The Washington Redskins finally had a few reasons to smile yesterday. Rookie quarterback Patrick Ramsey and young running backs Kenny Watson and Ladell Betts gave them some slivers of hope for the future, and they avoided the indignity of losing at home to an expansion team by beating the Houston Texans, 26-10, before 70,291 at FedEx Field.
"It was a game where we should have beat those guys, and we did," Redskins Coach Steve Spurrier said. "I'm proud of our guys for coming to the ballpark ready to play."
Cornerback Darrell Green acknowledges cheering fans as he leaves FedEx Field after his next-to-last game. On a rare day to enjoy themselves, Redskins fans also chanted "We Want Dallas." Washington hosts Cowboys in season finale.
(Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
Download the free washingtonpost.com screensaver to get the best photos of the Redskins delivered to your desktop.
It didn't help them in the jockeying for position at the top of the first round of April's draft, but the Redskins (6-9) weren't worrying about that. They ended a three-game losing streak and won for only the second time in the past seven games by beating the Texans (4-11).
"If people thought we were just going to lay down and coast the rest of the way, hopefully we answered that," Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington said. "We're hanging on, just like everybody else. We played really well."
Watson and Betts, filling in for injured tailback Stephen Davis, stole the spotlight from the rookie quarterbacks, Ramsey and the Texans' David Carr. They had 20 carries apiece, with Betts amassing 116 rushing yards and Watson 110. They became the first pair of Redskins runners to have more than 100 yards in the same game since George Rogers and Keith Griffin on Nov. 3, 1985.
"That's probably the last thing anybody thought would happen," said Watson, who matched his single-game career rushing high set during a triumph at Seattle last month. "The offense did a great job. We got in front early. It's very positive. It's something to build on."
The Redskins hope it was a sign of things to come, with Davis likely to be released in the offseason for salary cap reasons. The club probably will turn over its running game to Betts, a rookie, and Watson, a second-year pro. Davis suffered a dislocated shoulder in the Redskins' previous game, a defeat at Philadelphia. He said yesterday he is not ruling out next Sunday's season finale against the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field, but Spurrier indicated he's making plans to go with Watson and Betts again.
"Both of them ran well," Spurrier said. "Certainly we plan on using them similarly next week . . . They're similar. They're pretty close talent-wise."
Said Betts, the Redskins' second-round draft choice last spring whose previous single-game rushing high as a pro had been 49 yards: "It was kind of shocking. I didn't realize we ran as many times as we did. I didn't realize we had as many yards as we did . . . I still have to improve every week. I still have to take another step forward. Hopefully they like what they see."
The Redskins finished with 247 rushing yards on 46 carries. Ramsey completed only 14 of 32 passes, but did his part. He threw for 190 yards and had touchdown passes of 12 yards to rookie fullback Rock Cartwright and 13 yards to wide receiver Derrius Thompson. The Redskins went without a turnover in Ramsey's first NFL win as a starter.
"It means a lot," Ramsey said. "It's not possible without all the guys. It's really not my win. It's special because it's my first one as a starter, but that was a team effort . . . I can play better, and I plan to try to find a way to do it."
The Redskins had an assortment of mistakes on special teams. Rookie punter Craig Jarrett had a pair of 10-yard punts, and had one blocked for Houston's lone touchdown. Place kicker Jose Cortez missed two of his three field goal attempts, and new punt returner Bruce Branch produced only three yards on two returns before suffering a severe ankle sprain and giving way to old punt returner Champ Bailey.
But the Texans could do nothing on offense. They entered the game with the league's last-ranked offense, and managed only 166 total yards. Carr completed only 12 of 31 passes for 112 yards. He threw an interception and fumbled three times, losing one. He was sacked three times, bringing his total for the season to 73 -- a single-season NFL record for one quarterback. Defensive end Bruce Smith had two sacks for the Redskins, bringing him within four of Reggie White's NFL career record.
Smith credited the Redskins' churn-it-out offense with keeping the defense rested, saying: "That's what I call ball control. That's what I call keeping your defense fresh. That gives your defense extra life. When everybody does their job, it makes it a little easier for every individual. I can't emphasize it enough: Every phase of this game works hand in hand."