SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 18 -- One voice could be heard above the din as the Washington Redskins celebrated their fifth victory of the season in the visitors' locker room at Monster Park. Linebacker LaVar Arrington, his voice in fine form after 11 games watching from the sideline, was booming out the lyrics to Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot" from the shower to close out a day during which he had much to crow about.
Arrington, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, had been out with a right knee injury -- the first significant injury of his life -- but was back on the field for Saturday's 26-16 defeat of the San Francisco 49ers. His knee had made it through a challenging test as Arrington, in the first year of an eight-year, $68 million contract, played most of the game on third-down situations only before slipping back into his regular role for a spell in the third quarter and sitting out most of the fourth quarter.
"I actually had the opportunity to play like a regular football player," Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington said of not being double-teamed.
(John McDonnell - The Washington Post)
"I was high on adrenaline," Arrington said. "If there's any pain in there [his knee], I don't feel it yet."
Arrington has dedicated the season to his teenage cousin, Joseph, who died from cancer a few months ago ("I could feel his spirit with me today") and is still working back into top shape. Lemar Marshall again started in his place and will do so the final two games; the Redskins' defense has fared extremely well in Arrington's absence and the team does not want to expose Arrington to too much contact too soon. After being limited mostly to nickel situations -- when Arrington and linebacker Chris Clemons lined up as defensive ends with five defensive backs on the field -- he then played almost all of the final two series of the first half and most of the third quarter as the weak-side linebacker in the traditional 4-3 defense.
"I'm sure in a little while LaVar will be back up front [starting]," Marshall said. "But right now, it's a good rotation. It's easier for him to play mostly third down for now."
The defense continues to have a different look from week to week because of mounting injuries. Cornerback Shawn Springs was out Saturday because of a concussion he suffered last Sunday night against Philadelphia, and Walt Harris started in his place, becoming the 20th player to start on defense this season. Rookie defensive tackle Ryan Boschetti, a native of the San Francisco area, started last week, but was not activated Saturday as defensive end Demetric Evans returned from an ankle injury.
Arrington's return alone gave a lift to the Redskins, and the defense -- consumed with finishing the season ranked first in the NFL -- was again stifling for much of the afternoon. The defense never expected to be without its leader for this long: Arrington required minor knee surgery after the second game of the season in late September and then pushed to get back for practice in late October, suffering a bone bruise that kept him out until this game.
"It was an injury we felt was going to be a four- or five-week thing at most," Coach Joe Gibbs said, "and it wound up being almost the entire year. . . . Certainly, he means a lot to us. He's a player who can be a real impact guy and I think it was really good to get him back out there. All the guys feel good about it, and I think he felt good about it."
Arrington made his first real impact on the game with the Redskins leading 16-9 late in the first half. The 49ers were at the Washington 36 and Arrington sensed a running play was coming. San Francisco tackle Kyle Kosier was assigned to Arrington and tried to block him low, but Arrington used his strength to knock the 309-pounder to the ground, then sprinted to his left and joined middle linebacker Antonio Pierce to wrap up running back Maurice Hicks for a two-yard loss. "LaVar brings a lot of energy and excitement to our team," defensive tackle Brandon Noble said. "He's able to do some special things out there. It's nice to see him running around out there again."
Three plays later, Arrington, the second overall pick in 2000, made a big ankle tackle on Hicks, holding him to a two-yard gain on a pass play; Pierce ended that drive by taking an interception 78 yards for a touchdown to put away the game. Arrington felt unencumbered, as the 49ers focused on other members of the potent defense, and he rarely faced a double-team, something that greeted him from his first NFL game, he said.
"I haven't seen that since I was eight," Arrington said, laughing all the while. "That's the first time since Pee Wee I've been one-on-one. I actually had the opportunity to play like a regular football player."