Skins Give Fans a Night to Remember

They celebrated into the night, dancing their way out of the stadium after the biggest Redskins win in years. They let Dallas know what they felt about them, with their ''You [stink]'' chants. They waved their little yellow towels. They hugged strangers.

So that's what happens after big wins in December. It's been a while.

But it could get better. Because with each passing win, the celebrating becomes greater. And with two more wins, the Redskins would make the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Which makes Saturday's game against the Giants even bigger than Dallas. From here on one, every game trumps the previous one as far as importance.

The Redskins are in a terrific spot and not just because they control their own destiny. Their toughest game is at home and they play a proud, but banged-up team on the road. Philadelphia will not be an easy win, but if you had to play one of these two on the road, that would be the one.

Atlanta is playing poorly and has a tough remaining schedule. Dallas? Who the heck knows. The Cowboys look great one week and lousy the next. Plus they play at Carolina this week. That's brutal.

Minnesota still has to play Chicago. If the Vikings struggled against Pittsburgh's defense, they'll have an equally tough time against the Bears' D.

So the Redskins now look good. Just as they have at different points this season, before losing a few in a row.
But with each win, the confidence multiplies. And the Redskins understand this is an opportunity they haven't had in a while. They plan to take advantage. Two weeks from now, we'll know if they did.

Good strategy: The Redskins did an excellent job disrupting Drew Bledsoe's first read. They did so in two ways: by playing more bump coverage, similar to what the Giants did against the Cowboys a couple weeks ago. Other times, they'd line up in man and look as if they were in press coverage, then drop into a zone. That's one reason Walt Harris made a couple stops on swing passes. Dallas also made a foolish decision not to max protect. The Redskins proved early on that they could beat one-on-one blocking. This enabled them to cover with seven and, because the coverage was so good, the linemen had time to get to the quarterback.

Unsung hero: Pierson Prioleau did a wonderful job jamming receivers in the slot. It's not a role he's performed this season, but he acted in essence as a nickel corner. Because he's physical, he could bump the wideouts off their path and prevent them from being a factor. Who would have guessed that's what the Redskins would do? Clearly not the Cowboys.

And another: Defensive tackle Joe Salave'a blew up plays on a couple occasions early, setting a tone for the game. Linebacker Lemar Marshall capitalized by shutting down the outside runs with his quickness. It worked exactly the way it's supposed to.

MVP: Receiver Santana Moss caught only two passes, but they went for 73 yards, both gave Washington first downs inside the 3 and both led to touchdowns.

Misdirection: A big key to Washington's offensive success was the misdirection plays and play-action fakes. Trick plays also helped, even if they produced nothing. They still force a defense to watch for things and that pays off on later plays.

Offensive studs: The linemen did a terrific job all game, clearing the way for 171 rushing yards and giving Mark Brunell time to throw. Of Clinton Portis' 23 runs, 17 went for at least three yards. When that's the case, the offense is rarely, if ever, placed in a bad situation. He ran hard and he got help up front -- also from the tight ends and H-backs. The Redskins often went with three tight ends and that made a difference.

Explain this: On Mike Sellers' touchdown pass, he was wide open. On Chris Cooley's second touchdown catch, he was wide open. How does that happen? The Redskins look for their tight ends all the time in the red zone, yet neither appeared to get a glance from the defense. On Cooley's score, it helped that he kind of loses himself in traffic, making it harder for him to get picked up. Dallas' linebackers froze a bit on play action, but none appeared to make an effort to find Cooley.

Big hurt: What a shame for right guard Randy Thomas, who deserves strong Pro Bowl consideration. Thomas has been by far the Redskins most consistent linemen and is one of the best pulling guards in the league. Joe Bugel says he's as good a guard as he's coached. That speaks volumes. But what a great attitude Thomas has: as he's being carted off he's pumping his fists to the crowd and smiling. Why? Because they were about to beat Dallas. What could have been a downer of a moment turned into an uplifting one. Guys like that help teams win simply by their attitude.

Fortunate: To have Ray Brown as a backup. Can he do it over the long haul? No. He's 43 and has lost a couple steps. But can he drive block and open a hole? Sure. The problem is, Brown is not nearly as athletic anymore as Thomas and that impacts the pulling action Washington favors. The Redskins are lucky that Jon Jansen can pull. Perhaps they'll use the H-backs in a different way to compensate.

Silence is golden: Didn't hear much from Dallas fans during the game. Saw a few, though. Silent Night indeed.

Bad punter: As inconsistent, or bad, as Derrick Frost has been, Dallas was in worse shape with Mat McBriar. He's horrible. It's bad when receivers are yelling at the punter. After one bad punt, he sprinted to the side of the bench away from Bill Parcells. Smart move.

Big hits: Linebacker Robert McCune and Mike Sellers had huge hits on special teams. McCune is a guy I'm curious to see more of next summer. He's big and fast and could develop into a solid special teamer. Not sure about from scrimmage; still need to see more.

Oops: OK, we picked the wrong team. Call it reverse osmosis. Heck, the coaches even couldn't tell that the Redskins were ready to play that well. They were concerned because of how quiet the players were during the week. And there was a near mini-revolt among the players, upset at getting nearly shut out of the tickets (or at least not getting all their requests filled). Then there was a lackluster win over Arizona. That, coupled with injuries, made a blowout unlikely. But what needs to be understood about the Redskins: they believe in themselves as much as any team I've covered here in 12 years. And they've never wavered in that belief. But, hey, at least we picked the Redskins to win in Dallas.


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