It's About Time: Skins 52, Niners 17

The Redskins had lost two straight. They couldn't score a rushing touchdown. They couldn't force a turnover or record a sack. But San Francisco can't do much of anything.

So the Redskins fixed just about every ailment.

And so much for Joe Gibbs' worries and predictions of another close game. Good one, Joe. Of course he had to believe that would be the case; to do otherwise would be foolish. Because of that mentality, the Redskins played with intensity and a sense of urgency. They also played to win, even as they built a big lead, by staying aggressive.

Good teams crush inferior opponents when given the chance. And the Redskins qualify as a good team right now. They might have dropped two straight on the road, but they also could have won both games if they hadn't made costly mistakes. Both those losses showed they had the ability to win on the road, at hostile places no less.

And Sunday showed that they'll play with the same fire despite facing a team that, let's face it, they knew they should beat. The Redskins had five sacks and forced two turnovers, doubling their season total. They also rushed for four touchdowns, after going five games with none.

What they've done, too, is turn FedEx back into a home field advantage. The fans have had more fun there this season than they've had in a long time, with good reason considering the Redskins are 3-0 at home. But there's also a sense that something special is building and that this isn't a team waiting to fall apart.  

Offensive star: Take your pick. Mark Brunell had a near-perfect first half and finished 13 of 20 for 252 yards and three touchdowns and a 147.9 rating. Clinton Portis had 101 yards and three touchdowns. Santana Moss had two touchdown receptions. But when it's all working, there's one place to look. The offensive line did a much better job than a week ago. Brunell was sacked once, but he was rarely pressured. And on the 43-yard pass to Moss no Niner got near him. Also, in the red zone, the line finally blew open some holes to end the rushing drought.

Defensive star: Linebacker Marcus Washington had seven tackles and he also had a sack and caused a fumble, setting up an easy touchdown. Washington might not have been the most visible linebacker on this day (see below) or the most popular. But he was effective and played with his usual high energy.

Special teams standouts: Give credit to Mike Sellers and Rock Cartwright, both of whom had excellent days in kick coverage, finishing with big hits. The coverage units have done a solid job of staying in their lanes, preventing cutback opportunities and long runs. It helps that the Redskins are trying to kick it higher and shorter, making it easier to cover. Punter Derrick Frost had a 51-yard punt and another ball downed inside the 20. But on the latter he actually punted it about 30 yards up and only nine yards downfield. It turned out to be a 24-yard punt and it appeared at least half of it came on the roll.

About time: LaVar Arrington finally got a chance to play a lot and he once again showed no other linebacker on the Redskins can match his explosiveness. He closed down hard on quarterback Alex Smith, dropping him for a one-yard gain as he rolled around the end. Thing is, on the play, Arrington started inside, got clogged in traffic and got a late start. And he still prevented a real gain. Later he snuffed out an end around because he charged upfield so fast. He appeared to make a couple mistakes, once seemingly getting caught inside as a run blasted through the vacated hole. But I'm quite sure others made mistakes, too. And Arrington finished with a game-high nine tackles (seven solo); two were for losses and three others for one-yard gains. Imagine if he had played more. The Redskins used him all over the place, lining him up at right end and, in the 3-4 set, at three of the four linebacker spots (both outside and the left inside spot). Whether or not this was a one-game aberration or the start of more time remains to be seen. As they showed Sunday, they don't have to play him every down to get a lot out of him.

About time II: The Redskins got a rushing touchdown. Though Clinton Portis is not the ideal back down here -- he runs hard, but is not a pile mover nor does he break tackles at the line -- it doesn't help when he gets hit in the backfield. That's what happened at the 2-yard line on Washington's first possession when Chris Cooley, among others, missed his block. But that was the last time the Redskins failed to block well inside the red zone. And they finally scored on a rushing touchdown; four of them in fact. Each time they opened good sized holes, making for easy scores. Opposing defenses must be having a hard time guessing what they'll do down here now, what with seven touchdown passes to three tight ends already this season. It's why this offense will continue to get better.

Best throw: Mark Brunell made many beautiful throws, starting with the 43-yarder to Santana Moss down the right sidelines. Right on target, in stride. When quarterbacks underthrow Moss it's not necessarily because they lack the arm strength, it's because they can't time up his speed. Brunell has timed up Moss extremely well. But the throw I liked even better was the 19-yard touchdown pass to Mike Sellers. On the play, Brunell looked to his left, forcing linebacker Derek Smith, responsible for the intermediate middle, to cheat toward his right. As soon as he did, Brunell threw back to the right and hit Sellers in the seam for the score.

Rookie woes: Quarterback Alex Smith might be good someday. Maybe the Niners will be, too. But that day wasn't Sunday. Smith really never had a chance. He has one quality receiver in Brandon Lloyd and that's about it. He also doesn't get much time in the pocket. Smith's throws are way off-target because of this and Redskins safety Sean Taylor benefitted with an interception. Smith wanted to hit Lloyd, but hurried his throw and threw it way behind him. All Taylor had to do was step up and pick it off, returning it to the 3-yard line.

Easy scores: Want to know what a difference turnovers make? Before Sunday, Washington's shortest touchdown drive was 62 yards. The Redskins had two touchdown drives under 20 yards Sunday.

Fluke?: Not really. OK, the Redskins scored 52 points because they were hot and the Niners are awful. Nobody expects them to score that much every game. But they've been building toward a big game with the yards they had gained in previous games. And it's an offense that was close to putting it all together in the past. All they had to do was eliminate their costly mistakes and a game like this was possible. And it will be possible in more games throughout the season. Enjoy it; they've become an offense worth watching and one capable of hurting many teams. There's a lot of credit to go around, but we'll give it to Brunell because of his pocket presence. That's why I thought this summer that he needed to play. And it's clear how much he trusts his receivers, allowing him to throw with authority. Little things make a big difference sometimes.

Fun times: The NFC East has become a fun place again. And certainly every Redskins fan had fun watching Dallas fall apart at the end of regulation. But what we like is that over the next 10 games someone will emerge to challenge Philly for the top spot. Maybe the Eagles remain the best in the division, but by how much? The gap is closing. And sometimes all it takes is for a team to be playing with confidence to close it even further. Are the Redskins that team? We'll find out. But they are playing with confidence; it's why they drubbed the Niners afte two straight losses. Under Joe Gibbs, this team has never lacked confidence, even when they went 6-10 last season.


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