By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 24, 2005
All of the Washington Redskins' lingering woes were remedied with one half of football yesterday. The San Francisco 49ers provided minimal impediment as Coach Joe Gibbs's team thrashed them in every aspect of play, doing so in a fashion unseen around here for quite some time.
This 52-17 blowout before 90,224 at FedEx Field was never competitive as the Redskins eased to 4-2 and, finally, required no late-game drama to determine the result. They had not won by a 35-point margin since 1992 (41-3 over Phoenix) and had not scored 52 points since racking up 56 against Atlanta during the 1991 Super Bowl season.
By halftime yesterday, Washington had shed its collective baggage -- from its turnover problems to its red-zone issues to its failure to score a rushing touchdown -- with linebacker LaVar Arrington, seldom used for much of the regular season and mired in a feud with coaches and the front office, again playing regularly and harassing the ballcarrier.
All was well with the Redskins, and the 49ers (1-5) could do nothing about it.
"We had everything go right for us today," quarterback Mark Brunell said. "It was one of those days."
After previously failing to score more than 21 points in 2005, the Redskins led 35-7 at the half. They won the turnover battle for the first time this season, committing none (another season first), and snapping a four-game drought by causing two turnovers. An offense that usually bogs down inside the opponent's 20-yard line scored touchdowns on its first five trips there and Washington also scored its first rushing touchdowns of the season, with Clinton Portis (19 carries for 101 yards) snapping his seven-game slump with three scores on the ground.
The defense was as suffocating as ever (allowing 86 yards through three quarters) and added a big-play touch as well, with an interception, fumble recovery and five sacks (the Redskins entered the game with five sacks and two forced turnovers over five games).
Brunell was nearly flawless in the best performance yet of his comeback season, posting a 156.2 passer rating in the first half (158.3 is perfect) and making way for Patrick Ramsey in the fourth quarter having completed 13 of 20 passes for 252 yards, with three touchdowns and a 147.9 rating. Santana Moss (five catches for 112 yards and a touchdown) -- who is on pace to shatter all significant franchise receiving records -- was again Brunell's favorite target, but David Patten and Chris Cooley had long receptions as well. The running game was robust (204 yards; 5.2 yards per carry) and special teams excelled.
"We wanted to make FedEx a place where we really play hard and don't give up things here," said Gibbs, who pounded away at his team last week about the importance of not taking the underdog 49ers lightly. "I was really proud of them. We were ready to play, and we played hard. I think we had a respect for them, and that was good."
The Redskins scored on their opening drive -- fumbles and miscues have marred their initial possessions this season -- and led throughout, dictating the pace and tempo. The coaches emptied the bench in the third quarter, using players who have rarely seen the field with the club engrossed in nail-biting finishes each weekend, and the lead stretched to 52-7 with less than 10 minutes to play.
"We were hungry," said key defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, who left the game with a strained hip flexor and is day-to-day. "We jumped on them early, and didn't let up."
Washington moved 60 yards in just over three minutes to take the lead, with Moss streaking down the sideline for a 43-yard gain (he has 10 catches of 30 yards or more this season, matching the Redskins' total from all of last season). Gibbs, who became the 14th coach to post 150 wins, expected Moss to be double-covered for most of this game, forcing others to emerge; instead Moss shined, and the Redskins still achieved balance in the passing game as five players grabbed passes of at least 12 yards.
H-back Mike Sellers caught his first of two touchdown passes to cap the opening drive -- he has four scores already, doubling his previous season high -- and Portis dashed to the end zone from five yards out, his first rushing touchdown since Dec. 12, to make it 14-0. The 49ers responded with a 77-yard touchdown drive, but then the game got entirely out of hand, as the Redskins outscored them 21-0 in the second quarter.
Portis scooted in from a yard out, then broke into a two-cartwheel celebration. "I used to be in gymnastics," he joked. "I almost made it to the Olympics in '98."
San Francisco cornerback Shawntae Spencer called for double coverage on Moss on the next drive, but the safety never came, and Moss dashed past him on a go route and was wide open to pull in a 32-yard touchdown pass.
"I don't know what was going on," Moss said. "I was just lucky to be on the other end of it."
Sellers caught a 19-yard touchdown pass to end the first-half scoring, and Portis and running back Rock Cartwright found the end zone later on thanks to field position created by the defense. San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith, the first overall draft pick in April, was rattled from the get-go in only his second start. He was sacked and fumbled on his first play, and although San Francisco recovered, it was a sign of things to come. Late in the first half, Pro Bowl linebacker Marcus Washington spun away from tackle Kwame Harris, sacked Smith from the blind side and knocked the ball lose, with Phillip Daniels recovering to snap the turnover drought.
"We finally got our turnovers, picks and fumble recoveries," linebacker Lemar Marshall said. "That's how it should be."
Safety Sean Taylor added an interception early in the third quarter and Washington's reserves kept up the beating. Arrington, still not starting, drew cheers whenever he entered the game and led the team with nine tackles, including several for losses. He played more than he had all season, with the defense switching to a 3-4 front -- "I was just happy to be out there," the three-time Pro Bowler said, "I don't care what package it was in" -- and now all of the Redskins prepare to head to New York for next week's critical NFC East game on an emotional high.
"We had it all going for a day, but we need to prove we can do it two games in a row, and we need to prove we can do it on the road," tackle Jon Jansen said. "We need to use this momentum to take us where we want to go."