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Redskins Get Grip on Giants

Smith Breaks NFL Career Sacks Record

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 8, 2003; Page D01

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Dec. 7 -- The Washington Redskins found a team worse off than them. They added to the misery of the New York Giants and got themselves back into the win column by crafting a lead and finally holding on to it, easing to a 20-7 triumph Sunday on a windy, blustery afternoon at mostly empty Giants Stadium.

Bruce Smith made it a memorable day when he broke the NFL's career sacks record with a fourth-quarter takedown of Giants backup quarterback Jesse Palmer. But mostly, it was an afternoon of forgettable football between two teams suffering through highly disappointing seasons. The Redskins weren't complaining, though, as they ended a three-game losing streak and improved their record to 5-8 with only their second victory in their past nine games. They pulled a game ahead of the Giants (4-9) in the tussle to stay out of the NFC East basement.

Giants quarterback Kerry Collins is knocked out of game by Bruce Smith after throwing a pass. Collins left with high ankle sprain having completed just 5 of 14 passes for 62 yards. (John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

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"It's a start," Redskins linebacker Jessie Armstead said. "We needed something good to happen. Maybe we can build off that. Maybe we can go 8-8 and head into the offseason feeling better about ourselves."

Coach Steve Spurrier won for only the second time in 10 games against division opponents in his two-year Redskins tenure. He stuck with his running game on a day when temperatures in the twenties and a 15-mph wind dropped the wind-chill index into the low teens. The Redskins rushed for 150 yards on 48 carries, and fill-in quarterback Tim Hasselbeck threw only 19 passes in his first victory as an NFL starter. Hasselbeck was efficient, with 13 completions for 154 yards and touchdowns to wide receivers Darnerien McCants and Rod Gardner.

"It was a game where you hoped to run enough and hit a few [passes] here and there," Spurrier said.

Tailback Trung Canidate ran for 69 yards on 19 carries before exiting the game in the third quarter with a sprained foot. Chad Morton did the bulk of the work from there, rushing for 56 yards on 13 carries. Place kicker John Hall added field goals of 28 and 41 yards, although he also missed from 34 yards even after being given a second chance by a Giants penalty. It was a hazardous day for kicking, as Redskins punter Bryan Barker had punts of 16 and nine yards.

The Redskins' defense did its part after surrendering fourth-quarter leads in each of the club's previous three games. Smith knocked Giants starting quarterback Kerry Collins from the game with a sprained ankle after Collins completed only 5 of 14 passes for 62 yards and threw an interception. Palmer did only marginally better, connecting on 7 of 11 throws for 83 yards. Dorsey Levens dragged Smith into the end zone on a five-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and fellow running back Tiki Barber had 99 of the Giants' 120 rushing yards. But Barber also fumbled on his second carry for the first of the Giants' three turnovers, to none for the Redskins.

"Our defense has played well most of the games," Spurrier said. "But we haven't finished them."

The Giants remained winless at home since their opening game (save for a triumph over the Jets in which they were listed as the visiting team). A season that began with Super Bowl aspirations for them just continued to get bleaker. Their only consolation Sunday was that the blandness of the game and the storm that dropped more than a foot of snow on this area kept their fans from booing them too much. The stadium was less than half full in the first half, and significantly emptier than that in the second half.

"I don't think anybody can prepare for the situation that we are in right now," Giants center Chris Bober said.

The game's only truly captivating moment came when Smith, after several near misses, slipped inside left tackle Ian Allen and pulled down Palmer by his legs for his 199th career sack, moving him past Reggie White for the NFL's career lead.

"I know I'm not in second place any longer," Smith said. "When they print up the football cards, they won't say, 'Second place.' . . . I was rushing outside pretty much all day. He overstepped. That's the cardinal sin because I have a very good inside move. The quarterback was sitting right there, and I tried to lunge at him . . . . Good things happen to individuals when teams win."

It was one of six sacks on the day for a Redskins defense that began the afternoon with 16 sacks for the season. Armstead and fellow linebacker LaVar Arrington had two sacks each. Smith's teammates congratulated him while the game was stopped briefly to commemorate the moment.

"I can tell my kids I was on the field when the sack record was broken," Armstead said. "It's going to stand a long time."

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