Only three weeks ago Washington's offense couldn't produce anything. Except headaches. So how can the Redskins explain this? And what took so long? The Redskins aren't sure why it took so long, they're just glad that their fortunes have changed.
Now, after a 27-14 win over Seattle, the Redskins enter the bye week with three straight wins. They're still 3-5, but their pulse can be felt. They barely had one three weeks ago.
''We've still got hope for the postseason,'' Redskins end Marco Coleman said. A month ago, that comment would have drawn snickers and snide remarks. Not anymore. Now the postseason is very much on the players' minds. ''We're on our way somewhere, we hope,'' Redskins corner Darrell Green said. ''Our bags are packed and we're going down the road. We hope to get to our destination, but we're not there.''
No, they're not. But they're much closer after beating Seattle. All it will take is a strong second half, something few would have believed Washington could have given its start. The Redskins have changed minds, and their fortunes, because of a running game that opponents fear. Now it's even tougher for defenses to stop running back Stephen Davis with the passing game starting to click. Sunday provided an example of a defense's dilemma: take away the deep ball or the run? Seattle opted to take away the long throws, thinking it could contain the run with its front seven. Wrong.
Washington's longest pass completion was only 29 yards--to fullback Bryan Johnson no less. But Davis rushed for 142 yards on 32 carries. ''The important thing from our standpoint is that our players understand what we are trying to do,'' Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer said, ''far better than they did a month ago. We like to run the ball. If you can run the ball in this league, you have a good chance of winning.''
It was Davis' highest output since gaining 189 yards in a Dec. 12, 1999 game against Arizona. In the past four games, Davis has had games of 99, 99, 107 and 142 yards--the first time he's ever surpassed 90 yards in four straight games. ''If you want to take away the deep ball,''
Redskins quarterback Tony Banks said, ''and don't involve the safety against the run, that's when Stephen [Davis] will hurt you.'' ''Washington jammed it down our throats,'' Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said. Banks contributed with a solid, efficient game, completing 15 of 23 passes for 152 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
With Seattle concentrating on the deep pass, Banks focused on shorter passes. He completed passes to nine different receivers--six players had two catches--with running backs and tight ends accounting for 10 of his completions. But the running game started everything. Washington used misdirection and some trickery to pound the ball. At times the Redskins allowed Seattle's tackles, Chad Eaton and John Randle, to penetrate. The guards, or center, would ride them out of the way, leaving a hole for Davis. This helped Washington counteract the movement of the defensive line, something the Redskins had struggled with the past two games.
Washington also used more screens to keep the linebackers off-balance, forcing them to perhaps delay before heading for the ballcarrier. But Davis' power-driving runs made the biggest difference. ''They're giving Stephen free reign,'' Redskins center Cory Raymer said. ''At first they were like, 'This is where the hole is supposed to be.' Now, after they've seen him, it's like, 'We're going to give you the ball and you go whereever the hell you want to.' '' Schottenheimer said, ''He's as good as any back I've been around, and I've been around some good one's.''
Redskins guard Ben Coleman said he's impressed most by Davis' patience. ''He lets the hole develop,'' Coleman said. ''Some guys have outstanding speed and get there before the hole develops. But he waits and then he explodes with power. He understands the dynamics of the blocks and that's why he's one of the best right now.'' Davis' first rushing touchdown provided Washington a 20-7 second-quarter lead. He powered over the right side for a one-yard scoring run, his first of the season. But it was Banks' running ability that helped give Washington a 27-7 lead in the third quarter. He scrambled for gains of 17 and 15 yards on an 11-play drive.
This drive also showed how far Washington's offense has come. The Redskins converted three third downs on this series, including a 12-yard run by Ki-Jana Carter to the 16. Then, on third and seven from the 13, Banks hit an uncovered Michael Westbrook in the end zone for a touchdown. The defense, helped, too by forcing four turnovers. Two turnovers led to a pair of Washington field goals. But the biggest might have come just before halftime with the Redskins leading, 20-7. Seattle had reached the Washington 5-yard line when end Marco Coleman sacked quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, forcing a fumble that linebacker LaVar Arrington recovered at the 14.
Washington turned two first-half turnovers into six points and a 20-7 halftime lead. First, though, the Redskins did something they haven't done all season: drove impressively downfield for a touchdown on their opening drive. Washington opened the game with a nine-play, 61-yard march, punctuated by a seven-yard Banks touchdown pass to tight end Walter Rasby on third and goal. Rasby stayed in to block, then released and found himself wide open in the middle of the field. Banks helped by looking to his right, then left, then back to the middle, enabling Rasby to quietly slip free.
The drive also showcased Washington's intent for the day. The Redskins, cognizant of Seattle's strong interior play and pass-rushing linebacker Chad Brown, used deception to calm the Seahawks. First they threw a screen pass to fullback Donnell Bennett for nine yards. Later, on second and eight, Banks faked a handoff to Davis, and a reverse to Westbrook. Banks then dropped a pass to fullback Bryan Johnson, running past the linebacker on the left side for a 29-yard gain to the Seattle 8.
''When you do that, the playbook is wide open,'' Banks said. After Seattle tied the score on a 41-yard Shaun Alexander run, the Redskins used two interceptions to take a 13-7 lead. First, Champ Bailey, playing zone, intercepted a Matt Hasselbeck pass to Darrell Jackson at the Seattle 30. The Redskins turned that into a 43-yard Brett Conway field goal with 2:12 left in the first quarter. Two plays later Washington's David Terrell intercepted a pass that Jackson bobbled, pushing it into the air at the Seahawks' 29.
Washington reached the 6-yard line, helped by an 18-yard Banks to Rod Gardner pass. But the drive stalled and Conway kicked a 24-yard field goal with 14:51 left in the half. ''We have a healthy chip on our shoulder,'' said Arrington, who left the game in the third quarter with a high ankle sprain that could sideline him for several weeks.
''We've been ridiculed, we've been scrutinized. We're not forgetting that. We're going to ride this one out. We're going to ride this with a chip on our shoudler the whole way out.''