A sign of positive change

By Mike Wise
Monday, November 16, 2009

"We can do this," Phillip Daniels said.

Do what?

"We did it before."

Really now, we're going there after the first victory in five games for Washington's 3-6 football team?

Running the table, he meant. From miserable to Miami in February, just like that? The insane leap to reeling off a string of wins to make the playoffs, like 2007, already has been made?

"Yeah," Daniels actually said on a Sunday afternoon that surprisingly had been parlayed into Victory Monday.

"We'll see what next week brings," he added, never actually uttering the word "playoffs." "And we know there are no guarantees it carries over. But if we continue what happened today, as a player you have to think that way. You gotta have that attitude."

He wasn't alone in a locker room suddenly rejuvenated, where Ethan Albright, the 15th-year veteran long snapper, remembered 2001.

"I was here when we were 0-5 with Marty," Albright said, referring to Schottenheimer's once woeful team that finished 8-8. "I seen how things can go the other way in a hurry, how one big play becomes another big play, how one win becomes another win, until you just keep goin' "

If you're paying Daniels's and Albright's salary, surely that logic beats, "Today was nice and everything, but I don't think we've got a realistic chance of being any better than 5-11."

Especially when Dallas Week in Washington suddenly matters, when the Redskins prepare in earnest for the Cowboys, who lost to Green Bay, with renewed purpose, on the day Jason Campbell hit 10 different receivers, the running game worked and, stunner of stunners, the offense actually bailed out the defense.

"It is more than a victory in some ways," Campbell said. "Today we got to see what we can do, what we can be."

A week ago, with the way things were going, the altogether practical question of whether the Redskins could win another game this season was asked here. Today, we can't seriously discuss the postseason.


But something did happen, something indelible the moment that football left Hunter the Punter's hand instead of his foot, the moment a wide-open Mike Sellers saw a big beach ball floating toward him, the moment the Z-man pulled off a bona fide gadget play for the first time since the first week of the season.

"We've had a desert experience the last . . . very arid, if you will, the last few weeks," Coach Jim Zorn said, his candor back. "So to be able come off with a win, you almost don't know how to feel. Yet we remember very quickly. We sure like winning."

When the kaleidoscope of this season spun before this afternoon, these were the scenes from each frame:

Zorn bizarrely describing Danny Smith's excitability on the sideline, ending with, "Uh-weeeeee!"

The inside of a dome in Detroit, in disbelief the home team won.

Sherman Lewis, admitting two weeks before he called plays that he called bingo games.

John Riggins in flannel on YouTube, a la the late Lorne Greene pushing dog food, saying the owner is Alpo.

Daniel Snyder apologizing for the product in a parking lot.

Vinny Cerrato's voice on the radio, saying the embattled coach's job was guaranteed, which at the time felt like telling Old Yeller he was going to have to hang in there and suffer until the bitter end.

On the defeats and dysfunction and injuries went. Chris Samuels going down, Chris Cooley coming up lame and Clinton Portis getting knocked out.

More wincing, grimacing -- the predictable choosing of sides about town between former players and the media.

But around 4 p.m., another frame was added, something completely contrary to everything that's happened, everything expected.


There was a fourth quarter to be had, not just 15 minutes of prolonging the pain.

Campbell was confident while pointing and changing plays at the line -- even the ones that didn't work. No longer in a straitjacket, worried about his mistakes being magnified -- letting go of the fact that his team shopped him in March, not worried about having his brain rattled in the first quarter because his offensive line couldn't protect him from a monster blindside hit -- a different quarterback ended up behind center against Denver.

Devin Thomas was as elusive as a misplaced television remote. The second-year wide receiver had more defenders miss tackles on him in one game than nearly all the passes he caught last season.

And the crowd, standing in unison, was boisterous, cheering and clapping almost cathartically.

On and off the field, winning indeed covers up the stench. No one needs to quibble with the fact they didn't play two complete halves of football. Or that the sign prohibition was lifted at 10:26 a.m., after many of the tail-gating masses had left their homes. Or that a second-and-eight call inside the red zone was predictability a run to the left side. Or how Kyle Orton, who completes 75 percent of his passes for 10 yards or less, resembled John Elway as he aired it out to a lonesome Brandon Marshall for two touchdowns in the first quarter.

All of it is immaterial after a victory. In a stunning turnabout, the other team not only worried sick over its quarterback situation; the Broncos now wearily eyed the neophyte head coach who replaced a legend. How he looked golden at 6-0, human at 6-2 and now must deal with injuries and the rest of a league that has figured out his tells on film.

Josh McDaniels, meet Jim Zorn, circa 2008.

Based on the unforeseen happening at FedEx Field, no one should go ga-ga with optimism and ask, "Can 9-7 get you in?" Because the idea the Redskins could come up just shy of running the table with seven mostly tough games left is, frankly, more fantasy than we can realistically sell after their first win in five games.

But as a blinding sun, rarely seen in these parts lately, began to disappear from the field Sunday a few minutes short of 4 p.m., this was clear:

The Armageddon Express has stopped short of the cliff.

"We haven't heard cheers in such a long time," Andre Carter said. "It felt so good, I can't even tell you. We finished. We finally finished."

They started, too.

"It makes us 1-0 in the second half," London Fletcher said.

Oh, it was plain to see, the contagions spreading into the stands and into living rooms -- into a season before Sunday as doomed as anyone can remember for pro football in Washington.

Beating Denver and their own demons for a change, heading to Dallas with hope, they will take that.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company