EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Sept. 24 After a week of questions about his state of mind, the strength of his arm and his ability to find open receivers, Washington Redskins quarterback Brad Johnson responded tonight with a brilliant display of deep, pinpoint passing that should save his starting job, and perhaps Coach Norv Turner's job as well.
The Redskins, buoyed by Johnson's 289 yards passing and two touchdowns, defeated the previously unbeaten New York Giants, 16-6, at Giants Stadium. The victory evened their record at 2-2 and quieted--and least for now--the calls for a change in team leadership after last Monday night's ugly loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
Redskins wide receiver Albert Connell makes a leaping catch in front of Shaun Williams in the third quarter.
(Bill Kostroun - AP)
"Our backs were against the wall, and we felt like we had to come up here and find a way to win," Johnson said, insisting he had paid no attention to fan and media carping about his early-season play.
"That stuff comes with the territory. When you win, things go well. When you don't, they blame the quarterback. The last six months, it seems like people have been pointing the finger at me. In the last four weeks, I haven't read anything or watched anything. The only person I listen to is Norv Turner."
Turner seemingly was Johnson's only supporter in the organization this past week. Sentiment at Redskins Park ran high to replace Johnson with backup Jeff George, who was signed to an $18.25 million contract during the offseason by owner Daniel M. Snyder. But Snyder left the decision to Turner, who chose to stick with the quarterback who threw for more than 4,000 yards and took the team to the second round of the playoffs last season.
"Brad had a hell of a week of practice," Turner said. "I expected him to play well. We just got some things up the field we hadn't been getting. Then we ran the routes and we made the catches."
Johnson had struggled in the first three games this season; his longest completion was for 26 yards. Tonight, after a slow start--he tripped over a lineman's foot on the first play from scrimmage and failed to get on the scoreboard in the first quarter--he reverted to form. He completed 14 of 20 passes--including 8 of 11 in the first half--threw no interceptions and connected on deep throws of 46, 48 and 53 yards to set up each of the Redskins' three scores.
That included a 23-yard touchdown pass to veteran wide receiver Irving Fryar for a 7-0 lead his team would never relinquish with 12 minutes 33 seconds left in the second quarter and a 21-yard scoring pass to another veteran, Andre Reed, with 13:06 left in the third quarter. Reed's touchdown gave the Redskins a 16-0 lead, and place kicker Michael Husted missed the extra point.
Meantime, the Redskins' defense, with rookie first round pick LaVar Arrington making his first start of the season, shut down the New Yorkers' high-powered rushing attack--billed as Thunder and Lightning--and put big-time pressure on quarterback Kerry Collins all night. They finally looked like the dominating unit Snyder had in mind when he opened his checkbook and signed the likes of free agents Bruce Smith, Mark Carrier and Deion Sanders to mega-million dollar contracts.
Sanders made a major contribution when he swooped in front of a potential touchdown pass intended for Giants wide receiver Ike Hilliard in the end zone for an interception in the fourth quarter. He returned the ball 32 yards, then was swarmed by his appreciative teammates, including Husted, whose miss of a 30-yard field goal earlier in the period also had put his team in some jeopardy.
Still, it took only a New York 60 minutes, stretched out over three-plus hours on national television, for the Redskins to right themselves following a week of gloom and talk of possible doom after Monday night's stunning 27-21 loss to the Cowboys at FedEx Field. The Cowboys' 41-24 loss to the lowly San Francisco 49ers earlier today at Texas Stadium only compounded the Redskins' embarrassment at losing to such an inferior foe, playing at home, in front of a nationwide audience.
Over the past six days, the Redskins have been in some disarray. They cut their injured kicker (Brett Conway), watched their projected starting center (Cory Raymer) re-injure his already wounded knee in a routine practice drill and saw the anchor of their defensive line (Dana Stubblefield) charged with domestic assault after an altercation with his wife.
Tonight, they also played without their leading receiver, running back Larry Centers, who suffered a hyperextended left elbow against the Cowboys.
They desperately needed a victory came at the end of a tense and often tumultuous week. Several veterans called a players-only meeting on Wednesday to remind their teammates what was at stake and rev them up to stay focused in their practice preparations. The same day, starting guard Tre Johnson complained publicly that his team lacked an identity and challenged his teammates to start playing with far more fire in their bellies, including his own substantial one.
Whenever they left the cocoon of Redskins Park, if they turned on their radios, they also heard themselves pounded day and night by irate fans and talk show hosts alike.
The heat may decrease this week, but it won't completely cool. Sunday the Redskins will face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who suffered their first loss today at home against the New York Jets. That game is the beginning of a run of tougher opponents in October and early November.
"Everyone in this locker room realized the importance of winning this game," guard Keith Sims said. "With all the talk, with all the offseason expectations, 1-3 would have been real ugly. Not that 2-2 is great, but it beats the alternative."