It's only the Redskins' second win. But it's much more, especially to the players. No more can the late-night comedians get laughs at their expense. And the critics will be silenced for the time being.
And the focus no longer is on five straight losses. It's on what can happen. All this from a 35-21 win over New York. Washington improved to 2-5 while New York fell to 3-4. Suddenly, the Redskins feel they might be on to something. Which is why the players celebrated with a bit extra vigor. So Chris Samuels and Rod Gardner and Ki-Jana Carter danced at midfield, helmets raised high and LaVar Arrington dumped a Gatorade bucket on coach Marty Schottenheimer and Kenard Lang raced to the end zone, slapping hands with fans.
''That first win felt like we won the Super Bowl,'' Redskins tackle Chris Samuels, one of the dancers at midfield, said. ''The second one just feels great. We're starting to play some serious ball. I knew we could all along and I kept saying it.'' Now they're starting to listen.
''This turnaround was inevitable,'' Arrington said. ''But I don't want to let anyone else aboard this bandwagon. We don't want to take any more passengers. ''That's a building block. It's all coming to fruition. We've worked hard and it's starting to pay off. This has given us our confidence back and now we've got that winning feeling.''
Let's not get carried away: Washington still has a ways to go. But hope is evident for the first time in a while. And Sunday's win proved the Carolina game was a start and not an aberration. Now an offense once dormant has broken out with 38 points in the past five quarters and one possession of overtime.
''Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before they put everything together,'' Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said. Redskins quarterback Tony Banks completed 11 of 19 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns, one for 76 yards in the fourth quarter to receiver Michael Westbrook. The receivers all played a major role. Kevin Lockett threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Derrius Thompson in the third quarter. Lockett also caught three passes for 46 yards, two for first downs. None were bigger than a third-and-18 reception, bailing Washington out of a potential jam, clinging to a six-point lead.
And Rod Gardner grabbed a 12-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, giving Washington a 7-0 lead. ''We're still evolving,'' Westbrook said. ''It's a process and now we're making plays. The play-action didn't work early because we didn't understand how it all worked.'' Lockett's touchdown pass in the third quarter gave Washington a 24-14 lead. ''I hope we don't get too many of those receivers throwing passes,'' Banks joked afterward. ''I can't have these receivers with a higher quarterback rating than me. But it was a great play . . . We just had them biting and the rest is history.''
The receivers came through in part because New York paid so much attention to the run, as it did in a 23-9 win over the Redskins earlier this month. The safeties often blitzed, plugging running lanes, and they blitzed corners to stop the outside runs. That worked as running back Stephen Davis was held in control for three quarters. But Davis broke through with 60 yards in the fourth quarter, pushing his total to 107.
Still, it was the long ball that won the game. And the last deep pass clinched the victory. Facing a third-and-19 with 6:41 remaining, Banks fired a long ball to Westbrook, racing down the right side past corner Jason Sehorn. Westbrook caught the ball around the Giants' 30 and scored untouched. ''I'm glad to show everyone that I can still catch,'' Westbrook said. ''We needed that one. Maybe the critics will be quiet for a little bit.''
Sehorn said he thought Washington would throw to the first-down marker, as it had done much of the game. So he slowed as Westbrook approached first-down yardage. ''Bad guess, bad play,'' Sehorn said. ''I was thinking something else and I was wrong.''
The Redskins took a 27-14 lead on a 20-yard Brett Conway field goal, capping a 6:54 drive in the third quarter. But New York wasn't finished. The Giants immediately answered with a 12-play drive, stretching into the fourth quarter. Quarterback Kerry Collins punctuated the drive with a one-yard pass to fullback Greg Comella with 13:58 left. The Redskins grabbed a 14-0 lead thanks to New York's generosity and Eric Metcalf's 89-yard punt return.
