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A Promising Preview

Betts Scores Two TDs; Defense Looks Strong: Redskins 27, Falcons 0

By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 4, 2004; Page D01

After an 11-year hiatus, Coach Joe Gibbs returned to the NFL with a shroud of secrecy covering the offensive wizardry that led to his three Super Bowls with the Washington Redskins. Gregg Williams, the assistant head coach for defense, has also displayed a bland version of his blitz-heavy defense during Washington's first four preseason games.

In the preseason finale last night, starting with a trick play on the first offensive series, Gibbs provided a few more wrinkles. And Williams showed the most elements thus far of his attacking defense as the Redskins pounded quarterback Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons en route to a 27-0 victory last night at FedEx Field.

Tailback Ladell Betts and the Redskins down the Falcons, 27-0, in the final preseason game Friday. (John McDonnell - The Washington Post)

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The performance -- spurred by a dominating first quarter -- punctuated an up-and-down preseason for Washington, and provided some self-assurance following last week's debacle against the St. Louis Rams.

"I was proud of our guys. We bounced back from a real poor performance last week," Gibbs said. "It was all the way across the board. I wish we could count it, but now we start for real."

The outcome was secondary to Washington finishing the game without suffering any major injuries after a training camp that left the club resembling patients in a MASH unit. The Redskins used the game for a final look at players before Sunday's deadline for trimming the roster to 53 before the regular season opener on Sept. 12 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at FedEx Field. "The real bullets start flying next week when we open up," said wide receiver Laveranues Coles.

Tailback Ladell Betts, who missed the first three exhibition games with a strained hamstring, appeared to cement a spot on the final roster as Clinton Portis's backup. Betts showed a mix of power, slithery moves and receiver skills that caused Washington to select him in the second round of the 2002 draft. Betts ran for 27 yards on nine carries, scoring two touchdowns.

"It was definitely a relief," Betts said, chuckling. "I bet it was a relief for the coaches, too."

Gibbs said: "Having him healthy certainly helps up back there. I think he's a good athlete. Our problem is that we couldn't evaluate him."

After choppy play during the quarterback competition, Mark Brunell looked like the veteran he is with one of the best quarterback ratings in NFL history. Playing in only Washington's first series, Brunell -- who was named the starter over Patrick Ramsey this week -- finished 4 of 6 for 51 yards.

During the preseason, the Falcons had treated Vick like a rare work of art, with limited public displays: he took only 24 snaps in the team's games. The Falcons wanted to protect their dynamic quarterback, who missed most of last season with a broken leg. But Washington's defense, led by linebacker LaVar Arrington, left Vick dazed, and he was removed from the game after taking only five snaps.

"We opened it up a little bit," cornerback Fred Smoot said of the defensive plays. "We called a few unexpected calls."

On the first possession of Atlanta's third series, Arrington blitzed up the middle before slamming Vick to the ground like a rag doll. The announced crowd of 72,892 cheered loudly as the ball jarred loose. And middle linebacker Antonio Pierce picked it up to gallop into the end zone, giving Washington a 24-0 lead less than four minutes into the game. Vick didn't return after being replaced by Matt Schaub.

Washington's performance was so impressive that garbage time came early, even for an exhibition game. Washington was so dominating in the first quarter that it possessed the ball for about 11 minutes.

By late in the third quarter, the spectators started the wave. Burgundy and gold moved from section to section of FedEx Field, causing a few Redskins players to look toward the crowd. And by the fourth quarter, fans were dancing in the aisles.

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