By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
At home and a day removed from their first win of the season and largest offensive output in nearly seven years, the Washington Redskins conceded that winning at the expense of a poor team was precisely the remedy for their sagging confidence. But Coach Joe Gibbs was equally concerned that his team's self-destructive side could be its downfall against good teams.
Gibbs was measured in his comments yesterday at Redskins Park, alternately enjoying a long-awaited success while being cognizant that his team -- which leads the NFL in penalties -- is far from complete. After a winless preseason and two losses to open the regular season, the victory seemed like an eternity in the making and, while Gibbs savored it, he recognized that mistakes made the Redskins' 31-15 win over the Houston Texans closer than it seemed.
"We were at a point where for six straight weeks everybody was down," Gibbs said. "You lose four preseason games, and you were hoping to win some of those, then you get off and lose two straight games. It's tough on everybody when things like this happen."
Kenny Wright, a prominent member of a secondary that has been ravaged as it survives the absence of cornerback Shawn Springs, intercepted a key pass in the end zone late in the game against his former team, and a defense burned by costly penalties and big plays forced two second-half turnovers.
Ladell Betts, who averaged just 3.3 yards per carry in two games starting for Clinton Portis, rushed for a career-high 124 yards. More importantly, Betts's 86 yards on 10 second-half carries sustained drives. After the first two games, the Redskins were credited with just two drives of 10 plays or more; against Houston, the Redskins had four, and they held the ball for nearly 40 minutes.
Punter Derrick Frost, who by the end of the preseason appeared in jeopardy of losing his job, is second in the NFL in punting average at 49.3 yards and is eighth overall in net average at 40.1. Gibbs said Frost was "outstanding."
Naturally, there was quarterback Mark Brunell, who set an NFL record for consecutive completions in a game, connecting on 22 passes in a row from the first quarter until the waning seconds of the third.
Even associate head coach Al Saunders, who had been under fire since the preseason for keeping so much of his offense hidden and later for his abandonment of the run, could enjoy a moment of vindication after the Redskins' offense racked up 234 rushing yards and 495 yards of total offense. Saunders, though, said Sunday he did not feel much of a victory because his offense only did what he has always believed it could.
Gibbs pointed out that a game against even a weak opponent like Houston can turn. The Redskins committed 12 penalties for 126 yards, some of which stalled drives when they were on offense and others that kept their defense on the field.
Penalties have frustrated Gibbs to the point, he said, where he has asked his new coaches for suggestions. Equally frustrating to Gibbs are the types of penalties that have plagued the Redskins. On one play, Portis ran for seven yards, then was hit with a 15-yard taunting penalty when he appeared to spin the ball in the face of rookie linebacker DeMeco Ryans. Defensive penalties on third down extended drives and one -- a 32-yard pass interference call on cornerback Carlos Rogers -- gave the Texans a first down at the 2-yard line. On still another, both Redskins offensive tackles were called for holding on the same play.
"We had eight penalties [on offense]. Five holdings, one taunting and two false starts," Gibbs said. "The taunting wasn't much, but you have to realize that it's a new rule they put in. You can't get in someone's face or anything."
Furthermore, two leaky plays handling the football concerned Gibbs. The first, an apparent goal-line fumble by Clinton Portis that bounced through the end zone and would have given the Texans a touchback, was reversed on challenge. The second was a Rock Cartwright fumble recovered and taken in for a touchdown by Shantee Orr that, with a two-point conversion, would have cut the Redskins' lead to 31-23 with 5 minutes 26 seconds remaining. The Redskins survived the scare when Texans defensive tackle Thomas Johnson nullified the touchdown by committing a personal foul on the return.
Against Jacksonville, a team that easily could be undefeated it dominated the Indianapolis Colts on the road Sunday in virtually every category but lost, 21-14, the Redskins can ill afford to repeat such mistakes.
Gibbs wasn't the only one taking a measured attitude from the Houston victory. Players seemed realistic about the victory as well.
"You're never as bad as when you're bad, and you're never as good as when you're great," defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. "I know they're struggling, but we needed this. I have a bunch of friends over there with the Texans, so I know what they're going through. I'm just glad it was us and not them, but we can't be thinking too much about ourselves."