By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 13, 2008
Before yesterday's game between the then-winless St. Louis Rams and a rolling Washington Redskins team, Rams offensive coordinator Al Saunders chatted with his former employer, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, on the field.
After two years in charge of the Redskins' offense, Saunders was fired this offseason following the departure of former head coach Joe Gibbs. Still, Saunders said he told the owner he was rooting for the Redskins this season.
"I said, 'I wish you good luck. I hope you win every game, what a great start. I just hope you don't win today,' " Saunders said, chuckling to reporters after the Rams' surprising 19-17 victory over Washington yesterday at FedEx Field. "But that's the way I really feel."
It was Saunders' offense that provided the game-changing play yesterday, with a deep pass, pulled from the 700-page playbook made famous during his time in Washington, that set up the game-winning field goal.
But after the game, Saunders deflected any opportunity to talk about the win feeling any sweeter because it was against Washington. Instead, he pointed to the relationships he had formed with many in the Redskins organization, repeated his desire to see the team succeed and called the result "kind of a two-edged sword."
"I really enjoyed my time here," Saunders said. "And the thing Joe Gibbs did here, as a coach, was he brought in some great character players and great character people. So there is a little bit of sadness when you leave those guys because you like so much to be a part of that. And I'm rooting for them every game."
The win provided a boost to an organization that, coming off of a 3-13 season, had struggled to a 0-4 start. And for some Rams players, a bonus was winning in Washington for Saunders.
"It's a great win for Al," guard Richie Incognito said. "He takes the team to the playoffs last year and then they decide to go in a different direction with the offense. It's a great win to come back here. For anybody, a player or coach come back to their former team and win, it's a great win."
That Saunders's Rams outdueled the Redskins was surprising because since Saunders' departure, the Redskins offense has flourished under Jim Zorn.
Entering yesterday's game, a Redskins that averaged just 19.8 points in 33 games under Saunders in 2006-07, was ranked seventh in the NFL in total offense. And even in the loss, Washington gained 368 total yards and put together a nine-play, 73-yard drive in the fourth quarter to take a 17-16 lead.
The Rams, meanwhile, entered the league ranked 30th, averaging 10.8 points in four games.
But despite the success of the Redskins' offense under Zorn this season, it was Saunders who found a way to get the win -- calling a play that exploited the man-to-man coverage the Redskins defense had played much of the game. And after two years being on the losing end of several close games in Washington, this time it was Saunders providing the final blow.
"They won games in the last quarter in the last three weeks and this week they just weren't able to do that," Saunders said as he stood in line to board the visiting team's bus at FedEx Field. "But they still made a big play down at the end, Antwaan [Randle El] catches the ball and for all intents and purposes I'm sure people thought the game was over. But you've got to play for 60 minutes."