In Overtime, Redskins Make the Dolphins Pay
Monday, September 10, 2007
In the late summer sun, the Miami Dolphins kneeled. It may have seemed a small thing, but across FedEx Field, as overtime started on the first game of the year, the Washington Redskins players and coaches noticed their opponents resting knees on the grass -- a subtle message of exhaustion. And they knew then they would win this game.
Victory came over the next 5 minutes 36 seconds. It came on the legs of running back Clinton Portis, on the arm of young quarterback Jason Campbell and eventually on the foot of place kicker Shaun Suisham, whose 39-yard field goal gave Washington a 16-13 win yesterday.
Those 5 minutes 36 seconds were, in football terms, a pounding, a sign that the Redskins, so uncertain last year as to whether they were a passing or a running team, had indeed remade themselves in the old philosophy of Coach Joe Gibbs as a club that will try to roll over opponents this season. In yesterday's overtime, against a defense that gave up the fourth-fewest yards in the National Football League in 2006, the Redskins rode through the Dolphins as if they had been doing this forever.
"They drove it down our throat and scored," Jason Taylor, Miami's top defensive player, said after the game.
It has been a strange 10 months since the Redskins crashed in the middle of last season. The confusion over the clashing offensive philosophies of Gibbs and his new offensive coordinator Al Saunders seemed to permeate every facet of the organization. Nothing worked. Games that should have been won dissolved into chaos and Washington tumbled through a long, dark fall.
Maybe because of this, it was a tentative crowd that filed into FedEx Field. And when Campbell, making just his eighth career start, had his first pass intercepted by Miami's Renaldo Hill, a groan filled the stands. Early in the second quarter, when star tackle Jon Jansen tumbled to the ground with a fractured dislocation of his right ankle that could cost him the rest of the season, there seemed to be a pall in the stadium.
Last year the Redskins would have crumbled at such a point. This time they did not and that fact appeared to encourage them.
"We faced a lot of adversity today and I was encouraged by the way we handled it," said guard Pete Kendall, who just signed with the team two weeks ago and is still trying to grasp its identity.
It is far too soon to know if this Redskins team has truly shaken the problems of last season. There were plenty of mistakes. Campbell killed momentum with a long pass that was intercepted in the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Dolphins moved easily down the field before halftime and did so again on a drive late in the game that put Miami in position to win. But Washington was resilient and that was seen in the locker room as something of a good sign.
"At different times we got put in a hole, one way or another, either defensively or offensively, I think everybody could feel it," Gibbs said. "We were out there fighting. That was the key thing."
A better test will come next Monday night against an NFC East division rival, the Philadelphia Eagles -- a team that will be more familiar with the Redskins players and Gibbs's philosophies. Yet there was a sense after the game that this has less of a chance of being like last year: a season that fell apart after the team lost five of its first seven games and never recovered.
A big sign, said Gregg Williams, the assistant coach-defense, was the way his defense came back from mistakes made by the offense. Last year, a Redskins interception would be followed by a huge offensive play from the other team. Yesterday, the Campbell interception in the end zone turned out to be harmless. And when Miami had moved within eight yards of Washington's end zone late in the game, it was driven back in part because of a penalty forced when the defense recognized an attempted screen pass that had been disguised.