Redskins, George Up to the Task

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 21, 2000; Page A01

The Washington Redskins added to their reputation as one of the NFL's most unpredictable teams tonight. Spending the past two weeks getting widely criticized for their 16-15 loss at Arizona, the Redskins stormed back from a 10-point, first-quarter deficit to defeat the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams, 33-20, at the Trans World Dome.

It was the first victory in a Redskins uniform for backup quarterback Jeff George, who threw for three touchdowns. And it salvaged what had been a disastrous showing by the Redskins on "Monday Night Football" this season. Having lost both of their previous appearances against the Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans, the Redskins finally emerged the winner on football's biggest stage. Washington last won on "Monday Night Football" Oct. 13, 1997, when they upended the Dallas Cowboys, 21-16.

Kicker Scott Bentley, right, celebrates with LaVar Arrington, left, after Bentley recovered his onside kick in the third quarter. (L.G. Patterson - AP)

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More importantly, in dismantling the Rams' top-ranked offense on its own turf tonight, the Redskins, with veteran place kicker Eddie Murray making his Redskins return sweet with four field goals, scored a huge psychological boost--proving to themselves and the growing ranks of skeptics around the NFL that their well-documented Super Bowl dreams might not be pipe dreams after all.

George, known for his laser-like throwing arm and fiery personality, hadn't been the Redskins' first choice at quarterback. Acquired in the offseason after his unceremonious release by the Minnesota Vikings, George was brought on board as a high-priced insurance policy behind Brad Johnson. The thinking was, he would never play in a game as long as Johnson remained healthy.

But after Johnson sprained a knee in the team's loss to Tennessee, George took the reins two weeks ago against the Arizona Cardinals. He didn't manage a touchdown throw in the loss that fueled suspicions that owner Daniel M. Snyder's Redskins were simply the best mediocre team money could buy.

Tonight, after a week off to reflect on his performance against the hapless Cardinals (3-8), George hit his stride, completing 24 of 34 throws for 269 yards and three touchdowns.

"I got into a rhythm, and everything started going our way," George said after the game.

The Redskins were overhauled in the offseason at tremendous expense, with Snyder committing nearly $100 million in salary and bonuses to lure such lauded veterans as Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Mark Carrier and George.

But tonight against St. Louis (8-3), the Redskins got their biggest plays from veterans who weren't even in the starting lineup on opening day: George, playing his second game for the injured Johnson, and 44-year-old Murray, who hit field goals of 37, 47, 41 and 39 yards.

There were other stars, to be sure. Smith, the 11-time Pro Bowl defensive end, sacked former Redskins quarterback Trent Green three times. Sanders forced a fumble that was converted on the ensuing possession to a field goal. And the struggling special teams unit, so often assailed as the team's weak link, recovered an onside kick that was also converted for a field goal and followed that with another kickoff recovery leading to another field goal.

The Rams, for their part, managed to make a bit of history on the night, setting an NFL record for the most consecutive games (27) of scoring at least 20 points. (The Miami Dolphins had set the previous record in 1983-85).

With the victory, the Redskins (7-4) snapped a two-game losing streak and moved into a tie with the New York Giants for second place in the NFC East, with a game for the division lead Sunday at FedEx Field against the Philadelphia Eagles.

George's three touchdown passes certainly prompted questions throughout the Washington area tonight as to who would start Sunday's game. It also resulted in Rams Coach Mike Martz's observation of George: "He's as good as anybody in the league with a deep ball."

Said Sanders: "Finally, we put it all together."

© 2000 The Washington Post Company