julius Peppers, last year's defensive Rookie of the Year.

Davis may gain 150 yards or more, but if Jake Delhomme can't get moving through the air, Carolina won't score enough to win if Samuels and Jansen can handle their respective matchups adequately. Certainly, Delhomme will have time to pass since the Skins haven't been able to put pressure on the opposing passer all year long. That puts the pressure on Champ Bailey to shut down Steve Smith and on Fred Smoot to do the same to Muhsin Muhammad.

Even if Carolina wins the matchups on the corners and on the ends, there's another factor going in the Redskins' favor—parity. Both teams have about .500 talent. If you're going to argue that Carolina's is better than that, please note that they have outscored the opposition by just 15 points over nine games. That's by far the worst scoring differential among teams with two losses or fewer. The Skins have a good shot in this one.

Redskins 24, Panthers 23

Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book has detailed coverage of every game the Redskins played from 1937 through the 2001 season. For details, go to RedskinsAtoZ.com


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