By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 22, 2008
As the day grew late and victory had been assured, a clamor rose in the stands behind FedEx Field's northwest end zone yesterday afternoon. It started small, buried in the throats of the heartiest few, the truest of believers and then slowly wafted into the afternoon sky.
" We want Dallas! We want Dallas! We want Dallas! " It bounced from seat to seat, row to row, until it had blossomed into a minor roar.
" We want Dallas! We want Dallas! We want Dallas! "
Some of the Washington Redskins heard the chant, smiled and then did the things that football players do when they win games, holding their helmets aloft, waving toward the cheering faces in the stands, throwing their gloves and sweatbands into grateful hands. This 24-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, their second win in a row, has given them confidence and emboldened so many of the fans who looked ready to abandon them just two weeks before. But their self-belief is not such that they were ready to wish for a game they normally dread.
Yes, a game looms Sunday against Washington's most hated rival, the Dallas Cowboys -- perhaps the best team in the NFC -- and the thought seemed to taunt Redskins Coach Jim Zorn, who is heading into his first Dallas week as a coach. To properly motivate himself, he said he was going to think of the Oakland Raiders, a hated rival from his days as a player with the Seattle Seahawks.
Mostly, though, the Redskins offered caution.
"Let's try and enjoy this win right now," tackle Chris Samuels said.
After all, it wasn't all that long ago that the last thing the fans in the stadium would have wanted to see was the Cowboys.
In the days following Washington's first game of the year, a dismal 16-7 loss to the New York Giants, the fans berated this team and its new coach, charging that Zorn seemed in over his head and quarterback Jason Campbell could not handle Zorn's West Coast offense.
How much things can change in just two weeks.
Yesterday, Campbell looked as he had been running the West Coast offense for years, firing passes to seven players in putting up 193 passing yards with two touchdowns. And Zorn, who had appeared afraid to run his full variety of offensive plays in the first two weeks, suddenly called a mix of passes and reverses and options that looked more like the offense he promised to run.
A defense that appeared to be overmatched against Arizona's star-laden offense forced the Cardinals to turn the ball over for the first two times this season and held them to just two touchdowns.
And perhaps biggest of all, Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers, who has let several critical interceptions drop from his hands, held on to one yesterday, rolled dramatically across the soft grass, then scrambled up and ran 42 yards downfield to set up the winning touchdown. This prompted Zorn to later say that Rogers's teammates, who have teased him mercilessly for the missed opportunities, should now "back off."
So, yes, the Redskins are playing well. And most of the credit seems to be going to Campbell, who has had a remarkable turnaround from the first game, when he failed to execute the first play, which had been designed weeks before, and tumbled from there. The biggest thing is that the quarterback now sees the numerous options that Zorn throws into every play -- options that often force Campbell to look at the probability of which of three or four wide receivers will be open for passes even before the ball is in his hands. This often takes months of practice. In the case of Zorn's most acclaimed student -- Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck -- it was almost two years before Hasselbeck mastered the coach's teachings.
The last two games, however, Campbell seems far ahead of where Hasselbeck was at the same time.
"I think Jason is gaining more confidence with the offense," guard Pete Kendall said. "It's like a starting pitcher in baseball -- as the guy with the ball goes, so goes the starting quarterback position."
With Campbell playing well, the Redskins are playing well. Suddenly, with a 2-1 record and two games against division opponents looming, the possibilities bloom.
"We want Dallas! We want Dallas! We want Dallas!"
Zorn laughed when a question about the Cowboys came up early in his postgame news conference. He knew enough to expect the queries about the hated Cowboys even before he had a chance to digest his latest victory. Such is the way things are when you coach the Redskins and the team is suddenly playing well.
"I believe we are confident," he said.
Then he thought back to the first, dreadful game against the Giants, which like the Dallas game will be played on the road. As Zorn is often wont to do, he imagined the perceptions of his team in the form of newspaper headlines.
"The Redskins Can't Win on the Road," he figures the presses will churn out this week.
Then, answering his own screaming headline, he said: "We're not going to worry about that issue."
"We're going to play one of the best teams in the NFL," he said.
As if that will be anything as simple as yesterday's dispatching of the Arizona Cardinals, who haven't been to the playoffs in nine years.
"We want Dallas! We want Dallas! We want Dallas! " The roar reverberated off the emptying stands and down on a team suddenly brimming with expectations.