During the 2008 offseason, would anyone have guessed that THIS is how the Redskins would start their regular season?
For the second consecutive year, the Redskins defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in “The Linc.”
Last year, the win put the team at 2-0 but following last Sunday’s 23-17 victory over the Eagles, the Redskins opened eyes in NFL circles with their fourth consecutive victory and second consecutive division road win to put them at 4-1, solidifying their spot as one of the hottest teams in football.
The Redskins were led by running back Clinton Portis, tight end Chris Cooley, the entire offensive line, and middle linebacker London Fletcher.
Portis’ showing against Dallas was topped by his best overall performance against the Eagles. Portis, who racked up 145 yards and one touchdown on 29 carries against the NFL’s top ranked run defense, was named the NFL’s FedEx Ground Player of the Week and awarded NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his gutsy performance.
“When playing against a division opponent, those particular games bring out the best in you. C.P. is just playing hard and wants to win. He is constantly driven and I am sure there is more to come. That’s all I can say,” said defensive end Andre Carter, who had five tackles and one pass defended in the team’s victory over the Eagles.
Another impressive stat from Sunday came from wide receiver Santana Moss, who made plays without even making them. Moss had no catches but his lack of numbers gave Cooley the chance to capitalize off of open opportunities. Cooley had his best receiving performance of the season with 9 catches for 109 yards (a career-high) and one touchdown thrown by wide receiver/punt returner Antwaan Randle El, a quarterback during his college days at the University of Indiana.
“Moss is a blessing on this team. However, we have other weapons on offense that keep the clock running; C.P., James Thrash, Cooley, Todd Yoder, [Ladell] Betts, etc. From the outside looking in, pertaining to our offense, we have good players and everyone gets a shot,” Carter said.
The victory came in one of the leagues most hostile environments. However, unfriendly territory is nothing new for the Redskins, having beaten the Dallas Cowboys one week before in Texas Stadium. Eagles fans were, not surprisingly, very unwelcoming to the Redskins and the team busses before and after the game.
“The Eagles fans threw baseballs and eggs at our bus as we were approaching the stadium. Gotta love the Eagles fans,” said Carter, who was awarded the defensive game ball by the team for his performance on Sunday.
Perhaps Philadelphia’s faithful were most unhappy with giving up their 14-0 lead in the first quarter, which was aided by a retracted block-in-the-back call on wide receiver DeSean’s Jackson’s 68-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Despite the 14-0 deficit and the return of Eagles running back Brian Westbrook, who gave the Eagles momentum with his nine-yard touchdown on their first drive, the Redskins defense gave the offense ample opportunity to score and control the clock by not allowing the Eagles to gain a first down from early in the second quarter until the fourth quarter.
“Our level of success was based on our level of execution in the remainder of the game and staying calm. We knew that we put ourselves in a hole. It was a matter of getting out and we did it through teamwork,” Carter said.
Heading into Week 6, the defense faced five of the NFL’s top six offenses and held their own in each of the five contests, allowing only 19.6 points per game, 11th best in that category. Almost as impressive as that statistic was that the victory over the Eagles came without three starters; defensive end Jason Taylor, cornerback Shawn Springs, and linebacker Marcus Washington. The performance is a testament to the reserves waiting for the chance to play.
“In my mind, the ‘reserves’ are not ‘reserves’. When someone is out, the person stepping up is the starter. That’s the philosophy that our players have. As a starter, you become a leader, and you have earned that right to play on that given day, or any given Sunday. It comes with the level of maturity that we have on this team. Everyone has a role and when your number is called, you perform your duty by contributing to the team at 100 percent,” Carter said.
The Redskins are finally starting to earn respect in many regards from the media, but the team continues to take a focused and humble approach to each game.
“The media is great; however our level of focus must be keen in order to accomplish a successful game. If you focus on outside influences, then you lose sight on what you must accomplish in the future and we have not put ourselves in that position,” Carter said.
“Our level of humbleness is based on many factors. One, Coach Zorn mentions that even though we are successful, we have to keep a level head and realize that the season is not over. Other coaches have expressed the same thoughts. Two, the level of leadership on the field keeps all of us grounded. From the vets to the rookies,” Carter continued.
The Redskins may have finished the toughest stretch of the first half of their schedule, with their next three opponents (St. Louis Rams, Cleveland Browns, and Detroit Lions) totaling a combined record of 1-11, but their attitude will not change this week against the 0-4 Rams.
“We have to take one game at a time and prepare our mind and bodies for a physical game. This is the NFL and you can never overlook an opponent,” Carter said in regards to preparing for the winless Rams this week.
The Rams come to FedEx Field with talented players on offense such as powerful running back Steven Jackson, playmaking wide receiver Torry Holt, and quarterback Mark Bulger, who returns to the starting lineup following a one-week benching by now unemployed Coach Scott Linehan.
Despite the talent, nothing has seemed to click for them on any phase of the game this season. But this is hardly a team that should be taken lightly by the Redskins, especially considering they will be fresh off of a bye-week and will be led by interim head Coach Jim Haslett, who is no stranger to leading a team, having coached the New Orleans Saints from 2000-2005.
“I don't know what’s really going on with them. They do have a lot of weapons and unfortunately things are not going in their favor. I have been in that situation before and it’s not pretty,” Carter said.
“The one thing that is stressed is knowing that the Rams are in a hole and they have something to prove; that they are still a good team.” Carter said.
The Redskins are trying to avoid being caught in a “trap game” against a struggling team that is desperately trying to prove that they are better than their record indicates.
“This week can be a trap game by overlooking the Rams. 0-4 or 4-0, they are an NFL team and each team [we] face we have to be prepared accordingly,” Carter said.
Something seems to be different about the Redskins this season. In recent years, they have always been competitive, usually only losing by slim margins, but this season the team is finding ways to come out on top and not allowing the opponents to capitalize on their leads.
“I can’t explain what's different from now to previous years. We have always played hard and together. We have been successful so far. Perhaps it’s the level of maturity we have on this team. Perhaps, we have said: ‘enough is enough, let’s go out and shine.’ Regardless of whatever the reason, we are playing more together than ever. We have a strong level of unity on and off the field and that builds a band of brothers working for one common purpose and that is be successful,” Carter said.
Andre also attributes chemistry as being a factor in the team’s success this season.
“Chemistry is always important on a team or any organization. You can have all the talent in the world but if you can’t get along with a player on the field, it’s not going to work out. I feel when we come to work we check our egos at the door and work day in and day out and encourage each other to play hard and play for each other,” Carter said.
Under the Helmet:
THN: What is your dream car?
AC: My dream car is a Maybach. That will never happen (laughing).
THN: Will you buy a Chris Horton jersey?
AC: I would buy one if he went to the Pro Bowl. I would make him sign it, too. Better yet, since he is a rookie, I would make him buy me his own jersey, sign it, then give it to me. He is a rookie. He can't get off that easy.
THN: If you could say you looked like another celebrity, who would it be?
AC: I don't look like no celebrity. Denzel Washington perhaps. Yeah right.