By Howard Fendrich
Sunday, October 23, 2005 6:55 PM
Well, well, well, check out who led the Washington Redskins in tackles Sunday: LaVar Arrington.
That's right, the same LaVar Arrington who didn't play a single down on defense in the preceding two games. The same LaVar Arrington who's been involved in an off-field soap opera of "he said, he said" with head coach Joe Gibbs and assistant Gregg Williams, involving why the linebacker hasn't been playing and when he might again.
Playing mostly in long-yardage situations in the first half, but on the field much more in the second, Arrington was credited with seven tackles and two assists in Washington's 52-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
"I was just happy to be out there. I don't care what package, I don't care how they use me," Arrington said. "The interaction between me and the coaches has gotten a little better. I felt there was a different type of vibe between us, which was kind of good. It took some tension out of the air."
He played often as a rushing end and also dropped into coverage. Coincidence or not, the 49ers often ran plays away from Arrington, sometimes rolling out quarterback Alex Smith.
"He responded. He looked like he made plays," Gibbs said. "That was good for us and it was good for him."
In the first quarter, Arrington tracked Smith down from behind near the sideline. Linebacker Chris Clemons greeted Arrington with a leaping hug, as though to say, "Glad to have you back!"
Arrington stopped running back Kevan Barlow for a 4-yard loss on the final play of the first half and pulled down wideout Rasheed Marshall for a 7-yard loss on a reverse. He collected high-fives and back slaps from teammates and was his usually animated self, waving to the crowd to ask for louder cheering and bouncing around before plays.
"I felt a whole lot of stuff. I'm overwhelmed in this experience," Arrington said. "I'm happy the coaching staff gave me the opportunity to go out there and help. I just want to be a part, and it feels good."
He was relegated to spot duty in Washington's first three games, then didn't enter on defense at all the next two. The team offered all sorts of partial explanations, from Arrington's slow recovery from knee surgery to problems in practice to his hit-or-miss playing style.
Arrington said he wasn't told exactly why he wasn't playing; Gibbs said he's spoken to Arrington "more than any other player I've ever coached in 30 years, probably three times more."
This week, Williams gave the strongest indication to date that Arrington was close to getting back on the field, saying: "We really think he's taken some strides physically, not only from the schematic standpoint, but physically. It looks like his legs are back."
Whatever was keeping Arrington out, his teammates were pleased to see him back.
"I've been encouraging LaVar the whole time because I know what he can do. He had an outstanding game and I'm proud of him," offensive lineman Chris Samuels said. "It's just a boost for all of us. It's another force other teams have to focus on."
TAKEAWAYS: The Redskins failed to force a turnover in any of their previous four games. They managed one fumble recovery and one interception Sunday.
"We haven't been getting any," coach Joe Gibbs said. "It was kind of a breakthrough from that standpoint."
With about a minute left in the first half, linebacker Marcus Washington sacked quarterback Alex Smith, who lost the ball, and defensive lineman Phillip Daniels recovered at San Francisco's 19. That was Washington's first takeaway since Week 1.
On the next play, Mark Brunell threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Mike Sellers to make it 35-7.
Early in the second half, safety Sean Taylor intercepted Smith and returned it 32 yards to San Francisco's 3. That set up Clinton Portis' 1-yard dive over the left side to make it 42-7.
"It feels great, finally getting that monkey off our backs," Washington said. "It had been a couple of weeks."
SMITH'S TROUBLES: When Alex Smith trudged over to the sideline after his third fumble of the day, someone pointed to the little white towel dangling from the front of his uniform, as if to remind the rookie he could dry his hands if he wanted.
The No. 1 overall draft pick's NFL initiation took another tough turn in Sunday's 52-17 loss to the Washington Redskins. He went 8-for-16 for 92 yards with an interception. Smith fumbled three times, though the Redskins recovered just one.
He has five fumbles in two games.
"It's not like Alex has small hands. Alex has good-sized hands; he shouldn't drop the ball. I don't know why it slipped out of there," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said.
The first fumble came on the very first play from scrimmage Sunday, and through two drives, Smith was 1-for-4 for zero yards. He was sacked a total of five times.
"I was pressured a high percentage of plays and I have got to expect that got to learn how to beat it," Smith said. "It was pretty evident early on what their plan was against us and against me, they were bringing pressure all day."
SPENCER'S PROBLEMS: 49ers CB Shawntae Spencer was beaten on several long plays, including a 43-yard pass to Santana Moss down the right sideline that set up Washington's first touchdown, and a 24-yard pass to David Patten on third-and-11 on the Redskins' second possession.
On Mark Brunell's 32-yard TD pass to Moss that made it 28-7 shortly before halftime, Spencer stopped running, looked around as if he lost the ball, then slapped his palms on his thighs and Moss was all alone in the end zone.
Spencer said he thought he'd have help from a safety.
"I was playing a different coverage. It was my fault. It's a mistake I never made before," Spencer said.
EXTRA POINTS: LB Chris Clemons and DL Nic Clemons both played Sunday, making them the first pair of brothers to appear in a game for the Redskins since punter Matt Turk and long-snapper Dan Turk in 1999. ... Washington's Joe Gibbs collected his 150th career NFL coaching victory, third-most among active coaches. ... Redskins RB Clinton Portis gained 101 yards on 19 carries and ran for three TDs before leaving in the third quarter. It was his 26th career 100-yard game. He hadn't scored a touchdown this season. ... Washington hadn't scored more than 21 points in a game this season; the team surpassed that total in the first half. "It was past due for us to get some points," offensive lineman Chris Samuels said. "I was saying to somebody on the sideline, 'Last year, they were laughing at Coach Gibbs. Now look at him.'" ... The 49ers had been shut out 62-0 in the fourth quarter before Sunday; San Francisco scored 10 points in that period against Washington, including on Frank Gore's 72-yard touchdown run. ... H-back Mike Sellers caught two touchdown passes -- the first multiple-TD game of his career.