First the gift. On the second play from scrimmage, New York tried an end around to receiver Amani Toomer. But the Giants botched the handoff and the ball squirted free at the 17-yard line, where end Kenard Lang recovered. ''I was aggressive running up the field,'' Lang said. ''I fell down and was trying to get up when I saw the ball and fell on it.'' Three plays later, Banks hit Gardner on a post pattern for a 12-yard touchdown. Gardner beat corner Will Peterson to the inside. Michael Westbrook, running a crossing pattern underneath, delayed safety Shaun Williams, preventing him from helping on Gardner. Then Metcalf, playing in his first game f or his new team, electrified the crowd with his 10th career punt return for a touchdown.
He caught the 41-yard punt at the 11, started up and, with one move, shook two would-be tacklers. He then darted over to the right and cut up, receiving solid blocks from Walter Rasby, Ifeanyi Ohalete and Michael Bates, among others. The Giants never touched him on his 89-yard touchdown. ''I thought I would get a pretty good return,'' Metcalf said, ''and then I saw guys falling down in front of me because our blockers were getting out there. That gave me an alley to cut back and get up the field.''
''That's the biggest play of the year, if you ask me,'' Banks said. ''It was a great coaching decision to bring him in here.'' New York used a different attack to creep back into the game: a spread offense, often going without a huddle and using four receivers, catching Washington by surprise. It worked. The first scoring drive featured six passes and one run, all but two from shotgun formation. Quarterback Kerry Collins passed six yards on a fade route to receiver Amani Toomer on second and goal for the touchdown, beating corner Champ Bailey. New York tied the game on its next series, driving 39 yards after a short punt by Bryan Barker.
The Giants needed only five plays, scoring on a 27-yard pass from Collins to receiver Ike Hilliard. He broke two tackles, from Bailey and Arrington. The Redskins, as they did all day, answered that drive with one of their own, culminating in Conway's first field goal. Again they used a big play--this time a 30-yard run by Ki-Jana Carter to the Giants' 24. ''Anytime you have success it builds confidence in the whole staff, the players included,'' Banks said. ''It's two weeks in a row and we beat a good Giants team. I imagine our confidence will be even higher in the next week.''
FAST FACTS --Washington is 2-5 entering Sunday's game against Seattle. -
-Eric Metcalf has returned a punt or kickoff for a touchdown 12 times, a new NFL record. He had shared the mark with former Redskin Brian Mitchell.
--Running back Stephen Davis gained 55 of his 107 yards on the final series. --Receiver Derrius Thompson caught the first touchdown pass of his career. Receiver Kevin Lockett threw the first scoring pass of his career.
--Since LaVar Arrington's interception against Carolina, Redskins quarterback Tony Banks has completed 16 of 25 passes for 395 yards and three touchdowns.
THE BIG PLAY During the week, Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer told receiver Derrius Thompson he would score his first NFL touchdown. But who would have guessed who he would catch it from--receiver Kevin Lockett. Washington faced --- from the Giants' 31 early in the second half. The Redskins had stunned New York, taking a 17-14 halftime lead. But the Giants had moved the ball and Washington needed to establish a second-half offense, or else face another loss.
So the Redskins got tricky. On the play, Lockett lined up in the slot to the left, behind running back Stephen Davis and receiver Michael Westbrook. When the ball was snapped, Lockett stepped back and caught a lateral from quarterback Tony Banks. Thompson, starting in the right slot, ran across the field. Uncovered. It was an easy 31-yard touchdown for a 24-14 lead. '
'I didn't think I'd be that wide open,'' Thompson said. ''I saw the safety bite on the play and I was shocked. I looked up and saw the ball coming. I made sure I caught it--and it was wobbly so I caught it like it was a punt.'' Schottenheimer watched Lockett throw a similar pass in a collegiate postseason game in 1997--against Schottenheimer's team. ''
As wide open as Derrius was, I just wanted to make sure the ball didn't go out of bounds,'' Lockett said. ''It wasn't a perfect spiral but it got a touchdown.''